Thursday, October 31, 2019

Amazingly, From the National Review!

Some fire-in-the-belly defense of Free Speech, and calling out those Cowardly Christians and In-the-Closet Conservatives that won't publicly support those under attack.

About time someone said it:
If you won't stand up for those being attacked for holding the same principles as you do, you're a coward.
BTW, those are MY words. Make of them what you will.

Quickies: Happy Hallowe’en!

     The second most commercially important holiday in the calendar is upon us. Candy and costume sales have soared in anticipation. Fanciful decorations festoon homes and lawns. Costumed kiddies, some old enough to run for Congress, will soon flock to the streets in search of sugary baksheesh. And in many homes across the length and breadth of the land, a hefty fraction of that candy will be consumed by persons old enough to know better, as America’s dentists rub their hands together and cackle fiendishly.

     Ah, the joys of Hallowe’en! Our British cousins don’t celebrate it, you know. They prefer to commemorate the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. I have no idea what delicacies are distributed at their events.

     But back to the main subject. There will be candy. There will be costumes. There will be a lot of bluenosery over some of those costumes. There’ll be some agitation by members of certain religious sects against all of it. And there’ll be a fair amount of drunken debauchery at the parties later in the evening.

     Ah, to be young again! I’m not sure which of these things I miss most, the candy, the costumes, or the drunken debauchery. Heavy sigh. But to everything there is a season. And really, how much scarier can you get than by dressing all in black, wearing a balaclava, and sitting on your porch swing with a camo-decorated twelve-gauge shotgun across your knees?

     Using the same costume every year does reduce expenses. Though the C.S.O. has theorized that it might be connected to the extremely low turnout we get on Hallowe’en. I promised her I’d think about it after all the mini-Musketeers bars, Reese’s cups, and York patties are gone. Meanwhile, enjoy the holiday, and keep your wallets limbered up! Only 54 shopping days left till Christmas, don’t y’know.

Quickies: A Political Fantasy

     Gerard Vanderleun drew my attention to this article by Edward Ring at American Greatness. The paragraph that most affected me was this one:

     What if a critical mass of independent voters were to conclude that, despite his pugnacity, President Trump cares about all Americans, and actually holds moderate, compassionate, common-sense positions? If these things happen, and they very well might, not only will President Trump get reelected, but control of the House of Representatives will return once again to the GOP. And if these sentiments sweep across the land, then politicians of both parties will realize it is time to stop fighting and get back to serving the American people. [Emphasis added by FWP.]

     Note two features of the above:

  • The word if appears three times;
  • The emphasized clause suggests an outcome antithetical to current political postures.

     As I’ve written before, if is the most important word in any sentence in which it appears. Of the three ifs above, the third is the most important one. It foretells an outcome of the political process that most Americans would find inexpressibly gratifying. But how accurate is Edward Ring’s prediction? How likely is it that those striving to obstruct, retard, and undo President Trump’s agenda would have the predicted change of heart?

     I can’t see it. The dynamic of politics has caused the Democrat Party to concentrate a critical mass of persons to whom the acquisition and retention of power, especially federal power, is the only thing that matters. Those persons are uninterested in anyone’s goals but theirs. Indeed, their goals require that our goals – freedom, prosperity, public order, and general security – be thwarted. A road-to-Damascus conversion into genuinely good and faithful public servants would overturn everything that matters to them.

     I find it more likely that those at the tiller of the Democrat Party would “push the big red button.” That is, they would exclaim Alea iacta est and strive to gain by violence what they could not win through politics. They’re already partially mobilized, as the “AntiFa” and “Black Bloc” disturbances should have demonstrated to all. Moreover, those forces have succeeded in silencing and scattering their opponents as often as not. Combined with “deplatforming,” “doxxing,” and a campaign of slanders and libels promulgated through their media handmaidens, they might have an even chance of prevailing.

     It’s important to win at the ballot box, but don’t neglect to keep the cartridge box full – and don’t let your skills lapse through desuetude.

Quickies: “Grounds For Impeachment”

     I found this in a discussion of the ongoing “impeachment inquiry” at Victory Girls:

     In other words, they know they don’t have enough evidence to impeach the president but they are so deep into their own fantasy world that they can’t admit they’ve failed, even to themselves.

     The fascinating thing about the discussions of impeachment / conviction / removal (of any official, not just the president) is that the same observation applies to it as to jury nullification. Indeed, the two subjects are on all fours with one another:

     Did you know that, no matter the evidence, if a jury feels a law is unjust, it is permitted to “nullify” the law rather than finding someone guilty? Basically, jury nullification is a jury’s way of saying, “By the letter of the law, the defendant is guilty, but we also disagree with that law, so we vote to not punish the accused.” Ultimately, the verdict serves as an acquittal.

     Haven’t heard of jury nullification? Don’t feel bad; you’re far from alone. If anything, your unfamiliarity is by design. Generally, defense lawyers are not allowed to even mention jury nullification as a possibility during a trial because judges prefer juries to follow the general protocols rather than delivering independent verdicts.

     Jury nullification is inherent in the jury system. It follows from juror’s immunity to punishment. Regardless of the offense charged, a juror cannot be punished for voting one way or the other. And so it is with impeachment / conviction / removal.

     The House can impeach arbitrarily, and the Senate can convict arbitrarily. They need no justification other than “We felt like it.” Just as with a juror’s vote, there is no way to hold them to any standard, whether it’s about the seriousness of the purported offense or the evidence for it, under the Constitution of the United States. The Representatives and Senators can proceed without having to justify themselves. The only comeback against them is at the following election.

     Impeachment / conviction / removal is therefore an entirely political procedure. The Constitutional phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” is more decorative than substantive. We might like it to be substantive, such that an impeached official must be charged with a crime recognized by the U.S. Code, but in practical terms there is no standard for the procedure.

     But beyond that, does anyone familiar with this charade sincerely believe that Schiff and his sideboys would be stopped short by the absence of a recognized offense? The “impeachment inquiry” isn’t about anything President Trump has or hasn’t done. It’s a last-ditch attempt to prevent his re-election a year from now, which, on the strength of his record, could be as resounding as Reagan’s re-election in 1984.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Criminal Justice Done WRONG

Oh, the Stupid! It HURTS!

Any Virginians Here?

It would be great if you could file an official complaint with the State Board of Elections.

“The Point’s Demon-Guarded”

     Remember this famous proto-prog anthem?

     Kansas was a trailblazing band in its day. The titans of Glass Hammer hold their music in high regard. Forty-two years have passed since “Point Of Know Return” was first recorded, and it remains striking and compelling far beyond the greater part of the popular music that’s followed.

     A point of no return is always “demon-guarded.” That’s why there’s “no return:” the demons forbid it. (Ever tried arguing with a demon? A word of advice: don’t bother.) In politics and public policy the demons are especially fierce:

  1. They look human (some actually claim to be human);
  2. They wield terrifying weapons (e.g., fines, imprisonment, seizures);
  3. They can induce you to become dependent upon their demoniac emissions.

     For my money, condition #3 is the worst of the lot. If a policy can induce dependency in the populace, such that the people cannot imagine ever going back to its pre-enactment conditions, they’re in for the proverbial world of hurt.

     That’s the sort of condition politicians avid for increased power over you will strive with all their evil ingenuity to create.

     I’ve been sitting on this article for a while:

     While the Democrats continue their impeachment pantomime war dance in the mirror-clad corner in order to keep up their spirits, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is ginning up a much more fateful danse macabre on health care. He has promised to force a vote this week on various Trump Administration directives that have injected flexibility into Obamacare. As The Hill reports, “Senate Democrats plan to force vulnerable Republicans to vote on legislation that would overturn a controversial Trump administration directive on ObamaCare.”

     The idea is that Democrats can force besieged lawmakers such as Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Martha McSally (R-Arizona) to take a stand and make an unpopular vote on the issue that voters consistently identify as the most important: health care.

     President Trump and the genuine Republicans in the Senate have struggled to undo ObamaCare. (“Genuine Republicans” is meant to omit the late John McCain, who, unless he repented most fervently before his passing, is surely burning in Hell for voting to protect that obscenity.) They’ve chipped away at it with some measures, including the “1332 waivers” mentioned later in the article. But the Democrats are determined to preserve it. Why? Because government control of medical care is a point of no return: a measure that induces popular dependency upon the State. No nation that has enacted it has ever managed to repeal it. It quite literally gives the State the power of life and death over every man under its sway.

     Admittedly, ObamaCare – strictly speaking, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 – doesn’t go all the way. Doctors and nurses are still private citizens rather than involuntary employees of the State. Medical products are still made and vended by private companies. And citizens can still buy their own medical insurance. But it narrows the gap between the previous, largely free-market system for acquiring medical care and the Democrats’ ideal, in which the State stands between the patient and the provider in all things, including payment for services.

     ObamaCare achieves that narrowing by fastening D.C.’s claws upon the method by which most major medical expenses are defrayed: through insurance. The PPACA sets stringent rules upon what a legally permissible insurance policy must cover, under what circumstances, and subject to what limitations. It came close to giving an unelected, unreviewable bureaucracy the final word on what procedures an insurance policy is required to finance. (Remember the debate over “death panels?”) And it caused patients’ out-of-pocket expenses, both for premiums and for medical care, to shoot upward.

     But it also created an iron triangle: a subsector inside the Department of Health and Human Services, a cartel of major medical insurance providers, and a significant community of beneficiaries who could not previously afford medical insurance. And of course the Democrats purely love it.

     In fact, they want to go much, much further:

     I’m with Bernie on ‘Medicare for all.’ And let me tell you why. I spent a big chunk of my life studying why families go broke. And one of the number one reasons is the cost of health care, medical bills. And that’s not just for people who don’t have insurance. It’s for people who have insurance.

     “Look at the business model of an insurance company. It’s to bring in as many dollars as they can in premiums and to pay out as few dollars as possible for your health care. That leaves families with rising premiums, rising co-pays, and fighting with insurance companies to try to get the health care that their doctors say that they and their children need. ‘Medicare for all’ solves that problem.

     “And I understand. There are a lot of politicians who say, ‘oh, it’s just not possible, we just can’t do it, have a lot of political reasons for this.’ What they’re really telling you is they just won’t fight for it. Well, health care is a basic human right, and I will fight for basic human rights.”

     That’s the Dishonorable Elizabeth Warren speaking. She’s currently a front-runner for the Democrats’ presidential nomination. And she’s not alone in her advocacy of government-controlled medical care.

     To the extent that the 2016 elections were about Supreme Court justices, the 2020 elections will be about medical care. The United States is an aging nation. Our national fertility rate has slipped below the ZPG level, which means the population is growing slowly older every year. That causes the subjects of medical care, its availability, and its affordability to become steadily more important.

     The Democrats want you to fear that you won’t be able to afford the care required to keep you alive without the supervision of the Omnipotent State. They want to persuade you that without D.C.’s close control of all things medicine-related, you’ll be left without medical care, whether because you can’t afford insurance, or because the insurance company will arbitrarily deny you coverage for your treatment.

     A lot of Americans have already bought into ObamaCare. Some of them probably believe that without it they’d be uninsured, and therefore helpless.

     The insurance companies that have labored to conform their offerings to the PPACA’a dictates have resisted the idea of going back. There’d be a lot of work involved. And they’d have to offer policies customers would purchase voluntarily. Unthinkable.

     And the bureaucrats in HHS can be counted on to favor it – and to vote Democrat next year.

     Be afraid.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Quickies: Indications Of A Motivation Field

     One of the late Alice Sheldon’s / “James Tiptree, Jr.’s” best stories, “Faithful To Thee, Terra, In Our Fashion,” contains the following gem of an observation:

     “A mechanical process can reverse a bit at random, but motivation acts like a field – the elements won’t change unless the field does.”

     Motivation is functionally synonymous with incentives. The strongest incentives pertinent to a given context provide the motivational vector. An organization that’s premised upon top-down organization and control will – nominally, at least – feature incentives dictated from above. This synergizes powerfully with Robert Anton Wilson’s famous Snafu Principle.

     Now read through the various tweets emitted by the Washington Post in the aftermath of the raid that executed al-Baghdadi, and hazard a guess at the motivation field that pervades that organization. Go on, take a wild swing at it.

     The Post has long been known as a paper whose editorial staff was left-liberal in sentiment, but never before have I seen it launch such a fusillade of outright defamation at a sitting president of the United States. No, not even in the waning years of Richard Nixon’s presidency. It should be irrefutably clear at this point that the Post will do whatever it can imagine, including the utter perversion of its “news” coverage, to harm the Trump Administration.

     I’ve been counseled not to indulge in great fits of anger in these latter years, as they’re regarded as insalubrious for a man my age. Nevertheless, I cannot help but recall a marvelous observation whose origin, unfortunately, I’ve misplaced:

     “The problem with our time is that no one drinks from the skull of his enemy any more.”

     Truer words have never...well, have seldom been spoken. Either the motivation field that currently orients the major media must be reversed, or those media must be destroyed and their offices fumigated to prevent their rebirth. If we want Trump’s American Renaissance to continue to its intended destination, it is imperative that we return to the observance of Conan’s Maxim:

Mongol General: Hao! Dai ye! We won again! This is good, but what is best in life?
Mongol: The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair.
Mongol General: Wrong! Conan! What is best in life?
Conan: To crush your enemies. See them driven before you. And to hear the lamentations of their women.
Mongol General: That is good! That is good.

     Mega-indeed! Bless you, John Milius.

     (Yes, I’m in something of “a mood.” But “this, too, shall pass away,” so enjoy it while you’ve got it.)

Monday, October 28, 2019

Conquering the Popular Media

Trump has done a masterful job with Twitter - which is NOT generally well-suited to long, logical arguments, but to quips, ripostes, and graphically-assisted sarcasm.

But, the Non-Left is falling behind on the other parts of the media culture:

  • Television
  • Music
  • Books
  • Newspapers/Online Media
  • Public appearances at venues controlled by Leftists, such as colleges, libraries, and other places of public gatherings
  • Social media - Facebook, Twitter, YouTube - have all successfully de-platformed Non-Leftists
Now, some parts of the media are slowly being attacked - some quite successfully. The Hallmark Channel, HMC, and Pixl are all examples of channels showing traditional values within a mainstream model. Other parts, such as subscription audio and video channels, have managed to not only reach a larger audience, but to provide some financial support to their creators.

The increasing trend to 'cut the cable' may end up in Non-Leftists' favor - we have a history of working lean and mean, and have already established an audience base. Not only does the Left not know what to do outside of the traditional media, but they are hampered by their outsize budgets, financial liabilities, and unwillingness of the "stars" to work for less.

I'm linking to a content provider who makes a case for having Conservative foundations and think tanks provide some help to increase media options for Non-Leftists, and helping creators get off the ground. That assistance might be seed money, opportunities to network, or just some free publicity/promotion. But, it's clearly in their interests to help them get break out of obscurity. In the process, they may find a new direction for their educational efforts.

Remembrances Of The McBoobadoobs And Election Campaigns Past

     If you fail to pay attention to the caperings of the major media, it’s easy to miss the assistance they’ve been providing to the Democrats for the 2020 elections. This is especially significant given that most of the Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nod are at least as far to the left as Obama was. In light of the huge contrast between the Trump economy and the Obama economy, and between Trump’s foreign achievements and those of Obama, we wouldn’t willingly elect someone who shares Obama’s hard-left positions unless there were significant compensating assets on that side of the political ledger, and such assets are, shall we say, hard to find. So the media, as heavily invested in Democrat success as ever, are doing what they can for those candidates, mostly through the op-ed columns and talking-head shows.

     It put me in mind of the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, and the several ways in which the media strove to glamorize him. They glossed over his arrogance and his many lies, and emphasized his speaking and (God help us) his grooming. I thought back to a couple of columns I wrote for Eternity Road of fond memory. And I decided that the time had come to revive them.

     For context, please read this October 2008 piece by Elizabeth “The Anchoress” Scalia before proceeding.

1. Conversations With The McBoobadoobs.

     Recently, a Long Island blogging colleague of mine, Elizabeth Scalia, better known as The Anchoress, mentioned Booby in the course of a disquisition on how the Main Stream Media have treated Joe Wurzelbacher, now better known as "Joe the Plumber." What matters, she wrote, is the response Barack Obama, the socialist candidate for president, made to Joe's innocent question about how Obama's tax plan would affect him. It wouldn't have made a difference, Elizabeth said, whether it had been Joe or Booby McBoobadoob who'd asked the question.

     I immediately took exception. Joe is apparently a fine fellow, a good plumber, a loving father to his kids, and a credit to his community. But he's not Booby.

     Aloysius Christopher McBoobadoob was born in Des Moines, Iowa, on February 13, 1967, the first child of Hector and Clarice McBoobadoob of that city and state. He acquired the cognomen Booby in grammar school, and insists to this day that it has nothing to do with the shape of his upper chest.

     Booby's early life was undistinguished. He graduated high school with average grades, served a three-year stint in the Army, and was honorably discharged with the rank of Corporal. Upon reentering civilian life at age twenty-one, he accepted employment at an agricultural-supplies concern on the outskirts of Des Moines as a general handyman and maintenance person. At twenty-six he married Amarantha Sullivan, his longtime sweetheart. The two then moved from Des Moines to Indianapolis -- Amarantha, who's usually called just Maire, insisted on being close to her aging parents -- which is where they live today. Over the past fifteen years they've acquired one house, one son, two daughters, one dog, and two cats. Today Booby works as a facilities supervisor for a large Indianapolis self-storage company, while Maire volunteers in the children's section at one of the city's public libraries. The two drive used cars -- hers is a 1998 Buick Century; his is a 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix -- and are oppressed by the usual complement of credit card bills, Jehovah's Witnesses, and calls from telemarketers.

     Booby and Maire live reasonably well on his $58,000 annual salary. He has to do a few things himself that better-off persons usually hire done -- oil changes on the cars, maintenance of the furnace and hot water heater, repairs on household appliances -- but he does them cheerfully, observing that he once did them for an employer for pay, so what's so bad about doing them for himself and his family? Maire sometimes comments disparagingly on the seemingly permanent dirt under Booby's fingernails, but he can usually put an end to that with a kiss, dinner out, or a gift of shoes.

     Justin, Louise, and Adele, the three McBoobadoob children, attend public schools. Booby and Maire aren't perfectly happy with what the kids are being exposed to. There's quite a lot of non-education, even anti-education, going on in public schools these days. Maire tries to keep up with the trends and counteract them when the occasion demands, but she often wonders if her kids are telling her everything she ought to hear. Along with that, a couple of the teachers in the high school have become aggressive about their anti-religious convictions. Booby, a non-practicing Catholic, tries to shrug it off, but Maire, a devout Methodist, is becoming concerned that these "educators" have more traction with Justin than her parish pastor does.

     The cost of living has them concerned, too. Combined property taxes on their modest three-bedroom home, for which they paid $110,000 in 1993, have risen to $6200 per year -- more than ten percent of Booby's before-tax salary. Partly it's because they're within the city limits -- three miles further west and the tax bill would be only $4300 -- but there's nothing to be done about it except sell and move, and Maire is flatly against that while the kids are still in school. The tax burden, the rising cost of oil, gas, and electric power, and the need to start putting together a college fund for Justin have them looking for economies. They haven't found many they can exploit.

     Booby and Maire don't discuss politics. She's a little bit left of center; he's a slightly mushy conservative. She usually votes; he usually doesn't. They instinctively avoid political involvement; it would take a team of horses and an oversized whip to drag them to a campaign rally. But this year, both of them are engaged. This year, they sense that more than trivialities hang on the balloting on November 4.


     I asked Booby what he thought of the Joe the Plumber episode and its sequels. I'd never before heard him raise his voice. He's angry at everyone involved: at Barack Obama, for his oily invasion of a peaceful private neighborhood; at the Obama campaign, for its assault on Joe Wurzelbacher's good name in the hope of salvaging Obama's public image as a friend of the middle class; at the media, for their attempt to paint Joe as some sort of Republican stooge; and at Joe himself for, as Booby put it, "not cold-cocking the bastard and laying him out flat in the street, right then, as he deserved."

     "I don't own much firepower," Booby said, "just this little Ruger .22 caliber target rifle, and I haven't even taken it to the range this year. But by God, if that lying sonofabitch had paraded down my street like a tinpot dictator, I'd have loaded, locked, and filled his ass with lead. These political assholes think they can shove their faces in wherever they want, whenever they want. Then if they don't get the reception they think they deserve, it's us poor slobs who have to suffer. Why the hell didn't Joe knock him on his ass? The Secret Service? He would have been out on bail in two hours and a national hero in three!"

     "Would you have done that to John McCain, everything else being equal?" I said.

     Booby took a long pull on his Coors, sat back, and thought for a spell. "Maybe," he said. "Left or right, black or white, an invasion's an invasion. We didn't ask the Japs about their politics after Pearl Harbor, did we? We just gave 'em the back of our hand." He brightened. "But I'll bet McCain's never done anything like that. Has he?"

     I thought about it. "I don't think so," I said.

     Booby nodded. "Good," he said. "He's a good man. Maybe not the best man in the country, but he'll do. Another beer?" he said.

     I smiled. "Sure."


     Maire McBoobadoob is even more incensed. I didn't expect that. What I knew of her politics seemed to agree with Obama on more than half his policy points. It turned out that that hardly mattered.

     "It's a question of decency," she said. "I don't care nearly as much about politics as I care about decency. Decent people treat other people decently. Obama doesn't. If you ask him a question he doesn't want to answer, you're a racist. If you look into his friends and allies, you must hate minorities and the poor. If you investigate his fundraising practices, or his ties to an organization like ACORN, you're Public Enemy Number One!" She took a ladyfinger from the faux-silver tray between us and dipped it halfway into her tea. "These are pretty good, even if they do come in a five-pound bag," she said.

     I nodded, as my mouth was still full.

     "Who I'm really worried about," she continued, "is Justin. The more I look into the schools, the more I see that I don't like. A lot of Obama's cronies call themselves educational reformers, which is about like calling a sewer worker a sanitation executive. They want to push all this 'progressive' PC garbage into the curriculum and push all the English, history, math and science out! As if the schools weren't already full of their nonsense!"

     "Is there a part of it that bothers you more than the rest?" I said.

     Maire drained her teacup and pursed her lips. "I think...the sex education part," she said. "Louise and Adele have already gotten a helping, and it's not what we were told it was. The teachers are against chastity, if you can believe it. They've been telling the kids to experiment, that it's all in good fun. Hey, maybe you're gay, try it out, you might like it! Almost nothing about the risks, the diseases, or the heartbreak." Something flickered across her face, something swift and sorrowful, as if she were remembering a heartbreak of her own from long ago.

     "Were you offered a chance to opt them out?" I said.

     Maire shook her head. "No one gets that. Not around here. Do they do that where you live?"

     "No," I said. "It seems to be mandatory everywhere, now."

     "I should have guessed," she replied. "Once they get their meathooks into the system, they never pull 'em out, only drive 'em deeper. More tea?" she said.

     I nodded, though my back teeth were floating. "Sure."


     Booby and Maire are Middle America. Yes, they're fictional -- neither the Scots McBoobadoobs nor the Polynesian branch of the family will admit to them, anyway -- but they embody the full spectrum of American middle-class virtues, values, priorities, and fears for the future. They've sensed the rotten core at the heart of the Obama for President campaign, and want nothing to do with it. And so, to Booby's surprise and for the first time he's aware of, Maire has decided to vote Republican. Barack Obama has a lot more to fear from the McBoobadoobs of America than from Joe Wurzelbacher.

     There've been Republican accusations of vote fraud against the Democrats, and Democrat counter-accusations of vote suppression against the Republicans. The Republican charges are well supported by evidence while the Democrats' accusations are not. If anyone's votes are likely to be suppressed, or in some way nullified, they're the votes of Booby and Maire, and millions like them. It's from the low of character that we expect such villainies. Such persons are heavily over-represented among Democrats, and on the political Left generally.

     But we already knew that from first principles, didn't we? The Left has forsworn all standards of justice or decency; they might get in the way of stealing the next election. A man who says that only the Cause matters, that anything is permissible in service to the Cause, has pre-declared his ethical boundaries: he has none. It's among the ironies of human life that when a man of low character accuses you of something vile, it's because he's actively considering doing it himself.

     Consider well before you cast your ballot on November 4.

2. Return To The McBoobadoobs.

     I and my Co-Conspirators here at Eternity Road don't do many Man-In-The-Street interviews; there's too much legwork involved, and we dislike being pelted with street debris by persons disinclined to speak. But one such piece, written just before the 2008 election, garnered a great deal of interest and E-mail. One typical E-mail suggested that I schedule a follow-up interview with the McBoobadoobs a year later, to see if their opinions had changed at all. I noted the suggestion in my Long-Term-Agenda folder, to which I recur whenever I sense that my focus is beginning to narrow -- or widen -- unacceptably.

     It hasn't been a year, but events have been far more rapid than anyone expected. So, thinking it might be well to take Middle America's pulse in a direct way, I called Booby and Maire and asked if they'd be amenable to a follow-up right away. Being the gracious sorts they are, they immediately agreed.


     There've been few changes in the lives of the McBoobadoob family. They're still where they were on the edge of Indianapolis. Booby still runs a self-storage facility; Maire still volunteers in the children's section of a local library. Their kids are as they were, just nine months older. Probably the most significant developments in their lives since the earlier interview are the things they decided not to do.

     Maire, who remains concerned with the quality of the education the kids are receiving in their local public schools, had been looking into a Catholic alternative. The $2000 annual tuition appeared manageable, at least for Justin alone, who at fourteen is squarely under the crosshairs of the multiculturalists, the moral relativists, and the sexual proselytizers. Booby defers to Maire on such matters. But after long consideration of the family's finances, the prospects for a sharp increase in taxes, and the likelihood of a large slug of inflation, she decided against it. Political trends being what they are, it would be too risky to commit to that magnitude of expense.

     "What if Obama gets his health-care proposal or his second stimulus bill through Congress?" she said. "You know there'd be a tax increase to fund either one. And the borrowing to this point is scary. How can Washington afford the interest on all that debt?"

     "Are you aware of how the Federal Reserve system works?" I said.

     Maire nodded. "I got curious about it when the first stimulus bill passed. It's hard to believe it's legal." She snorted. "And they claim the Fed is non-political! Wait here a moment, I have something to show you."

     She rose, left the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with a handful of something. What she spread on the table before me was a pile of broken jewelry.

     "It's mostly fourteen-K gold," she said. "One or two diamond chips. I've had most of it for a long time. You know how this stuff can accumulate. But I heard a commercial on the radio a few days ago, from a local outfit that's buying up scrap gold. 'Highest prices paid!' they said. So I went through my jewelry box for everything I'd never had the inclination to fix, intending to bring it down there and see if I could get enough for it for a mortgage payment."

     "Why didn't you?" I said.

     "Because that very day, I heard two other commercials on the radio, from two other outfits buying up scrap gold. Same basic pitch: 'Highest prices paid! See us first!' And it occurred to me that when everyone is buying, that's usually the time to stay put." She stirred the pile of chains, bracelets and brooches with a finger. "We don't really need the money...right now."

     I nodded. "I know a lot of people who've come to the same conclusion."

     She smiled wanly, recognizing a good decision made against her druthers. "So Justin will have to stay in public school for another year or so. And I'll keep this stuff against a rainy day." She frowned down at the little pile of valuables. "Do you suppose I should keep it somewhere safe?"

     "I would," I said.


     I found Booby working on the suspension of his 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix. He sat up and smiled sunnily as I approached.

     "Do you do this stuff?" he said.

     "I used to," I said. "The wife doesn't let me any more."

     "Yeah, I get it," he said. He rose, wiped his hands on an old towel, and shook mine. "They'd rather your nails stayed clean, just in case you win free tickets to the opera. How's it been going?"

     "Fair," I said. "No real changes. But I'm out here to ask you that!"

     He shook his head. "Changes," he said. "They raised our property taxes again. $6900 a year, now. I can still afford it, barely. But I was thinking about moving."

     "Outside the city limit?" I said.

     He nodded. "With the girls growing so fast we could use more space, and there are some nice four-bedrooms to the west that we could pick up for a song. We did some looking, found a couple we might have liked to buy. I talked with a realtor about what we could get for our place, and the difference seemed affordable...until I saw their tax bills."

     "They went up too, eh?" I said.

     "A lot," he said. "With home sales so slow, the thieves in local government know they have us by the short 'n' curlies. Seems like everyone in the state has gotten socked. I don't know what they need the money for."

     "I'm not sure 'need' enters into it," I said.

     "Yeah, right." He looked back at his car. "If you try to be responsible, stay out of debt, think forward about what you don't need right away but you might soon, stuff like this can freeze you in your tracks. You don't know what you can count on. I mean, I still have my job, and I even got a little raise in March. But who could say what the bastards are going to do to us next? That Communist in the White House could start shoveling my money at his buddies in Iran and North Korea any minute!" His expression changed abruptly. "Show you something?"

     I followed him behind his garage, and found a pop-up camper trailer there. It was a few years old, and was beginning to show the signs: nicks and small dents, and a few rust spots along the underside of the body panels.

     "Bought it a couple of months ago," Booby said. "That's why I was working on the Pontiac. I figured, what with air travel and hotel rooms getting so expensive, maybe Maire and I would make our next vacation an outdoorsy one, the way we did when we were younger. There are some beautiful campable parks and nature sites out west." He looked down ruefully at his paunch. "A few miles of hiking and nature trailing might do us some good."

     "Figure to go soon?" I said.

     "Not this year," he said. "I have to save up to afford the gas."


     Booby had one more thing to show me before we parted company. He put a finger to his lips in the universal sign for quiet, and led me into his basement workshop. It's a neat and orderly place, all the bins containers neatly stacked and labeled. There wasn't a single item littering the surface of his workbench.

     He pulled open the bottom drawer of the bench, reached inside, and drew forth a matte-black rifle.

     I recognized it at once. It's a Bushmaster AR-15, one of the most popular semiautomatic rifles in the world. Compact, accurate, and lethal at up to 200 yards. Its utility and sturdiness are legendary. Eugene Stoner's original design was intended for military use, and became the basis for the Army's M-16 automatic carbine.

     "I have one of those," I said.

     Booby nodded. "I would've guessed. The way things have been going, I figured we should have something like this and plenty of rounds for it. I can't bring myself to tell Maire about it, though. She'd pitch a record fit."

     "Think so?" I said.

     "Yeah. She's a great gal, don't get me wrong, I still love her like crazy, but guns make her...a little weird."

     "A lot of women are like that," I said. "When did you buy it?"

     He looked me squarely in the eyes, a portrait of unclouded resolve. "November 5, 2008. When did you get yours?"

     "Same day."


     If there is hope for America, it lies in the McBoobadoobs and families like them. Families rocked by the torrent of anti-family, anti-property, and anti-privacy legislation and court decisions the last few years have brought. Families desperate to improve their situations but paralyzed by the instability of the legal, social, and political conditions we suffer today. Families that must endure an accelerating stream of intrusions and exactions, levied upon them seemingly for no purpose but the enrichment and aggrandizement of the politically powerful. Families whose deepest need is to be left alone and in peace, and who can't understand why their need is the only one that seems weightless in the balances of executives, legislators, and judges.

     Families that have come to understand that the elections of 2008 have moved us to the brink of national disaster.

     Yes, the McBoobadoobs are fictional. But they give a thought-provoking interview, don't they?

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Good Cop / Bad Cop Dept.

     The proper study of Mankind is Man. – Alexander Pope

     It’s all one subject, really. There’s never been another. Not economics, nor moral theory, nor even politics itself.

     It’s in the nature of Man that one who’s been brutalized will react with a kind of affection toward an enemy who displays a degree of sympathy toward him. The reaction seems subconscious, automatic. It’s not quite what’s meant by Stockholm Syndrome, but the underlying mechanism is common to them. The police use it routinely, as do wartime interrogation specialists.

     This morning, with regard to the ongoing quest for the Democrats’ presidential nomination, Kurt Schlichter points this out:

     [Hawaiian Congresswoman] Tulsi [Gabbard] gets Strange New Conservative Respect for several reasons, but the primary one is that she doesn’t seem to hate our guts. She is what an opponent should be – an opponent, not an enemy. Let’s face it – the mainstream Democrat Party hates our guts, and given its malignant druthers it would strip us of our First, Second, and probably Third Amendment rights in order to make sure that we never, ever have a say in our own governance again. Then, with us silenced and disarmed, it would take our money, corrupt our children and generally oppress us in ways that make today’s punitive straw bans look tame. If you don’t believe that a scary number of mainstream lefties want us Normals enslaved or dead, well, you’re either in denial or not on social media.

     Miss Gabbard might actually be a decent human being, though she’s quite as much a leftist as anyone else on the debate stage. And we in the Right have taken so much abuse from the Left these past fifty years that the appearance of a political opponent who doesn’t openly call for our beheading excites our hopes. We might be able to reason with her! Besides, she looks great in yoga pants.

     (It has been said, and truly, that there are only three things in this world that are always truthful: drunks, very small children, and yoga pants. Hold onto that thought; it might come in handy later on in your life.)

     What the Right seeks in a political opponent is indeed one who can be reasoned with. Such a person might be persuasible about the most fundamental of all epistemological principles:

Watch Outputs, Not Inputs!

     The Left as it stands is a religious cult that believes itself incapable of error. Therefore, even the well-meaning ones – i.e., the ones who aren’t in it for the power, prestige, and perquisites – cannot recognize mistakes. Any unfortunate developments must be the work of enemies of the People! Once we have rooted them out and stood them against the wall, all will be well!

     A Leftist who speaks courteously even to us in the Right holds out the possibility that he can be persuaded to look at the outputs. That is, we hope he might accept that the consequences of the policies he advocates, when they’ve been applied to other countries, would be replicated here. Miss Gabbard’s personal attractions reinforce the hope. Yet that hope is founded entirely on her surface appeal.

     We’ve taken a lot of shit. We’ll take a lot more before the renascent socialism of the contemporary Democrat Party is laid in its grave. Perhaps the day is not far off when a return to a Democrat Party in the style of John F. Kennedy will be upon us. But it’s not here yet, and to repose even a particle of hope in an attractive, well-spoken woman who doesn’t appear to hate us for differing with her is to bet against the odds.

     Indeed, as I wrote the previous paragraph, it occurred to me that we should be grateful that there aren’t more Tulsi Gabbards in the Democrat Party. They’d make it too tempting to believe that we could risk allowing them a hand on the tiller of the Omnipotent State. Far better for us if all Democrats were in the Kamala Harris / Cory Booker vein: openly contemptuous of – and ready to condemn – anyone who disagrees with even one of their socialist nostrums. The reaction to that sort of self-exalting contempt is quite as automatic as the sympathetic reaction many in the Right have had to Tulsi Gabbard. It’s also a much stouter defense of the rights that remain to us, here in the Land of the Formerly Free.

The management class v. the steward class.

Ben Hunt has written an excellent article on pervasive management failure of "pretty much every public company over the past decade."
Public companies are managed today to mortgage the future OVER and OVER and OVER again, for the primary benefit of management shareholders and the secondary benefit of non-management shareholders.[1]
Taking care to grow through innovation and investment in productive assets has not been the watchword of American corporate management. Hunt focuses on one company, Texas Instruments, to show in excruciating detail what short-sighted manipulation and greed have done to the company and says it’s pervasive. Short-term profit and bugger future prospects.[2]

Hunt's definition of "financialization" is worth the price of admission alone. Shades of moving tens of thousands of factories to China as though there were no tomorrow and the only thing that should matter to a corporation is third-world wage rates.

This is truly a must-read piece. Even I, a stock market and business neophyte, wondered at the pervasive practice of share buybacks to goose management compensation based on share price. Surely, I thought, far-sighted managers would take advantage of basement-level loan costs to throw money straight at the core business of the company whether in the form of research or productive assets. But Hunt observes:

The Adam Neumann [WeWorks] story is repeated in a non-infuriating and non-obvious way every day in every S&P 500 company. And it’s been going on for a DECADE.[3]
To understand the reference to Neuman read about his life of grime here.

It's the same with another stellar American company, Boeing, much in the news lately for its troubles with the 737 Max:

Conventional logic says companies buy back stock when they perceive it as the most efficient thing to do with their profits. It’s also an alarm bell warning of unimaginative/poor management. Perhaps the right thing for Boeing to have done in the mid-2010s would have been to invest $10 bln to develop a new modern smaller regional single airliner? Instead Boeing’s bosses went with the bull stock market, stuck some bigger engines on the venerable and increasingly unbalanced B-737 and gave it the snappy Max moniker, while awarding themselves bigger bonuses.

The cost of the Max debacle will far exceed $10 bln and could crush the company. Their failure to invest in the future during times of easy money is the ultimate management failure – failing to ensure the company’s long-term future with new products. Instead they chased a higher stock price and higher bonuses juiced by the buybacks.[4]

To really add to your understanding of the financial realities of our times I can't recommend the movie "The Big Short" enough. It's highly, highly entertaining given what you'd think is a dry-as-dust topic like the functioning of Wall Street.

Bottom line, the American economy is like every single other aspect of Western civilization now: Zero understanding of basics, zero foresight, complete and utter leadership abdication, if not rancid betrayal.

[1] "The Last 10 Years Have Been 'An Unparalled Transfer Of Wealth To The Managerial Class.'" By Ben Hunt, ZeroHedge, 10/25/19.
[2] I don't care much for the notion of "greed" used in connection with "capitalists" or "corporations" as it invariably encompasses profitable activity to contribute something of value by fair means. I'd like nothing better to have a wildly successful company whose profits would enable me to support people I admire and causes I think are worthwhile. However, enriching oneself with no regard for the health of the enterprise or society at large is greed to be sure. Personal benefit with no value added, or even value subtracted.
[3] Hunt, supra.
[4] "Instead Of Buying-Back Billions In Stock, This Is What Boeing Should Have Done." By Bill Blain, ZeroHedge, 10/26/19 (emphasis removed).

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Some First-Rate Journalism Going on Here

At Ace of Spades.

Everyone else in the Media:
Do Your F*ing Jobs!

Scattered Thoughts

     Not every day produces an essay. Some are made for reflections of other varieties and lengths.

     I've written about the nature of identity on other occasions. When the subject returned to my thoughts recently, I found myself bemused by the ways in which we tend to apportion our sense of ourselves – to parcel bits of it out onto other persons, our occupations, inanimate objects of importance to us, even our pastimes or habits. "I'm Beth's husband." "I'm an engineer." "I'm the band's guitarist." "I'm the guy who sits in that armchair reading from his Kindle every Friday evening."

     It's not really possible to "distribute" your identity that way, of course; you are who you are regardless of the presence or absence of any of those people or things. Yet we all do it. We do it because of the value we place on our relations to those people and things. Though they are "outside" us, in the ultimate sense, yet we feel them as if they were parts of us.

     The tendency seems to arise from our consciousness of ourselves as finite. Finitude implies limitations and weaknesses. No one wants to be limited or weak. Our connections to other people and things help to mortar up the most important of those gaps in us. They make us feel stronger than we otherwise would. They may even make us stronger in actuality.

     There isn't much else to say about it other than to note that our sense of loss is inseparable from those "distributions of self." Imagine saying this to someone in the throes of grief: "You're grieving because your wife died? Hey, buck up. Someone's wife dies every day." A bloody nose would be the least you could expect. The grieving widower has lost "part of himself." He is no longer complete. You might as well try to jolly him about having lost a leg.

     Part of the value of grief is that it reminds us why we apportion ourselves. We are individually small. Weak. Largely incapable. Without all those connections, how would we live? Indeed, why would we live?

     Robinson Crusoe did all right by himself for a while, but how would his story have ended had Friday not happened by?

     Stephanie the Right Geek is bored with the political news:

     I see many problems in the world right now that require thoughtful, evidence-based solutions.

     But the day-to-day news cycle? The impeachment theater? The clown college debates? Here, I have lost the ability to care. None of it, in my view, is serious. It's all shit-stirring and mugging for the camera -- and to be quite frank, I just don't feel like talking about any of it.

     I feel much the same. Indeed, "shit-stirring" is a kind way to characterize it. It's exactly and only an attempt by losers to dethrone the winner who bested them – and who's making them look like the venal incompetents they are and always have been. That's why I've devoted no time or energy to detailing all the aspects of the "impeachment" carnival.

     However, the boredom has not dampened the anger. The Democrats and their Deep State allies are unhappy about their loss of power in Washington. I'm furious about their attempts to overturn a federal election, which began the day after Trump was elected president. I can only hope that many millions of Americans, however bored they may be with the Congressional caperings, share my anger, and that it will be expressed at the polling place come November 2020.

     Perhaps the most dangerous statement a writer can make is "All right, I'll try."

     I've been straining to produce a novel that many of my readers have requested. Some have pleaded for it for several years. Hell, the C.S.O. has pestered me for it. And five months ago, in a moment of weakness, I said to her and those others that I'd try to satisfy them. I set to work immediately thereafter.

     And it's been nothing but torture. I've never had this much difficulty with a fiction undertaking in my thirty years at the art. I expect fiction writing to be difficult for me, as it always has been. Yet nothing in my past has prepared me for this. I awaken each morning dreading the moment when I'd open the manuscript and stare impotently at it.

     I have no explanation. The core ideas of the thing are intriguing and fertile. The Marquee characters are vivid and appealing. The setting is evocative, and in more than one direction at that. I've even glimpsed the ending, which is usually what I most need to propel me.

     But I said I'd try. And knowing how many readers are awaiting the book, I can't find it in me to disappoint them by giving up.

     Let this be a lesson to me.

     I have a kinda-sorta friend who knows too much about me. That is, he knows about one of my expertises and he wants to use it for his own purposes. The thing is, I left the practice of that particular skill behind, many years ago. I don't want to revive it, even though I had a lot of fun at it way back when.

     That "friend" – call him Smith, which he's not – has dollar signs in his eyes. To cash those fantasies, he needs what I can do, and his importunings have been relentless ever since he found out about that aspect of my past.

     This sort of thing can ruin any relationship. It's a bald attempt to exploit someone. I liked Smith before all this started. But I couldn't endure any more of his nagging. So I decided to invite him to join me for a day at the shooting range.

     He expressed a cautious interest, not being a shooter himself, so I made sure the hook was firmly set before I sprang the trap.

     "The thing is," I told him, "the range I like has been under renovation since Sandy. It's still not in good shape. So we've been looking for folks to help out with a few things."

     "Oh?" (Smith fancies himself as a carpenter.) "What do they need down there?"

     I shrugged. "Just some target mounts."

     It's been a week since I heard from him last. I wonder why?

     That's about all for today, Gentle Reader. I have chores to address and a manuscript to stare at impotently, so I'll be ringing off for now. Until later, or more likely tomorrow, be well.

Critical mass of clichés.

Six days later, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, introduced a similar resolution. “If not arrested,” he said, “withdrawing from Syria will invite more of the chaos that breeds terrorism and create a vacuum our adversaries will certainly fill.”[1]
Whoa. "Chaos," "terrorism," "vacuums," to be filled by "adversaries." All in one sentence, pilgrims. Adversaries lurk everywhere, vacuums threaten if Americans mind our own business, and Americans must forestall or fill them to foil "terror."

That is state-of-the-art American foreign policy. Moronic intervention everywhere to chase down will-o'-the-wisps. "It's all about us" should be inscribed over the entrance to the U.S. State Department. Or maybe the thought, "Reforming the world, R2P, presidential whim, and "protecting oil fields" are not listed in the U.N. Charter."

Contemporary America is unrecognizable. We long ago left "functioning nation" behind in our rear-view mirror.

[1] "Did Trump Outsmart Putin With Syria Retreat?" By Zev Chafets, ZeroHedge, 10/25/19.

Friday, October 25, 2019

A Story, But Not One Of My Own


Managing Change - LOTS of Change

I've done it before. I lived through the 60's, 70's, and 80's - from Pop Culture and F* the System, Disco and Drugs (not me personally, but most people around me), and - after Carter had nearly brought the economy to a standstill, the Reagan correction. During much of that time, I was working hourly jobs, or raising children - yes, we mostly did it the old-fashioned way - Mom stayed home.

By the time I re-entered the working world, I'd missed the New Working Woman changes, and worked to live, not lived to work. I always was out of step with the culture.

By happenstance, I locked into the PC revolution, and made decent money teaching corporate people how to use them in the office.

What I found is that many, if not most, had major challenges in learning to use PCs. Oh, not the interface (although 3.1 WAS clunky).

It was the fact that their job was radically changing, and most of them had major difficulties coping with the rapid changes. Those changes included:

  • Learning to use spreadsheets/databases/business applications.
  • Learning to generate the statistics, trends, and forecasts themselves, rather than turning the task over to the guys in the back room to work on.
  • Coping with floods of emails, online calendars, and CRM (Customer Relations Management) software.
  • For many men, having to do their own correspondence, rather than turn it over to a secretary.
  • Feeling out of it, when much younger workers were training them, rather than the traditional system of the elder expert passing on legacy wisdom.
The speed of commerce and business activities exploded exponentially. Rather than leisurely lunches with clients, suddenly there was pressure to work online with customers. A decision that might have taken weeks or months was expected to close within days. Salesmen were both isolated in the field (they were finding little real need to return to the office, as most of their work could be sent by computer), and tethered by constant communication with their bosses.

In schools, teachers had to master use of electronic whiteboards, online grading systems and lesson planning, and use of technology in the classroom - particularly in math and science. Much of the equipment was neither user-friendly, nor leading to reduction in teacher time at work.

Paradoxically, the many changes in both job and company I'd experienced through much of my working career has uniquely fitted me for managing the changes I am seeing now. I won't say that changes are without stress, but that stress is manageable. 

When I can, I keep to routines. It makes the changes I do have to make easier to cope with. I get my gas and coffee at the same locations. I stock up on comfort food. As far as I can manage, I eat at regular times. I have kept the same husband for 45+ years.

I used to envy my friends and acquaintances who climbed the career ladder without a hiccup. I found that my periods of unemployment and underemployment prepared me to handle upheaval, and land on my feet again, with less angst.

Political Optima And The Possibility Of Stable Political Systems, Part 1

     Quite a title, eh? It probably says something about my habit of rising at 4:00 AM despite any objective need to do so. All the same, that’s what’s on my mind this morning. The seed was planted many years ago, when I first took an interest in political organizations and orientations. It germinated somewhat later, after I’d disassociated myself from the Libertarian Party. It was watered this morning by this article about a rising trend toward separatism in the western Canadian provinces. And when I reflected on the many connections between such trends and the sociodynamics I wrote about in these books, it flowered into something for which I could think of no more appropriate introduction.

     Have a snippet from the Foreword to Freedom’s Fury:

     I shan’t attempt to deceive or misdirect you: I’m horrified by politics and all its fruits. I consider the use of coercive force against innocent men the greatest of all the evils we know. But I try, most sincerely, to be realistic about the world around us. In that world, peopled by men such as ourselves, anarchism—the complete abjuration and avoidance of the State—is unstable. In time, it will always give way to politics. Hammer it to the earth as many times as you may, you will never succeed in killing it permanently. The State will rise again.
     However, as we’ve learned to our sorrow these past few centuries, the State is unstable, too. It always deteriorates and falls, though not always swiftly. What follows it varies from place to place and era to era.
     As one who passionately loves freedom, I’ve striven to understand the processes involved, and to unearth a path to a stable free society. I’ve failed to find one.

     Any number of intelligent analysts and commentators would demur at the above. Political stability is possible, they would say. Moreover, a stable polity would indeed be based on freedom. Some would point to Robert Nozick’s “night-watchman state.” Other would prefer Vernor Vinge’s techno-anarchism, or the semi-pastoral anarchism of the Spoonerites of Hope. And of course we have Robert A. Heinlein’s world state in which only military veterans can vote or hold office. Tom Kratman, who likes that vision, calls it “timocratic minarchism.”

     These are all attractive ideas. But would they be stable – that is, would they endure over a long stretch of time, or would there arise dynamic processes that would compel them to change in a dramatic way?

     Over the years I’ve come, albeit reluctantly, to the conclusion that political stability is an impossible goal. We can have periods in which we’ve seemingly achieved an arrangement that’s both liberty-based and sociodynamically stable; we can’t have the condition itself. Social, economic, and political dynamics cannot be halted. Moreover, there are certain pesky laws of nature that get in the way, and there’s nothing to be done about them.

     I could be wrong. Indeed, I’d like to be. But I don’t think I am.

     First, a few thoughts about political optima. An optimum is a condition that cannot be improved upon according to stated criteria. The criteria, of course, are what really matter. A political optimum is one in which some socio-economic-political criterion, or basket thereof, have been achieved to the maximum possible extent, such that further alterations in the rules would produce a deterioration in those criteria.

     On the subject of multi-criterion optimizations, no one has ever written more insightfully than the late Herman Kahn:

     [E]ven conceptually it may be nonsense to talk of the most important objective, the most probable circumstance, or the optimum strategy, when “important,” “probable,” or “optimum” refer to a committee’s utility function or estimate. If we are working for a committee, we have to design satisfactory systems (including military systems) in the same way that legislators satisfy people as part of a political process. We have to have something in the chosen system for everyone who is “reasonable,” and even something for some of the unreasonable people too.....

     [The following table] illustrates the problem. A, B, and C are either different circumstances or objectives; systems I, II, and III are designed to grapple with A, B, and C respectively. The table gives a hypothetical scoring for how each of these systems might work in three different circumstances or objectives, with a score of 100 for “best.” While each of the three systems does admirably at the job for which it was designed, they all perform miserably at off-design points. If the problem were to choose between the given alternatives—that is, systems I, II, or III—both the analyst and the military planner would have a hopeless task, as far as analysis goes—they could act as advocates, but not as objective students of the problem.

System I System II System III System IV System V System VI
Objective A 100 50 20 90 85 75
Objective B 30 100 40 80 95 80
Objective C 10 30 100 85 75 95

     Fortunately, the situation is not so bad. It is usually possible to redesign systems I, II, and III into systems IV, V, and VI, which have appreciable off-design capabilities, without spectacular loss of performance in the highest-priority position. Because the most extreme supporters of systems IV, V, and VI will still differ among themselves as to whether A, B, or C is most important, the argument may still be bitter....However, any who are not severely partisan will not care much which system is chosen, so long as it is one of the collection of IV, V, and VI, and not one of the collection of I, II, and III....

     It is clear that we should prefer IV to I even if we do not happen to care much about B or C, because we understand that we are human and may be wrong. Even a fanatic about A will pretend to prefer IV to I because he does not want to look like a fanatic. Only a fanatic’s fanatic is not willing to yield a little on his most cherished objective or worry in order to be able to give a lot to other people’s cherished objectives or worries.

     [Emphasis added by FWP.]

     Kahn, a supergenius, was largely ignored in his day, because he wrote about an unpleasant subject. Yet he was impeccably correct – and his thinking applies much more widely than to strategic planning alone.

     There cannot be stability in a political system in which a great many people – an appreciable fraction of the population of the polity – believe themselves to have been ignored and their most important concerns dismissed. Moreover, it doesn’t matter what those concerns are. So even a freedom fanatic such as myself must acknowledge the need to accommodate those with other least, if it seems they might be willing to riot over their marginalization. Can’t have corpses in the gutters; they make the Sunday morning walk to church unpleasant.

     Alongside this matter of differing – sometimes clashing – criteria for goodness in a political system, we must take account of the distribution of motives among men. In every place and time there have been men whose strongest desire was for power over others. It appears that, like the poor, such men will always be among us. A political system that cannot cope with the presence of power-seekers would be unstable by its very nature.

     Needless to say, those who cherish freedom will regard the power-seekers as the greatest imaginable threat. However, any political system, regardless of its fundamental principles, will possess niches from which men who want power over others can achieve it. That includes a complete anarchy such as the Spoonerites wanted to establish on Hope. For like it or not, power doesn't flow exclusively from the barrel of a gun.

     If Smith can get Jones and Davis to agree to accept his decisions as binding upon them, Smith has achieved a kind of power over them. He need not be able to enforce his decisions; he merely needs Jones's and Davis's deference, whatever their reasons may be for granting it to him. Such situations have occurred many times in nominally non-governmental contexts. They arise from differences in ability, family relations, public prestige, acknowledged expertise, financial, commercial, and technological influence, and the misty if not quite invisible hand of a network effect. Though they're not coercive power of the sort political analysts are most comfortable in discussing, they are quite real.

     What matters most to political stability in a regime founded on freedom is whether those who aspire to coercive power can achieve it by leveraging one of the other sorts. I cannot imagine a society in which such leverage does not exist at least in potential.

     Finally for today's introduction to this subject – you didn't really think I was going to exhaust a subject worthy of a few dozen doctoral dissertations in a single essay, did you? — consider the existence or non-existence of a frontier. During the frontier years of the United States, persons unhappy with conditions in the population centers of the East could liberate themselves by moving westward. Even after the West Coast began to populate and develop political structures, there remained large amounts of land to which the freedom seeker could withdraw, should he deem coping with the hazards and difficulties of life in the wild preferable to dealing with the power structures of "civilization."

     While a frontier exists and can be accessed, political systems possess an incentive to restrain their oppressions and their rapacity. In the absence of a frontier, the choice of self-liberation is unavailable; political systems compete only with one another. Notably, polities have often used one another as threats with which to mulct and subjugate their own peoples, e.g.: "If you don't give us what we need to defend you, the Soviets will get you." Moreover, even when a frontier exists, its gradual increases in population and wealth – the natural consequence of men's labors when not drained or constrained by a government – will cause the nearest polities to move toward it with intent to absorb it. So retaining an accessible frontier becomes an ever more difficult problem.

     We've reached the point at which even a dedicated Gentle Reader's eyes will have started to glaze over. Yet there is still much to discuss. I can only hope that the above has ploughed a furrow in which further thoughts about the inherent dynamics of politics in a human society might take root and flourish. In other words:

     More anon.

Pearls of expression.

On Chicago's desperate fiscal straits:


Let the MS-13 gangs go collect all they can, and give them 20% cut and a lifetime supply of 'get-out-of-jail" cards.


they already have that, you will need to sweeten the deal.....


OK, and a puppy.[1]

Read the ZeroHedge article. It's interesting in the way that a deadly 20-car pileup is. The inexorable laws of arithmetic slowly draw the noose tighter around the Chicago petri dish and the clueless politicians do the usual temporizing and exhibit the same pathetic refusal to address reality. Well. 'chacos, . . . here comes The Reckoning. The Reckoning that makes every progressive, leftist, treasonous, mindless, arrogant goat lover in the Western world wet their pants.

[1] Comments on "Chicago's Death Spiral: There's No Can Left To Kick." By Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner, ZeroHedge, 10/24/19.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Supping With The Devil

     “If you sup with the Devil, use a long spoon.” – Origin unknown

     David L. Burkhead has posted a typically thoughtful piece about externalities: the consequences a seemingly ordinary event or transaction can impose upon persons nominally uninvolved in it. Here’s one example, taken from his article:

     Someone upstream of you, let’s call him Ivan, decides to make widgets and sell them to you. These widgets are something valuable to you. The problem is, the process for making the widgets produces waste. Ivan just dumps that waste in the stream and the contaminated water flows through your property. You, of course, are not happy with this. The contamination is a cost to you, reducing the value of that water to you. Depending on how bad it is, it might be tolerable, but it’s still a cost imposed on you.

     There are both positive and negative externalities to be considered in such a discussion. Here’s one I like quite a lot:

     Smith, Jones, and Davis are in the corner tavern one evening. Smith wants some music, so he puts his change into the jukebox and selects a song. Jones is pleased, for he likes the song. Davis is not, for he hates it. As for the bartender, he’s deliberately deaf to it; what matters to him is the cut he gets from the jukebox’s monthly take.

     There’s a case that features both a positive externality and a negative one. Jones is getting some enjoyment at zero cost to him, while Davis must endure an irritation for which he goes uncompensated. In a private-property setting such as a tavern, Davis can exercise his option to depart. (He certainly can’t invoice Smith for his displeasure, much as he might want to.) So there’s no substantive rationale for “doing something” to mitigate the externalities.

     Now let’s change it up a bit:

     Smith, Jones, and Davis are neighbors in adjacent suburban homes. Smith likes flowers, so he plants his lot with a great many of them. Jones is pleased, for he finds the array beautiful. Davis is not: he’s allergic to the flowers Smith has planted.

     We now have a quasi-public situation. Davis can hardly pick up his house and move it away from the irritation to his sinuses Smith has constructed. Perhaps he could sell it, but there are obvious costs of several kinds to that move. Besides, what Smith has done could happen in Davis’s next neighborhood. What’s the man to do?

     Quite a lot of persons would immediately reach for the State. And the State is always happy to get involved.

     A long time ago, I addressed the subject of externalities, and their use as a rationale for government intervention in otherwise private actions. It’s not an easy subject, for the reasons Burkhead mentions and others. Most prefer to leave it to the attentions of professional analysts and economists. However, there are aspects of it that even a layman unconcerned with political theory or political economy would do well to ponder.

     The first of those aspects comes from the work of Nobel Laureate Ronald Coase. In its simplest form, Coase’s Theorem posits that when transaction costs – i.e., the frictional impediments that increase the effective cost of a transaction to the transactors, rather than the on-the-counter price that passes from one to the other – are sufficiently low, then over time each asset or right will find its way into the hands of him to whom it’s most valuable. While this isn’t “intuitively obvious,” to use a widely detested phrase, it does seem to hold true in a range of cases. It would suggest that in one approach to the “flowers problem” of the previous segment, Davis could propose to pay Smith a modest amount if Smith would agree to forgo planting species that excite Davis’s allergies. Smith would be compensated for the loss of his pleasure at being surrounded by flowers, and Davis would be freed of the irritant they would have created.

     Mind you, that isn’t guaranteed to work. Smith might not agree to any such bargain. Or he might set a price too high for Davis to meet. But if the transaction costs are near to zero, the possibility will be there.

     The second possibility involves the creation of a “bargaining chip” condition: a condition Davis can tolerate (or enjoy) that Smith finds irritating. For example, if Davis were to discover that Smith dislikes avant-garde modern music, Davis might counter-irritate Smith with blasts of Schonberg, Philip Glass, or (God help us) John Cage. That would produce a mutual-deterrence situation in which each might agree to refrain from his own irritating behavior on the condition that the other should henceforth do the same. (No, it’s not nice, but one does what one must.)

     The third possibility is to “reach for the State.” If there is a local authority with regulatory powers over residential plantings, Davis might have a case that Smith should be restrained. If there are no such authorities, it might be possible to get the municipal or county government to erect one. It could prove the least costly of all the possibilities open to Davis for the relief of his aching sinuses.

     At least in the short term.

     Among the worst of all the admitted defects of economic reasoning is this: no matter how certain some development may be, even with perfect knowledge of the situation, it’s impossible to predict when that development will arrive. People are variable and cranky. They think, if that’s the word, with their desires and opinions at least as often as with their powers of reasoning. And they often fiddle about interminably in their quest for an easier, simpler, or cheaper way.

     Worse, too many of us are prone to ignoring the incentive effects that arise from the ways we “solve our problems.”

     One inevitable consequence of the creation of a body with coercive powers – i.e., a body that can punish those who defy its decrees – is that that body will attempt to expand its scope. For example, a zoning board that starts out with authority only over the sizes of the plots required for buildings of various sizes will sooner or later attempt to gain authority over what those buildings may be used for, how many people may occupy them simultaneously, what may be stored in them, what the grounds around them can be used for and at what hours, and so forth. It may be irregularly successful in such arrogations, but it will make the attempt. There are no known exceptions.

     Another seemingly inevitable consequence of the creation of authorities is their targeting by persons or organizations that could gain important advantages by getting control of them. I think of this as the “dropped sword” dynamic: a weapon that anyone could use against his adversaries will invite a scramble over its acquisition and control. Nobel Laureate George Stigler did valuable work in this area, usually called regulatory capture theory.

     Both these developments result in a steady accretion of costs upon those under the authority’s power. If in the example above, Davis invokes some local authority to solve his allergy problem, we may rest assured that that board:

  • Will act if it already has a statutory or charter rationale;
  • Will strive to create such a rationale if one does not yet exist;
  • Will employ whatever extra powers it may acquire to reach for more.

     That’s the dynamic of power: it seeks to grow. Thus Davis might eventually be confronted by that same board over something he’s been doing that he regards as nobody else’s business: perhaps a decorative pond, or a fence of an unusual height or composition. That the cost takes a while to arrive and assumes an unpredictable form makes it difficult to factor into Davis’s calculations...if, indeed, he bothers to think of the longer term at all.

     People are so given to thinking with their wishes that such effects are more often dismissed than addressed. There’s an “it won’t happen, at least not to me” character to such dismissals, as if we could count on the bullet hitting the next soldier in line. Ostriches’ method of averting trouble works about as well.

     Life in society involves interactions with others. Some of those interactions will be unpleasant. In the usual case, there will be a choice of methods by which to cope. When one of those methods is an appeal to authority, it’s well to look closely at all the alternatives first.

     It may well be that in some cases there are no palatable alternatives. Problems involving air and water pollution have been proposed as evidence to the effect that sometimes government power is the only solution. Yet there will be costs, and they will be paid, whether by ourselves or by our descendants.

     Because those costs and their time of arrival are so difficult to foresee in exactitude, we often throw up our hands and declaim “Let our inheritors deal with the consequences.” It’s a very human thing to do. After all, we’re all mortal; we know that someday “our troubles will be over,” at least here under the veil of time. That makes it easy to hope that the price for our solutions might not be ours to pay.

     But it doesn’t mean there won’t be a price. It certainly doesn’t mean we can guarantee that the price won’t fall on our shoulders, nor that it will be bearable if it does.

     When government looks like an angel with the solution to our problems in his hands, we all too readily overlook the downside of inviting coercive power into our affairs. But history tells us that governments are far more often of a diabolical character than an angelic one...and if you’ve wondered about the reason for the aphorism at the head of this essay, now you have it.


     Mornings are complex affairs here at the Fortress. The complexity may be more perceived than real, owing to our habit of rising before dawn – usually at about 4:00 AM – but all the same, there are procedures to our mornings worthy of a Performance Specification the ISO crowd would approve.

     For instance, after we’ve fed our two dogs Sophie and Precious, we must prepare Sophie’s drugs. She suffers from a thyroid insufficiency and a stiffening of the joints common to many older dogs. So one of us usually sees to the feeding while the other prepares Sophie’s levothyroxine and rimadyl.

     However, Precious dislikes to see Sophie get anything unless there’s something in it for her as well. And of course, if Precious gets a treat, Sophie must get one too. So alongside Sophie’s drugs will be two dog cookies: typically Wellness bars in cheese or chicken flavor. This morning the procedure included the following exchange:

FWP: The drugs and cookies are ready.
CSO: Thank you.
FWP: That should be the title of something, don’t you think?
CSO: What?
FWP: “Drugs and Cookies.”
CSO: Oh, like Guns & Roses?
FWP: Well, they were big for a while.

     And now I sit here pondering what sort of story would fit the title “Drugs And Cookies.” Perhaps it will be a “Bruno Adventure,” like the three included in this collection. Anyway, if you’ve been wondering how we’ve managed to evade the men in the white coats with the big butterfly nets for so long, you’re not alone.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Got A Problem?

     Certain things about the workings of government have been well-known “open secrets” for decades. Persons who dare to broach them publicly are usually tacitly ignored by the major media, under the sotto voce rules about what subjects are and are not for open discussion. When a case that gives the game away is accidentally disclosed to public eyes, the foofaurauw can be deafening: both from ordinary Americans’ expressions of outrage and the frantic cries of talking heads attempting to deflect attention from it.

     There are reasons for all this, of course. This morning, Mark “Mad Dog” Sherman cites an article filled with cases of interest:

     Every human decision brings with it unintended consequences. Often, they are inconsequential, even funny. When Airbus, for example, wanted to make its planes quieter to improve the flying experience for travelers, it made its A380 so quiet that passengers could hear, with far too much clarity, what was happening in the plane’s bathrooms. Other times unintended consequences have far-reaching, dramatic effects. The US health care system is a case in point. It emerged in its present form in no small part because of two governmental decisions.

     Please read it all. My surmise is that the government agencies involved in the cases cited at the FEE article were less concerned with the consequences of their decrees than with the immediate public reaction to them. Politicians, after all, are the world’s supreme exponents of the art of claiming credit while averting blame. And being seen to be “doing something” is often what they most desire, especially with an election pending.

     For a darkly humorous yet ultimately grim assessment of this effect and others that flow from it, we have some observations from How Washington Really Works by Charles Peters, editor-in-chief of the Washington Monthly:

     The Library of Congress recently studied federal agencies' compliance with the Sunshine Act of 1976, which was supposed to open government to the public. The study found that of a group of 1,003 government meetings listed in the Federal Register, 627 were either partially or completely closed to the public. One closed meeting was held by the Federal Reserve Board to consider the design of its furniture; it was closed on the grounds that "matters of a sensitive financial nature were being considered by the Board."

     The military is a master of this kind of subversion. When the navy was ordered to conserve fuel during the energy crisis of the early seventies, it reported that it had reduced its ships sailing time by 20 percent. What it actually did was redefine sailing time to exclude a ship's journey from the port to the fleet at sea.

     What is this if not make-believe? Laws are passed, orders are given, compliance seems to occur, but nothing changes. Bureaucrats don't like real change, only the appearance of change. That is why they are so fond of reorganization. Reorganization gives them something to do: redrawing charts, knocking down office walls--but nothing outside the agency, such as poverty or hunger or disease, is affected in the slightest. What does happen is that new jobs are created, almost always with higher grade classifications, which of course means higher salaries for the reorganizers.

     The reason bureaucrats like internal reorganization better than external action is easy to understand. Suppose you work in an antipoverty agency and you do your job so well that poverty is eradicated. Or suppose you work in the Department of Energy and the energy problem disappears. What will happen to you? The bureaucrat can figure that out. If he takes real action, if he's truly effective, he'll be out of work--he won't survive. If, on the other hand, his action is make-believe, poverty will not disappear, the energy problem will not be solved, and his job will be safe--he will survive. Now you understand the fundamental Washington equation:

Make-believe = Survival

     Truer words were never written. And know this: Peters considers himself a liberal. He sincerely believes that government can solve problems.

     The late Cyril Northcote Parkinson – yes, he of the famous Law — was ahead of the curve on the consistent internal dynamics of all bureaucracies:

     [W]e must picture a civil servant, called A, who finds himself overworked. Whether this overwork is real or imaginary is immaterial, but we should observe, in passing, that A’s sensation (or illusion) might easily result from his own decreasing energy: a normal symptom of middle age. For this real or imaginary overwork there are, broadly speaking, three possible remedies. He may resign; he may ask to halve the work with a colleague called B; he may demand the assistance of two subordinates, to be called C and D. there is probably no instance, however in history of A choosing any but the third alternative. By resignation he would lose his pension rights. By having B appointed, on his own level in the hierarchy, he would merely bring in a rival for promotion to W’s vacancy when W, at long last, retires. So A would rather have C and D, junior men, below him. They will add to his consequence and, by dividing the work into two categories, as between C and D, he will have the merit of being the only man who comprehends them both. [Emphasis added by FWP.]

     There’s an “of course!” feeling to this passage. It’s what bureaucrats do and have always done. But wait: why doesn’t A ever settle for one subordinate? Parkinson is ready with the explanation:

     It is essential to realise at this point that C and D are, as it were, inseparable. To appoint C alone would have been impossible. Why? Because C, if by himself, would divide the work with A and so assume almost the equal status that has been refused in the first instance to B; the status the more emphasised if C is A’s only possible successor. Subordinates must thus number two or more, each being thus kept in fear of the other’s promotion.

     And from there the dynamic extends itself:

     When C complains in turn of being overworked (as he certainly will) A will, with the concurrence of C, advise the appointment of two assistants to help C. But he can then avert internal friction only by advising the appointment of two more assistants to help D, whose position is much the same. With this recruitment of E, F, G, and H the promotion of A is now practically certain.

     Magnificent. An analysis for the ages, worthy of intellectual immortality. Yet virtually everyone with a public voice who deigned to notice it, early on, chortled and said, “Yes, very droll, but he’s not really serious, is he?”

     Parkinson was quite serious – and irrefutably correct.

     Add Parkinson to Peters and you have a steel-engraving depiction of the dynamics of government bureaucracies, especially those whose hirelings are protected from discipline from above or adverse feedback from the public. The only solution is the complete elimination of such a bureaucracy and the renunciation of its mission as an appropriate task for government. If the latter step is impossible for some reason – e.g., the five armed forces depend on the procurement bureaucracy that takes up the greater part of the Department of Defense; we can’t have those grubby soldiers, sailors, and airmen specifying and negotiating for their own gear and weapons, can we? – then however thorough the cleanout of “deadwood” bureaucrats, the dynamic will reassert itself among the “saplings” that replace them.

     And of course, the “problems” assigned to these bureaucracies will remain “unsolved.” You don’t expect bureaucrats to work to put themselves out of business, do you?