Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Law And The Lawless Part 2: What Is To Be Done?

The reactions to the previous essay have been dumbfounding: all the way from wild applause to condemnation that goes well beyond scathing. Perhaps I should have expected that; half the nation's politically aware are outraged by the state of things as I expressed it, while the other half draws material benefits from it and reacts with fury against any criticism of it. But as usual, articulating such a view and leaving the matter there is insufficient for the former group. They want to know what to do about it.

Candidly, so do I.

Look, even a Certified Galactic Intellect doesn't have all the answers. There are some problems that can only be solved by a trial-and-error approach. There are some problems that demand an unpredictable stroke of imagination to penetrate. There are some problems that can't be solved at all.

The problem of government gone wild isn't new to the United States, of course. Other lands have experienced much the same official lawlessness as we're suffering right now, and iteratively at that. Seldom has anyone found a clean solution. Indeed, if H. L. Mencken is to be believed, our forebears didn't either:

Politics, as hopeful men practice it in the world, consists mainly of the delusion that a change in form is a change in substance. The American colonists, when they got rid of the Potsdam tyrant, believed fondly that they were getting rid of oppressive taxes forever and setting up complete liberty. They found almost instantly that taxes were higher than ever, and before many years they were writhing under the Alien and Sedition Acts. [The American Mercury, 1927]

Mencken was notably cynical about the power of the franchise to bring about healthful changes:

The typical lawmaker of today is a man devoid of principle - a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him, he would cheerfully be in favor of polygamy, astrology or cannibalism....At each election we vote in a new set of politicians, insanely assuming that they are better than the set turned out. And at each election we are, as they say in Motherland, done in. [The American Mercury, 1930]

I submit that recent developments -- essentially, American history since FDR -- better support the views of the Sage of Baltimore than those of the "change the system from within" crowd.

He who suffers that which is intolerably noxious but can't be fixed must either flee from it or destroy it.

"Can't be fixed" deserves some elucidation. There are always possibilities for fixing anything, given specific configurations of personnel, resources, and context. One of the critical factors in assessing such a possibility is how long it would take to achieve the necessary configuration. Another is the likelihood of attaining that configuration without evoking some countervailing force sufficient to derail or destroy it before it can be put to use. Just because we can envision a solution to a problem doesn't mean that we can "get there from here."

An example might help. Imagine that a large asteroid -- a "planet killer," in common parlance -- were closing in on Earth at some high speed. Well, that's not an insoluble problem is it? We could simply move the Moon into a blocking position, keep it there until impact had occurred, and then put it back into its prior orbit. All it takes is the development of a thrust technology powerful enough to overcome the Moon's inertia, right? How long would that take?

Here's another example, somewhat closer to home. A number of freedom lovers have placed their bets on the "Free State Project:" an attempt to become politically dominant by migration to a relatively underpopulated state -- the ones I've heard mentioned in this context are New Hampshire and Wyoming -- after which pro-freedom legal changes could be enacted. Isn't it pretty to think so? But the government we know and loathe would not sit idle after noticing that such a migration was in progress. Nor could it be kept secret; as the saying goes, three can keep a secret if two of them are dead, and it would take a lot more than three persons to pull this off.

Practical solutions are more difficult to come by than imaginable ones.

Overturning the present system and ejecting the political elite sounds awfully appealing, but it looks more like a "move the Moon" fantasy solution than something practically achievable. If we take as a given that electoral mechanisms would be ineffective in such a pursuit, what remains are subversion and revolution.

The subversion of the existing structure is impossible for a simple reason:

  • A large number of freedom-loving persons must become government functionaries;
  • Those persons must then rise to positions of authority sufficient to paralyze or destroy their portions of the edifice;
  • They must maintain their personal ethics and commitment to freedom while rising to power.

Surely the readers of Liberty's Torch are sharp enough to see the cracks in this notion. A considerable number of countervailing forces would arise to defeat it -- and all of them are based on the saddest of all observations about political power:

The pinnacle of a power structure will inevitably be occupied by persons who love power above all else and are willing to do anything to get and keep it.

Friedrich Hayek pinned this in The Road To Serfdom, some seventy years ago.

As for violent revolution, the preponderance of force lies most definitely with the federal government. The largest, best organized civilian uprising imaginable would be insufficient to remove its masters from the seats of power. They would sooner turn "our" armed forces loose against us, and would have a Constitutional basis for doing so:

Congress shall have power:...To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; [Article I, Section 8]

In the event that the Army should fail to comply, there's always nukes.

If we can't fix our political system and are unable to destroy it, what remains are the possibilities of flight. But in the absence of a land frontier, there's nowhere appealing to go. Antarctica is inimical to life in the absence of extraordinary technological supports. The oceans are likewise impractical for settlement, at least for the foreseeable future. The other bodies of the Solar System make Antarctica look like a paradise. As for artificial habitats not moored to any planetary body, there are an incredible number of problems to be solved before such things become feasible.

Yet there remain other possibilities to ponder. More anon.

Friday, May 30, 2014

For My Fiction Readers

I’ve just uploaded "A Failure Of Imagination" to SmashWords. It’s free, so go thou forth and enjoy!

PS: Endless thanks to my test reader Adrienne, whose comments on the first draft proved indispensable in smoothing out the final product.

PPS: Please leave reviews! Yes, it's free and therefore "sales" "shouldn't matter" to me, but a free story that's well-reviewed will induce readers to look at my not-free stuff as well!

The Law And The Lawless

"To live outside the law, you must be honest." -- Bob Dylan

In a certain sense, a government with a true preponderance of coercive force at its command is de facto above the law, no matter what the Constitution, the laws themselves, or anything else might say. After all, who could bring such a government to heel? Yet in these United States we maintain stoutly that the law applies to everyone, high and low, public and private. It's one of the convictions that sets us apart from the Societies of Status (Isabel Paterson) that preceded the founding of our Republic.

It's become impossible to believe that old mantra. The demonstrations of its practical ineffectuality have multiplied too greatly.

Stephen Green makes note of an especially egregious case:

This ought to give you chills:
Gibson’s very success made it a fat target for federal prosecutors, whom Juszkiewicz alleges were operating at the behest of lumber unions and environmental pressure groups seeking to kill the market for lumber imports. “This case was not about conservation,” he says. “It was basically protectionism.”...

We’ve reached the stage — predicted decades ago by Ayn Rand — of how too many laws breeds its own brand of lawlessness.

I wouldn't presume to argue against the "too many laws" statement -- that's been the case for at least a century -- but another consideration is far more important: Who is ready, willing, and able to bring the State to book? If the only law on the books were the one against certain kinds of imports, given the current preponderance of forces, the situation would be exactly the same.

And for those annoying situations when "the law" doesn't...quite...cover what the State would like to do to a chosen victim, consider this little bit of legal chicanery:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has been quietly revising its decisions years after they were issued, altering the law of the land without public notice. The revisions include “truly substantive changes in factual statements and legal reasoning,” said Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard and the author of a new study examining the phenomenon.

The court can act quickly, as when Justice Antonin Scalia last month corrected an embarrassing error in a dissent in a case involving the Environmental Protection Agency.

But most changes are neither prompt nor publicized, and the court’s secretive editing process has led judges and law professors astray, causing them to rely on passages that were later scrubbed from the official record. The widening public access to online versions of the court’s decisions, some of which do not reflect the final wording, has made the longstanding problem more pronounced.

Scared yet? If not, check your pulse; you may have died and not noticed.

In Shadow Of A Sword, I had co-protagonist Stephen Graham Sumner say this:

    “Miss Weatherly,” he said with a note of regret, “I’m a lawyer. I was raised by a lawyer. He taught me to think of the law as our most precious possession. One of the questions he repeatedly insisted that I ponder was ‘What is the law?’ Not ‘What would I like the law to be,’ but ‘What is it really, and how do I know that’s what it is?’
    “My profession, sadly, has made a practice of twisting the law to its own ends. There aren’t many lawyers left who really care what the law is, as long as they can get the results they want, when they want them. So they play the angles, and collaborate with judges who think they’re black-robed gods, and generally do whatever they can get away with to get what they want, without a moment’s regard for what it does to the knowability of the law.
    “I care. I want to know what the law is, what it permits, requires, and forbids. I want my clients to know. And the only way to reach that result is to insist that the words of the law have exact meanings, not arbitrary, impermanent interpretations that can be changed by some supercilious cretin who thinks he can prescribe and proscribe for the rest of us.
    “The Constitution is the supreme law, the foundation for all other law. If it doesn’t mean exactly what its text says—the public meanings of the words as ordinary people understand them—then no one can possibly know what it means. But if no one can know what the Constitution means, then no one can know whether any other law conforms to it. At that point, all that matters is the will of whoever’s in power. And that’s an exact definition of tyranny.”

I had the contemporary use of "interpretation," "penumbras," "implied powers," and the like in mind as I wrote that passage. Yet as bad as those things were and are, what the cited articles above portray is even worse. In the former case, we have the "enforcement" of a non-law against a non-violator at the behest of a political supporter. In the latter, we have the actual revision of the law -- as the Supreme Court views it, at least -- retroactively and without notice to the public. And who will do the least little thing about it?

No one. No one can except the violators themselves, and they're hardly going to prosecute themselves for their malfeasances.

The State has placed its masters and their agents above the law. Though that's been the case de facto for some time now, it is no longer being concealed. The actors are without shame and exhibit no self-restraint, as the recent slew of reports about Operation Choke Point should make plain.

Which brings us to the second-order effects of the State's self-elevation.

The combination of the Constitution plus the Common Law, which we inherited from England, had a consequence few persons have openly articulated. Under their combined principles and terms, and from the then-customary definition of a government, the United States was an anarchist nation. The argument is simple: A State must have the recognized authority to decree punishment. But under the Constitution's requirement for a jury trial for all penal offenses, plus the Common Law's traditions concerning the jury's freedom to nullify any law it finds noxious, only a jury of private citizens can do so. Therefore, U.S. governments lack an essential qualification for being States -- and therefore, we are an anarchy by the strict meaning of the word.

Yet we had laws! From the very first, before Congress or any of the state legislatures spoke their first words, we had the Common Law of England, subsumed by our Constitution by implication in Amendments IV and V, and explicitly incorporated by Amendment VII.

Most people would find that a stunning contradiction. For a man who understands freedom, it's entirely consistent. Moreover, it reinforces the concept of the Rule of Law -- i.e., that no man is outside or above the law and its requirements -- in that a grand jury can indict anyone, private citizen or public official, and compel him to answer for his deeds.

But today's public officials are above the law. For all practical purposes, no grand jury can touch them.

At this point, Frederic Bastiat's ringing evaluation becomes critical:

It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder.

What are the consequences of such a perversion? It would require volumes to describe them all. Thus we must content ourselves with pointing out the most striking.

In the first place, it erases from everyone's conscience the distinction between justice and injustice.

No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree. The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. These two evils are of equal consequence, and it would be difficult for a person to choose between them.

A sufficient number of demonstrations by the masters and agents of the State that they are above the law will bring about the loss of all respect for the law by the rest of the nation. As the function of the law is to curb certain actions by penalizing them, what would then remain are:

  • Personal ethical constraints;
  • The fear of adverse consequences.

Would these be sufficient? Indeed, are they sufficient today?

Law has lost its soul and become jungle. -- Bertrand de Jouvenel

At its base, law -- legislated law, not natural law, religious law, or any other sort -- is a statement of intent. If this happens, these shall be the consequences. While law is sufficiently widely and deeply respected, it also functions as a way to predict what will follow from certain well-defined actions taken in relevant contexts. But when that respect has attenuated below the required threshold, such predictions become worthless. Non-enforcement against privileged persons and selective enforcement according to political priorities render the words of the law meaningless. The Rule of Law becomes meaningless as well.

We could tolerate this only if our aggregate social ethics were far stronger than they are today. As matters stand, we're a bare step from seeing these United States pitched into outright bloody chaos.

When opinion-mongers speak of "the law of the jungle," they typically have in mind a context in which there is no law as we commonly understand the term: i.e., no legislated law and no State charged with its enforcement. Yet the jungle into which we're headed -- De Jouvenel's jungle -- is so heavily loaded with laws that no one can know them all. My prediction is that it will be quite as fierce a place, and quite as inhospitable toward the weak, the passive, and the outnumbered, as any jungle that existed before the first of Man's legislatures met in official session.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Death by diversification.

Today, the consequences of Greek Orthodoxy's terrible plight in Constantinople will not be contained to the Greeks. The consequences extend over to the United States and Europe whose citizens have been deceived by propaganda emanating from the powerful Turkish lobby which has been successfully manipulating events and has deprived citizens from knowing who is influencing their governments. I believe all Christians in America and Europe would be outraged if they knew the extent to which Turkish interests influence American policies to the detriment of American interests and ideals. Turkey today is in the midst of an Islamic Revolution, and so the Turkish lobby is in effect a Jihadist lobby.[1]
New one on me. I mean, the lobby part.

It never ceases to amaze me. Saudi Arabia is financing 80% of the cost of constructing mosques (Wahhabi flavor) in the U.S., of which there are ton.[2] 

Yet, Christian churches and services are strictly forbidden in Swordly Arabia. Our goofball interpretation of the First Amendment apparently requires us to treat an aggressive, subversive political system as a "religion." Apparently, the political class considers Islam one of the faiths the Founders (and Ratifiers) had in mind when they drafted that amendment. Islam must be doctrine on the order of Catholicism, Quakerism, Anglicanism, and all that. Only requiring the death penalty for apostasy, let it be said. A minor detail which shouldn't concern us.

Death for saying the Arabic equivalent of "adios" is a corollary to the Koranic principle, well, article of faith, if you must know, that "there shall be no compulsion in [entering] Islam." Al-Azhar and the Grand Mufti in Mecca have sorted out the rough parts in that minute inconsistency, q. bleedin' v. Order the expanding garden hose and you get the DVD. Meanwhile, do bear in mind that murder, by unofficial agencies (usually pissed-off Rotarians with time on their hands), of apostates is also a bedrock principle of modern Christian practice. So there you are. Who are WE to judge? Live and let live, we say. Or not.

"Between 1993 and 2007 there were six [assassination] attempts on the life of the Ecumenical Patriarch," the author of the source article, Mr. Karakostas, tells us. Schweinhunden raus and a glimpse at the official (and perpetual) Muslim agenda! Thanks for everything. E.U. membership fast tracked for you, Muchachos.

Meanwhile, rearranging the furniture in private places of Christian worship in Egypt causes a riot. Christians are being murdered and driven out in Iraq. God only knows what's in store for Christians in Libya. (Or Marseilles, Southampton, and Dearbornistan.) The one head of state in the Middle East who doesn't interfere with Christians is Bashar al-Assad, whose overthrow the Obamanauts are, naturally, busily endeavoring to effect. The best hammer found another nail! Had they even taken down the telekinetic prompter at West Point before the reports came in of another pointless, open-ended exercise involving risk to life and limb of our troops?

Well goodbye to a "great" civilization that swallows this swill. We can't seem to get enough of it. "It" referring to opportunism, collaboration, self delusion. And a fate looking increasingly like that of the Eastern Empire. They say that at some point diversity went, like, through the roof.

It was awesome, man!

[1] "The Fall of Constantinople and the Final Tragedy of our Time." By Theodoros Karakostas, Hellenic Communication Service, 6/15/09.
[2]  "Wahhabi" means something like "odious," but you can look it up your own self if you want.

The Speech

You know which speech I'm talking about, don't you?

Yes, it was a quilt of platitudes, strawmen, self-exculpations, and retroactive Inspector Clouseau-like ("I did that on purpose") rationalizations. Yes, The Won is straining to rescue an iota of respect from the ash heap of his foreign policy. To do so, he attacked claims no one ever made and positions no one ever took. He also impugned the character of the entire American military by asserting that now it will be sent forth to do "right," as if it hadn't already been doing so for more than two centuries.

That a president of these United States could have made such a speech to a West Point graduating class is utterly dumbfounding. It speaks of a degree of narcissistic self-absorption comparable to that of Elliot Rodger, and an un-self-awareness more commonly attributed to sponges and bivalves.

All the same, this justly derided speech did contain the tiniest groat of good sense, if only by implication. Many of our contemporary troubles in international relations can be traced to having over-promised our military -- having guaranteed the peace and security of many other nations by promising, whether formally or otherwise, that we would regard an attack on one of them as an attack on the United States and would respond in kind.

We didn't have to do least, not as commitments unbounded in time.

Barack Hussein Obama despises the military. I have no doubt, given his treatment of our armed forces these past six years, that he wishes the duties of commander-in-chief were no part of the presidency. The capstone to this demonstration was his appointment of Chuck Hagel, the sole Republican Senator hostile to the military in recent memory, to be the Secretary of Defense -- and then to put Hagel in charge of America's military emasculation.

But our military overextension is a real problem. Mind you, we're not fighting on lots of fronts at the moment. But we maintain bases and troops in many countries, as supports for our security guarantees to others. We keep a large fraction of our blue-water navy at sea for deterrence and power projection. And of course, we remain critical members in NATO and in less formal agreements with several other nations.

Chief among the consequences has been the military enfeeblement of virtually the whole of Europe. There isn't one NATO nation -- apart from the U.S., of course -- that could maintain its borders against an attack from the east, and our good pal Vladimir Putin knows it. Tragically, we're also co-guarantors of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, which was Ukraine's price for the surrender of its nuclear forces after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. We can see how that's working out. So can the Baltic states, upon which Putin has openly cast a covetous eye.

Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea are also dependent upon American security guarantees -- and all three are being harshly tested by the Red Chinese. Japan's constitution, written under the supervision of the post-World War II American occupation, explicitly forbids the nation to send military forces outside its borders. It doesn't contain an explicit limit on how large the Japanese military can grow, but it's well documented that the government has adhered to a military spending limit of 1% of the nation's GDP. We have "tripwire" forces in South Korea, stationed under the baleful regard of many thousands of North Korean artillery pieces, which would be first to die in the event of an attack from the north. And of course, we've kept at least one carrier battle group near Taiwan for decades to deter the Red Chinese, even as we've repeatedly hedged about whether Taiwan is an independent sovereignty.

Add to that the large number of arduous non-military missions our men at arms are asked to undertake. It's a wonder the edifice hasn't already collapsed.

The worst thing a nation can do is to assume the burden of defending another nation.

The truly dangerous states are aware of what has followed from our disastrous set of commitments. It's obvious that the Ukrainian territorial guarantee to which America and Russia are signatories means nothing to Vladimir Putin. Moreover, given the history of the region, the Ukrainian government must have had a lapse of sanity to accept it. It was the rationale for the dismantling of the greater part of Ukraine's own armed forces, such that should Putin decide to strike "for the safety of the Ukrainian people," there'll be little significant resistance. Nor is it at all likely that the U.S. would enter the fray, given the geographical context and our military's current weariness.

The "beneficiaries" of our overcommitments support opulent welfare states that have proved to be nutrient-rich habitats for idlers, immigrants from hostile cultures, and worst of all, persons who actively want to see America brought low. Those nations could not have done this to themselves (and us) except for our military largesse. The expense of properly national militaries that would at least give pause to a would-be attacker would have prevented it, to say nothing of the salutary effect it would have had on the aggregate patriotism and national pride of those countries.

Had we been less generously inclined after World War II, and less confident of our indefinite capability to bear the burden of the world's peace on our shoulders, this would not have come about. But then, had we refrained from building the Soviet Union into a world-class military power with American aid, it might never have occurred to us to do such a thing.

Our mistakes in this venue cannot easily be undone. Indeed, it's possible that it would take another world-girdling war even to begin. But it's vital that we see them clearly and admit that, whatever the intentions of the early post-war administrations that first framed our excessive commitments, they chose the wrong course.

This is not to subtract one iota from the clearly delusive narcissism and antipathy to American power Barack Obama exhibited in his West Point speech. That's a problem of another kind. But even from the mouth of so arrogant and foolish a man, there will sometimes come a hint of a truth we should seriously ponder. And so it is with the above.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

L.E.A.P. Of Faith

It's some sort of measure of the speed at which things happen in this era that the killing spree undertaken by Elliot Rodger just a few days ago already has an entry in Wikipedia. It's equally a gauge of the intellectual and psychological weakness of our era that so many people are crying out "Why wasn't he stopped before he could do such a thing?"

Mostly, they are not idiots. They just haven't thought through the implications...which your humble servant will now explicate for you.

A regime in which no man could hurt another would be one in which we are all strapped into foam cradles at birth and kept strictly apart from one another. Pabulum prepared by automata would be all we'd get to eat. Our entertainment would consist of children's picture books on soft paper. Personal interaction with others would be forbidden. Even telephonic contact and contact over the Internet would be heavily restricted. And we'd be as safe as a human under the veil of time can be...until we died of boredom.

This is the world our Safety Nazis often seem to be demanding. It recalls Jack Williamson's novelette "With Folded Hands," and not in a way I, for one, find attractive. But then, our Safety Nazis aren't really interested in eliminating all risk to life or limb. What they really want is power -- political power over the rest of us -- and the more stringent, the better. They will choose what risks we're to endure -- the risk of dying of heat stroke during a summer power outage or freezing to death during a frigid winter storm would be deemed preferable to the risk of "global warming" via carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, for example -- while quietly exempting themselves from any consequent restrictions. All in the name of the public good, of course.

Whenever you hear some gun-control advocate demanding greater restrictions on the Constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms, he's far less concerned with guns than with control: specifically, control of you. That applies to such persons as Gabby Giffords and Elliot Rodger's father with only a shade less force.

The debate of the moment is, of course, why Elliot Rodger wasn't prevented from going on his rampage. Surely there was sufficient evidence of his psychopathy and his intentions. He'd had two prior interactions with the police, had posted several clearly insane videos to YouTube, and had endured fifteen years of therapy. So why wasn't he stopped before he could kill?

As the World Wide Web's premier Asker of Inconvenient Questions, I shall now fulfill my function:

  • Who was to do so?
  • On what grounds?
  • And for how long?

Jerry Pournelle relates a relevant story in the anthology The Survival of Freedom. I don't have the book to hand, so this is from memory and might be inaccurate in some of its details.

A man committed indecent exposure on a street corner in California. He was arrested for it and brought before a judge. After some wrangling, he was sent to be psychiatrically examined. Two psychiatrists concluded that he was mentally ill and bound him over for temporary therapeutic commitment. So far, this would seem to be within the normal operations of American Twentieth-Century justice.

But some time later, after the prescribed therapy had run its course, two psychiatrists -- I don't remember if they were the original two -- concluded that the offender had not been "cured." Moreover, they expressed a firm opinion that no "cure" was possible. On their authority, the offender was committed to permanent involuntary confinement in a state mental hospital.

The offender had received, de facto, a life sentence for indecent exposure. Howzzat grab ya?

There's a happy ending. The offender eventually challenged this procedure in court and won -- I am not making this up -- the right to be punished for his offense as statutorily defined, which was far more consistent with California law and at that point clearly preferable to what had been decreed for him by those "caring, compassionate" psychiatrists. The "mental health community" was not pleased, of course; no one wants to see his occupation stripped of authority, no matter how unjust or specious. But justice was served.

Over the years since then it's become much harder for "caring, compassionate" types with State-issued licenses to practice voodoo psychiatry to lock a law-abiding American away against his will. Not impossible, mind you, but today all such proceedings begin with detention by the police and must pass muster before at least one judge and potentially several more.

In the usual case, such a proceeding is initiated by a request by members of the family. The potential for conflicts of interest there is considerable, but on net balance it's preferable to allowing State functionaries to violate habeas corpus on the strength of subjective and wholly arbitrary conclusions about one's "mental health."

According to several reports, Elliot Rodger's parents did entreat the police to do something about their insane son. Whatever the reasons, nothing followed. But up to the day of his rampage, Rodger had committed no crime for which he could be compelled to answer and perhaps be incarcerated. As he was legally an adult, the only possibility for restraining him was a proceeding of the sort described above, which the police would have had to initiate.

Elliot Rodger's YouTube videos were not unique. There are others as threatening there, and on other video-sharing sites. But only Rodger, so far, has acted out his predicted "vengeance." Should we, then, detain and commit all the others on the strength of that precedent? Or would it be better to swallow hard, to admit that a free society incurs certain risks merely in the nature of freedom, and cease to flagellate everyone even tangentially involved for not having prevented this atrocity?

The Safety Nazis want much more, of course: the complete elimination of the right to keep and bear arms. However, on the subject of the three victims Rodger killed with a knife and the one he ran over with his car, they're completely silent. No one wants to ban cars! They're too useful! It's only those nasty guns we have to get rid of! What purpose do they have in our civilized, well-policed society?

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been talking up having all gun purchases within the Chicago city limits videotaped. Think you'd like that any better?

No one promised us a complete absence of risk.
Freedom is more valuable than that.
Even if it gets some of us killed.

Whether the State can loose and bind
    In Heaven as well as on Earth:
If it be wiser to kill mankind
    Before or after the birth--
These are matters of high concern
    Where State-kept schoolmen are;
But Holy State (we have lived to learn)
    Endeth in Holy War.

Whether The People be led by The Lord,
    Or lured by the loudest throat:
If it be quicker to die by the sword
    Or cheaper to die by vote--
These are things we have dealt with once,
    (And they will not rise from their grave)
For Holy People, however it runs,
    Endeth in wholly Slave.

Whatsoever, for any cause,
    Seeketh to take or give
Power above or beyond the Laws,
    Suffer it not to live!
Holy State or Holy King--
    Or Holy People's Will--
Have no truck with the senseless thing.
    Order the guns and kill!


Once there was The People--Terror gave it birth;
Once there was The People and it made a Hell of Earth
Earth arose and crushed it. Listen, 0 ye slain!
Once there was The People--it shall never be again!

[Rudyard Kipling, "Macdonough's Song"]

And for those of you who've wondered about the title of this piece, "L.E.A.P." stands for:

is A

How much faith would you have in law enforcement a priori -- that is, before the commission of a crime? Enough to endure the rule of Philip K. Dick's Department of Pre-Crime? Or perhaps a smidgen less?

Think it over.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Keeping The Hate Alive

My word, the things that turn up in the referrer log!

I'm essentially a nobody in the world of fiction. Yes, I write, but I self-publish. I have a substantial number of readers -- about 100,000 readers, if I can believe my sales figures -- but as an "indie," I'm considered a non-entity by writers (and associations thereof) who've gone to press through the conventional route: i.e., through Pub World. So it surprises me to get attention from such sites as this, especially about a contretemps that's nearly a year old. Give it a glimpse if you have a strong stomach.

Remarkable, isn't it? All that vitriol. All those collectivist, gender-war-feminist tropes. All the hatred for Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg, two old men with long and distinguished careers behind them. And over what? It appears to concern the following mortal sins against political correctness:

  • Referring to female writers and editors as "lady writers" and "lady editors;"
  • Making note of how attractive one particular lady editor was / is.

These don't seem to me like hanging offenses. Yet the shrieking is still going on a year later. Nastiness aside, if viewed analytically, with attention to other developments in contemporary political discourse, it tells us quite a lot.

"The worst thing you can do to the liberals is to deprive them of their grievances." -- Bill Moyers, at the 1980 Democratic National Convention

Left-liberal / "progressive" politics -- I know, I know; it's neither genuinely liberal nor at all interested in progress -- is collectivist politics. Its core strategy is a strategy of division:

  • Identify groups with a characteristic important to their identity;
  • Search for interests that are common to the members of those groups;
  • Elevate the incomplete satisfaction of those interests to group grievances;
  • Even if wildly inappropriate, demand political remediation of those grievances.

Such groups can be assembled into a coalition that makes the Left politically formidable. It's allowed the Democrat Party to maintain major-party status despite the total and unconcealed failure of its policy prescriptions whenever and wherever they've been put into practice. But the failures have a weight of their own...a weight that presses upon the coalition in a fashion that can only be mitigated in one way:

Forbid any discussion of them.

Until the Left manages to seize totalitarian control of these United States, such "forbidding" will consist of the sort of vituperation and vilification the linked article exemplifies. The intent is clear enough: those who dare to offend against some Leftist mascot-group's grievances must be intimidated into abject apology and subsequent silence. The only voices permitted are those that are in perfect accord with the Left.

The process is greatly assisted by the tendency of persons with common occupations or avocations to assemble groups that can be taken over by persons with a political agenda. There's a form of Gresham's Law that functions here: A group that equally values its most civilized members and its most vitriolic members will soon possess a preponderance of the latter. The good, self-respecting members will disdain to remain among persons who hurl insults and epithets at them, leaving the group populated by only the insult-hurlers, plus a smattering of generally decent persons with inadequate self-respect.

The progression won't stop there. Such a group, now dominated by "the worst of the worst," will gradually fail to return an adequate "profit" -- in money, volunteer labor, prestige, fellowship, or anything else one might value -- to its members, most especially those who've taken control of it. The typical response to such enervation is for the leaders to strive to whip up the enthusiasm of the group by artificial means; i.e., to "keep the hate alive."

At this time, the viragoes who've agitated for a purge of the Science Fiction Writers of America, to rid it of naughty male language, and thus to extirpate naughty male thoughts, are attempting just that. Nor are they the only ones determined to forbid men to speak as they prefer.

"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it." -- Syme, in George Orwell's 1984

We haven't had Newspeak fastened upon us quite yet, but we do have a great many shamans, quite a few would-be shamans, and no shortage of adjunct shamans who have taken to anathematizing one word after another. My irritation at such persons is the reason for many of the words and phrases I use commonly; it's vital to the continued freedom of speech and thought that they be defeated at this contest.

So it is with the SFWA viragoes. Whatever success they have in "cleansing" SFWA will prove self-defeating. If they persist, it will degenerate to a backwater, an occupationally-oriented sewing circle of gender-war-feminist self-and-mutual-congratulation that bears no relevance to science fiction, its quality, or its popularity. But that's all secondary to the core mission of keeping the hate alive.

The larger point should be obvious: Wherever they're found, such agitators must not be permitted to impose their preferred Newspeak on us "by the back door." Most important of all, I maintain that the whip-wielders are more interested in cementing themselves into power than they are with anyone's sense of grievance. The most important datum in this regard is the wholesale acceptance of female writers and editors in the genre by the only contingent that truly matters: paying customers.

If there were any authentic prejudice among genre consumers against "the ladies," they wouldn't be selling so many books. They wouldn't have come to dominate the shelves at Barnes & Noble. That alone is sufficient to demonstrate the vapidity of their grievance: The market has already deprived them of it.

(What cruelty!)

Ultimately, the whole affair is about self-respect. If you have it, you'll avoid such persons, and the groups they dominate, without having to think about it. Inasmuch as it's a clear demonstration of Robert Conquest's Second Law of Politics, the implications could hardly be clearer:

Don't Be A Joiner!

Monday, May 26, 2014

From The Junk Drawer

Geez, I can’t take my eyes off you guys for a second...

In the introductory passage of a related tirade, Sarah Hoyt reminds us of something Robert A. Heinlein got wrong:

...I was listening to Waldo and Magic (Robert A. Heinlein) while cleaning the kitchen, and something rubbed me wrong. More than once, he referred to the formation of the UN as ending war; and then he mentioned “the US had an army at the time.”

And my hackles were well and truly up.

Oh, I understand how Heinlein came to make that mistake. You see, he sort of assumed that the UN would be run with American values. It was a logical mistake. At the end of WWII we were a colossus bestriding the globe. And everyone who has been in that position before imposed its values and its culture on the world.

We didn’t.

True as far as it goes, but then, Heinlein was no more adept at forecasting than most of us – and who, in 1940 when the Grand Master wrote “Solution Unsatisfactory,” or 1942 when he wrote “Waldo,” could have imagined that, in the course of freeing western Europe from the Third Reich, the United States would create a Soviet superpower, capable of enslaving ten Eastern Europeans and facing off against us as military equals for fifty years to come?

One novella of particular interest is Heinlein’s “If This Goes On,” which sits near to the origin of his justly celebrated “Future History” series. It depicts a totalitarian America arising from a fundamentalist theocracy. That, too, was written in 1940. Granted that certain lunatics on the Left still see such a development as plausible and more, we aren’t headed in that direction at the moment.

We of this year of Our Lord 2014 don’t forecast sociopolitical developments any better than Heinlein did. Indeed, I doubt we do it as well. I mean, if we had foreseen America today...

You have to expect the Left to attempt to defend its beachheads, but some of the things they say!

Thomas Davies WOODRUFF, SC As an alumni, a non-traditional student, and a straight, white, older man, I can’t say enough about how my participation in WGS courses and the Center, changed my life for the better. Because enlightenment comes slowly to some outside academia, students, faculty, and staff need this resource. We cannot let an american Taliban rule our institutions of learning.

Mr. Davies isn’t a terribly well-educated fellow if he refers to himself as an “alumni,” and neglects to capitalize “American.” We also have this:

Kurt Metzmeier LOUISVILLE, KY

That is un-American and recalls not only the McCarthy blacklist era but also the totalitarian regimes of the Cold War. They have come first for USC Upstate. I cannot say nothing.

Mind you, this is about the replacement of one of the most ludicrous of all university “departments,” Gender Studies, with a series of courses explicitly dedicated to America’s founding documents and their place in Western thought – a series of courses South Carolina’s state-supported universities are required by law to offer and students at those universities are required by law to take and pass. So of course, we get the “angry ugly-girl left” and its omega-male annex parading around with slabs of oak tag that say EDUCATION NOT LEGISLATION when they’re not busy writing letters to the editors of shopping circulars about “transphobic heteronormative cispatriarchal oppression.”

There are days I ask myself why we aren’t all laughing our slats off at these self-important, humor-deprived clowns. Maybe we are and I just don’t get out enough to notice.

As things are trending, miscreants like this one will soon demand to be tried by shari’a courts:

A Pakistani immigrant beat his wife to death in their Brooklyn home after she made the mistake of cooking him lentils for dinner instead of the hearty meal of goat meat that he craved, according to court papers.

Noor Hussain, 75, was so outraged over the vegetarian fare that he pummeled his wife, Nazar Hussain, 66, with a stick until she was a “bloody mess,” according to prosecutors and court papers.

“Defendant asked [his wife] to cook goat and [his wife] said she made something else,” the court papers indicated as Hussain’s murder trial opened on Wednesday.

And the defense? You guessed it:

Defense attorney Julie Clark admitted Hussain beat his wife — but argued that he is guilty of only manslaughter because he didn’t intend to kill her. In Pakistan, Clark said, beating one’s wife is customary.

But Brooklyn is not Pakistan West...yet. But the Islamic population of these United States is on the increase...and it’s concentrated in urban districts. In some such, that demonic demographic has swelled large enough to demand legal and political propitiation...and get it.

Scared yet? You should be.

From a conversation with my Vietnamese-American sweetie Duyen:

DK: You should move to a city.
FWP: In God’s name, why? You know I can’t stand cities!

DK: You’re still planning to retire soon, right?
FWP: Yes, what of it?

DK: Writers have to live in cities. It’s almost a rule.
FWP: Well, most Americans live in cities, so it’s an ambiguous data point.

DK: Seriously, Flashy, you’re going to have a lot of time on your hands. How will you fill it, living out there in the sticks?
FWP: I’ll manage. I’m just ceasing to be an engineer, not renouncing all contact with the world beyond my front door.

DK: Suuuuuure you’re not.
FWP: Now look here, you excessively sexy Oriental finagler, you. I’ll be writing a few hours a day. I’ll be working at the parish a few hours a day. I’ll be volunteering at the youth center a few hours a day. I’ll be keeping up this hovel a few hours a day. I don’t expect to be idle.

DK: Sounds to me like you don’t expect to sleep, either.
FWP: I think I can squeeze it in.

DK: When Beth isn’t looking, right?

All levity aside, Duyen has a point. There is such a thing as too much free time. When after forty-five years of wage labor you’re suddenly freed of external demands on your attention and energy, it’s easy to lapse into immobile torpor. It might be the #1 cause of death in retirees.

However, an undiscussed counterweight to that malady is the retiree who has no free time – because those who know and (claim to) love him are aware that he’s:

  1. No longer encumbered by a paying job,
  2. Handy and well equipped to be so,
  3. And unable to say “no.”

...which is on its way to killing a couple of my retired colleagues by exhaustion. One complains to me regularly that he’s grown terrified of the sound of a ringing phone. I sympathize, though my response to such intrusions on my serenity is to hurl the damned thing across the room.

I’m sure there’s a happy medium somewhere. Maybe my phone psychic knows her.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Day Off

Apologies, Gentle Reader. I'm in a great deal of pain -- probably from too much yard work yesterday -- and can't sit at the computer for more than a few minutes at a time. With luck I'll be back tomorrow with more drivel for you. Until then, be well.

All my best,

Friday, May 23, 2014

Timeless truths.

Every country has an army — its own or a foreign one.[1]
Corollary: “Not every invasion is effected by an army.”

Treasonous promotion of mass third-world immigration springs to mind as a example of slow-motion invasion. Afterwards, the rape and killing start slowly and build from there. This is then followed by laughable calls to graft absurd, barbaric laws onto Western legal systems and to create special privileges and forbearances.

Subversion of the host culture follows as the night the day. Rejection of the host culture a given.

Official Western government propaganda is to the effect that 300-1,000 uninvited immigrants a day isn’t really an invasion. Official numbers are vague, bordering on outright lies. Did I say "bordering"?

Piecemeal takeover is no cause to worry. A positive benefit even. Required by way of atonement, if you get right down to it. For that Western perfidy unique in the annals of . . . well, the annals of something.

Eventual goal: People's Republic of Contrite Glopistan.

As Memorial Day approaches, we can contemplate what our honored dead would have thought of turning over our country to inferior cultures. Did the celebrations of VE Day in Europe include an appreciation of the fact that the slaughter and sacrifices of the people of Europe have led to the preservation of nothing that is European? Europe is awash with alien cultures -- and leaders who make Vidkun Quisling look like a freedom fighter. The E.U. is a dictatorship that flaunts the trappings of representative institutions that are, not to put too fine a point on it, useless.

And the British, French, Swedish, Danish, German, and Italian armies serve what purpose exactly? The Italian Navy wets its pants with anxiety lest a single boatload of invading economic immigrants that despise Europe should fail to land on Italian soil.

These are the sediments that earn the righteous Col. Bunny the well-deserved sobriquet of "Mr. Moderate."

[1] “The Gripen.” By Roger Koppel. Die Weltwoche, 5/23/14. Republished at Gates of Vienna, 5/22/14.

How Much Military Part 1: The “Greatest Lower Bound”

I’m in an analytical frame of mind this fine May morning...well, all right, for us Long Islanders, anxious to get the pollen washed off our cars but thwarted by the rainy weather, it’s really not all that I thought I’d address one of the perennially contested subjects in public policy: how much military a nation such as ours should have, and why.

We must establish certain postulates for such a discussion before we address the question as phrased above:

  1. What sort of nation are we?
  2. What missions do we intend for our armed forces?
  3. What nations constitute the relevant context for planning?
  4. What are the political systems of those nations and how are they armed?

Answers to those questions must be agreed upon a priori by all parties to the discussion, or planning becomes impossible. Yet the mutability of the answers points up a tragic fact about all such planning: No matter how deeply studied the context or how meticulously designed the military, no such plan will remain good forever.

Give that a few moments’ thought while I make some decaf.

Frederick II Hohenzollern “the Great,” King of Prussia in the latter half of the Eighteenth Century, was once asked why he embarked on his 1740 invasion of Austria, shortly after his accession to the Prussian throne. His reply: “I was young, had a big army, a full treasury, and I wanted to see my name in the newspapers.”

Frederick, of course, was an autocrat, and thus was effectively answerable to no one. Countries with quasi-democratic or quasi-republican political systems don’t make their decisions quite as fliply as Frederick implied. The requirement for certain sorts of consensus about questions 1 and 2 in the numbered list above precedes all decisions about war and preparations for war. In the absence of such a consensus, military preparations become difficult at best.

The arrival of war, or a war in progress, will evoke a consensus if one did not previously exist, or solidify and intensify one that did. For example, the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 undid the pacific inclinations of the American public, which had arisen in response to the expensive and disastrous events of World War I, almost completely. However, a world in which dozens of nations possess the ability to strike from afar, many with weapons of mass destruction, makes the achievement of a prior consensus (and a firm one, at that) vital in the literal sense: the survival of the nation rests upon the matter.

In that regard, the influence of the sort of nation we are – a constitutional federated republic that recognizes certain inalienable individual rights and uses a democratic mechanism for the selection of its political class – is muted by the enveloping geostrategic context. Were a nation armed with ICBMs to launch an attack upon the United States, it would seem rather leisurely, if not wholly pointless, to insist upon a Congressional declaration of war before sending our forces into action. More to the point, in the event of such an attack, our forces had better be both adequate to their task and ready for immediate deployment.

This is not to say that the modern geostrategic context utterly obviates a national consensus on military planning and the use of the military. Indeed, in recent years we have seen our politicians deploy our men at arms for missions quite distinct from warfighting. Given our politicians’ penchant for using the armed forces in such a fashion – they, too, like to see their names in the newspapers – the public’s willingness to condone, or at least to tolerate, such non-military uses bears upon military planning almost as powerfully as the existence of nuclear-armed adversaries with an intercontinental reach. However, our potential adversaries and their capabilities create a “greatest lower bound” for the capabilities our armed forces must possess: at least so much to deter or countervail such threats, and never less.

For today, let’s focus on the demands of that “greatest lower bound.”

If the U.S. military is not to be used in wars of conquest and territorial acquisition, then the philosophy behind its fundamental missions will be defensive. Our planners must address needs of the following kinds:

  1. Invasion (of the U.S.) by land;
  2. Invasion by sea;
  3. Invasion or aggression from the air or space;
  4. Attacks on American-flag ships at sea;
  5. Attacks on America’s non-terrestrial assets;
  6. Attacks on Americans abroad, and on their extraterritorial possessions.

Historically, little thought has gone to invasions by land or sea, at least since the conclusion of the War of 1812. The nation-states that share land borders with us have not been viewed as significant threats. Alongside that, our naval power has long been regarded as too formidable to permit a challenge along our coasts. Indeed, since the conclusion of World War I the U.S. Navy has been the foremost naval power in the world.

Even so, it’s not impossible that an invasion force might someday cross our borders or land upon these shores. Therefore we must possess forces at least potent enough, and well-placed enough, to identify such incursions and provide our command authorities with the information required to respond appropriately. Such “tripwire” forces are positioned south of the Demilitarized Zone of the Korean peninsula, and were at one time situated on the “NATO side” of the various invasion routes that might allow a Soviet incursion into the NATO states of Europe.

Today, the greater defensive consideration is an attack from the air or space. Defense against conventional aircraft is a well-understood task. It requires a Tactical Air Defense capable of engaging the attacker and thwarting him before he can strike. It’s only recently become feasible to destroy incoming spacecraft – in the usual case, the warheads released by ICBMs – but as the technology of antimissile defense advances, no doubt the U.S. will deploy them to protect its strategic forces (i.e., its intercontinental bomber fleet and its land-based ICBMs).

What’s that you say? Why not mount antimissile defenses around America’s population centers as well? Aren’t out citizens as deserving of defense as our weapons? Posed that way, an affirmative answer would seem morally obligatory. Yet it is not so, for a reason most laymen fail to consider.

The United States is not an aggressor state. We don’t go to war for gain. The posturing of various idiots, ideologues, and tyrants to the contrary, the world knows it.

The point to owning forces targeted at population centers is deterrence: the ability to threaten an unacceptable degree of slaughter and destruction in retaliation for an aggressor’s strike on our strategic forces. The calculus of deterrence works roughly this way:

You, Mr. Potential Aggressor, cannot be sure that you’ll take out our entire intercontinental capability with your counterforce assault. Even if you could guarantee the destruction of 90% of it, the remaining 10% is sufficient to kill half your citizens and lay waste to your industrial foundation – and should you strike us, we will use it exactly that way. So have a care about your ambitions. Indeed, have a care about what threats you make as well, for we, too, have a counterforce capability.

In a world rife with nuclear-armed states, deterrence is the highest of all strategic considerations.

The previous section addresses the defense of our intraterritorial assets and interests. In our progressively globalized world, the extraterritorial ones:

  1. American-flag vessels at sea;
  2. American assets in Earth orbit, and eventually beyond;
  3. Americans and American-owned property outside the borders of the United States.

...deserve consideration as well.

The U.S. is large, but what’s outside the U.S. is quite a bit larger. For practical purposes, it’s impossible to create a standing force capable of coming immediately to the defense of a U.S.-flag ship attacked in the middle of the ocean. As large and capable as our navy is, it’s not nearly large enough to guarantee that. The same is true in spades for our orbital properties: at this time, our many satellites, which are essential to our contemporary communications and navigation structure. Sadly, it’s also true for those American citizens outside the nation’s borders, and for what properties they’ve legitimately acquired in other lands.

It seems that in those domains, defense must be taken to mean deterrence just as when we speak of defense against an attack from space. Owing to considerations that pertain to international relations, this has two aspects:

  1. The ability to threaten devastating retaliation upon a “state actor” that moves against Americans or their assets;
  2. The ability to seek out and destroy “non-state actors” – terrorists, pirates, and other forces not overtly employed nor supported by a nation-state – that undertake such aggressions.

In the first of the above cases, the fundamental considerations are economic. The potential attacker must be aware that he will not be permitted to profit by such an aggression, that we can and will make him sorry he tried any such thing. This requires that the potential attacker be “rationally evil:”

  • There must be an upper limit to the damage he would accept as a worthwhile price for his objective, and:
  • He must believe that we could inflict greater damage upon him.

However, it also requires that the U.S. be willing to inflict such punishment – that we would be willing to bear the cost, including any foreseeable deterioration in our alliances, partnerships, and other international relations in the aftermath. This is not guaranteed to be a straightforward calculation to make, for either side.

A relatively clear case would arise should some satrapy attempt to “nationalize” – the political synonym for “confiscate” – the property of a large American corporation operating within that satrapy’s borders. This hasn’t been attempted in a long time; in prior incidents, American air and naval forces have been swift to arrive on the scene and “make adjustments.” Nevertheless, it remains possible, and should a nation ruled by an amoral regime conclude that the U.S. would not take retaliatory action, the presence of a tempting industrial-economic-commercial “prize” within that nation’s borders might tempt the regime to seize it.

A far murkier case is before us at this very instant: that of Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, the U.S. Marine who unintentionally crossed the Mexican border and has been imprisoned in Mexico. This man is innocent of any wrongdoing, but he has technically violated Mexican law by not entering the country at a designated port of entry. It seems clear enough that the Mexicans are holding Sgt. Tahmooressi as a “bargaining chip,” hoping to extort some sort of concession for his release. Given America’s far larger and more capable military, the Mexican government would not have arrested or imprisoned Sgt. Tahmooressi if military retaliation seemed likely. However, arguments in Moral Philosophy notwithstanding, it’s simply not credible that the White House would do such a thing to rescue one Marine. (Indeed, it’s unlikely that the Obama Administration would go to war over a thousand American Marines unjustly imprisoned, though Obama’s predecessor in the Oval Office might have reacted in a less predictable and far less pleasant way.)

The contemporary approach to the defense-by-deterrence of extraterritorial persons and properties is the threat of a reaction by American special forces: the Navy’s SEAL teams, Marine Force Recon, or the Army’s Delta Force. The existence of those forces allows an Administration the option of threatening a covert, proportional retaliation that would be “deniable” at least in a cosmetic sense. The nature of the threatened retaliation might be an assassination, or the destruction of some military installation, or the sabotage of some infrastructural asset. The careful targeting and calibration possible to such a response would make it more credible, and therefore more effective.

Though action by our special forces is often relevant to attacks by “non-state actors,” in such cases they cannot be used to defend by deterrence or negotiation. When a non-state actor has already struck, deterrence has (of course) failed, though we can sometimes discourage like minded others from acting by striking back swiftly and effectively. Furthermore, such actors tend not to negotiate in good faith. The archetype for an effective reaction is President Reagan’s 1985 use of American F-14s from the USS Saratoga to capture the Palestinian terrorists that hijacked the Achille Lauro and murdered American citizen Leon Klinghoffer. Less public uses of American special forces are likely in less dramatic incidents where fewer lives are at risk.

Recognizing the “greatest lower bound” is but the beginning of a military planner’s journey, at least for the planning of armed forces that have been put to as many uses, military and non-military, as those of the United States. However, it provides an important degree of perspective to the layman who can follow him this far on his odyssey:

For a nation as internationally engaged as the U.S.,
“Greatest lower bound” forces are required to be very large,
And very formidable.

The implications for military budgeting, and the requirement for a degree of tolerance for the waste inevitable in the allocation and expenditure of large budgets, should be obvious.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Moving Lips Part 2: The Critical Deficit

Nearly ten years ago, I wrote the following at Eternity Road, in reference to an encounter a friend of a friend – a hairstylist – had with a crazy person who walked into her shop, demanded service, and then proceeded to go crazy on her:

The problem [i.e., with loonies walking about unconfined and unsupervised] is rooted in the disappearance of a little sign that once hung on the wall of every store, barbershop, tavern, and bordello in America:

We Reserve The Right To Refuse To Serve Anyone

You can still find that little sign in some shops, but legal changes have emptied it of its significance. For all practical purposes, no one who sells any good or service to the "general public" -- that is, with no requirement for prior introduction, specification, and negotiation -- can refuse to serve anyone, without risking both civil and criminal consequences.

So the loonies have their way with folks such as Heather's hairstylist friend.

America's loony population is not evenly distributed over the fifty states. They tend to concentrate in cities, with the greatest densities observable in the coastal megalopolises such as Los Angeles and New York. There's a lot of information buried in there, actually. Since loonhood normally includes a ravenous appetite for the attention of others, the loony will automatically go to where that can be had. Large cities offer the most potential victims, and large American coastal cities, which are utterly under the spell of leftist moral relativism, unearned guilt, and legally mandated "compassion" for the unfortunate, will naturally be the worst off.

Granted that there are degrees of loonhood. Heather's friend didn't suffer any physical damage from her encounters; she was merely offended and somewhat shaken by them. But a fearless researcher with a good pair of walking shoes could easily turn up a dozen far more radical cases, some physically threatening, in a single afternoon's stroll on the streets of New York.

It's not against any law to be an irritating, irrational whiner. It's not against any law to complain baselessly about one's treatment by some hardworking, longsuffering tradesman. It's not against any law to shout imprecations or outright threats at the objects of one's disaffection, with the exception of government officials in the performance of their duties. But damn it all, there used to be curbs on this sort of thing -- unofficial but quite stringent curbs that kept it out of the faces of the decent and honest, so that we could count on civility and courtesy even from complete strangers.

The more severely diseased of the loonies were confined for their own protection. Those with milder strains of the virus were told to "keep moving." And that is exactly as it should be.

Those who've read extensively of your Curmudgeon's blather will find this opinion unsurprising. Indeed, it seems to be widely shared. So why can't we act on it?

The answer is uncomfortable to ponder. We're afraid.

Well, some of us are afraid…and some of us aren’t:

I stopped into a church today intending to pray the whole Rosary (all 15 decades) sitting before Our Lord reposed in a tabernacle. I got through the Joyful Mysteries when a crazy man/professional panhandler entered the church begging for handouts. He zeroed in on me and wouldn’t relent. I tried to ignore him. Then… he touched me.

Now I’m engaged. It’s on. He curses me, turns and faces Our Lord in the tabernacle, curses Him, and then spits at Our Lord in the tabernacle. Now, this is where it gets… interesting. Crazy panhandler dude then wheels back on me and says, “Why don’t you go back? Why don’t you go back where you came from?” Over and over again. Now, I guess there is a certain general quality to that statement, but I found it interesting considering that the creature that was saying this had just cursed and then spit upon Our Blessed Lord reposed in the tabernacle. Hmmmm. Maybe someone doesn’t like me being here in Riverville. Edifying!

There were two men, excuse me, “men”, who were associated with the church sitting behind me, so I enjoined them to render assistance. [What I just did in that last sentence is called "foreshadowing". Can you guess how THAT turned out??] They replied that there was nothing they could do. Ah, the battle cry of the post-Christian “man”: THERE’S NOTHING I CAN DO! So crazy panhandler dude, seeing that I’m on my own, decides to get bold. I drew him back away from the tabernacle, still trying to enjoin the “men” to get involved. Then, crazy panhandler dude charged me. And here is where the mental preparation pays off. He was about 15 feet away, and when he charged I thought three things in this order:

  1. Trust in God and fear no man.
  2. Move straight forward into the attack.
  3. Meekness is power under control.

So, when he charged, I lifted my chin maintaining drilling eye contact, threw back my shoulders, dropped my daypack that was in my left hand in an “I’m getting ready to beat your ass in the two-fisted manner of the old school” sort of way, and stepped forward to meet him.

And you know what he did? Aw, guess. Go ahead.

Yup. Player stopped short and backed up.

He then continued to curse me and circle. I maintained drilling eye contact while still trying to enjoin the “men” to, oh, I dunno, at least STAND UP. Nada. And crazy dude charged me again. Same drill, same results. And then again. Finally, a woman, who I think was also on staff at the church, came in and at least had the stones to yell at the crazy dude. Finally, the crazy dude slunk off, and I left, after telling the “men” that their non-response response was a farce. And I finished the Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries at another church later. And then I went to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, prayed for the crazy dude at the elevation of the Consecrated Host, received Holy Communion for him, and asked Our Lord to give ME whatever temporal punishment is required to make reparation for the crazy dude spitting at Him in the Tabernacle.

[Applause to David DeGerolamo for the link to the above.]

Ann Barnhardt is not a large woman. She wasn’t armed that day…at least, if she was, she omitted to say so. And as noted above, there were two adult men in the church with her. But she acted in her own defense, to confront and cow a larger and probably stronger opponent.

She had to. There was no one else in the church with a shred of character.

Character can be variously interpreted, but among American men, it’s traditionally been held to comprise an interlocking set of personal virtues:

  • Honesty,
  • Responsibility,
  • Justice,
  • Courage.

Those virtues are at the heart of the American mythos: our notions about what we are as a nation and our pre-eminence in the world. Our convictions about ourselves propelled us into several wars in which, strictly speaking, there was no American interest at stake. We’ve upheld the mythos in all but a very few occasions.

Well, actually, we didn’t. Our men at arms have upheld it for us. The rest of us mostly watched it on TV.

An informal, popular definition of the “manly man” is “the man who runs toward the sound of the guns.” This might overemphasize the martial mindset, but it is nevertheless striking in its penetration. He who exhibits personal courage – who willingly moves toward strife and violence, on the chance that he can contribute usefully to the resolution thereof – is more likely than not to possess the other critical virtues that make up character. He who hangs back, hoping that others will do what’s necessary, is more likely than not to be weak in the other virtues as well.

America’s all-volunteer armed forces tend to collect the former. That’s not to say that there are no cowards in uniform; every army has a few. But now that conscription is, for practical purposes, a dead letter, it takes an unusual degree of blindness to enlist with confidence that one will never see combat.

Note that from its inception, the Obama Administration has labored to weaken our military, to cleanse it of commanders of demonstrable patriotism and proven ability, and to undermine the soldier’s historical supports for courage under fire.

Part of today’s courage deficit in American men can be laid to the many laws that have disarmed us. Every such law is an abomination; the politicians who proposed and pushed for them ought to have been hanged for their presumption. But as usual, there’s more to the story.

Today, when private citizens intervene to halt a violent altercation, they put themselves at legal risk. That wasn’t always the case. Neither was it always the case that police arrived at such an incident “with guns blazing,” rendering everyone involved equally at hazard. Even the testimony of bystanders that Smith was a “good guy” trying to protect a victim from a mugging isn’t guaranteed to be sufficient to protect him from harassment – sometimes by the “justice system,” and sometimes from a lawsuit in civil court. The incentives to remain uninvolved, especially if one is unarmed, are several and large.

There’s more yet. From early in the Twentieth Century, public education came to be the default mode by which American children are schooled. The public schools are overrun with teachers and administrators who are determined that boys shall not be boys: that is, that they shall be conditioned out of their innate energy and aggressiveness, and that they shall be propagandized against the manly virtues at every opportunity. In effect, masculinity is now a liability for American boys, likely to get them in trouble when displayed in any fashion.

A twelve-year assault on masculinity by authority figures capable of inflicting innumerable punishments and humiliations on their victims is a tough thing to countervail, before, during, or afterward.

The political assault on manly courage is only the latest episode in the campaign to reave us of our character. Honesty? Responsibility? Justice? Which of these has not been assaulted by one or another political development? Are we still resolved to meet our own obligations and pay our own way? Are we still resolved to protect and support those who depend on us for protection and support? Do we still spurn the unearned, refuse the illicit, and eschew the “easy score?”

The State has already convinced many that they have no enforceable obligations: not to see to their own defense, nor to care for their children, nor for the elders, nor for themselves. The incursion into the medical industry followed naturally. Despite what several politicians nominally on the Right have promised, I wouldn’t bet that they’ll make a sincere effort to undo it. Too much power and too many rice bowls are at stake…and too many Americans turn ugly when you threaten to retract a freebie.

What has most of the jabber been about these past four years? Health care? Glory be to God! A man of character looks after his own health. He bears the consequences of his mistakes in his own flesh and from his own wallet. He doesn’t abuse his body with tobacco, alcohol, drugs, or sloth, and then insist that he has a right to have his maladies corrected – painlessly, of course! – at someone else’s expense.

Given all that, it’s something of a surprise that there are any Americans with character remaining.

The previous essay dealt specifically with the evolution of political deceit. But political deceit, like any political practice, will only flourish if it finds a niche – a habitat -- within which it’s profitable for the practitioner. Nearly two centuries ago, Thomas Babington Macaulay foresaw and spoke of what we suffer today:

The day will come when a multitude of people will choose the legislature. Is it possible to doubt what sort of a legislature will be chosen? On the one side is a statesman preaching patience, respect for rights, strict observance of public faith. On the other is a demagogue ranting about the tyranny of capitalism and usury and asking why anyone should be permitted to drink champagne and to ride in a carriage while thousands of honest people are in want of necessaries. Which of the candidates is likely to be preferred by a workman? When Society has entered on this downward progress, either civilization or liberty must perish. Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand, or your Republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire in the fifth, with this difference, that the Huns and Vandals who ravaged Rome came from without, and that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your country, by your own institutions.

The vulnerability of Americans to demagoguery didn’t arise instantaneously. It had to be carefully nurtured from a judiciously planted seed: the Progressive Era policies of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Their machinations were welcomed by segments of our populace that were small at first. Those segments grew in tandem with the growth of the welfare state: each popular program gave rise to other programs of similar nature, while persons whose responsibilities had been taken off their backs by the State attracted others who desired the same benefits. Success always inspires emulation.

That dynamic has poised us at the edge of an economic and fiscal cliff. A nation half of whose people are “on the take” is determined that its “score” shall be protected and extended, no matter what that might do to those who retain enough responsibility to pay their own bills. And the politicians who’ve risen to high office by pandering to the characterless will allow no changes that might weaken their support.

To sum up: We have largely been reaved of the character that once defined the American man. Politicians began the process, and became bolder about it as ever more Americans “signed up” to be swaddled by the Omnipotent State. “Educators” have prosecuted the cause remorselessly for a century. Most poignant and painful of all, the best of us tend to separate from the rest of us by their election of military service, a wholly honorable and praiseworthy thing, but a choice which deprives us of their example in almost all cases.

And here’s where the “moving lips” motif kicks in: we continue to tell ourselves that “We’re Number One!” We continue to prate about how America is the Land of the Badass: Don’t mess with us or we’ll stomp you!

Who’s doing the lying now?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Principle And Pragmatism

I’d intended to continue from the Moving Lips essay on to various psychological and tactical considerations relevant to political deceit, but this essay by Dr. Ben Carson has diverted my thoughts. Here’s why:
I was asked recently how I could possibly endorse the U.S. Senate candidacy of Monica Wehby, who is running as a Republican from Oregon. She is pro-choice, which in the opinion of many makes her unacceptable as a conservative.

I called her to query her about her stance on this issue. She stated that personally, she is very pro-life, but she feels the government has no business interfering with the relationship between the mother, the baby, the doctor and God. I feel differently, because if abolitionists had taken a similar hands-off approach, I might not have been free to write this column. As someone who has spent a lifetime trying to save the lives of children, even with intrauterine surgery, it is probably not difficult to imagine why I am extremely oriented toward efforts to preserve human life, especially innocent human life that has yet to experience the extrauterine world.

Given this pro-life propensity, one might ask, how could I endorse someone who is pro-choice? The answer is this: I’m not an ideologue who determines a person’s worthiness with a litmus test. I have known Dr. Wehby as a friend and colleague for many years, and she is extremely intelligent and knows how to make decisions based on evidence versus ideology. Also, in a state like Oregon, which is left-leaning, she would not be a viable candidate if she maintained a pro-life stance….

If the ship is about to suffer massive destruction by sailing over Niagara Falls, why devote energy scraping the barnacles off the bottom? There will be plenty of time for that once the ship is saved. Worrying about the barnacles before reversing course detracts from critical action. Enough said.

This rationale will anger some who feel that their important issue, be it homosexual marriage, abortion, illegal immigration or Second Amendment rights should never be anywhere except front and center. I sympathize with those sentiments, but as a pragmatist, I realize that if conservatives continue to be fragmented over issues on which there will never be unanimous agreement, they will never get the chance to address these issues down the road. Principles are very important, but so are wisdom and savvy when building consensus with people with different kinds of principles.

There are two serious problems with Dr. Carson’s thesis. First, a principle isn’t just something which one feels very strongly about; it’s a fundamental rule about right and wrong. Therefore, any compromise on principle is inherently a betrayal of one’s moral-ethical convictions. Second, one cannot evaluate a course as pragmatic -- practical – without first stating what end one hopes to achieve with it and demonstrating, via logic and evidence, that it’s a plausible means toward that end.

In discoursing about such things to a college class, I used the example of the pocket calculator. In the mid-Seventies, when they first became available, they were very expensive: the cheap ones were over $100. By the mid-Eighties, they were very cheap indeed: $10 for a basic unit, and rarely as much as $100 for a highly programmable device with graphic and printing capabilities. I asked the class, “Does that strike you as progress?” The answer was unanimously yes.

Then I threw them a curve ball: “What if the reduction in the cost of a calculator had been achieved by enslaving a million workers to make them at no pay?” The cries of outrage nearly deafened me. “It might be practical, if your whole end were to make calculators cheaper, but would it be progress?” The answer was unanimously no.

Progress is the improvement of the human condition -- the “practical” end to be achieved -- without violating moral-ethical principles. The most glorious imaginable end cannot justify an immoral or unethical means. First, that would completely vitiate what we mean by a principle; second, all too often, the end we seek is unattainable by the means we’ve chosen…or by any other.

Imagine – it will take some effort – that poverty worldwide could be eliminated forever by the simple expedient of once each year, killing every tenth person on Earth, the honorees to be selected by lot, with no exemptions nor deferments. I think we can all agree that the end in view is a good one, but what about the means? How beautiful would a “practical” end have to be to justify mass murder? Could any imaginable end do so? Worse, should the method fail to produce the desired results, what would we say to the souls of those slaughtered? To their relatives? To God?

Some claim that “a woman’s right to choose” is a matter of principle. Others – I’m one – claim that a human being’s right to life, including that of the unborn child, is a matter of principle. There is no way to “chart a course” between those two poles. Nor will any end persuade someone attached to either position as a principle that violating it can be justified.

Compromise is always about means: unless we agree on the end to be sought, we cannot compromise. Stronger still: unless we agree that the means suggested as a compromise is morally acceptable, one or the other of us will rule it out no matter how promising it appears “practically.” When recommending this or that course as “practical” and endeavoring to persuade those opposed to it on principle, I hope Dr. Carson will keep that in mind.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Moving Lips

Johnny Carson tried to make light of it:

I've written about the motivations behind it:

Have you ever wondered why politicians and their affiliates lie? Why they betray their oaths and scamp their duties by deliberately misinforming the public? Why they strain to seduce -- often quite successfully -- the mainstream media into affirming or substantiating their deceits?

In one sense, the answer is simple. Politicians lie for the same reason anyone lies: to get something that would otherwise be unavailable to them on acceptable terms. If a lie is the lowest-cost / least-risk way of getting it, and their morals don't inhibit them from the approach, they'll lie as volubly as a teenager caught with one hand wrapped around a bottle of Jack Daniels and the other deep in his date's panties.

Bill Clinton introduced the word-mincing technique that came to be called "parsing:"

So careful were Clinton's responses, and so high were the stakes, that analysts scrutinized his remarks with rabbinical care. When Clinton initially said there "is" no sexual relationship between him and Lewinsky, reporters wondered whether that included previous sexual contact; Clinton later denied a sexual relationship in the past tense, too. It was a sign of the fevered atmosphere that some in Washington even seized on Clinton's use of the phrase "sexual relationship." On Friday, in his National Journal column, noted legal writer Stuart Taylor questioned whether Clinton chose that construction to artfully allow the possibility that he had engaged in oral sex with Lewinsky. (In similar scandals, other politicians have claimed that extramarital oral sex did not constitute adultery—a distinction that some allege Clinton has made as well.) Faced with such multiplying and embarrassing questions, White House aides held open the prospect that Clinton might present himself for a dramatic press conference or high-profile television interview to answer questions about the controversy.

...but beyond all dispute, the high-slime mark of today belongs to Barack Hussein Obama, beginning with his presidential campaign:

...and extending throughout his presidency:

...and I have no doubt that Obama's successors, assuming he has any, will do their damnedest to break his record.

How do they do it?

Evolutionary mechanisms operate in the political sphere at the very least. Intentionally or otherwise, each generation passes lessons down to its successors. Those lessons include observations about what works and what doesn't among techniques for deceiving the public. You may rest assured that aspirants to political power pay close attention to what their "ancestors" have managed to get away with -- and even closer attention to what they haven't.

Political lying has carved a deep channel into the American psyche. Contemporary political lies are more numerous and more blatant than ever before. Many of them are absolutely crude, "Baghdad Bob" style denials of facts before our eyes, verified by multiple sources. Slightly less crude are the lies of distortion, in which the clear implications of verifiable facts are rationalized away with semi-plausible excuses, dismissals of significance, or attacks on the protestor's motives. After those come the lies of misdirection, deflection of responsibility, and the pitiable last resort of the political liar, the claim that "we don't yet have all the facts."

Politicians of our day are bolder, subtler, and more adroit in their deceits than any of their predecessors. Atop that, their consciences are more completely numbed than any non-felonious offender recorded by history. Those that claim to be Christians are almost certainly lying about that as well. At any rate, they appear confident that there is no afterlife, or that the consequences of their lives on Earth can somehow be finessed or effaced.

With very few exceptions, the contemporary American politician is, by definition, a sociopath.

The mechanics of systematic deceit are well understood:

When Smith wishes to deceive Jones, he must contrive to do all the following:
  1. Misdirection: He must avert Jones's attention and credulity from any convincing contrary evidence.
  2. Confidence: He must instill in Jones an adequate degree of confidence in his (Smith's) trustworthiness.
  3. Plausibility: He must frame his deceit in a manner consistent with the applicable context.
  4. Affirmation: He must ensure that the preponderance of voices to which Jones is likely to listen will affirm, or at least not contradict, his deceit.
  5. Neutralization: He must discredit contrary voices which have access to evidence, or channels of persuasion, that are outside his control.

But that's not the whole story. Skeptics and persons with the habit of independent inquiry are very difficult to gull, even for the most skilled of deceivers. Systematic deceit works because a hefty fraction of the populace is not only deceivable, but amenable to being deceived. Indeed, quite a number of Americans actively want to be deceived. If denied the lies they expect (and in some cases, demand), they would greet the unvarnished truth with astonishment and dismay. They'd regard it as offensive, perhaps even intolerable.


There are many "whys" in politics for which no satisfactory answer can be found. This isn't one of them. It springs from Mankind's greatest natural weakness: our ability and willingness to refuse to see what's unpleasant, especially if acknowledging it would demand a costly, arduous, or perilous response.

Political deceit panders to wishful thinking. The politician who can persuade his audience to believe in the "free lunch" can get them to sit still for a fleecing beyond anything known to the world of sheep. The politician who can persuade his audience that the barbarian isn't at the gates even when the strokes of the battering ram can be clearly heard between his promises can allow them to evade:

  • The terror of anticipation;
  • The admission of cowardice;
  • The recognition of incapacity.

Examples are plentiful.

The maxim of the entertainment trades is Give the people what they want. In that regard, politics as it's practiced in America today is a form of entertainment. Sadly, since what many persons want is to be deceived, that's what they get: lies expressed gracefully and delivered fetchingly. More and worse, those of us determined to know the truth -- determined to be free -- are too few to countervail the prevalent dynamic. The electorate tends to replace liar Smith only when more skilled liar Jones arises to challenge him.

The political order has become a kind of ecological niche: a zone within which he who deceives most effectively will be the dominant organism. Nor should we be surprised about it.

The Founding Fathers held that politics and public office were unsuitable occupations for a career. Their original Constitutional design included several provisions intended to obstruct the establishment of the sort of life in public office that's common today. Their prototype statesman for the newborn Republic was a man of independent means who could leave his affairs in a steward's hands for a few weeks each summer while he busied himself with the rei publicae: i.e., with questions of state. It took several Constitutional Amendments, two World Wars, a Great Depression, and one hell of a lot of demagoguery to create the niche that makes political careerism possible.

The professional deceiver -- the politician -- emerged to occupy that niche.
The niche will exist for as long as we permit it.
How long will we permit it?