Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sturdy Wisdoms: The Worst Habit

     [Just yesterday, after a jaunt on which I spent far too much money on cheese – it’s one of my more difficult-to-resist vices – I received an email from Dystopic of The Declination. He drew my attention to his most recent essay, and mentioned that he’d come to an opinion about mortgage debt that differed greatly from his original one. He wrote that the change was because of the essay below, which first appeared at Eternity Road on December 13, 2006. In appreciation of his missive and the implied compliment...and yes, in recognition of the folly of spending so much on exotic cheeses that I was moved to inquire of the cheese shop proprietor whether financing might be available...I repost it here. -- FWP]

     Your Curmudgeon is rather older than most wanderers of the World Wide Web, including most of those who hawk their opinions to a general audience. He received a different sort of upbringing from most, too. As his years lengthen, he finds himself ever more frequently revisiting the teachings of his youth and reviewing them for continuing soundness and applicability.

     Many of those lessons are still quite serviceable -- infinitely more so than the guff that's displaced them in more recent years. In part, that's due to an underlying shift in premises; half a century ago, no one would have dared to posit that right and wrong are relative, or that there can be no absolute moral standards, or that "good for you" and "bad for you" are anything but matters of opinion. Today one seldom hears anything else. If you don't believe it, either you don't have children or you haven't paid enough attention to what their "teachers" have been telling them.

     Accordingly, your Curmudgeon has decided to trot out, one by one, the sturdiest and most useful of the simple wisdoms with which his own parents and teachers equipped him. It is his opinion that their promulgation could do quite a lot to correct the faults of modern American society, and even more to quell the rising tide of dissatisfaction with life that afflicts so many of our teens and young adults.

     Of course, opinions will vary. Read on, and judge for yourself.

     High among the homiletic primaries is this one: don't allow yourself to form bad habits. From the ordinary meanings of the words, this would seem self-evidently wise. For a "bad habit" is a behavior pattern that does harm to oneself. Of course, there's a heavy murk around that word "bad," whose variable interpretation has been the ingress for a lot of irrationality, but we'll get to that some other time.

     There are any number of habits on whose badness Americans would generally agree -- and not by thin majorities, either:

  • Avoidance of exercise;
  • Routinely bad nutrition and overeating;
  • Impropriety of disclosure (i.e., the habit of revealing sensitive facts about oneself or one's family, friends, and acquaintances to persons who ought not to be told);
  • Excessive television watching;
  • Smoking;
  • Drinking to excess;
  • The use of recreational drugs.

     The above is, of course, a partial list. Other bad habits less dramatic in their effects would draw general concurrence as well. But there has been a sea change in American attitudes so complete, yet so quiet, that the very worst of all habits, by which millions of persons have utterly destroyed themselves and their kin beyond all hope of renewal, is almost never addressed. Indeed, when it's mentioned, most persons either refuse to acknowledge it or turn away to conceal their embarrassment.

     The habit of which your Curmudgeon speaks is living beyond your means.

     This venerable phrase has almost been effaced from our culture. Yet our nation's habit of living beyond its means is a regular news feature, reported through innumerable channels at least once per month. What else does the federal deficit signify? What else does the American trade deficit signify? What else does it mean when the dollar drops in value against the currencies of other lands? (It's been quite a long time since a physician last clapped your Curmudgeon on the shoulder and told him that he's "sound as a dollar," and not because your Curmudgeon is quick to take umbrage at insult.)

     What's bad in the large is just as bad in the small, yet nearly all of us do it, and very few of us will admit to it.

     Likely you, Gentle Reader, are nodding, perhaps a bit reluctantly, at the unwisdom of "living beyond your means." But you haven't seen your Curmudgeon's kicker yet:

If you've borrowed money, for any reason whatsoever, that you can't immediately pay back out of your own reserves, you're living beyond your means.

     Yes, that includes home mortgages and car loans.

     A century ago, "mortgage" was a dirty word. (Car loans were, of course, unknown.) In fact, the word means "death pledge." It denoted a promise to return the mortgaged property to the legal ownership of the mortgagee -- the lender -- upon the mortgagor's -- the borrower's -- death. Indeed, it still means exactly that.

     Mortgages in the Nineteenth Century were almost exclusively the province and the bane of farmers. Private housing in non-farm areas was very seldom mortgaged. The income tax, the rise of the lending industry, and the demographic and financial conditions that prevailed after our two World Wars were the impetus by which Americans were goosed into thinking that living in homes they do not own, that could be ripped out from under them at any moment, was perfectly all right.

     It's hard to get reliable statistics on the matter, but according to a financial professional of your Curmudgeon's acquaintance, no fewer than 75% of all private homes are mortgaged. The deeds to those homes are encumbered in such a fashion that the persons who "own" them could be stripped of them at any time. It would not surprise your Curmudgeon too greatly if those provisions were invoked to put force behind a Kelo-esque eminent domain proceeding; financiers and politicians have always traveled in the same circles.

     But even apart from the hazards involved in living in mortgaged housing, it's almost always unwise to undertake a mortgage for reasons of simple financial prudence:

  • It's a long-term obligation, typically 15 years or more;
  • The lender is legally privileged over the borrower -- that is, nearly all the options rest with the lender, nearly none with the borrower;
  • The borrower's income, upon which he depends for his debt service, is almost never guaranteed;
  • A default on a mortgage is regarded as the worst of financial sins, and in the worst case can ruin an individual's financial standing for the rest of his life;
  • In the event of a default, the borrower seldom recovers any significant percentage of his notional equity in the mortgaged property.

     If a mortgage, which is secured by real property and carries tax advantages that are attached to no other form of debt, is unwise, then what need one say about chattel loans on cars and other movable property? What need one say about credit-card debt, which carries extremely high interest rates and has ruined millions of families in the past quarter century alone?

     Many a reader has been saying to himself "But how could I get the things I need without incurring these debts?" for several paragraphs now. Such questions arise from a perverse sense of "need" far more often than not. Americans are hooked on material self-indulgence; easy credit is the pusher that feeds our habit. Most of what we have, we do not need. We want it, and we certainly enjoy it, but those are far different things.

     "Need" is the gateway drug. "Need" is habitually "defined down" over time: from a house, to a car, to better clothes, to a better car, to a really nice house in a "suitable" neighborhood, to designer jeans and sneakers for the kids, to the latest iPods®, to a PlayStation 3 ® and all the "hot" games for it, to a Giant Economy Size bottle of Chivas Regal to dull the pain from having to pay for all that stuff.

     Man's needs are food, clothing, shelter, and heat. All else is discretionary. The truly prudent man does not incur debt to pay for discretionary items.

     Let it be admitted that most Americans, despite their debt anchors, manage to skirt the shoals of financial disaster. But an appalling number do not, and a significant fraction of those never quite recover from the wreck. Compound interest, which master financier Baron Philippe de Rothschild called "the eighth wonder of the world," is in fact the eighth horror of the world for those habituated to debt. Its ability to drain all the vitality from one's present and hope from one's future is unequalled by anything but cocaine and heroin.

     In what might be the supreme irony of ironies, innumerable Americans look for their salvation from their government. Not only is our government the most egregious abuser of credit in the history of the world, it has an unadmitted interest in encouraging debt to the widest possible extent. Widespread severe debt is the motivator for governmental abuse of the currency: inflation. Inflation in our fiat-currency system gifts Washington with billions of "free" dollars with which it can increase its power over the rest of us. But Americans with substantial savings will not tolerate inflation; Americans deeply mired in debt, seeing the chance to pay down their obligations with "cheap" money, will embrace it eagerly.

     If you're a young person who has yet to acquire any debts, don't! Live beneath your means; acquire savings. Only borrow when utterly forced to do so, and only as a capital investment in yourself: that is, for tools or an education. Be ruthless in assuring that every dollar you make arrives in your pocket with no debt-service strings attached.

     A young man with a white-collar salary, who restricts his consumption for just ten years and puts his unspent balance into conservative investments (i.e., steady 3% to 5% returns), can usually produce the entire purchase price of a house at the end of that period. He'll have no trouble affording the cash purchase of a used car. Does it mean that he'll live in a less opulent style than that enjoyed by his coevals? Yes. But it also means that the fangs of the debt habit and the shackles of compound interest will have no chance to snag him.

     An older man who has lived free from debt can be certain of mobility and security. He will have savings. No occupational reversal will have the power to dispossess him. Neither will misfortunes of nature render him helpless. He will have leverage in all negotiations that a man chained to debt and beholden to creditors would not possess. He will be as free as his individual efforts can possibly make him. When he passes from this world, he will be able to leave his progeny a substantial patrimony. More, he will have already shown them an invaluable example.

     A sturdy wisdom indeed.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Psychopathy And Sociopathy And Where To Find Them

     From a recent conversation:

     FWP: I’m starting to think there’s no point in doing this any longer.
     CSO: Why?
     FWP: The whole lead-a-horse-to-water bit.
     CSO: When did you start writing?
     FWP: Not long after I met you. Call it twenty-five years ago.
     CSO: So what’s changed about people since twenty-five years ago, eh, genius?

     There are worse afflictions than having a smart wife with no governor on her mouth. (No, don’t send applications for the position, please; I’ll stick with what I have.) Anyway, she’s right: people have always refused to see that which clashes with what they prefer to believe. They read opinion-mongers like me – if they read them – mainly to wallow in confirmation bias: the reassurance that comes from being told what they already “know.”

     It can be daunting to confront one’s inability to change minds. Yet many thousands of us post tirades such as this every single day. I actually feel somewhat guilty when I need to take a day off from it. Never mind that there’s no money in it. (The fringe benefits aren’t much, either.)

     Yet the recognition can be a blessing as well. It reminds me that I do this for my own benefit: to gratify my need to express myself, and to enable me to confront my own preconceptions and biases by setting them down in black and white multicolored pixels. If others derive some benefit from these screeds, that’s merely lagniappe.

     Having said all that, it’s time to address the subject in the title of this piece. And before you ask: Yes, Gentle Reader: I believe that by the time you reach the end of it, you’ll see the relevance of this opening segment.

     Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. -- Robert A. Heinlein

     The use of certain words formerly regarded as technical jargon properly reserved to psychologists has become commonplace. The words I have uppermost in mind this fine Friday morning are psychopath and sociopath.

     There’s some variation in the “definitions” associated with those words, because they’re taken to denote mental aberrations that can only be inferred (and not with confidence) from behavior. Yet simple encapsulations apply to each of them:

  • A psychopath lacks empathy: i.e., the ability to resonate with others’ emotions.
  • A sociopath lacks conscience: i.e., the sense of others as persons with rights.

     Owing to the cheapening of all discourse (but especially psychological jargon), we frequently read statements from supposedly learned persons to the effect that “everyone’s at least a little [psychopathic | sociopathic].” I’m not going to take a position on that; there are enough subjects to write about. However, if we take it as a recipe for adjudging the behavior of others, it leads to certain classifications that can be useful in sociopolitical analysis.

     You may have heard of Bill Clinton. He has a famous wife, who was at one time the Secretary of State. (He also used to be a governor somewhere. Arkansas, I think.) As is the case with many persons whose spouses throw them into the shadows, he had a problem with sexual fidelity. It got some play in the popular press, if memory serves.

     That often happens to a man who marries a psychopath. Sex isn’t principally about physical sensations, though those are pleasant enough...if you’re doing it right, anyway. For the emotionally healthy person, it’s about the emotional implications of physical intimacy: This person cares enough about me to let me inside his defenses. If that kind of affirmation is absent from the sex act, it falls to a level below masturbation.

     The psychopath, unable to resonate with another’s emotions, is incapable of affirming them sincerely. He must play-act. He must say to himself, “If I really cared about this person, I would say and do thus and such. Do I want what he has to offer me, long-term or short? If so, then I must say and do those things.” His decisions are more or less cold profit-and-loss calculations.

     One who comes to the conclusion that he married a psychopath is chilled to the bone by it. It can lead him into channels of thought and action most of us would at minimum deplore. I submit that this model for the behavior of Bill and Hillary Clinton is consistent with the evidence.

     Sociopathy is an even scarier condition. To the true sociopath, the rest of us are no more than components in his schemes. At worst we’re obstacles to be driven around, over, or through. The ambitious sociopath – i.e., he who has outsized ambitions – will sweep as many other persons into his plans as he believes he must to get to his goals. He won’t care how many others he hurts, or who they are.

     Like most mental conditions, this one can be found in persons of all levels of practical competence. The incompetent sociopath will eventually be known as such. His schemes will be inept. More, their callousness will be ineptly concealed. A moderately competent sociopath will be more successful, both at achieving his aims and at concealing his sociopathy. When things come-a-cropper for him, he’ll often be able to get others to attribute it to human fallibility (alternately, “that’s how the cookie crumbles”). The highly competent sociopath has the potential, at least, to become known as a magnificent humanitarian and a great benefactor to Mankind, despite the utter indifference he feels toward others’ rights, prerogatives, and well being.

     In Robert A. Heinlein’s science-fantasy saga Glory Road, his co-protagonist Star, “Empress of the Twenty Universes,” at one point refers to a sociopath of extreme competence: an earlier Emperor who succeeded brilliantly despite a deep loathing for the very people he served. Glory Road is filled with insights such as that one: a breadth and depth of understanding of Mankind, both along its normal axes and at its extremes. It’s Heinlein at his very best...and its depiction of political figures and processes is indispensable to an understanding of how all political systems mature, deteriorate, and destroy themselves.

     The highly competent sociopath is a natural politician: a lead-pipe cinch to achieve high federal office. Whether he uses that office for “good” is wholly secondary.

"Government's a dubious glory...You pay for your power and wealth by balancing on the sharp edge of the blade. That great amorphous thing out there -- the people -- has turned and swallowed many governments. They can do it in the flash of an angry uprising. The way you prevent that is by giving good government, not perfect government -- but good. Otherwise, sooner or later, your turn comes." [Frank Herbert, The Godmakers]

     Yes, I’ve used that quote before. More than once, I think. Today it rings loudly in my ears for one particular, seemingly innocuous phrase: “the people.”

     What is “the people?” More to the point, how does the successful sociopath turned federal official view “the people?” Fisher Ames, a relatively unknown Founding Father, wrote that “The people, sir, are a great beast.” Herbert’s “great amorphous thing” formulation is, as the lawyers would say, on all fours with that viewpoint.

     Hearken to the Web’s favorite Bookworm:

     Is it redundant to say “the sociopaths in Washington D.C.”? Probably. But what I want to talk about is the spying that the Obama government committed against Donald Trump and the way that Obama himself signed an executive order allowing that illegally swept up data to be widely disseminated throughout the administrative state, ensuring leaks.

     Actually, I don’t want to talk about it. I want you to read John Nolte’s article explaining why Nunes’ announcement yesterday about the government’s surveillance revealed a scarily broad spying apparatus (affecting all Americans, something I’ve written about before); improper interception of communications from Donald Trump and his team; the reasonably inferable fact that Obama, who must have been briefed about the improperly swept up and identified communications, assured that they would be leaked to a happily complicit American media.

     If your mental and emotional calluses are heavy, you might shrug at the notion that The State has been monitoring everything you say and will happily and remorselessly use it to destroy you should it serve the State’s purposes. That, you might say to yourself, is the nature of the State, a “soulless machine” (Mohandas K. Gandhi). If you’re still enough of a cockeyed optimist to imagine that people go into politics and government out of a true desire to serve “the people,” you’re likely to be outraged: “If they could do it to Trump, they could do it to anyone! Hang them from the lampposts!”

     If you’re like me – i.e., inclined toward the analysis of men’s motivations and the evolution of social and political systems – you draw trend lines.

     The political class we suffer under today is the final stage in the evolution of sociopathy in a quasi-democratic order. To them “the people” are lower than beasts. “A great amorphous thing” isn’t an adequate description of our standing in their eyes; we’re clay to be molded into weapons, serfs, or toys. We exist to provide them with power, privileges, and perquisites. Those are the only reasons they tolerate our continued existence.

     I realized shortly after the election of Donald Trump that he represents a threat to our master class and its cushy arrangements. I’m only coming to realize how great a threat he is. Every other node of power or influence in Washington, and no few in the state governments, is maneuvering to neuter and destroy him. It has nothing to do with his supposed vulgarity or plebeian origins. Sociopaths cannot abide the company of honest men. When the honest man attains an elevation over theirs, he becomes a mortal danger to them and all they’ve built.

     Don’t ask whether Washington’s sociopaths agree or disagree with Trump’s values. They have no values of significance to the rest of us. How could they? We’re nothing to them. We’re votes...campaign workers and contributors...pieces in a game. The players don’t worry about the well being of the game pieces.

     And now, should the fit take you, you know where to find the most competent sociopaths currently walking the Earth.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

New Fiction (UPDATED)

     Fifteen years after emigrating, Holly—born Horace—Martinowski returns to Onteora County, New York where she was born and raised. Neither she nor it are the same as when she fled to Britain. Her earliest encounters are with people and events she didn’t expect. Her later ones cause her to wonder whether she might be home to stay.

     A companion story to A Place Of Our Own and One Small Detail.

     Only $0.99 in all eBook formats at Smashwords.

     UPDATE: Now available at Amazon, as well.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Political Chimera Of 2017

     The most curious aspect of our current situation in federal politics is one that’s hardly been discussed, much less explored in depth. The issue in controversy is the Republican Party’s stated intention to “repeal and replace ObamaCare,” the 2700 page legislative monstrosity that’s hashed medical insurance in these United States into an unpalatable mess.

     It’s been opined by many a pundit that among the reasons Mitt Romney was defeated in 2012 was his inability to campaign against ObamaCare, since he’d imposed a similar sort of medical-insurance fascism on Massachusetts during his term as governor. This, of course, is unfalsifiable, as the “experiment” can’t be repeated in a controlled fashion. However, it’s plausible, especially in light of the smashing victory of a presidential candidate who did campaign against ObamaCare: Donald Trump. At any rate, Trump made the repeal of ObamaCare a major platform plank. As he’s a man who expects to keep his promises, and who believes the public expects the same, Trump has made that outcome an early-first-term goal.

     Enter the Republican caucus in Congress. When we’ve spoken with disdain of “Establishment Republicans” these past few years, these are the specimens we’ve had in mind. The repeal-and-replace mission has caused them no small amount of agony. At this point it’s doubtful that any bill that reaches the floor of the House of Representatives or the Senate will much resemble what the millions who elected Trump had hoped for.

     Why? The GOP now controls both the White House and Capitol Hill. With Trump in the Oval Office they no longer need to fear a veto. Senatorial filibusters have already been largely eliminated; the vestiges of that procedural rule are likely to fall very soon. The Supreme Court is unlikely to obstruct the process. So what’s the problem?

     This deserves careful treatment, so grab a fresh cup of coffee while I limber up.

     Any watcher of American politics will be aware that neither Republicans nor Democrats exhibit much fidelity to their campaign rhetoric. Both camps are aware of the general tenor of the electorate at any moment; they spend huge sums striving to make sure of it. And both camps will tell the voters what they think the voters want to hear, regardless of what they really intend once safely ensconced in office.

     Donald Trump has upset the applecart by making it plain through his actions that he intends to keep his campaign promises. This has upset many of Capitol Hill’s veterans, to say nothing of the political strategists and kingmakers in the GOP. The major point here is one that is taken as axiomatic by those persons: that once an entitlement is created, it cannot be taken away.

     That was the defensive redoubt of Social Security for many years. “They paid into it. They expect it. If we take it away, they’ll crucify us!” And indeed, there was some logic to it, as Social Security is nominally funded by a specific payroll tax. An American who believes he’s paid for something will not look favorably upon a politician who proposes to take it away. The same is true of Medicare, albeit to a weaker degree.

     I have no doubt that some voters would be displeased by the repeal of ObamaCare...but who are they? Did they vote for Trump or any other Republican now in a federal office? Would they be likely to do so in some future election? Is there some prospect of a benefit from pleasing such voters that would outweigh the displeasure of those who did support Trump and the Republicans in Congress?

     I can’t see it, myself. Moreover, we normally expect those we send to Congress to be reasonably intelligent. Granted that there are no Certified Galactic Intellects there, it’s not excessive to expect them to see what’s visible to the rest of us, and to answer easily answered questions...easily.

     But perhaps the political context isn’t as clear to those federal Republicans as it seems to me.

     In Robert Pirsig’s landmark Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, his alter ego Phaedrus is both inspired and confounded by a simple mantra: The more you look, the more you see. Rather than go into detail about how this was at first a stumbling block for Phaedrus, I’ll simply commend the book to those who haven’t yet read it. (For “extra credit,” determine why Phaedrus need not have been intellectually stymied, and what fault of logic led to his early troubles.)

     What I have in mind this morning is the inverse of that mantra, to wit: The less you look, the less you see. He who refuses to look past a certain predetermined horizon simply won’t see what lies beyond it. That can sometimes be fatal. One such case, sadly, is the reliance of politicians on the reports of pollsters and other public-opinion flacksters.

     The public-opinion “expert” has an agenda of his own. As with all of us, fulfilling that agenda will be higher in priority than anything else he might consider doing, including accurately and completely informing those who purchase his services. Indeed, the “expert’s” need to retain his clientele practically demands that he inculcate in them the assumption that his “expertise” is all they need – that they need not look beyond his reports.

     There is, of course, a spot of negative feedback available here. Ask Alf Landon. But in the near term, if the “expert” can persuade his politician client that the “expert’s” surveys and reports are all the politician needs to formulate his posture, it will serve the “expert’s” agenda.

     I have no doubt that many an “expert” has told his clients that his surveys indicate that the ObamaCare entitlement – i.e., the subsidies that go to some for the purchase of the insurance it mandates – is as untouchable as Social Security ever was. After all, no one has ever succeeded in repealing an entitlement. But then, no Congress has ever tried.

     Finally, among the major inhibitors of conservative action by Congress we must never neglect the baleful power of the media. The major media are completely and irretrievably “in the tank” for the Democrats and their version of social fascism. They will never, ever approve of a Republican initiative that reduces to any degree the power or the intrusiveness of the federal government. They put their considerable megaphones to the denigration of Republicans and the ideas of limited government with absolute predictability.

     The media get too much credit for just about everything. In particular, Republicans give the media too much credit for knowing the pulse of the American electorate. Every newspaper in America predicted the victory of Hillary Clinton. Despite her barely veiled promises to be a “third Obama term,” Republicans standing for office were virtually unanimous about their willingness to work with her and their uneasiness about Trump. They believed that the media and the pollsters it hired could see something they could not.

     This is not a complete picture, of course. There are some Republicans who live for good press. John McCain comes to mind. That habit cost McCain heavily in 2008, yet it seems not to have taught him anything. Perhaps some old dogs can’t learn, after all. However, he’s an exceptional case. Most Republicans are aware that the press – especially its most powerful barons –would prefer to see them reduced to the status of the Whigs. Yet they accept the accuracy of what the press writes about them and the popular opinion of them even so.

     Anyone can be wrong. Indeed, only by being wrong does anyone ever learn something new. But through this particular species of wrongness, the craven Republican caucuses on Capitol Hill are treading dangerously close to stamping a repealable entitlement with a Republican Seal of Approval. Perhaps the following graphic, shamelessly stolen from A Nod To The Gods, would enlighten them somewhat:

     “There are none so blind as those that will not see.” And of course, “The less you look, the less you see.” Verbum sat sapienti.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


     “What can’t be cured must be endured.” – old saying

     I was about to begin a typical tirade on a subject of current political interest. You can thank (or blame) Professor Reynolds for deflecting me from that course by reminding me about that little video just below.

     Some truths, particularly truths about the nature of Mankind and its components, must be expressed through humor. They’re too painful otherwise. If we try to confront them in the stark, no-BS manner with which men approach most serious problems, they inspire an immediate recoil, a desire not to see. That ostrich-like “make it go away” response is really a confession of sorts: the admission that we have encountered a fact that displeases us greatly, but that we can do absolutely nothing about. That’s why – apart from the humor of it – I viewed that little video as important enough to feature here a second time.

     For one with the engineering mentality – i.e., the mindset that views an encountered unpleasantness as something to be remedied as quickly and conveniently as possible – the acceptance of an immutable tragedy is about the most draining experience one can have. I’ve got that mentality in spades. All face cards, at that.

     The old maxim at the top of the page has the feel of an eternal truth, and perhaps it is. But there’s a word in there that bugs the living daylights out of me, precisely because I see an unpleasant condition as something to be remedied. The word, of course, is can’t.

     I view that word as a personal affront. I’ll divert the stars from their courses rather than concede that a problem is beyond my powers to solve. Whether the problem is expressed in formulas or homilies, my natural inclination is to solve the BLEEP!ing thing. The most painful moments in my life have been when I confronted a problem I could not solve...or a problem to which the only solutions involved consequences worse than the problem itself.

     And I’m here to tell you: If you’re a man – i.e., a possessor of the fabled Y chromosome and its multitudinous glories – you’re likely to feel exactly the same way. It’s a better test for gender than anything but a crotch inspection.

     A beautiful theory, killed by a nasty, ugly little fact. – Thomas Huxley

     These days it’s considered gauche to talk about the differences between the sexes, despite their obviousness and their evident importance. But a Gentle Reader of Liberty’s Torch will be aware that that has never stopped me. Moreover, as the taboo against frank discussion of sex differences has persisted, those differences have become ever more significant drivers of the tensions between men and women. The urgency of bringing the subject back into our discourse is near to critical.

     One of the most important of those differences is the response to pain or loss. A typical man will respond to an unpleasant event or condition by trying to remedy it. A typical woman will prefer to talk about it to a sympathetic listener or a circle thereof.

     (Yes, there are exceptions. Need I remind my Gentle Readers – of either sex – that exceptions are exceptional? I didn’t think so.)

     There are many possible explanations for why this is so. That this is so is a fact. It lurks behind the statistical distribution of aptitudes and occupations between the sexes. It’s the reason we don’t see nearly as many female engineers as male engineers. I mean engineer in its strict sense: one who solves technological problems. I consider terms such as “sales engineer” and “requirements engineer” to be nothing but amphigory.

     In consequence of this difference, a woman who brings a personal problem to a man will likely be unsatisfied, perhaps even offended, by his response. “Fix the BLEEP!ing problem!” he will reply. He might even volunteer to do so himself. That won’t please her if what she wants is sympathy. Indeed, it might even induce her to perpetuate the problem deliberately until she can get some sympathy for it.

     His frustration at having his inclination denied and his aptitude spurned will be as painful to him as her problem is to her. Possibly more so, as it amounts to a denial of his nature: a denigration of what he’s good at.

     It’s one of the things driving an increasing number of men to go their own way.

     Before the tide of propaganda condemning the traditional sex roles as “patriarchal oppression,” the phenomenon I’ve described above was far less important. Men had their duties and responsibilities; women had theirs. Men had their social circles; women had theirs. Men had their approaches to problems; women had theirs. Few women expected a man to treat a problem the way a woman does. Indeed, a sensible woman – and women were far more sensible back when – would bring a problem to her man only if she wanted it solved.

     Such matters are torturous today for two reasons:

  • Women are relentlessly propagandized from an early age to believe that they can do anything a man can do, and just as well, regardless of all the evidence to the contrary;
  • Men are mercilessly browbeaten for being inclined to solve problems, and for being superior to women at the concentrated focus and logical thought processes problem-solving requires: i.e., for being men

     Of course, to say that where a woman can hear is likely to reap the whirlwind. As women have a disproportionate degree of social and political power today, the consequences can be devastating.

     Yet the psychological cleavage between the sexes persists. Why should we have expected anything else? Propaganda changes nothing. It doesn’t reduce women’s greater need for sympathy, or women’s superiority in providing it. The major difference today is that women have been deflected from their traditional roles in numbers so great that when she wants sympathy rather than a solution, the person nearest her will most likely be a man.

     Quite a lot of marriages have been wrecked on that rock. It’s made harder to avoid by another contemporary tendency: her tendency to object to his having space, time, and friends of his own. Should he bridle at that and insist on his prerogatives, he could find himself on the receiving end of a ton of shit – a metric ton.

     Our society having become what it is today, there’s nothing he can do about it. He cannot cure it, much as he’d like to. Yet enduring it is damned near impossible.

     “What can’t be cured must be endured.” It’s a tautology, really. Nor does it address those cases where “enduring it” brings suffering one might find too great to support.

     There are times it seems to me that no one is getting what he needs – “he” this time in the generic-singular sense that encompasses persons of both sexes. Men need to be appreciated and accepted for what we are; women need to be appreciated and accepted for what they are. The solution is in plain sight. It seems too obvious for words. Yet it’s been anathematized by forces determined to remake Mankind according to patterns utterly antithetical to the natures of the sexes.

     As matters stand, the problem is insoluble. And it hurts like hell to have to admit it.

     Time for Mass.

An Old Favorite Returns

     Glenn Reynolds brought this oldie but goodie back for a well-deserved rerun:

     I’ve sometimes wondered – and no, not when “in my cups,” or at least, not always – if some men who decide they’re really women are moved by a desire to have that particular tactic at their behest, instead of having it used against them.

Monday, March 20, 2017

“Religious Freedom” Part 2: Rights In The Raw

     I’ve received a fair amount of email since I penned the previous piece on this subject. Quite a bit of it was incredulous in the extreme, e.g., “How can you say that? Freedom of religion is a right.” Being indisposed to quarrel over premises, especially with persons whose premises I share, I’ve refrained from replying to those persons.

     Yet the subject is important – perhaps more important than any other subject in the discourse of Man. The problem of rights is the central conundrum of the centuries. Brilliant men have worried at it from innumerable angles, all seeking to put rights on a pedestal too high to be challenged. Some, such as the Objectivists, have claimed that the rights to life, liberty, and peaceably acquired property can be logically proved.

     It’s all froth and gas. There is no way to arrive at any right through a falsifiable process. In short:

A right is either a premise or a mere demand.

     Yes, I have an argument for that assertion.

     Consider the following quote, which I’ve used several times in discussions of rights:

     “Rights are an archist concept. Rights have no meaning except when confronted with superior power. They are what is left to the people after the government has taken all it wants. Your country's Bill of Rights defines your most cherished freedoms how? By limiting the legal power of government to encroach upon them.” [Eric L. Harry, via fictional anarchist theorist Valentin Kartsev in Harry's blockbuster Protect and Defend.]

     The concept of rights – specifically, of rights against the State – arose with the emergence of the State. Rights matter solely in a political context: one in which a particular entity is charged with respecting and enforcing rights. Without the State, we would have only individuals, voluntarily assembled groups, and their interactions.

     Yet we believe passionately in natural rights and in their supremacy over all other considerations. We want agreement on what rights individuals possess; the lack of such an agreement is at the base of most political discord in America today. We want rights to trump all other considerations. Yet anarcho-capitalist theorist David Friedman has demonstrated the impossibility of making rights so doctrinaire without endangering other things we hold at least as valuable:

     A madman is about to open fire on a crowd. If he does so numerous innocent people will die. The only way to prevent him is to shoot him with a rifle that is within reach of several members of the crowd. The rifle is on the private property of its legitimate owner. He is a well known misanthrope who has publicly stated on numerous occasions that he is opposed to letting anyone use his rifle without his permission, even if it would save hundreds of lives. [From The Machinery of Freedom]

     That’s a clear case of property rights in action in an undesired fashion: i.e., in a way that would, if honored, cost many lives. Many a dogmatist would argue that the rights to life of the innocents in the crowd are more important than that misanthrope’s property rights – in other words, that even among the natural rights there exists a hierarchy of priorities that requires that we honor some more stringently than others. But things are not quite so simple:

     Xanten made an airy gesture. “A. G. Philidor, you over-simplify grievously. Do you consider me obtuse? There are many kinds of history. They interact. You emphasize morality. But the ultimate basis of morality is survival. What promotes survival is good; what induces mortefaction is bad.”
     “Well spoken!” declared Philidor. “But let me propound a parable. May a nation of a million beings destroy a creature who otherwise will infect all with a fatal disease? Yes, you will say. Once more: Ten starving beasts hunt you, that they may eat. Will you kill them to save your life? Yes, you will say again, though here you destroy more than you create. Once more: a man inhabits a hut in a lonely valley. A hundred spaceships descend from the sky, and attempt to destroy him. May he destroy those ships in self-defense, even though he is one and they are a hundred thousand? Perhaps you say yes. What, then, if a whole world, a whole race of beings, pits itself against this single man? May he kill all? What if the attackers are as human as himself? What if he were the creature of the first instance, who otherwise will infect a world with disease? You see, there is no area where a simple touchstone avails.”

     [Jack Vance, The Last Castle.]

     Where, in the above passage, does the right to life prevail? Whose right to life, and at what cost to others?

     It’s not so simple, is it?

     The natural rights – i.e., the rights to life, liberty, and peaceably acquired property – that libertarians and most conservatives would agree on arise from the nature of Man. They are not provable theorems. They’re abstractions brilliant men formulated after observation, not from deduction or induction, as a way to concoct a political order they believed would be viable. If those rights “exist” – and that’s a thorny row to hoe – they are metaphysical properties, just like the rest of the natural order.

     The natural rights cannot be derived from other postulates as a matter of logic. When we say that we can “reason” our way to them, what we really mean is that from observation, we’ve concluded that certain conditions we regard as supremely desirable appear to require them. C. S. Lewis grasped that. But let’s try a few proofs. Here’s an advocatus diaboli sparring with a rights advocate:

AD: “Why do you believe there is a right to life?”
RA: “Because without it, society couldn't hold together.”
AD: “Well, why is it so important that society hold together?”


AD: “Why do you believe there is a right to life?”
RA: “Because without it people would slaughter one another.”
AD: “Well, why should that matter?”

     Such ripostes might strike a decent man as forays into madness, but that’s just because he values the same things we do. History tells us of vast empires whose rulers would have scoffed at a right to life. Some of their regimes were successful for several decades. Consider the following hypothetical exchange with a famous villain:

FWP: “Herr Hitler, why did you kill all those Jews?”
AH: “Because it was intrinsically right.”

     How would you refute that, especially in light of the historical fact that not one regime on Earth was willing to make war on Hitler’s Germany until he embarked on a campaign of military conquest?

     Freedom of religion as enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution was a concern of importance to the Founding Fathers. Many of their forebears had come to the New World specifically to avoid having to support an established church: i.e., a church the State had selected as the “official” church of the realm, to which it directed funds from the public treasury. Under the Westphalian doctrine of cuius regio, eius religio, such churches were regarded as reasonable and proper. The religious dissidents of Europe disagreed with being forced to support such a church with their taxes.

     Yet history tells us that the early colonists’ passionate belief in their “right” to practice their own faiths did not preclude the establishment of their preferred churches in the New World. Indeed, Massachusetts had an established church into the 1830s. Such churches were disestablished only after regional religious affiliations became too diverse for an established church to withstand popular disapproval.

     Where, in that picture, is there any notion of freedom of religion as a natural right, beyond all contradiction?

     For a final thrust, we have the irreducibly narrow case of freedom of religion as “freedom of conscience:” i.e., the freedom to believe what one likes, divorced from all considerations of conduct. Is that a “right?” Or is it merely a condition no one can undo except through murder? If the latter, how does it involve adjudication or enforcement? If it doesn’t, there’s no place for it in a legal or political scheme.

     The pre-logical character of natural rights – i.e., as postulates rather than as theorems – is why Thomas Jefferson wrote that “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Freedom of religion is no exception.

     I've been down this road many times over the past three decades. It's time we were candid about it.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Requiescat In Pacem

     No op-ed today. No Rumination. No exegesis upon matters sacred or profane. Today is a day to mourn.

     Yesterday afternoon, the Reverend Charles Papa, Pastor Emeritus of St. Louis de Montfort parish in Sound Beach, NY, was found dead in his room, shortly before he was scheduled to celebrate Mass.

     Father Charlie, as we all knew him, was the Pastor at St. Louis for seventeen years. He’d retired from the pastorate only a few months ago, and was hugely enjoying “just being a priest again.” Sadly, he was granted only a short while to enjoy having shed that burden. The parish was unanimous in its love of him. We will miss him terribly.

     No matter who might come to him, Father Charlie was whatever he needed: a confessor, a friend, a counselor, a confidant, a Dutch uncle, or what have you. His good humor was invincible. He’d happily share anything with anyone, whether it be one’s darkest fears and deepest doubts or a mildly irreverent jest.

     Eternal rest grant him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Spot Of Humor From The Fiction Section

     Every now and then I deliberately challenge myself to write something that will make me personally uneasy...even revolted. And every now and then it surprises me with an unexpected reward.

     Just now I’m working on a short novel about a very unusual crime, coupled to an even more unusual romance. The co-protagonist is a young woman, genetically engineered for reasons I’ll keep to myself for now. This young woman, whose one and only name is Fountain, has been raised in total isolation from the larger world, and conditioned practically from birth to be property: a sex slave. Fountain has never come in contact with virtually anything you and I would take for granted. For example, she’s never come in contact with any food eaten outside her place of confinement – and all her conditioners ever fed her are nutritional gruels essentially without flavor. Fountain escapes captivity and comes under the protection of an unusually ethical young man who has no inkling of any of that. He acquires the legendary “Chinese obligation” for Fountain without knowing what she was raised to be or how she views him. I’m writing the story from a combination of his and her viewpoints.

     The most difficult part of this undertaking is writing those scenes which must be told from Fountain’s viewpoint, especially the early ones in which Fountain first rubs up against the American context as we experience it daily. I have to imagine what Fountain’s consciousness is like, with all its inherent preconceptions and limitations, and convey that to the reader. And it is a considerable struggle to attain verisimilitude when Fountain first encounters coffee, or an Airstream trailer, or the unusually gentle, considerate, undemanding man whom she assumes must be a great and wealthy lord, who has taken her under his wing, and who doesn’t view her as a rightless piece of meat.

     However, it just allowed me to write one of the strangest scenes, and funniest bits of dialogue, I’ve ever penned.

     The trailer door opened. Fountain immediately laid the book aside and assumed the pose of waiting. Her lord and master entered and stood before her, looking as troubled as he had earlier.
     Perhaps we have reached his manor. I must be absolutely attentive. I must overlook nothing and forget nothing. I must please him in all things.
     I want to please him.
     It was a thought she had never before entertained about a master, even in her most remote fantasies.
     “Fountain,” he said, “we’re here. It’s time to get you, uh, settled.” He gestured at the paperback. “Bring your book if you haven’t finished it.”
     She bowed her head. “As you command, my lord.”
     A spasm crossed his face, and she tensed.
     Have I displeased him already?
     She forced the thought away.
     I will learn in due course.
     She followed him in silence, out onto the unfamiliar surface, over the grass, and onto the concrete stoop that stood before the door of a long, low house. She looked about quickly. The houses around it were greatly similar in size and form. They stretched off into the distance on both sides.
     I must remember everything.
     He pulled a key ring from his pocket, fumbled with it briefly, inserted a key into the lock on the door and opened it. He gestured that she should enter before him. She hesitated.
     That is not how I was taught.
     I must do as he commands.
     She stepped into the darkness. A light went on overhead. She surveyed the surroundings, found them unaccountably plain and meager for a master, and turned to face him.
     “My lord? Forgive me this presumption, this your manor?”
     “It’s my home,” he said. “Yours too, for now.”
     For now. So it is a way station and not his place of power. Of course it is not. He is too great a lord to endure such paltry accommodations. For him to be surrounded by such hovels is unthinkable. Perhaps he intends that we shelter here only until he has alerted his other servants and has been notified that his palace has been made ready for his return.
     He shepherded her into the structure, brought her to a room that contained a sink, a stove, an oven, a few other items she could not identify, and a small table and four chairs. He bade her sit, went to a tall stainless steel box, and pulled open a drawer near its base. He glanced over at her and grinned.
     “Are you a little hungry, hungry, or very hungry?” he said
     “I am...hungry, my lord.”
     “Two slices then.” He drew several triangular shapes from the drawer, straightened, and went to the oven. He pushed a couple of buttons on its face and it beeped. He nodded, pulled a metal tray from a cabinet and set it on the countertop, unwrapped the triangles and arranged them on the tray.
     Why has he not commanded that I make ready to see to his pleasure?
     The strangenesses were multiplying faster than she could register and absorb them.
     It appears that this way station was not fully prepared for him. Perhaps someone will soon suffer for the neglect of it. I will learn much, if I am permitted to witness it.
     He slid the tray and its burden into the oven, pushed a few more buttons, closed the door and seated himself facing her at the little table.
     “It’ll be ready in a few minutes. Hope you like your pizza with peppers and mushrooms.”
     She had no idea what he was talking about, so she merely bowed her head.
     I must learn. I must overlook nothing and forget nothing.
     He peered at her in a curious fashion, as if she presented him with some sort of problem. As frightening as the notion was, she had no recourse except to do exactly what he commanded, as he commanded it and when he commanded it.
     I am his. I must wait upon his will.
     The oven beeped. He rose, pulled a heavy glove from a drawer, opened the oven, and slid the tray out. Before she could rise or speak he’d put the triangles on two waiting plates, brought them to the table, and placed one before her.
     “Let’s eat.”
     The triangles steamed up at her. The aroma was wholly new, and wholly luscious. She put a fingertip to the surface of one and jerked it away, scorched. He immediately rose, face tight with alarm.
     “Damn. I should have known better.” He took her hand gently in his, examined the scorched fingertip, and pulled her out of her seat toward the sink. In a moment he had blessedly cold water running over her finger in a torrent, greatly easing the pain from the burn.
     “Let’s hope this doesn’t blister,” he said. “You’ve never had pizza before, have you?”
     “I have not, my lord.”
     “I should have realized, damn it.” He banged a closed fist on the countertop. “You didn’t know coffee, so why did I expect you to know pizza? Stupid, stupid fuckhead.
     His dissatisfaction was evident...and evidently entirely toward himself.
     “My lord?” she murmured.
     He looked back at her. “Yes, Fountain?”
     “What is a fuckhead?”

     It had me in stitches – and I wrote it. Truly, wonders will never cease.

     Working title: Innocents. Coming soon to an eBookstore near your browser.

The “Are You Paranoid Enough?” Edition

     I’ve never been a fan of what’s become known as “the Internet of Things.” Bandwidth around here is precious – too many people are online at all hours, and we have only one viable broadband provider – and I pay extra to make sure I’ll have what I need. I may be an old crank, but I’m neither old enough nor cranky enough to need light switches I can throw digitally from the smartphone I don’t own. I certainly don’t need for my appliances to be having conversations with their distant colleagues about how unappreciative I am.

     I have no idea whether mine is a majority or a minority opinion. I know that some people have embraced the Fully Wired Home with great enthusiasm. I’ve often wondered whether those folks have grasped what they’re letting themselves in for. Today we have some thoughts on just what that might be:

     The government is already spying on us through spying on us through our computers, phones, cars, buses, streetlights, at airports and on the street, via mobile scanners and drones, through our credit cards and smart meters (see this), television, doll, and in many other ways.

The CIA wants to spy on you through your dishwasher and other “smart” appliances.

     NO! Our omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent State wants to transform The Land of the Free into a Total Surveillance Society? Say it ain’t so!

     Granted, the amount of digital traffic monitoring required to conduct effective surveillance of 330 million Americans is staggering. The amount of computer power required even to search for keywords that would trigger closer attention is even more staggering. The amount of storage required to save all that traffic for later perusal by analysts, or for use as evidence? Thank you no, I’m already staggered enough. But the more I think about it, the more plausible it seems.

     The key is the motive.

     My memory isn’t firing on all sixteen cylinders this morning so I can’t be certain of the provenance of the following, but I think it was Lavrenti Beria, the first head of the Soviet Tcheka (later to become the KGB), who said “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.” Harvey Silverglate’s recent book Three Felonies a Day provides great insight into the peril the ordinary American faces in our era of law grown luxuriant beyond all justification. The prospect of a database sufficiently expansive and well organized to support Beria’s boast should send a chill down the spine of anyone sensible enough to distrust government.

     But why would a government want such a database? For intimidation purposes, of course! Imagine that the following conditions were to be satisfied:

  • All electronic communications is monitored and stored by the NSA or an equivalent.
  • The storage technique is sophisticated enough that an analyst can isolate one particular person’s traffic in no more than a day.
  • WiFi “hotspots” have expanded to map the entire United States.
  • Commercial transactions, whether by dint of convenience or through the effective elimination of cash, have become entirely digital.
  • Internet-enabled devices capable of monitoring and digitizing domestic conversations have become ubiquitous; at least one such device is “awake and alert” in every household, at every instant of every day.

     Would anyone dare to criticize an entity (or one of its masters) that has access to the entirety of his stored transactions and conversations? Would anyone dare to ponder a move against it, whether political or practical?

     Don’t know about you, Bubba, but I wouldn’t.

     The question isn’t whether they who desire power above all other things would want such a system, but rather how close technology has come to making it possible.

     “Motive, means, and opportunity” are and will remain the keys to analyzing any conceivable crime. In truth, they’re the keys to analyzing why anyone does anything, legal or otherwise. When power-seekers view their prospects for gaining, retaining, and increasing their power, the motive for adopting some particular means and maneuvering toward the opportunity will be obvious.

     Back when I was still slinging bits, communications was one of my sub-specialties. Based on what I know, and on the current state of technology as I perceive it, I would say that the practical possibility of such a total-surveillance system is not yet here. A few things are still required:

  • Computer systems capable of indefinitely expanding their immediately accessible storage without impacting their capabilities;
  • Artificial intelligences dedicated to storage in, searches of, and retrieval from such systems;
  • The aforementioned ubiquitous digital monitoring devices;
  • The elimination of cash.

     Those conditions are not yet met...but we’re getting closer. While the steady pressure to make everything Internet-enabled is worrisome, even more ominous is the increasingly visible hostility of all governments to cash. Cash is the indispensable requirement of privacy in transaction. Should it be eliminated (or reduced to a trivial relic), no one would be able to buy or sell without the State knowing everything about the transaction down to the last detail. There’s more at stake here than keeping one’s tax bite tolerable.

     Even today, it’s likely that a Beria-like inquest would have no problem catching and burning you or me, Gentle Reader. The subconscious awareness of our vulnerability is what makes that recent reality-TV show about ordinary citizens trying to evade detection and capture by professionals in that art lodge unpleasantly in our backbrains. Could you escape the agents of the State if they were determined to get you? I know I couldn’t.

     The recent revelations about the CIA’s hacking abilities and the arsenal of tools it commands are enough to keep a lot of Americans – not all of us on the right of the political spectrum, but preponderantly so – awake at night. A total-surveillance system that employs the devices in our very homes, communicating over “hotspots” generously provided by regional broadband suppliers, is more threatening still. Given the luxuriance and ambiguity of the law today, we ought not to be assisting the State in constructing such a nightmare.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Anarcho-Tyranny Chronicles

     If you’ve been a Gentle Reader of Liberty’s Torch for a goodly while now, you’re probably familiar with the late Sam Francis’s coinage anarcho-tyranny. For those who haven’t yet made the acquaintance of this useful term, here’s the original formulation:

     What we have in this country today, then, is both anarchy (the failure of the state to enforce the laws) and, at the same time, tyranny – the enforcement of laws by the state for oppressive purposes; the criminalization of the law-abiding and innocent through exorbitant taxation, bureaucratic regulation, the invasion of privacy, and the engineering of social institutions, such as the family and local schools; the imposition of thought control through "sensitivity training" and multiculturalist curricula, "hate crime" laws, gun-control laws that punish or disarm otherwise law-abiding citizens but have no impact on violent criminals who get guns illegally, and a vast labyrinth of other measures. In a word, anarcho-tyranny. [From the essay Synthesizing Tyranny, written shortly before Francis’s death.]

     The longer I live, the more I come to view anarcho-tyranny as the terminal state toward which all governments tend as they mature and degenerate.

     But that’s a subject for a later tirade. For today, let’s have a look at the most conspicuous recent outcropping: the assertion of various courts that they possess jurisdiction sufficient to block the enforcement of President Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from several chaotic, violence-ridden countries.

     Mark Levin, in whose emissions I seldom take much interest – he’s simply too shrill for my tastes – captured the matter thus:

     “We have, ladies and gentlemen, rogue federal district judges now; we have rogue courts,” Levin exclaimed. “We have judicial anarchy taking place…where judges are seizing plenary authority from the president of the United States to keep this nation safe — to control our borders and to determine the nature of our immigration in this country.”

     Strictly speaking, there is no need to submit to "judicial anarchy." The courts have no enforcement arm for this very reason. With regard to the current foofaurauw, if the Attorney-General were to prepare a finding for the president that says the courts don't have valid jurisdiction over the subject matter, the president could ignore the courts, freely and without adverse consequences. Andrew Jackson did it; why not Donald Trump?

     The reason might be that the Trump Administration fears a popular backlash: i.e., an adverse reaction from the portion of the electorate that believes the courts to possess plenipotentiary authority over everything. This actually helps to illuminate both the current contretemps and the intra-governmental relations of the courts and the other branches.

     James Madison, often called “the father of the Constitution,” regarded the courts as “the least dangerous branch” of government. The widespread belief is that that was because the courts were allowed no enforcement arm, apart from the bailiffs allowed for keeping order during a court proceeding. However, this reverses cause and effect. The courts were allowed no enforcement arm because of the danger they would otherwise pose, as is well established by English history.

     The great majority of judges in pre-Industrial Revolution England, from which much of our legal tradition derives, were not government employees, neither elected nor appointed nor hired. They commanded deference on the basis of their personal qualities and their willingness to sit as judges; in other words, from popular respect for their wisdom and diligence. If you’ve heard the term “circuit judge” and have wondered about its provenance, it comes from the time when a judge would routinely “ride a circuit:” i.e., he would regularly travel a known route from place to place, hearing such cases as were presented to him in each place and ruling on them according to the “common law,” another American inheritance from England.

     To make this a workable living, a judge needed to be known and respected in each of the stops along his circuit. A judge’s enforcement arm was the willingness of the commoners whose cases he heard to enforce his rulings. Thus, he had to have a reputation for fairly and consistently applying both the common law and what precedents might exist for its enforcement. For a judge to become known as capricious or arbitrary – e.g., for promoting his personal views over the common law as English commoners knew it – would spell the end of his career.

     England’s problems with “star chambers” and the like came about because of courts whose authority descended from the Crown – i.e., whose enforcement arm was the force commanded by the King. Common-law judges posed no such problems, precisely because they had no enforcement power of their own. Indeed, it was often the role of a common-law judge to prevent a lynching or other variety of mob “justice:” something only a very well known, well respected jurist could do by force of character.

     Even though American judges are government employees, the essence of the English common-law judicial system – that the court have no enforcement arm of its own – was largely preserved by the Founding Fathers. The courts’ authority is essentially one of popular consensus concerning the probity and wisdom of the courts: i.e., that the courts are assessing the laws faithfully rather than whimsically or capriciously.

     But by innumerable capricious judgments: both failures to uphold the black-letter law and usurpations of jurisdiction that in no way belong to them, the courts have destroyed that consensus. Where, then, do we stand?

     Sam Francis’s thoughts on anarcho-tyranny are nicely illuminated by contemporary developments – and not just in the federal courts. A justly famous article about “the coming middle-class anarchy” makes the point quite well, albeit in language a bit rougher than is likely to be found in any judge’s opinions:

     When the backbone of a country starts thinking that laws and rules are not worth following, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to anarchy.

     TV has given us the illusion that anarchy is people rioting in the streets, smashing car windows and looting every store in sight. But there’s also the polite, quiet, far deadlier anarchy of the core citizenry — the upright citizenry — throwing in the towel and deciding it’s just not worth it anymore.

     If a big enough proportion of the populace — not even a majority, just a largish chunk — decides that it’s just not worth following the rules anymore, then that society’s days are numbered: Not even a police-state with an armed Marine at every corner with Shoot-to-Kill orders can stop such middle-class anarchy.

     Brian and Ilsa are such anarchists — grey-haired, well-dressed, golf-loving, well-to-do, exceedingly polite anarchists: But anarchists nevertheless. They are not important, or powerful, or influential: They are average — that’s why they’re so deadly: Their numbers are millions. And they are slowly, painfully coming to the conclusion that it’s just not worth it anymore.

     Once enough of these J. Crew Anarchists decide they no longer give a fuck, it’s over for America — because they are America.

     Please read the whole article, if you haven’t done so before. While it’s not merely the courts’ fault that this attitude is gaining strength, the descent of the courts – especially federal courts – are a major component of the machine steadily reducing us to anarcho-tyranny.

     For decades now I’ve flitted between minarchism and outright anarchism. If you’ve read my Spooner Federation books, you’re familiar with the process I consider inevitable:

  • The disorder of the “state of nature” – read Thomas Hobbes – gradually gives way via natural processes to order, albeit without a recognized – i.e., a pre-indemnified – government.
  • A well-ordered yet ungoverned society – i.e., the anarchist ideal – will slowly evolve into an (at first) well-ordered governed society with strong popular consensus.
  • This gradually becomes an unjustly governed society owing to the dynamic of power-seeking: i.e., the men most likely to gain power are those who want it for its own sake and the benefits it can bring them personally.
  • The unjustly governed society will steadily lose its order, and therefore its popular consensus: the consent of the governed. This will precipitate collapse.
  • Collapse means a return to anarchy, which by dint of natural processes will slowly regain order, restarting the cycle.

     This cycle has overwhelming historical support. It suggests that there’s no way out of the cycle, which implies that for best results, one simply has to trust to luck – i.e., to be born in the right time and place – and mobility – the readiness, willingness, and ability to move from an undesirable society to a more desirable one. But where does that leave us of Twenty-First Century America?

     Why, right where we are today, of course: enmeshed in a steadily deteriorating, ever more anarcho-tyrannical context. At the moment, the only escape is to even less desirable places. That might change; developments in space flight and workable space habitats are ongoing, and it’s impossible to say if or when they’ll mature. But the cycle itself appears to be embedded in human nature. If that’s the case, then no matter where men go, the cycle will go with them.

     I yield the floor to my Gentle Readers.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Manufactured Scandals: A Schematic

     Scandal appears to be the meat and potatoes of “journalism” in our time. At any rate it seems that way with the political ascension of Donald Trump. How many front-page / above-the-fold stories can you remember from the last four months that weren’t linked to some notion of a scandal in progress or a past scandal being covered up? Whether Trump was the central figure in the drama or not?

     There’s a reason, of course. It’s not entirely about Trump. Indeed, the target could have been anyone. The “scandal” factor would improve as the target moves toward the Mother Teresa / Albert Schweitzer pole of utterly stainless character.

     And we may hope that the more people understand the reason and the mechanisms employed for this purpose, the less power it will have over American minds.

     Certain words have an ominous power to mislead us. Probably the most potent of them are if and the subjunctive qualifiers might and could. In the hands of one determined to whip up a scandal out of leftover scraps, they can be deadly.

     Consider, for example, the Dishonorable Chuck Schumer’s attempts, during his interview by Bret Baier, to imply that President Trump is showing favoritism toward nations where the Trump Organization has hotels or other business enterprises. Schumer never openly said that that was the case. His statements were all in the subjunctive mood. He phrased them to leave an insidious impression; he avoided making an outright statement of fact by which his argument would be made falsifiable.

     The following, while they’re condensed paraphrases of what Schumer a notoriously wordy spinner of political fantasies, said during the interview, they are accurate paraphrases:

  • “Trump might have left Saudi Arabia off his entry-ban list because he has hotels there.”
  • “Trump might be treating the Russians more leniently than previous Republican presidents because he does business in Russia.”

     Leaving to the side the dubious predicate allegation that Trump is treating the Russians with some unusual degree of deference, both statements are pure conjecture: subjunctives that invoke a possibility Schumer was unwilling to embody in firmer language. Of course, a definite allegation of corruption would raise a key question: “So why aren’t you straining to have him impeached, eh, Chucky?” But there’s a mite more to the story.

     On January 20 of this year, the New York Times reported – front page, above the fold – that the Trump Organization had recently been the subject of federal wiretapping, for reasons connected to the Trump Organization’s Russian dealings. The Times has strained to efface that story from public awareness, but the physical editions of the paper, unlike its online doppelganger, cannot be denied. That story, regardless of whether it was perfectly accurate, created a basis for subjunctive implications that Trump or his businesses and associates had something criminal to hide.

     The foundation for scandal was thus laid: “Where there’s an investigation there must be wrongdoing.” Note the parallel to “If the police arrested him, he must have done something wrong.” From there, unfortunately assisted by an unguarded statement from Trump about Vladimir Putin’s effectiveness in Russia’s national interests and about his (Trump’s) ability to deal with Putin, it was possible to spin conjectures about how the Putin regime “might” have had an interest in a Trump victory and “might” have exerted itself to bring that victory about.

     To my knowledge, no federal authority has charged Trump or the Trump Organization with a crime. Neither has any federal authority produced evidence of Russian election “hacking.” But news of the investigation planted a seed of suspicion in many minds that the Left watered most assiduously. What sprouted was always couched in subjunctive terms: “might have” or “could have.”

     The core idea was to get Trump to try to prove a negative, which is inherently impossible. Trump merely ignored the sallies. Unfortunately, other Republicans, including several who have personal reasons for resenting Trump, joined the parade by suggesting – in at least one case, demanding – a formal investigation into whether Russian meddling might have influenced the outcome of the November 8 election. The “scandal” gained legs: “See? Even Republicans think there’s something here.”

     Once the media have, by repetition and careful maintenance of a subjunctive mood, breathed life into the suspicions, they can be coupled to just about anything whose details are not 100% visible: for example, a tax return. The Rachel Maddow clown show over Trump’s 2005 tax return was a typical next stage to the process: “What shady arrangements or (gasp!) unsavory foreign involvements might be hidden behind the numbers in this return?” Stacy McCain sketched the spine that supports it:

     After finally “reporting” the numbers, Maddow then filled the extra time with a lot of blabber — wild speculation about what sinister secrets might be hidden behind those opaque numbers. She suggested there could be debts owed to shady foreign entities (Russians, nudge, nudge, wink, wink) who could thereby influence Trump’s policies. While it is of course possible that such things could be true, speculation is not news, or else I could win a Pulitzer Prize for my seven-part series speculating that Rachel Maddow could be having a secret affair with Mika Brzezinski. Because, hey, why not?

     The circular logic of Maddow’s “investigative journalism”:

  1. Donald Trump is a Republican;
  2. Republicans are evil;
  3. Somewhere, there must be evidence of how evil Trump is.

     Really, that’s all she’s got — a belief in Trump’s evil, which permits her (and every other liberal journalist) to constantly locate mountainous “scandals” where anyone with common sense sees only a molehill. Ever since Hillary lost the election, the media have been dogpiling every possible variation on the Russians-hacked-the-election conspiracy theory, because that’s what their core audience of disappointed Democrat voters want to believe.

     And all of it is premised on “mights” and “coulds” that no man could ever disprove.

     Not to be neglected here is the immense power of coordinated media in concocting the subjunctives and stoking the suspicions attached to them. Were only a single source “reporting” on these notions, they would have a very limited scope in both space and time. But the national press and broadcast media read from the same scriptures and dance to the same tune. Virtually all of them have collaborated in the promulgation of these imputations. It’s good business for them, quite aside from their institutional inclination to back any Democrat against any Republican. People will more avidly consume sinister musings than hard journalism about actual events...and if they can be induced to talk up such stories, so much the better.

     Gentle Reader, I firmly believe that if the Second Coming were to occur today at high noon, and the Redeemer were to issue an unconditional statement that Donald Trump is innocent of anything criminal (or even unpleasant) anyone has ever implied he might have done, the Left would arrange for its cats’ paws in the media to promote a unified broadside against Trump for “daring to breach the wall of separation between church and state.”

     It’s been said, and truly, that a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on. When the lie is couched in “mights” and “coulds,” and any noticeable fraction of decent persons display a willingness to entertain it, that maxim acquires tremendous force.

     It becomes overpoweringly ironic that so many Leftist mouthpieces have drawn specious parallels between Trump and Hitler, when one observes that their weapon for doing so is the Big Lie tactic Hitler so greatly favored.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Tuesday Terpsichore

     No, we didn’t get as badly blasted by the snow as we feared. We got about three inches of snow that didn’t persist due to a lot of rain and wind. And for this there was much rejoicing.

     But a PSA from my Internet provider – “we’ll work ‘round the clock to keep you connected” – got me to wondering: Now that just about everyone in New York has a backup electrical power generator, will we soon see New Yorkers installing backup Internet services, to maintain their all-important connectivity? I mean, if I were deprived of Internet access for as much as an hour, why, I a book, or play the piano or one of my guitars, or something. The horror!

     Anyway, on with the snow show.

1. Racism Review.

     There are days when, all my natural inclinations to the side, being an ‘out and proud’ racist strikes me as the safer course:

     The new Coleman Silk is Doug Adler, a (former) ESPN sports announcer whose career was demolished because of a frenzied overreaction to his (correct) use of a single word: Guerilla. Adler was calling an Australian Open tennis match between Venus Williams (who is black) and Stefanie Voegele when he said, “You see Venus move in and put the guerilla effect on. Charging.” Adler noted that “guerilla tennis” is a commonly used phrase and has been ever since a famous 1995 Nike TV spot of that title in which Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi hastily strung a tennis net across a busy city street and started playing right there.

     When Adler made his “guerilla” remark, a few Twitter users accused him of using the word “gorilla,” their complaints amplified considerably by New York Times tennis writer Ben Rothenberg. “This is some appalling stuff. Horrifying that the Williams sisters remain subjected to it still in 2017.” Wait, the Williams sisters, plural? Who said anything about Serena Williams? Rothenberg took one misunderstood word, turned it into an imaginary insult, then doubled the fantasy slur. When what Roth termed “the ecstasy of sanctimony” takes over, logic bows its head and retreats. Rothenberg’s Tweet was re-Tweeted 142 times, reaching many thousands and apparently Adler’s bosses.

     Which has apparently brought an end to Doug Adler’s career.

     Behavior such as this from a Times staffer shouldn’t surprise anyone. Remember the flap made about that poor clown who dared to use the word niggardly? On the other side of the political fence, remember when black conservative Niger Innis appeared on some talking-head show, and the station chyronned his name as Nigger Innis? All perfectly innocent, I’m sure. In the Great Cause of Social Justice, anyway.

     As I’ve said more than once, this mick-wop honky has had enough, and all you niggers, sheenies, spics, beaners, slant-eyes, camel jockeys, and little brown fuckers had just better watch it from now on.

2. The Dead Thug That Just Won’t Die.

     It appears that some “documentarian” is determined to keep Michael Brown’s death fresh in our memories:

     Jason Pollock, the director of the “documentary” Stranger Fruit has been all over television, literally screaming that the authorities failed or lied about Michael Brown’s murder. As you’ll see in this clip from Fox News, Pollock is now including the FBI and the Obama Department of Justice in his claims. None of them, apparently, ever wanted to get to the truth....[Pollock] adds that anyone who sees the tape who is “not a bigot” will understand what happened. MacCallum doesn’t really challenge Pollock on what happened at the convenience store but as I showed here yesterday it appears whatever deal Brown tried to work out didn’t happen. The clerks did not take his pot. They place it back on the counter. When Brown tried to leave with a bag of merchandise they call him back and then put everything back on the shelves. Finally, the next day when Brown returned and choked one of the clerks, they called the police saying they had been robbed.

     Next, MacCallum argues that the real reason people think of Michael Brown as a “bad guy” is because of what happened during his interaction with Officer Wilson. When she suggests the FBI and the Obama DOJ would have indicted Officer Wilson if they had been able to Pollock yells, “Not true! Don’t just say that.”

     “You’re suggesting that 40 FBI agents were all in cahoots…” MacCallum starts to say.

     “I’m suggesting that the Department of Justice failed,” Pollock replies. “Yes, they failed! They failed!” he shouts.

     “So it’s not possible in your brain that what happened there was what was found by the grand jury and 40 FBI agents. You’re saying all of that doesn’t matter?” MacCallum asked.

     “Yes,” Pollock replied. “When the facts of this case come out in my film Stranger Fruit, the real facts of this case, the facts of this case that Bob McCulloch doesn’t want us talking about, like the fact that Michael Brown was shot in the head and a bullet came out of his eye. Do you know how that would happen?” he continues.

     Near the close of this clip, MacCallum brings up “three different forensic investigations that were done.” Pollock literally waves these away saying, “I don’t care. They failed him. They all failed.” So now the medical examiners, including one hired by the family, are part of the conspiracy too I guess. How else to explain that they all reached the same conclusions.

     “Don’t believe the forensic examiners, the grand jury, or your lying eyes, believe me!” This isn’t just a demand from one loony pseudo-journalist; it’s a standard emission from the SJWs. And it’s already way past its expiration date.

3. Say What?

     Adrienne, I love you and all, but this is a wee bit shortsighted:

     There's snow falling in New York on March 14th...and we should care, why?

     This snow storm even has a name.

     Why is New York snow more important than, say, Odie The Woodsterman snow? Every time he gets his driveway and sidewalks shoveled he gets another two feet of unnamed snow. Does naming a snow storm make it more important? Hey, Odie - next time it snows run out, smack a berm with a shovel and cry out, "I dub thee Snow Charlotte", or any name of your choosing. Maybe the UK Daily Mail will pick up the story.

     State of emergency, shelter in place (what the hell does that mean?) Does it mean I should stay on a city bus if the snow starts falling while I'm headed home? Or hunch pathetically in the corner of the subway?

     Bread and milk wiped out. Schools closed. Flights cancelled.

     It's going to snow!

     I know a lot of persons outside New York don’t much care for the Big Apple. Hell, I could say the same for a lot of New York State residents outside the Five Boroughs. But that doesn’t change certain facts, as annoying or unpleasant as they might seem.

     New York City is the financial capital of the Western world. Several trillion dollars worth of transactions flow through the city every business day. Anything that upsets that flow affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Yea verily, even a few in Idaho.

     Remember a few years back, when some naughty types hijacked two airliners and knocked down a couple of tall buildings in lower Manhattan? The effects were rather widely felt. You might have felt them, too. So be not too quick to dismiss our seemingly provincial agonies. They could matter a lot more to your little province than you think.

4. Remember Those Naughty Congressional Staffers?

     You know, the ones who leaked all the Democrat Congressvermin’s emails? Seems they might have had more than one paymaster:

     Congressional IT staffers who are the subject of a criminal investigation into misusing their positions had full access to members’ “correspondence, emails, confidential files,” and there was almost no tracking of what they did, a former House technology worker said.

     Imran Awan bullied central IT to bend the rules for him so there wouldn’t be a paper trail about the unusually high permissions he was requesting. And their actions were not logged, so members have no way of knowing what information they may have taken, the central IT employee said.

     Awan ran technology for multiple House Democrats, and soon four of his relatives — including brothers Abid and Jamal — appeared on the payroll of dozens of other members, collecting $4 million in taxpayer funds since 2010.

     U.S. Capitol Police named him and his relatives as subjects of a criminal probe on Feb. 2, and banned them from the complex’s computer networks. But members of Congress for whom they worked have downplayed their access or publicly ignored the issue.

     But of course! Those Democrats were proud they’d hired Muslims for their IT staff. They were conspicuously displaying how open-minded and tolerant they are. If it’s ever determined beyond a reasonable doubt that the Awans didn’t provide foreign adversaries with American national secrets, we should count ourselves supremely fortunate. But how likely is that?

5. And This Surprises You Because...?

     Homosexuals have made a habit of defining themselves by their sexual preferences. They’ve made those preferences the center of their lives. They’ve trumpeted them at the normal majority in a blatant display of disdain for and triumph over millennia of social norms. Given that, should this really surprise anyone?

     Julie Kay Werkheiser and Samantha Stone were both dance teachers in upstate New York. Werkheiser owned Studio J Dance in Waverly, about 40 miles from Binghamton, where Stone owned Creative Dance Elements. At some point, Stone divorced her husband and is now Samantha Werkheiser. And both of them have been convicted of molesting children. In February 2016, Julie Werkheiser was sentenced to 11 years to life in state prison after a jury convicted her of felony predatory sexual assault against a child. Police said that between July 2006 and November 2007 she abused two dance students, who were 6 and 8 at the time. Last week, a judge sentenced her wife, the former Samantha Stone, to 15 years in prison for first-degree course of sexual conduct against a child.

     Lesbian Dance teachers were teaching their students Lesbian Dance. At least we got truth in labeling...of a sort.

     That’s it for today, Gentle Reader. The Ides of March is a special day here at the Fortress of Crankitude: the anniversary – at least, in Shakespeare’s retelling – of the first completely justified political assassination recorded by history. Yes, there have been others. There might be more. But that first one was dramatic enough to inspire one of the greatest works in Western literature. That calls for an extra glass of Harvey’s around here.

     Until tomorrow, be well.