Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Dealmaker Or Dealbreaker?

     There’s a passage in Donald Trump’s The Art Of The Deal that struck me powerfully when I first read it in 1988, and continues to resonate with me today. It concerns Trump’s efforts to build the Trump Tower, and his negotiations with Walter Hoving, the owner of Tiffany, for specific rights he would need to make the Tower what he wanted it to be:

     I said to Hoving, “Look, I want to buy your air rights, because that will allow me to build a much better building that you yourself will like much more. By selling me air rights, you will preserve Tiffany forever. No one will ever be able to build over it, and therefore no one will ever try to rip it down....I’m offering you five million dollars,” I said to Walter Hoving, “to let me preserve Tiffany. In return you’re selling me something—air rights—that you’d never use anyway.”

     Hoving agreed, and shook Trump’s hand then and there. Unfortunately, he then said, “I have one small problem. I’m going away with my wife for a month, and I won’t have time to devote to this until I get back.”

     Trump was disturbed by the implication that this deal wouldn’t be formally closed for a month, perhaps longer. He suggested that Hoving might change his mind while he was away. It might have been the worst thing he could have said:

     Walter Hoving looked at me as if I’d insulted him. “Young man,” he said, “perhaps you didn’t understand. I shook your hand. I made a deal with you. That’s that.”

     Fortunately for Trump, Hoving wasn’t as insulted as he might have been. The deal was struck. Trump Tower was built according to the preferred design. But more important than the architecture of Trump Tower is this: the revelation to the young Donald Trump that, unlike the sharpies and edge players that characterized New York real estate, Hoving was an honorable man who regarded his word, once given, as inviolable:

     While there are certainly honorable people in the real estate business, I was more accustomed to the sort of people with whom you don’t want to waste the effort of a handshake because you know it’s meaningless. I’m talking about the lowlifes, the horror shows with whom nothing counts but a signed contract.
     With Walter Hoving, I realized, I was dealing with a totally different type—a gentleman who was genuinely shocked at any suggestion that he might renege on a deal....he actually made me feel a little guilty for suggesting that anything might go wrong in our deal.

     Given the results of the Indiana primary, we may be about to see whether the young Trump internalized Walter Hoving’s admirable values.

     I’m not as optimistic about the future of this country as I once was. After all, we put a lying, treasonous narcissist in the Oval Office. We also returned him to power even after he’d shafted us. All his promises to us were weasel-worded. Every one came with an “expiration date.” His circle of lieutenants proved to be even worse than is he. They’ve collaborated in mutual defense even as they’ve ripped the nation free of its Constitutional foundations.

     Are we about to elevate another wholly dishonest power-seeker to the highest office in the land? If the voters bestow the presidency on Hillary Clinton, the answer is yes. If it should choose Donald Trump instead, we won’t know for a while. That is, we won’t know whether he regards his promises to us concerning border control, international trade, and a less interventionist foreign policy as “deals,” from which it would be dishonorable to back away.

     It’s been said that to Trump, everything is negotiable. Does that include the “deals” he’s made to secure the support of so many Republican-leaning voters? Will he treat his campaign statements as mere instruments for the pursuit of power, or will he regard them as just as binding as the assurances he and Walter Hoving exchanged?

     At this point, all we know is that he’s the sole viable alternative to Hillary Clinton. All else rests in the lap of the gods.

     The primary season has pained me throughout. At first the crop of Republican aspirants looked too good to be true: too large and too strong to be believed. Then one by one, strong, accomplished candidates were pruned from the field. Scott Walker. Bobby Jindal. Rand Paul.

     As long as Ted Cruz remained in the running, we still had a chance the GOP nomination would go to someone we knew to hold firm and admirable convictions: someone we could trust with the burdens of the presidency, and trust to do as he said he would do with the powers of the office. That possibility has just expired. What remains is hope:

  • The hope that Donald Trump will defeat Hillary Clinton in November;
  • The hope that President Trump will prove equal to the responsibilities of the president;
  • The hope that he’ll act on his campaign promises rather than slough them as mere election tactics.

     Though you’ll never hear me denigrate hope, I can’t feel confident about the nation’s prospects. Mine is a hope against the odds. But as with so many other things about which Americans have nurtured hope at long odds, we shall see.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Quickies: “Are you crazy? No one wants to deal with HR.”

     That's from this exceptionally important piece by David French:

     I recently spoke to a mid-level executive at a major corporation who had been forced to sit through mandatory “inclusivity” training. The topic was transgender rights, and the trainer proceeded to spout far-left ideology as fact, going so far as to label all who disagreed with the notion that a man can become a woman “transphobic.” I asked if anyone objected to any part of the training, and the response was immediate. “Are you crazy? No one wants to deal with HR.”

     French's article elucidates ordinary, decent Americans' loss of confidence in their own values -- which eventuates, in his words, in "the slow accumulation of individually defensible but collectively unjustifiable decisions not to resist."

     But how can a decision be deemed "individually defensible" yet "collectively unjustifiable?" Quite simply: Smith is principally concerned with the defense of his own interests and the protection of those he loves. His decision to "not make a fuss" might prove ideal for those purposes. However, if the majority of Smiths choose to "not make a fuss," the field has been yielded to those that are willing to "make a fuss:" the noisy, demanding minorities that gain social and legal sway through persistence and volume, in a perfect demonstration of the Public Choice effect.

     Please read it all, and keep it in mind for the next time you face the choice whether or not to resist.

UPDATE: For lagniappe:

Are we allowed to laugh at that today? Excuse me, Gentle Reader; my mascara's running.

Quickies: A Gem From The BlogFather

     At his venerable blog -- now a group operation -- Glenn "InstaPundit" Reynolds doesn't often accompany his citations of articles with his own thoughts, but today he does so at USA Today, and produces a gem of penetration:

     Because political leaders’ chief concern is their own power and position, they’re willing to do almost anything to stave off a collapse, except reduce their own power and position. Kicking the can down the road usually just makes the problem worse in the end, but politicians would rather do that than make any sacrifice up front.... you vote, remember that the more resources you put under the control of the political class, the more likely it is that things will eventually go bad. Politicians seldom look past the next election, and they’re willing to sacrifice pretty much anything to hang on. And that “pretty much anything” includes you.

     If I may say so: Indeed! So unflinching a statement of the key political dynamic should be spread far and wide. Apropos of this, when attempting to assess whether it would be wise to rely upon a political candidate's promises, remember Everett Dirksen's Three Rules of Politics:

Get elected.
Get re-elected.
Don't get mad, get even.

     Politicians swear by that code.

Coming To A Nuclear Battlefield Near You

     This will be an insane piece. No, it’s not insane in and of itself. Neither is it about insane persons; the persons to which it refers are all doing the sensible thing: acting according to the incentives they face. All the same, many a Gentle Reader who gets to the end of it will feel an urgent need to see his brain-care specialist. In that spirit, let’s lead off with some appropriate music:

     If you’re thinking that would surely make more sense if printed out, I’m afraid I must contradict you:

Outside the gates of Cerdes sits the two-pronged unicorn
Who plays at relaxation time a rhinestone flugelhorn
Whilst mermaids lace carnations into wreaths for ailing whales
And Neptune dances hornpipes while Salome sheds her veils

Phallus Phil tries peddling his pewter painted pot
But Sousa Sam can only hear the screams of Peep the sot
Who only sips his creme de menthe from terra cotta cups
And exhales menthol scented breath whilst spewing verbiage up

Down technical blind alleys live the wraiths of former dreams
And Greeps who often crossed them are no longer what they seem
And even Christian Scientists can but display marble plaques
Which only retell legends whilst my eyes reach out for facts
Yeah, my eyes reach out for facts

[Keith Reid]

     Keith Reid, the lyricist for legendary proto-prog band Procol Harum, had a gift – or perhaps a curse – for such hallucinogenic lyrics. The entire first Procol Harum album, one of the standouts of its genre and time, is like this. The songs tease you from just beyond the edge of comprehensibility, but your mental fingers can’t get a firm grip on them...nor did Reid and singer / composer / pianist Gary Brooker intend that you should.

     No doubt every Gentle Reader has at one time or another heard the old phrase “You’re not crazy; it’s the rest of the world.” That phrase was once meant sarcastically, as a reproof to one who, viewing the behavior of others, finds it bizarre and rejects all sensible explanations for it. But of course, in our multivariate world, there are other possibilities:

You're Sane
Rest Of The World is Sane
You're Sane
Rest of the World is Crazy
You're Crazy
Rest Of The World is Sane
You're Crazy
Rest of the World is Crazy

     Gotta love those Cartesian products, eh what?

     Of course, people's interpretations of "sane" and "crazy" do diverge a bit. Mine are quite simple: if your responses to incentives and stimuli get you what you want more often than not, you're relatively sane; if not, you're relatively crazy. This should not be taken to exclude the possibility that you're sane or crazy on some limited number of subjects. For example, my Vietnamese-American sweetie Duyen is out of her BLEEP!ing mind about shoes, while her husband Matt has this obsession about toothpaste...but I digress.

     Incentives and stimuli don't quite govern all. They operate on us amid a matrix of values, some of which we internalize, others of which might be regarded as "background" incentives. Values are our principal determinants of what we want, and so are critical to the sane / crazy evaluations we make of others, and others make of us.

     Upon which note, let's pass to the consideration of a few other folks.

     People stockpile an item out of worries that it will soon become difficult or impossible to get. But why cheese?

     It turns out, America has been stockpiling cheese and butter and has amassed more golden treats than any time in past thirty years. Why? Europeans, trade, and because cheese is delicious.

     Whitney McFerron of Bloomberg News has the breakdown:

     Exports from the European Union have climbed so far this year and last — even after the bloc’s once-largest customer, Russia, banned trade in retaliation for sanctions over its incursion in Ukraine. A glut of milk, plunging prices and a weakening euro mean the EU has been able to grab customers in Asia and the Middle East, while U.S. sales have fallen.

     European dairy products are so cheap right now that the U.S. itself has become the new No. 1 customer for some products — imports of EU butter doubled last year and rose 17 percent for cheese, according to the European Commission. All that excess supply is building up in U.S. refrigerators, especially as American dairy production heads to a record this year.

     USDA statistics show cheese inventories at the end of March were the highest for the date since 1984, the year Prince’s “Purple Rain” was released. More than half of the supply is American cheese, while Swiss accounts for about 2 percent, and the rest the government classifies as “other.”

     So it turns out that Americans aren't really "stockpiling" cheese. We're not worried about a "cheese crisis;" we're just buying and enjoying more of it than before. Accordingly, retailers are keeping larger inventories of it. That's a fairly predictable consequence when a pleasure decreases in price.

     But European cheeses are "cheap" only relative to American-made cheeses. The EU's trade regulations have brought this about: that "glut of milk" exists because those regulations over-encouraged the production thereof, mostly in France. The EU's supranational government altered the market incentives that had previously prevailed. Americans who love cheese are merely capitalizing on the EU's bad judgment. Why, though, would persons whose livelihood depends upon profits from the sale of cheese persist in this course when it must surely be bringing them near to bankruptcy? And why would they tolerate the EU's insertion of its nose into their business in the first place?

     Think that over while I finish my morning chunk of Cheddar.

     Next up: a trend in thievery:

     If you want to buy soap at the Walgreens on Market Street in San Francisco, you’ll need to find a store employee to unlock the display case for you.

     Fifty dollar earbuds and $100 bottles of Claritin simply sit on the shelves where customers can pick them up and go. But baby formula, shampoo, and soap are all protected by locked display cases.

     It’s well known that pharmacies need to protect their stores of cold medicine, which methamphetamine cooks can use to make illicit drugs. But why soap? Is a $6 bottle of Dove body wash really worth the squeeze?

     This excellent article goes into considerable detail about why thieves steal what they steal...but for me, the punch in the gut came with this observation about "fences:"

     Residential fence: Thieves will sell stolen goods to a fence who buys and sells stolen goods out of his or her residence

     Excuse me? There are fences who sell stolen goods out of their homes? Doesn't that lead directly to arrest and incarceration? The police aren't fools. They notice patterns in the movement of stolen goods, and they can be relied upon to act on them...but sometimes it's in pursuit of "a cut."

     Given that the police are quite often willing to look the other way if they can have "a piece of the action," the incentives here are fairly straightforward. Yet this mode of fencing, and the related traffic in common, inexpensive household goods, is a relatively new phenomenon. What has brought it into being?

     Hold that thought alongside the previous one.

     This last case will leave you gasping and (hopefully) infuriated. I first mentioned it about a week ago:

     Eh Wah had been on the road for 12 hours when he saw the flashing lights in his rearview mirror.

     The 40-year-old Texas man, a refugee from Myanmar who became a US citizen more than a decade ago, was heading home to Dallas to check on his family.

     He was on a break from touring the country for months as a volunteer manager for the Klo & Kweh Music Team, a Christian rock ensemble from Myanmar. The group was touring the US to raise funds for a Christian college in Myanmar and an orphanage in Thailand.

     Eh Wah managed the band's finances, holding on to the cash proceeds it raised from ticket and merchandise sales at concerts. By the time he was stopped in Oklahoma, the band had held concerts in 19 cities across the United States, raising money via tickets that sold for US$10 to US$20 each.

     The sheriff's deputies in Muskogee County, Oklahoma, pulled Eh Wah over for a broken tail light about 6.30pm on Feb 27. The deputies started asking questions – a lot of them. And at some point, they brought out a drug-sniffing dog.

     That's when they found the cash, according to the deputy's affidavit.

     Eh Wah was carrying $53,000 in proceeds from his fundraising tour. You can probably guess what happened next:

     The officers ended up taking all of the money – all US$53,249 of it. "Possession of drug proceeds," the property receipt reads.

     But they let Eh Wah go. They didn't charge him with a crime that night, instead sending him back on the road about 12.30am, with the broken tail light.

     Bad enough, right? In 2015, "civil asset forfeitures" of this sort accounted for more property taken from its rightful owners than all the burglaries reported that year. But the story's not over. Here's the climax:

     At The Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham told the story of how a routine traffic stop turned into the police seizing tens of thousands of dollars from the manager of a Christian band.

     What makes this story unique is not the facts of the case, unfortunately, but that it went viral....

     "Muskogee has no excuse for this gross miscarriage of justice," said [Institute for Justice attorney Dan] Alban. "Based on next to no evidence, what started as an ordinary traffic stop turned into a nightmare....This is a clear-cut case of abuse of power."

     What is unique about Eh Wah's case, which is worth a full read, is how widely his story was shared. Hours after thousands of people shared the article, the Muskogee County District Attorney dropped the charges against Eh Wah.

     Does any Gentle Reader believe that the Muskogee County police would ever have returned the $53,000 had public scrutiny and the consequent outcry not revealed them for the thieves they are? Before you answer, reflect on the article I cited just above this one. Think hard.

     In all three cases above, government interventions into the business of private parties gave rise to incentives that bent the behavior of ordinary people -- yes, for the purposes of this article let's deem the Muskogee County police "ordinary" -- away from previous patterns:

  • Americans previously ate less cheese, less frequently than they do today.
  • Thieves once concentrated almost exclusively on high-value items.
  • Time was, the police wouldn't think they could get away with robbing an Eh Wah.

     It's a demonstration of the power of incentives...but it demonstrates something else as well:

  • Time was, Frenchmen were too proud to enlist a government in securing them a protected market for their cheese;
  • Time was, Americans were too proud to knowingly purchase stolen goods, let alone stolen laundry soap.
  • Time was, American police regarded themselves as servants of justice, not as legally empowered thieves.

     The values that previously inhibited behavior of the sort chronicled above have been attenuated into insignificance. The mechanisms that have weakened those values are several; any Gentle Reader of Liberty's Torch will be familiar with them. The loss thereof is rapidly reducing the entire First World to a mass of whining, conniving brats, all clamoring gimme...and taking whatever they can pry loose from its proper owners.

     What else would make an outrage of this sort possible?

     When I wrote this piece, even I didn't think we were this close to the edge of the abyss. Suffice it to say that I see things differently now...and not more cheerfully.

     Know whom you can trust.
     Keep a close watch on your loved ones.
     And for the love of God, keep your powder dry.

     That's all for now.

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Few Words On The Status Quo

     “Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in’.” – Ronald Reagan

     For some reason, the sort of public policy pontificator we see on television or who rants in the newspapers’ op-ed sections is frequently concerned with stability, or the maintenance of the status quo in various manifestations. Such a commentator seldom faces the question “Why is it right and necessary to maintain the status quo? And why is it America’s responsibility to see to it? Be specific.”

     Now, the generic answer to such a “why” question would be that the status quo is preferable to the alternatives – at least, to the alternatives that would most probably result from disturbing it. But that, of course, raises other questions: “Preferable to whom? And why? And once more with feeling, is it really our problem?”

     That’s why specificity is so important...and why the windy types mentioned above would gladly sacrifice a finger rather than be forced to provide it.

     Granted that there are identifiable conditions, local, regional, and global, that seem worth preserving, at least prima facie. But even the most desirable of such are desirable to specific persons, for specific reasons, and not unanimously so. For example, there are several local businesses I patronize regularly and would hate to see go bankrupt. Regionally, were all of Long Island’s throughways to be closed, there’d be some dislocations. As for global conditions, I’d be greatly vexed if the planet were to stop rotating. (I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t be the only one.) However:

  1. Those businesses’ competitors might have a different opinion;
  2. Islamic terrorists would count it a “win;”
  3. There’s this marauding fleet of genocidal aliens from Antares that...oh, never mind.

     Moreover, the responsibility for protecting those conditions from perturbation is not uniformly distributed over the affected populations. At least, were the Earth to threaten to stop rotating, I’d have a hard time blaming some illiterate starving aborigine in Papua New Guinea for not “doing his share.”

     There is no moral or rational way to assign responsibility without assessing the distribution of the relevant authority -- and on that subject, a better known voice than mine has spoken:

     “Both for practical reasons and for mathematically verifiable moral reasons, authority and responsibility must be equal - else a balancing takes place as surely as current flows between points of unequal potential. To permit irresponsible authority is to sow disaster; to hold a man responsible for anything he does not control is to behave with blind idiocy.” – Robert A. Heinlein

     In the great majority of cases, the persons responsible for protecting some supposedly desirable condition – e.g., by correcting a problem that threatens it – are those who benefit from that condition, not some gaggle of outsiders. Yet this is seldom admitted by those aforementioned windy types.

     The more you look, the more you see. -- Robert M. Pirsig

     The collectivization of responsibility – most often in order to load the responsibility onto the shoulders of a government – is the reverse of the coin of the worship of stability. The Reagan quote at the top of this piece implies that, albeit indirectly.

     “The mess we’re in.” As Tonto might have said to the Lone Ranger on many an occasion, “What do you mean we, paleface?” “We” did not create many of the conditions in the world, nor are “we” the beneficiaries thereof. Indeed, just as some well-meant American interventions have actually worsened matters, some conditions the U.S. has intervened to “stabilize” ought to have been left to topple.

     Stop! Stop! Danger, Will Robinson! Return to the previous paragraph. Read the last sentence aloud. Analyze it carefully. What implicit collectivizations can you find in what I wrote? There are four; find and unpack them all for full credit. See how easy it is to “slip one over” on your audience?

     Look at any nominally well-meant government intervention, in a matter that seemed to call for it. Ponder the collectivizing assumptions hidden in it and how they might fail under scrutiny. Here’s an example that will prove fruitful to the careful analyst: the intervention by the federal government in a coastal community’s recovery from a destructive hurricane. There’ve been several such these past sixteen years; any such will yield treasures of understanding to the determined student.

     This is on my mind this morning because of Michael Snyder’s citation of this paper on “possible global catastrophes.” I’ll cite a single passage, the brief Foreword, which is magnificently exemplary of the syndrome discussed above:

     Nearly four years ago when the Global Challenges Foundation was established, we decided on a direction with two parallel strategies. The first is increasing the knowledge about Global Catastrophic Risks (GCRs), which with our terminology means threats that can eliminate at least 10% of the global population. This knowledge is an important prerequisite for the Foundation’s second strategy: to encourage debates and proposals as to how we can effectively and fairly reduce – and preferably eliminate – these catastrophic risks.
     This publication, the Foundation’s Annual Report for 2016, is the result of a collaboration between the Foundation and the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) and the Global Priorities Project at Oxford University in the U.K., which has now lasted for over two years. A big group of researchers at the FHI, commissioned by the Foundation, summarized where research, focused on charting some of the greatest global risks, currently stands.
     In addition to describing the risks, their effects and their likelihood of occurring, this year’s Annual Report takes one step further and try’s to show how different risks relate to one another, what can be done to combat the risks and who can and should do this. In addition to the risks involved in the Annual Report for 2016, the Foundation actively works with environmental degradation, weapons of mass destruction, population growth (that exacerbates several risks), and political violence which is behind many of the world’s current problems.
     Political violence comes in many forms. Various kinds of weapons of mass destruction represent potentially devastating weaponry. Further, political violence creates uncontrolled migration and we receive repeated reminders that there is also “digital violence” in the form of cyber-attacks. Together, this takes up a significant amount of space on the political agenda, thus stealing attention from other important risks. And above all, the defense against various forms of political violence requires a grotesquely large share of public resources. Each day, the world spends over SEK 40 billion on defence expenditure – money that would be needed to fight poverty and prevent catastrophic risks.
     My personal opinion is that in order to drastically minimize GCRs we must develop a model where a majority of the world’s nations, with strong support from leading nations, can make binding decisions which can be enforced in an effective and fair way. This would imply that individual nations waive their sovereignty in favor of one or more organizations that have a mandate to decide on how to mitigate GCRs.
     Would this be possible? My counter question is whether there are any alternatives? To continue relying on multilateral negotiations increases the probability that decisions and actions are insufficient and executed too late. This means that the likelihood of GCRs continues to escalate.
     I hope that this publication can deepen the understanding of GCRs and that these insights provide a fertile ground for both debates and proposals on how we can develop a better way of managing and addressing these risks.

     The above is an absolute masterpiece of implicit collectivization...and multi-level collectivization at that. Moreover, as you proceed into the document, it will become clear that several of the “risks” the authors cite are either illusory or are merely challenges to a status quo from which some benefit and others suffer.

     The publication is an irritating, remorselessly self-righteous and tendentious document written mainly by Scandinavian socialists. You might not want to read it in its entirety. I could hardly blame you. But those who steel themselves to the task will learn many things about the Left’s tactics, to say nothing of the reasons for them.

     A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Leftists’ manipulation of language as one of their principal tactics. To save you some wear and tear on your mouse, here’s the central thesis of that essay:

     [I]f the perversion of language is directed toward rendering particular concepts immoral, it sanctifies the use of violence to suppress those who would dare to speak of them, much less act on them. And as we have seen in recent years, leftists are growing ever more ready to use violence to prevent the discussion of concepts unfriendly to their aims.

     Exactly the same could be said about the manipulation of language to imply collective responsibility for various matters. When that collectivization is aimed at the protection of some status quo, sharp questions demand to be asked:

  • Who benefits and who suffers from the “problem?”
  • Who has authority over the conditions described and why has he not acted?
  • Are there “passive victims” who ought to have taken a hand in redressing it?
  • Concerning the proposed intervention, who would profit and who would be mulcted – and why should the latter group willingly assent?

     These are questions the Left, and the great majority of those at the levers of power, would prefer not to face. Collectivization is the source of their power, prestige, and perquisites...and collectivization is the essence of any status quo.

     Yes, the title of this piece is “a few words.” For this enormous subject, the above are very few words. Think about it, especially in the light of our current political cycle.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Either-Or Of Faith: A Sunday Rumination

     First, allow me to recount a tale the celebrant told this morning at Mass.

     A young man badly addicted to various drugs had died of a heroin overdose. As part of the funeral Mass, the boy’s father read a letter – a letter he, the father, had written as if it had been dictated by his dead son “looking down from heaven.” It was a hortatory, inspirational thing, addressed principally to the boy’s coevals. The message was simple yet compelling: do not give up on your life. Considering how many people of any age do give up on life, owing to pain, depression, loneliness, or obstacles that seem insuperable, it’s an important message, certainly one we can all benefit from hearing now and then.

     But beyond the message of that letter lay something else, something arguably more important: the origin of the letter. Who wrote it? The father had typed it out, but did the words and sentiments originate with him? I submit that even he, no matter how certain he might have been, couldn’t really know. And of course, neither could anyone else.

     If the father was the originator, the act would strike some, including me, as somewhat presumptuous. But if it were otherwise, it constitutes a message from beyond the veil of Time: a minor miracle. As it’s not possible to know, all that remains is what one chooses to believe.

     That’s the way it is with a lot of things.

     Among the greater mysteries of Christian faith is the one surrounding prayer. We are taught that all prayers are answered...but also that we might not recognize the answer when it’s delivered. Jesus Himself told us to “Ask, and it shall be given you:”

     Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? [Matthew 7:7-11]

     Yet many who pray for health are denied it. Many who pray for sustenance in time of need do not receive it. How are we to reconcile these things with the doctrine that prayer is always answered?

     Here’s the answer Laurie Kendrick proposed:

     LK: OK fine, but this faith stuff is asking a lot of us sometimes. I’ve had faith before. Exercised it regularly. I prayed to you for things that I wanted and needed to happen. But I was let down when my prayers weren’t answered. I’ve never been married and only came close once. You know that I really loved Nick. When he left me, my heart was broken. What happened?
     God: Your prayers were answered. You just didn’t like the results. I gave you what you needed.
     LK: But I loved him!
     God: Trust me, I gave you what you needed.
     LK: And what was that?
     God: You needed a life without Nick.
     LK: Why?
     God: Nick was never the right guy for you. If you were with him, you’d never get the chance to meet the man you’re supposed to be with.
     LK: So, where is my Mr. Man and why am I alone now and so miserable?
     God: You’ll meet him when the time is right. You’re alone now because you need to be and you’re miserable I guess, because for some reason, you want to be.
     LK: I want to be miserable?? What purpose would that serve?
     God: Only you can answer that.
     LK: Where are you in all of this?
     God: I’m right here–where I have been; where I will be. Listen to me–I give you opportunities, Laurie. You make of them what you will. You decide how to react, how to feel. This is how it works. This is life.
     Not only aren’t we guaranteed to recognize the answer; we’re not guaranteed to like it, either. As God says above, “This is how it works. This is life.”

     To believe or disbelieve is your choice. Neither is provably right...and neither is provably wrong.

     The domain of faith includes all propositions that can neither be proved nor disproved: i.e., that must be accepted or rejected “on faith.” Those which can be disproved belong to the domain of science. Those which can be proved or disproved belong to the domain of mathematics.

     I am of the opinion that we need faith – that it fills a space in our psyches that nothing else can fill. I’ve known no one of healthy mind who was utterly without faith, though the particular faiths some of my acquaintances possessed were imperceptible even to them. I think this also helps to explain the phenomenon of mid-life returnees to religions abandoned in youth. Young people are often utterly clueless about what they need; any college campus in America would serve as a case study.

     Yet faith requires effort. Part of the effort lies in choosing what to believe; the remainder lies in believing it in the face of others’ derision. All four of the cardinal virtues must be exercised in this matter of faith:

  • Prudence, for separating what is plausible from what is plainly absurd;
  • Justice, for rejecting beliefs that involve the violation of others’ rights;
  • Temperance, for remaining humble and not slathering one’s choice over everyone within range;
  • Fortitude, for withstanding the insults and ridicule of others.

     The reason is simple:

For every phenomenon to which a supernatural explanation might be applied, there will be at least one possible explanation that omits the supernatural.

     This is the great “either-or” that confronts every man who entertains a religious proposition. God – if you believe in Him, as I do – has made it possible to decline faith while retaining our reason. Hillary Swank’s overlooked little movie The Reaping provides an example of the processes involved.

     The above is why I’ve maintained that it is possible for a good man to be an atheist, and yet to receive the reward of eternal bliss that’s promised to good men who believe in God, who worship Him in all three Persons, and who observe His Commandments. Human reason and knowledge are and will remain incapable of penetrating the veil of Time. Being finite creatures – while we live, at least – we are too little to engulf the infinite. Faith thus becomes the choice inescapably before us.

     That doesn’t mean it will ever become easy to have faith. We’re supposed to be tried right up to the limit our souls can bear, and part of the trial is undoubtedly enduring the scorn of others who don’t believe as we do and deem us stupid, ignorant, or weak-minded for believing it. That is the Covenant with Man: the condition upon which salvation is offered us.

     Time was, they who professed faith were so much more numerous than those who didn’t that they “gave themselves airs,” including the privilege of tormenting those others in various ways. It was wrong; let there be no dispute about that. And it is quite possible that the derision believers suffer today is our comeuppance, even part of our penance. The task is the same as it has always been: for each man to choose whether to believe, to conduct himself accordingly, and to accept the consequences.

     No one escapes the great Either-Or.

     May God bless and keep you all.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Quickies: Racism? What Racism?

     By the au courant use of the term – especially on the Left – I am a racist, and an admitted one. That’s why I get a charge out of stories such as this one:

     A Rhodes Scholar and leader in a black activist group at Oxford University posted a Facebook status in which he boasts of stiffing a white waitress on a tip as revenge for colonialism.

     Ntokozo Qwabe hails from South Africa, and is studying at Oxford as the beneficiary of a full-ride scholarship created by 19th century British imperialist Cecil Rhodes. Despite this, Qwabe became a leader in the Rhodes Must Fall movement, which demands the removal of all memorials to Rhodes on Oxford’s campus. Qwabe claims that Rhodes was “as bad as Hitler” because of his support for the British Empire.

     Recently Qwabe returned to South Africa, where he visited a cafe with some friends. His own description on Facebook of what happened next is below:

     To cut the long story short, we are out at Obz Cafe with [a black non-binary transgender] activist, and the time for the bill comes. Our waitress is a white woman. I ask the said activist what the going rate for tips/gratuity is in these shores. They look at me very reluctantly and they say ‘give me the slip, I’ll sort that out’. I give them the slip.

     They take a pen & slip in a note where the gratuity/tip amount is supposed to be entered. The note reads in bold: “WE WILL GIVE TIP WHEN YOU RETURN THE LAND”. The waitress comes to us with a card machine for the bill to be sorted out. She sees the note & starts shaking. She leaves us & bursts into typical white tears (like why are you crying when all we’ve done is make a kind request? lol!).

     Note that this vicious-minded bastard who so gleefully abused a white woman for being white is enjoying a free education courtesy of a Rhodes Scholarship. What do you suppose this “leader” of the “Rhodes Must Fall” movement would say if that scholarship were to be retracted? That it’s “racist” to do so?

     It’s a struggle not to hate such persons. A lot of good people are slowly losing that struggle. What will follow will not be pretty.

Quickies: Political Betrayers

     Concerning Australia’s upcoming elections, the indispensable Joanne Nova expresses one of my own convictions:

     With an election likely for July 2nd, the hottest topic in Australian politics right now is how to vote. So put your best case forward here. Hammer this out. Will Turnbull promise anything to win back the Delcons — the angry conservatives? The time to ask is now, and if the Liberal base are not prepared to vote against him, they have nothing to negotiate.

     The elephant in 2016 is the ferocious boiling anger among betrayed conservatives and small government libertarians, divided over whether they can bear to vote for Turnbull (a Liberal*) who has been called the best leader the Labor Party never had. Delcons was tossed at the so-called “Delusional” Conservatives. But they took up the badge. Defcons means the Defiant ones.

     Right now, and since September, I’m a Delcon, like Tim Blair, Merv Bendle, and James Allan. Convince me otherwise. (We love you Miranda but you are wrong.)

     The issue: Is it better to vote for the lesser of two evils and hope a Turnbull-led party can be reformed after a win, or is it better to think long term, take the medicine and rebuild in opposition — and is there a realistic third choice?

     Winning at any cost is a loss. It’s a matter of principle. As long as Turnbull is in charge there will be no real alternative for conservative libertarians. If the “true liberal base” will put up with Turnbull and support power for Liberals regardless of principles then their vote is truly worth nothing. I’m not just talking about putting small parties or independents ahead of the Liberal candidate, but the nuclear option — sending the preferences to Labor, despite its ghastly policies [and Tanya Plibersek, says DavidE, who incidentally leans more to the Miranda-line].

     [A footnote: *Liberals? For foreigners, “liberal” in Australia still means something like a real liberal — a free-market, small-government player. In the US progressives stole the term and the silly Republicans let them misuse it.]

     Bravo! Election campaigns tend to promote personalities over policy. But policy is what matters – and as we saw from the Nixon, Bush I, and Bush II years, a self-styled “conservative” who, in defiance of his supposed principles, compromises with the Left’s agenda is actually worse than allowing the Left to have its way, undisguised and undecorated. It gives people the wrong things to react and rebel against.

     We wouldn’t have Obama or the Bernie Sanders movement today had three of the last five Republican presidents actually governed according to conservative principles. The GOP compounded the damage by nominating John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. Should the 2016 Republican National Convention repeat rather than repent its errors, there will no longer be any question what the party really values above all else.

Quickies: A Constitutional Army

     Via Doug Ross comes heartening news of a force mustering in defense our Second Amendment rights:

     As the federal government continues in its quest to restrict the rights of gun owners across the country, local law enforcement is stepping up their response.

     For many, it is one of a line in the sand against a bevy of agencies based in Washington, and partnering state agencies, who have violated the constitution.

     The still-growing Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), headed by former Sheriff Richard Mack, is standing up to these infringements, and saying no.

     Of course, it has the attention of the indoctrinated Big Government folks, who are apt to see a group of law enforcement officials standing up for the rule of law as – what else, a potential threat....

     Richard Mack, who successfully staved off federal encroachment at the Supreme Court level back in the 90s, described his CSPOA association as “the army to set our nation free.”

     The media has been quick to demonize the fiery rhetoric for these constitutional-minded members of law enforcement. But the battle is grounded in sound ideology, and a principle that literally millions of Americans are prepared to fight for.

     Indeed. As a character of mine put it:

     “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.

     The members of the CSPOA understand that. God bless them.

Quickies: Romantic Travails Of The Rich And Famous

     We’ve all heard the jokes about “first world problems.” Well, above that category are the problems of mega-rich, mega-famous celebrities. For example, it’s one of today’s lighter news items that Jennifer Lawrence can’t get a date.

     Now, it’s one thing to just say “How sad” and return to your bagel. It’s another to take such a problem seriously and resolve to fix it, or at least understand it. And really, what else is a Certified Galactic Intellect for?

     So I decided to think through the possible reasons the beautiful, talented, and wealthy JLaw is unhappily unmated:

  1. Intimidation. Quite a lot of “regular” men would never dare to approach a major star like Jennifer Lawrence. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of the men in her “peer group” – i.e., other celebrities – are users and untrustworthy philandering assholes with vacuum for brains. Fame can do that to you.
  2. Exclusion. A celebrity is expected to spend his time in the company of other celebrities and their rich, powerful backers. That naturally limits Lawrence’s exposure to potential romantic candidates.
  3. Occupational conflicts. A good man will have a career of his own. How many such would be willing to abandon their careers for a shot at the affections of a celebrity? Celebrities are notoriously flighty, which is part of the reason most celebrity romances are brief and go down in flames. That’s what made Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward so noteworthy.
  4. Nastiness. Celebrities often express themselves with no thought for the consequences. Lawrence has done that at least twice: once on Christians, the other time on “equal pay for women.” Many a good man would immediately recoil from her: first because she’d condemned three-fourths of the country on the basis of her narrow exposure; second because she allows herself opinions on subjects about which she knows nothing.
  5. Other personality quirks. Jennifer Lawrence is widely celebrated for her “quirky” personality. To many men, that presents the appearance of instability. Instability is a highly undesirable trait in a lover or spouse, no matter what other assets she might bring to the match. I’m here to tell you.

     Well, she does like dogs and guns. Maybe you should spend more time at animal shelters and shooting ranges, Jennifer. I’ve met some very nice people there. Or maybe try going to church. Perhaps at a Catholic parish, if you can find one in Tinsel Town where Catholicism is actually practiced. I understand that’s getting to be rather difficult, but you could consult Jim Caviezel for a suggestion.

Quickies: Politics And Faith

     The supposed “wall of separation” between religion and government of which Thomas Jefferson wrote is about as badly understood as the epicycles of Ptolemy. It occurred to me a little earlier that it deserves a few words of explanation...and believe it or not, a few words are all it needs.

     The Constitutional aspects repose in two brief passages:

  1. Article VI, Section 3: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
  2. Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

     There are no other mentions of religion, faith, or anything associated with them in the Constitution. But it’s the substantive aspects of American governance, rather than the clauses above, that have occasioned the Sturm und Drang.

     Consider a topic more intimately associated with religious beliefs than nearly any other: abortion. Just now, it’s legal in all American jurisdictions, essentially without regulation or restrictions. Many of those who oppose this do so on the basis of their religious faiths, which abortion’s supporters condemn as an attempt to breach the “separation of church and state.” In truth, it’s nothing of the sort...but if the United States were a different sort of polity, perhaps an absolute hereditary monarchy, the story might be different.

     Were Congress to approve any of the suggested “human life” amendments restricting or completely banning abortion, and were the legislatures of thirty-seven or more states to ratify it, some or all abortions would no longer be legal – not for any religious reason, but because a wholly secular process had amended the Constitution. As the legislators in Congress and the state legislatures didn’t need to face a “religious test,” there would be no case for claiming that the “wall of separation” had been breached.

     Now imagine that the president had seized the unbounded and unreviewable powers of an absolute monarch. Were such a president to decree that abortion shall henceforth be equivalent to murder, there would be questions about his motives for doing so. Were he to state explicitly that it was “God’s will” that it be so, that would be a plain and open insertion of a religious faith – i.e., that of the President – into American governance. Indeed, all an absolute autocrat’s decrees could be questioned on that basis, for the “legislative process” would be confined to the inside of his skull. Were we to permit such an autocracy, we would have no recourse except assassination.

     The Constitution isn’t perfect; nothing human is. But by defining a secular legislative process rich with provisions for correction and revision, it escapes the sort of Deus vult “legislation” which the subjects of a theocracy must endure. In this and only this lies the “separation of church and state” – a genuinely valuable aspect of our polity, as the wretched ones of many an Islamic hellhole would tell you, if they could.

Quick guide to demonstration attendance.

You should not be at a "demonstration" where:
  • there are lots of Mexican flags,
  • there are lots of Mexican illegals,
  • people are trashing automobiles,
  • people are wearing masks and hoodies,
  • there's a drumming circle with at least one overweight lesbian,
  • there are men with beautiful pony tails on your side of the police barricades,
  • "transsexuals" spit on people they are debating,
  • people are six inches away from police lines and cursing the police,
  • there's a Black Lives Matter contingent,
  • your purpose is to forcibly stop someone else from exercising free speech,
  • your own speech is what might charitably be called incoherent,
  • you arrived on a bus and you don't know who paid for your ticket,
  • George Soros is involved in any way, and/or
  • you agree with organizers that America should be the dumping ground for every ignorant, parasitic, or criminal third-world person who wants to take a job from an American.
If any of these apply to the demonstration you're at, your judgment, decency, or patriotism are questionable.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Quickies: Everywhere == Nowhere Redux

     Remember this essay?

That which is everywhere is banal.

     It’s impossible to maintain one’s interest in something that omnipresently beats one over the head, screaming “Look at me!” from every vertical plane. The mind learns to tune it out for reasons of sheer survival, especially in a crowded, hypercompetitive environment. That this is possible even with the sex drive and the associated reproductive imperative is only slightly more surprising than the well-known indifference of candy-factory workers to candy.

     Japan might still have the lead in that “race,” but it’s possible that America’s sex-saturated culture is catching up:

     The birthrate among American teenagers, at crisis levels in the 1990s, has fallen to an all-time low, according to an analysis released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention....

     ...teens -- despite their portrayal in popular TV and movies as uninhibited and acting only on hormones -- are having less sex.

     "There has been a change in social norms that has happened in the past 20 years, and the idea of not having sex or delaying sex is now something that can be okay," said Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

     Talk about ambivalent news! I don’t know whether to be happy about the decline in abortions and unwed mothers, or to fear that America, like Japan, is about to enter irreversible demographic decline. I do know that our media have gone about as far as the FCC will allow them to go in presenting us with sex-laced entertainment. Must we back away from the beauties on our 16:9 screens to get this job done? Or is that too terrible a sacrifice to contemplate? Don’t glance at your spouse as you answer that.

     Come on, people! The future you don’t want to engender is depending on you. Get out there and screw like minks!

     (No, that doesn’t mean “do it while wearing fur coats.” In a few weeks it’ll be too hot for that anyway.)

Friday Frivolities

     1. Hug Your Dog!

     Human psychologist Stanley Coren may regret ever having written this:

     Dogs are technically cursorial animals, which is a term that indicates that they are designed for swift running. That implies that in times of stress or threat the first line of defense that a dog uses is not his teeth, but rather his ability to run away. Behaviorists believe that depriving a dog of that course of action by immobilizing him with a hug can increase his stress level and, if the dog's anxiety becomes significantly intense, he may bite. For that reason, certain websites, which try to educate children and parents in order to reduce the incidence of dog bites (such as Doggone Safe), make a point about teaching children that they should not hug dogs. Furthermore, a few years back when a children's book entitled "Smooch Your Pooch" recommended that kids hug and kiss their dog anytime and anywhere, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) felt that it was necessary for them to release an official statement that strongly advised parents to avoid purchasing the book, since "this information can cause children to be bitten."

     Cursorial animals? Okay, that’s how they started out. But millennia of commensality and companionship with humans just might have changed the equation a bit:

     "This is interesting preliminary data which might serve as a good starting point for a formal study. But it's important to note that (to my knowledge) this is not a peer-reviewed empirical paper so I would caution against any firm conclusions before the work can go through this important part of the scientific process," Evan MacLean, co-director of Duke's Canine Cognition Center, wrote in an email to The Washington Post.

     For a rebuttal to Coren's op-ed, Mashable has taken the liberty of also looking around the Internet for dogs hugging. To our astonishment, we found some very different results.

     Have you hugged your dog today?

     Enjoy the pictures in that latter article. I did. And being the owner of a Newfoundland and a German Shepherd mix, both of whom frequently demand to be hugged, I would find it difficult to subscribe to Coren’s position.

     2. Follow Your Dreams!

     Dystopic has this to say about that:

     Youtube commercials are hilarious. They constantly go on about your “dreams” as if some marketer from a New York ad agency knows your “dreams” better than you do.

     “Finance your dream home.” Says one.

     Well, commercials can be like that. The ones that really amuse me are the ones that tell me that “you deserve” whatever they’re hawking. My immediate reaction is “Really? Did you ask my wife?” But Dystopic has a better one-up:

     If you said “It’s time to finance your dream home… IN SPACE” you might actually get my attention instead of my disdain.

     Indeed. I might even go for that, given how badly my knees are creaking.

     3. Hugo Award Stuff.

     A gratifying number of non-SF and fantasy readers wrote complimentary things to me about yesterday’s piece. Apparently the colonization of our cultural space by “social-justice warriors” has pissed off enough people to register even in a relatively sectarian matter such as this.

     For those who can’t quite believe that the war is as intense as I’ve stated, The Arts Mechanical has a copious roundup of reactions from the SJWs.

     On a related subject: Have you noticed the upsurge in the depiction of black-white and homosexual romances in prime-time TV dramas? One of them, Blindspot, features one of each. For lagniappe, the homosexual romance is between a pair of black lesbians. My, my!

     4. Words Fail Me.

     By way of Stephen Green at Instapundit comes the most absurd, self-centered demand for an accommodation I’ve ever seen: a demand for “maternity leave” without the terrible bother and burden of having a child:

     And as I watched my friends take their real maternity leaves, I saw that spending three months detached from their desks made them much more sure of themselves. One friend made the decision to leave her corporate career to create her own business; another decided to switch industries. From the outside, it seemed like those few weeks of them shifting their focus to something other than their jobs gave them a whole new lens through which to see their lives.

     While both men and women would benefit from a “meternity” leave after a decade or so in the workforce, the concept is one that would be especially advantageous for women. Burnout syndrome is well-documented in both sexes, but recent research suggests that women may experience it at greater rates; researchers postulate that it’s because women (moms and non-moms alike) feel overloaded by the roles they have to take on at work and at home.

     Bottom line: Women are bad at putting ourselves first. But when you have a child, you learn how to self-advocate to put the needs of your family first. A well-crafted “meternity” can give you the same skills — and taking one shouldn’t disqualify you from taking maternity leave later.

     This...person is in her thirties? Yet she needs several months away from her job so she can have “a whole new lens through which to see her life” -- ?

     Unfortunately, in our current sociopolitical climate demands of this sort get more respect than they should. The only proper response to such a claim of privilege is “If you’re not joking, you’re too immature and self-absorbed to work here. Either put your ass back in your seat or pack up your personal effects. I’ll have Accounting cut your final check.”

     5. No Safety? Really?

     I’m far from knowledgeable about handguns, so when I got interested in acquiring one I solicited the opinions of several persons of greater expertise. I heard quite a lot of praise of Glock. One colleague said he’d buy anything Glock offers. What I didn’t hear about was the rate of accidental fire incidents with Glocks...until I encountered the following:

     No safety? NO SAFETY?!?! Given the power of the “Safety Nazis” (see this article by P.J. O’Rourke), I’m surprised Glocks can legally be sold in the United States.

     The really surprising part, though, was the fanaticism of the Glock enthusiasts. Check out the comments to Wild Bill’s video for some priceless examples.

     6. Whys And Wherefores

     Now and then, a Gentle Reader will write to ask why I’ve produced this or that piece – or this or that kind of piece. What stimulates and shapes them? Mostly it’s whatever’s in the news, which I sweep through twice each day. But sometimes it’s pure whimsy: the need to depart from my habitual track – not to say rut – in search of something refreshing. These assorted pieces are an example of such.

     That’s also one of the reasons I’m trying to write a romance novel. Not the only one, though. Quite recently, after reading a recommendation for it at Dustbury, I picked up Heather Grace Stewart’s short romantic comedy Strangely, Incredibly Good at Amazon, and was thoroughly charmed by it. It’s funny, original, and endearing...and it got me to ask myself “Could I write something like that?”

     I’ve penned several short-story-length romances, but up to recently I’d resisted attempting novel length for reasons I can’t quite articulate. However, I’m finding the attempt both challenging and refreshing...which I suppose stands to reason for a writer whose other stuff tends toward heavy sociopolitical themes.

     We shall see. Meanwhile, enjoy your Friday. And remember, Toes Go In First!

Monetary stupidity and the financial system's unwillingness to make healthy reforms.

In other words, central banks and planners have generated enormous bubbles in debt, housing and stocks to maintain the illusion that doing more of what failed spectacularly will actually fix what's broken. This is crazy, because these policies are what's broken. All these massive interventions and manipulations are driving the system off the cliff.

* * * *

Here is the craziness: nothing has actually been fixed in the past 7 years. Rather, everything that was broken in 2008 has been ramped up to an even higher levels of craziness. The crazy solution to bursting housing bubbles is even bigger housing bubbles (see Sweden, China and the U.S.).[1]

Mr. Smith points out that the "Swiss central bank admitted to spending $470 billion on currency market manipulation since 2010." That's an enormous amount of money for a very small country to spend. That has to be an expenditure coming under the heading of desperation measures and something far removed from any kind of long-term productive purpose.

[1] "Is the World Getting Crazier, But We No Longer Notice?" By Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds, 4/29/16.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Quickies: Incredible Surprises Dept.

     As is well known, this year’s Republican National Convention will be held in Cleveland, Ohio. As is equally well known, the Huffington Post has its little ways. One of them is to blame everyone to the right of Karl Marx for any unfortunate event – even if it hasn’t happened yet:

     The city of Cleveland, which will host the Republican National Convention this July, will spend $1.5 million on an insurance broker to find a policy which covers potential lawsuits related to police conduct for the event, according to The website is calling it “protest insurance” — although more technically it’s known as law enforcement professional liability insurance.

     “There’s such a huge range of things that can happen when you have that many people with so many different viewpoints together in a city,” said Christine Link, the executive director of the Ohio ACLU. She noted Cleveland is expecting between 50,000 and 75,000 extra people in its downtown area during the upcoming convention.

     This convention is no run-of-the-mill event, either. Currently, no GOP primary candidate has secured enough delegates to sail through the nomination process, and there is such resistance to Donald Trump’s candidacy within the party that there’s lots of talk about a potential contested convention. That means not only will there be the protesters you normally see at any political event, but there could be protesters from separate factions of the Republican Party itself....

     “Nerves are on edge because of the possibility of a contested convention,” Robert Hartwig, the president of the Insurance Information Institute, told The Huffington Post. “It could cause tempers to flare on the parts of various parties. Any good risk management program is now contemplating that possibility.”

     So it would be Republicans fomenting violence? That’s doubtful, to say the least. It’s rather more likely that, should violence ensue, it would be precipitated by the Left: Black Lives Matter, Occupy, some of Bill Ayers’s admirers, or any of the many fringe loonies who’ve suggested that Trump, Cruz, or others deserve to die.

     Mind you, violence might not ensue. But just in case, the Huffington Post wants its readers to know that it will be the fault of the GOP. Imagine that. Say, where's the Democrat National Convention being held? Philadelphia, isn’t it? Where the Knockout Game is played by so many enthusiastic young’uns? Do you suppose Philly is bracing for convention-related violence? Or would it be so lost in the routine pattern of the City of Brotherly Love that the authorities would fail to notice?

Wrapper And Product

     Everything in the universe is either packaging, big toys, or meat – From a lapel button

     The above might seem mildly disputable – how does one play with a star? – but all the same it expresses an important truth: we “meat folks” are forever unwrapping layers of packaging from the products within them. Sometimes the process is simple and painless; at other times, there are contusions, abrasions, lacerations, and much profanity.

     Packaging and its significance are as evident in the field of ideas as in consumer items. It is a truth too obvious for words – nevertheless, words will be used – that you cannot express an idea without some sort of “wrapper.” The most successful polemicists known to history have also been skillful “packagers.” The very best of them learned to make the “package” as valuable as the “product,” such that it was possible to enjoy the “package” – typically, a story or other form of entertainment – even for those who reject the “product” – the ideas enclosed within it.

     Consider, among the great fabulists of the century behind us, the late Robert A. Heinlein. Virtually everyone who’s read his stuff agrees on his skill as a storyteller and entertainer. Yet not all of those who admire his gifts agree with his libertarian-conservative sociopolitical outlook, which was evident in virtually everything he wrote. He was so good a storyteller that it was possible to spurn the “product” and “play with the box” instead.

     By contrast, many contemporary writers, in every genre, have adopted the stance that all that matters is the “product:” the specific ideas they mean to promote. Some pay a modicum of attention to the “packaging;” others, more heavy-handed, give it comparatively short shrift. Their readers had better get full value out of the “product,” because the “wrapper” is little or no fun.

     It is noteworthy that those “product is all” writers are almost uniformly on the political left – mostly the extreme left. Equally noteworthy, they’ve striven to dominate publishing in its entirety – to exclude from the field anyone who differs with their opinions – as well as the various awards given out for works of fiction. And they’ve largely achieved that aim.

     In one field at least, the “speculative” genres of science fiction and fantasy, there’s been a reaction against them. They don’t like it. And they’re determined that we shall not pass.

     Any longtime Gentle Reader of Liberty’s Torch will already be familiar with the “Sad Puppies” controversy. For those who are unfamiliar: This whimsical name was adopted by a small group of SF and fantasy writers, notable among them Larry Correia and Brad Torgerson, as a label for a counter-movement to the blatant politicization of their field at the expense of good storytelling. Their counter-movement consisted of an attempt to open the venerable Hugo Awards process to a wider range of nominees: nothing more, nothing less. They, and those who have succeeded them as Sad Puppies organizers, merely requested that readers interested in the awards process pay the registration fee that empowers one to nominate for a Hugo, and to submit the titles, writers, and editors they deem worthy: again, no more, no less. For four consecutive years, this has resulted in a list of suggested nominees, which the organizers urged interested parties to read, evaluate, and thereafter consider for nomination: for the third time, no more and no less.

     Last year, works aggregated by the Sad Puppies 3 campaign were heavily represented among Hugo Awards nominees. This year, they and the allied but distinct “Rabid Puppies” campaign run by Theodore “Vox Day” Beale, have run the table:

  • Of the sixteen categories of awards, ten sets of nominees consist entirely of SP or RP suggestions.
  • Of the other six, only one – “Best Editor, Short Form” – is not composed of a majority of SP and RP suggestions. Even in that category, two of the five nominees are SP and RP suggestions.
  • The nominees that were suggested by the SP and RP campaigns constitute a broad spectrum of the sexes, races, and political orientations.

     Of course, the “social justice warriors” who have previously contrived to dominate the awards process are apoplectic over it. Last year, they managed by “bloc voting” to exclude SP and RP nominees from the awards, giving “No Award” in the five categories that consisted entirely of SP and RP suggestions. What they’ll do this year, we shall soon see.

     I write fiction as well as these endless op-eds. I have a “product” – freedom and Christian values and ethics – that’s “wrapped” in every story or novel I write. That’s the outcome of my personal sensibility. I can’t not embed those things in what I write. They inevitably animate my heroes and heroines. But I put entertainment value above all other things; I insist that the story be a good one by my standards: important, absorbing, and capable of surprising the reader. Needless to say, a “social justice warrior” who deems the ideas emphasized to be the one and only point of a story would spurn my “product” regardless of its “wrapper.” A few have written to tell me so.

     That’s part and parcel of their sensibility. To an SJW, entertainment as such is valueless; its sole function is to promulgate ideas – and they must be the sort of ideas the SJWs approve. I wrote about this last year:

     Fun – that which we strive to attain through the “play impulse” – is one of the keys to a successful life. C. S. Lewis noted its importance in The Screwtape Letters:
I divide the causes of human laughter into Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy. You will see the first among friends and lovers reunited on the eve of a holiday. Among adults some pretext in the way of Jokes is usually provided, but the facility with which the smallest witticisms produce laughter at such a time shows that they are not the real cause. What that real cause is we do not know. Something like it is expressed in much of that detestable art which the humans call Music, and something like it occurs in Heaven—a meaningless acceleration in the rhythm of celestial experience, quite opaque to us. Laughter of this kind does us no good and should always be discouraged. Besides, the phenomenon is of itself disgusting and a direct insult to the realism, dignity, and austerity of Hell.

Fun is closely related to Joy—a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct. It is very little use to us. It can sometimes be used, of course, to divert humans from something else which the Enemy would like them to be feeling or doing: but in itself it has wholly undesirable tendencies; it promotes charity, courage, contentment, and many other evils.

We play – i.e., we engage in activities that have no deliberate gain in view – specifically because it’s fun. It comes naturally to us to do so, especially when in the company of those we love. One of the great quantitative differences between America and other nations is the fraction of our resources we have available for play. It could justly be said that Americans are the world’s foremost players – no pejorative intended.

Americans are so fun-oriented that we devote whole industries to it, most emphatically including the video gaming industry. We even seek to make our work lives fun, to the extent that might be possible. My favorite source of business advice, Robert C. Townsend, put it this way:

If you don’t do it excellently, don’t do it at all. Because if it’s not excellent it won’t be profitable or fun, and if you’re not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing here?

     Note the contrast this makes with the SJW attitude:

     In this connection, ponder well this essay on the Sturm und Drang besetting the video gaming community. Take particular note of the following highly revealing snippet:
[W]hile watching a video about GamerGate, I clicked on a link to an archive of one of the original articles, “A Guide To Ending Gamers” by Devin Wilson at Gamasutra....

I was scrolling down through the article’s list of strategies for eliminating gamers, trying to keep an open mind, and actually thinking there were one or two somewhat valid points. Then I got to item #11:

We stop upholding “fun” as the universal, ultimate criterion for a game’s relevance. It’s a meaningless ideal at best and a poisonous priority at worst. Fun is a neurological trick. Plenty of categorically unhealthy things are “fun”. Let’s try for something more. Many of the alternatives will have similarly fuzzy definitions, but let’s aspire to qualities like “edifying”, “healing”, “pro-social”, or even “enlightening”. I encourage you to decide upon your own alternatives to “fun” in games (while avoiding terms like “cool” and “awesome” and any other word that simply caters to existing, unexamined biases).

     Clearly, never the twain shall meet.

     The message from this year's Hugo nominations could hardly be clearer: the “wrapper” matters. No matter what “product” you’re trying to “sell,” it must be packaged attractively. Thousands of readers of SF and fantasy have poured into the nominations process to state their opinions, and in so doing have made the awards meaningful as awards for fiction for the first time in many a year.

     To sum up: You write, and you’re politically to the Left? That’s your business. Please try to entertain us. Otherwise, your idea won’t get any traction. It’s really quite simple. If you insist that your ideas are all that matter, and slough the work of entertaining us while you vend them, you won’t close the sale. That you should turn from that to castigate us for preferring entertainment, whatever ideas it’s wrapped around, to your naked polemics only reinforces the pity we feel for you...which will, doubt it not, be reflected in your sales.

     Other articles relevant to this subject:

     All are excellent food for thought.

Pearls of expression.

√Čric Zemmour on Pope Francis's decision to take some Syrian Muslim families back to Rome with him from Lesbos but to leave some Christian families behind:
The Pope explains to us, not without a touch of irony, that the Christian families who were presented to him did not have their papers in order. We didn't know that divine mercy was so legalistic. Or should we understand that religion matters little to him? That the Christian father has crossed Europe off?
"Abandoning Europe to Islam." By Tiberge, GalliaWatch, 4/27/16.

In thrall to hideous Wahhabism.

The Saudi lobby is a vast public relations machine, well-oiled with money and top-heavy with Washington insiders. Former Senator Norm Coleman, who headed up the American Action Fund – a major “dark money”conduit to GOP campaigns – and is now backing Ted Cruz is on the Saudi payroll. .

On the other side of the partisan divide, the Clinton Foundation is the recipient of Saudi money and the Podesta Group, a major Democratic party public relations firm, is on retainer to the Kingdom. Tony Podesta, founder of the firm, is a longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton.[1]

Mr. Raimondo's piece is about more than just Saudi influence and he finishes with the question on most every ordinary American's lips:
This is the price we pay for empire: interventionism is a two-way street. We send the Marines to foreign lands – and they send their lobbyists to Washington. Our overseas client-states have every interest in maintaining the level of financial and military support that flows out to them, and it’s no surprise that they’re fighting to retain it. The question is: are the American people finally beginning to realize that their overseas empire is a burden rather than a boon? The Fifth Estate is looking out for Number One – but who is looking out for the American people?[2]
There's much more in Mr. Raimondo's illuminating article on how foreign lobbyists distort the American political process. Highly recommended.

[1] "The Fifth Estate: Foreign Lobbyists." By Justin Raimondo,, 4/22/16.
[2] Id. Emphasis added.

ADDENDUM 4/28/16:

"When Media Shill For Saudi Money." Moon of Alabama, 4/21/16.