Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Action == Reaction

     First, thanks to all those who sent “get some rest, you deserve it” notes about yesterday’s “day off.” There was one dissenter, and as I’m married to her, she carried the majority. I wound up laboring on domestic stuff, including a few things I’d been neglecting. So it wasn’t all that restful. But I’m back, nonetheless.

     Physics weenies never completely let go of the mindset. That’s certainly true of me, as the title of this piece implies. As a sometime writer of science fiction with an enduring interest in space travel and the creation of extrasolar habitats for Man, Newton’s Third Law of Mechanics has been one of my betes noires for many years. I’m not alone in that regard; many an SF writer has found it necessary to quietly omit all consideration of the Third Law in telling a tale that includes or implies travel among the stars.

     But the old maxim that “action must equal reaction” has application to more than just the motion of bodies in space. It certainly pops up in political and social currents. Anywhere some group, however motivated, attempts to bring about a departure from the existing order of things, it’s just about guaranteed that a reaction against that divergence will spring up. Whether the “action” or the “reaction” will prevail depends upon whether the “action” group can contrive to dissipate the “reaction’s” force against other items.

     There are several such scenarios before us as we speak.


     Possibly the angriest topic currently in the public eye is this business of public facilities and “transgender rights.” Before I launch the main assault, allow me to say that prefixing any other word to the word rights appears to create an inherent contradiction. It’s a bit like the term “social,” which appears to invert the meaning of any word to which it’s prefixed. (Cf. “social welfare,” “social security,” and “social justice.”) But that’s a subject for a separate screed.

     What’s most remarkable about the “transgender rights” phenomenon is that the Left, which has embraced this as its latest Cause, has provoked a recoil so quick and sharp that for the first time in decades it appears to have seriously wounded itself with its chosen initiative.

     Bill Whittle catches the meat of the thing:

     No one, not even a deaf man, could miss the fury in Whittle’s voice. That fury is well distributed over America. Evidence for a massive backlash against this new Leftist sally is everywhere. Nor is it being expressed in words alone; ask the board of directors of Target.

     Clearly, here we have a reaction that the Left cannot disperse harmlessly. Perhaps it didn’t expect so sharp a recoil. In either case, it’s unwittingly made public restrooms and school locker rooms into an election-year issue – a first for these United States.


     Another, even more interesting case, concerns the Obama Administration’s attempt to “sneak one over the corner” as regards immigration and border control policy:

     On Thursday District Judge Andrew Hanen of Texas found that Obama Administration lawyers committed misconduct that he called “intentional, serious and material.” In 2015 he issued an injunction—now in front of the Supreme Court—blocking Mr. Obama’s 2014 order that rewrote immigration law to award legal status and federal and state benefits to nearly five million aliens.

     When 26 states sued to block the order in December 2014, Justice repeatedly assured Judge Hanen that the Department of Homeland Security would not start processing applications until February 2015 at the earliest. Two weeks after the injunction came down, in March, Justice was forced to admit that DHS had already granted or renewed more than 100,000 permits.

     Justice has also conceded in legal filings that all its lawyers knew all along that the DHS program was underway, despite what they said in briefs and hearings. One DOJ lawyer told Judge Hanen that “I really would not expect anything between now and the date of the hearing.” As the judge notes, “How the government can categorize the granting of over 100,000 applications as not being ‘anything’ is beyond comprehension.”

     Judge Hanen wasn’t about to stop at a mild reproof:

     As a result, Judge Hanen ordered that any Washington-based Justice lawyer who “appears or seeks to appear” in any state or federal court in the 26 states must first attend a remedial ethics seminar on “candor to the court.” He also ordered Attorney General Loretta Lynch to prepare a “comprehensive plan” to prevent such falsification.

     This is unprecedented. It gladdens the hearts of many to whom the “Department of Justice” had begun to seem the first explicitly Orwellian department. It also provides hope that the “Operation Fast and Furious” case and the snowballing investigation of the several felonies of Hillary Clinton might receive the treatment they deserve. And it is entirely a reaction to the steady buildup of presumption on the Left that “as long as we’re in power, we can get away with anything.”


     Finally, an incisive observation about doings in the “oil patch:”

     It isn’t often you see the death of a major worldwide industry. Last week I saw the death of the “Big Oil” economic model. It just died at the hands of Texas oil frackers who have developed a new “disruptive technology” that has made obsolete all the pillars of technology underpinning large, vertically integrated oil companies. More importantly, the same is true of all the petro-states that nationalized Big Oil’s assets in the 1960s to make all the state oil companies around the world today.

     I found this out doing my day job last week as a Defense Department quality auditor visiting a mid-sized oil service company diversifying into federal contracts. The meeting was about issues with the contract they won and touched on others they have bid on. As a side bar at lunch the following points about their main business came up:

  1. Oil field spending has died. Rig count in the USA is the lowest it has been since 1940.
  2. One oil rig controller company these folks worked with saw a year over year drop of 72% in its business.
  3. Another company they supplied had their “Cap-X” budget drop from ~$400 million for 2015-2016 to little over $30 million for 2016-2017.
  4. One drilling company they supplied went from 120(+) new wells last year to _12_ this year.
  5. This supplier sold a lot of copper tubing for “frack-log” drilling. That is the drilling of holes in good oil-bearing rock without fracking rock for oil immediately — and here is the new part — to take advantage of a new long-flow fracking technique.

     J.C. Carlton at The Arts Mechanical adds this:

     The conclusion is that at this point the big oil/petrostate business model is dead. The Saudi’s gamble that they could kill the Frackers with low prices has turned out to be a nightmare, for the Saudis. Not only have they lowered the price beyond anything that the oil states can sustain, but it’s likely that prices will never return to levels that big oil and the petrostates need to be viable.

     Add to that that wildcatters with leases are quietly drilling but capping rather fracking wells means that the frackers can bring production back online as oil prices rise. This fracklog is going to be the petro states nightmare for a long time, more than likely decades.

     The long term pattern, of course, will be marginal increases in crude oil extraction in response to marginal increases in world oil prices: a stabilizing reaction, exploiting technological advances made here in America, to the attempts of the OPEC states to preserve their dominance of the oil market.

     If you’re not cheering and clapping wildly over this, your hands must be occupied and your mouth full.


     That Newton guy was one smart cookie, wasn’t he? Whether or not he perceived the action / reaction couplings in society, they’re there for anyone with eyes to see. Indeed, we can count on them, though we cannot count on the forms they’ll take or the secondary couplings they’ll evoke.

     One that could easily escape notice is the “prepper / off-grid” movement that’s quietly gaining adherents. It’s not uniform. On one end, we have the purists who seek total independence from any political or social institution, such that they could live out their lives without ever interacting involuntarily with anyone else. On the other, we have those who merely want to “make sure of a few things:” these stock adequate provisions with which to withstand short-term dislocations in food, water, fuel, and power supplies. There are many stances between those two. What they share is a determination to prepare for some or all of the possible calamities that could befall a complex society dependent on general good will among men. They’re reacting against Leftist pinpricks such as Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and the perennial riots that occur in whatever city the World Economic Forum or the Group of 20 chooses for its next conference. The level of alarm those pinpricks have generated equals the level of overall preparation among us.

     On that note, imagine that the upcoming Democrat and Republican National Conventions are completely disrupted by riots and mass protests. Imagine that Barack Hussein Obama, to whom the requirements and constraints of the Constitution are nuisances to be waved aside, should make use of the chaos to declare martial law and suspend all elections “for the duration of the emergency.” Obama isn’t very bright; his love of power and position could easily blind him to the magnitude of the reaction that would cause. Even if he should sense the possibility, he could rationalize it away: “Our allies in the media will tell the people that it’s all for the best while the army and the police maintain order and disarm the troublemakers.”

     How do you think you’d react to that, Gentle Reader?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Day Off

     I expect not to post anything substantial today, for several reasons:

  • I’m tired.
  • All the good stuff has been adequately covered by others.
  • I have several items of mundane work to do, and Mondays come “pre-ruined,” so why not?
  • There are unwatched movies and unplayed video games.
  • I’m really tired.

     Yes, all the above will probably still be true come Tuesday morning, but at least there might be some new news. Till then!

When taxes become illegitimate.

On the Panama Papers:
Why can’t tax evasion be a legitimate form of self defense? In some countries and circumstances, it is.

Despite what politicians want us to believe, tax havens exist because some countries have been turned into tax hellholes by officials bent on “social justice” and “income redistribution.” Sometimes, those same politicians top the list of “offshore” account holders trying to evade taxes. [1]

Durden list three principles of taxation identified by Adam Smith, namely that rates ought not to be so high as to stimulate evasion, taxes ought to be for purposes that taxpayers agree on, and politicians should handle tax receipts without corruption. Polities that ignore these principles will generate evasion and rebellion. (He refers to a fourth Smith principle but I missed it if he specified what it is in this article. Stay away from ancient methods of enforcement through murder and torture?)

Of course, the people exposed in the Panama Papers could just as easily have been seeking to conceal the fruits of their corruption. Some people may have been seeking to escape high rates but not all.

Notes
[1] "Guess What Occupation Is Most Frequently Cited In The Panama Papers?" By Tyler Durden, Zero Hedge, 5/22/16 (emphasis in original removed).

Why Bernie resonates.

But in the current state of public opinion where people accept and demand – as Walter Lippmann would say– a large government that administers their affairs for them instead of a government that administers justice among men who conduct their own affairs, it is at best an anachronism to invoke the wise old [Adam] Smith [on the question of taxation].
"Guess What Occupation Is Most Frequently Cited In The Panama Papers?" By Tyler Durden, Zero Hedge, 5/22/16.

Everybody's bitch.

Mexican labor, Chinese rebar and cement, Indian engineering, Japanese and Korean heavy equipment, Venezuelan oil.

Rebuilding American infrastructure will be a boon for the economy and jobs....of everybody but Americans.

Comment by NoPension on "Everything Is Plunging" - China Commodity Carnage Continues." By Tyler Durden, Zero Hedge, 5/22/16

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Distractions: A Sunday Rumination

     It has only recently become clear to me how distraction-filled is my life. No matter what I’m doing at any moment, there are always a bushel of other tasks and subjects clamoring for my attention. Their amassed volume can become quite loud. Perhaps I’m not exceptional in this regard. Perhaps every man that lives is continually beset by innumerable, persistent bids for his attention, regardless of his current focus. God knows, the advertising industry plays its part.

     Yet in this age of the Internet, the distractions have multiplied to a threatening, possibly lethal level. I was reflecting on that before I left for this morning’s Mass, and it strikes me as a topic important enough for a few words.


     About three years ago, Mark Butterworth decided to address the most fundamental of all theological or epistemological questions in a fictional setting. The resulting novel, I Like The White World, is a remarkable, important document. It’s not perfect – no creation of mortal hands can be perfect – but nevertheless it’s a step toward a profound wisdom that I’ve never seen anyone else, lay or clerical, approach with determination.

     The question is one that Christians will recognize from the Gospels:

     Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate said unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and said unto them, I find in him no fault at all. [John 18:33-38]

     What is truth? Not “What is the truth of this matter,” nor “What is truth as an ontological entity distinct from other ontological entities,” but “What is truth” in its indivisible, immutable wholeness?


     The human enterprise reduces to a few very simple quests:

  • The quest for survival.
  • The quest for love and acceptance.
  • The quest for stature among one’s fellows.
  • The quest for knowledge beyond all uncertainty: for Truth.

     If we omit the activities we embrace merely to “pass the time,” everything any man does, has ever done, or will ever do is done in pursuit of one of those quests. Indeed, our actions to secure survival, acceptance, and stature would be pointless were we to do nothing in pursuit of Truth...and among the greatest tragedies of our age is the susceptibility so many have displayed to the preachments of “those who have not joy” (C. S. Lewis) that there is no such thing as Truth.

     The usual avenue of attack is on the limitations of our senses: our ability to observe objective reality. These are real limitations. Even our instruments, as clever as the best of them are, have limits of precision. Our knowledge of the world around us, therefore, will always be approximate: an asymptotic and never-ending quest. Therefore, there will always be some doubt that we “really know” some of what we know about temporal reality.

     I submit that this property of our nature, and of Nature itself, is a gift of two sorts. First, it gives us an inherently unending task to pursue: an important thing for a species with an inquiring nature that must feel itself to be advancing at all times. Second, it causes us to reach beyond perceptible reality for a foundation solid enough to uphold both temporal reality and our intuitions about it. It makes us look beyond the metaphysically given to what can only be grasped through our private, inner senses.


     The distractions to which I alluded nonspecifically in the opening segment are annoying to me because their lures are so attractive. They beckon not with duty but with delight: amusement, entertainment, even sensory pleasure. But to the extent that they divert me from higher priorities, what they offer is illusory.

     Now, I’ll grant without argument that no one can concentrate absolutely on a single “highest priority” until it’s been fully satisfied...at least, not if the goal is at all difficult to achieve. Everyone tires. Those whose goals are especially demanding tire faster than others. To turn from a Quest! to a little light entertainment for refreshment can be an act of self-preservation. But when distractions become the whole warp and weft of life – when one passes one’s time entirely in finding ways to “pass the time” – something is seriously wrong.

     Those badly afflicted with “distractionitis” can fail to recognize what they’ve done to themselves. And I emphasize that this is always done to oneself. No one can distract another person against his will. That’s why we have the word “No.”

     To one straining to hear the inner voice – the one that speaks of eternal and permanent things beyond the reach of our temporal senses – distractions, even those one might value at other times as important respites from a more serious quest, can be a terrible enemy.


     For a conclusion, let’s have a little from The Screwtape Letters:

     Never having been a human (Oh that abominable advantage of the Enemy's!) you don't realise how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the British Museum. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years' work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch.

     The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear What He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line for when I said "Quite. In fact much too important to tackle it the end of a morning", the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added "Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind", he was already half way to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man's head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of "real life" (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all "that sort of thing" just couldn't be true. He knew he'd had a narrow escape and in later years was fond of talking about "that inarticulate sense for actuality which is our ultimate safeguard against the aberrations of mere logic". He is now safe in Our Father's house.

     Remember that Screwtape is a demon, and a rather accomplished one. To him “Our Father” means Satan. The above illustration of the use of distractions not to silence the inner voice but to deflect one’s attention from it is among the most valuable bits of this exceptionally valuable book.

     If you’re a Christian, or one honestly undecided about ultimate things and eager to know more, setting aside time for contemplation and walling out distractions as forcefully as necessary is a critical step. Remember, also, that many agencies of distraction have a certain priority of their own: spouses, children, jobs, important or enjoyed home duties, and the like. These are not evils, but lesser goods. As lesser goods, they should not be permitted to arrogate so much of your attention that none is left for your private ponderings. A healthy psyche requires some time – possibly more than we think – spent alone and in silence, thinking about what our eyes cannot see, our ears cannot hear, and our fingers cannot touch.

     “To hear, one must be silent.” – Ursula LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea

     May God bless and keep you all.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Party Political Dynamics Made Simple

     I’ve been involved in politics, one way or another, for three decades. Over that period, nothing of consequence has changed. The country has continued to slide toward totalitarianism, albeit of a uniquely American sort. The spokesmen of the major parties continue to posture and orate, and now and then a “law” gets passed or a Supreme Court decision is announced, but in the main power is exercised largely by unelected bureaucrats.

     Effort exerted without positive consequences is effort wasted. (Don’t quibble. Muscle building is a positive consequence.) That recognition, conscious or not, has moved many persons to absent themselves from the whole mess. They don’t listen to the news; they don’t read the papers; they don’t contribute to any political organization; and they don’t vote.

     It’s that last bit that’s on my mind this morning.


     The non-voter is often castigated as “lazy” or “uncaring.” That might be true of some. For many, it’s the product of a rational calculation: nothing changes, so why vote? Yet now and again, a non-voter is stirred off his sofa by the appearance of a candidate, or a party platform, that alters that calculation and gives him hope. More often than not, the stimulus is the non-voter’s discovery of a minor party that differs substantially from the major ones.

     There have been many minor parties. For a sample, we have the Populists, the Socialists, the Communists, the Conservatives, the Right-To-Lifers, the Constitutionalists – I borrowed them for a novel -- the Consumers, and of course the Libertarians. None of these get a lot of votes per election, but they do get some – and oftentimes their tally is larger than the margin of victory.

     That can make a major party candidate very angry...especially if the Republican lost the election, and the Libertarian candidate pulled enough votes to make the difference.

     Republican Party candidates have often complained bitterly about such results. They seem to think the GOP candidate has a right to those votes; they act as if the votes that went to the Libertarian were “stolen” from them. They seldom ponder the possibility that he might have to earn them. They seldom pause to wonder whether the only reason those votes were cast at all is that the voters deemed the LP candidate worth the trip to the polling place -- that those voters might have stayed home were he not on the ballot.

     In truth, the LP candidate has done exactly what a minor party exists to do: he’s animated voters most of whom would have stayed home if he weren’t on the ballot, and most of the rest of whom are disgusted with the performances of Republicans raised to office. In effect, his candidacy tells the GOP, “These are the votes you could have had if you were a trustworthy defender of freedom.” He is a linchpin of the political dynamic – a reason for the major parties to sit up, take notice, and contemplate their inadequacies.

     But no one likes to dwell on his failings. Political strategists and aspirants to office like it less than most.


     The political dynamic arises from the nature of a political party: a mechanism for amassing political power. While it is natural that there are only two major parties, the minor ones are important nevertheless. The dynamic functions properly only under conditions of competition – and the more competitive, the better. The minor party candidates function to represent the sentiments of Americans the major parties displease. They offer the major parties a reason to reconsider their platforms, their selection of candidates, and their behavior in office.

     But they who seek power are unhappy with such entreaties. they’d rather not hear them at all. Indeed, they’d rather that no one hear them. So they do what they can, through law and extralegal alliances, to silence them.

     When the major parties succeed in locking the minor ones out of the battle, as they have often tried to do (and have occasionally succeeded), the dynamic becomes perverse: the major parties tend toward convergence. The differences between their de facto postures diminishes. Far more attention goes toward securing earmarks, feeding, servicing, or otherwise mollifying constituents at home, wooing important contributors and supra-political power brokers in the media and industry, and of course, staying in power. It takes a rare event, such as the Democrats’ nomination of William Jennings Bryan in 1896, to cause a major shift in arrangements or allegiances.

     If they could see to it, the major parties would render the minor ones illegal. It would guarantee their grip on power in perpetuity. The major parties would preserve the fiction of independent identities, but in fact they would become a single, silently coordinated “Incumbent Party,” whose inner workings would be visible only to a well-guarded elite. Elections would become even more of a sham than they already are. It is due partly to enormous efforts and partly to good fortune that despite considerable major-party effort to that effect, the minor ones continue to appeal to those Americans who see no difference worth mentioning between the Democrats and the Republicans.


     The only thing that can defeat an entrenched dynamic is a counter-dynamic of equal or greater magnitude. Accordingly, Americans who want something other than the political status quo should seriously consider a minor party -- any minor party – rather than resigning themselves to supporting “the lesser of two evils” at a time when the difference between those evils is shrinking toward invisibility.

     Were the minor parties, in aggregate, to rise to a status at which they command 10% of the vote, the major parties would undergo a convulsive upheaval. A 10% margin in any election is “landslide” territory. It commands respect. It represents “a mandate to lead.” What power-seeker wouldn’t lick his chops at the possibility of winning over that disaffected 10%?

     Note that I don’t advocate supporting a particular minor party. There are differences among them, of course. Some are more focused on one issue than all others. Some are stylistically more to Smith’s taste than to Jones’s. And some such as the wonderfully irreverent Rhino Party, are just for fun.

     What’s important about the minor parties is that all of them are “outside the fences.” If you want the major parties to stop behaving as if they own this country in fee simple and needn’t bother their heads about what you think, selecting and supporting one might be the most constructive means toward that end.

Sticklers.

You know what I find so hilarious...

Nevada Democrat Party ignored the Bernie delegates that gave Bernie the lead in Nevada...

These delegates were ignored because... get this.... Those delegates did not have PROPER ID!!!

So, I guess Democrats really DON'T have a problem with Voter ID and Voter Disenfranchisement... As long as they suit their agenda....

Hypocrite, thy name is Democrat Party...

Comment on "Bernie Sanders can’t afford to stay silent any longer." Editorial, Sacramento Bee, 5/17/16.

Clinton's climate of violence.

This would not have happened but for Clinton's public celebration of violence:
Wendell Pierce, best known for his role on The Wire, was arrested for allegedly attacking a Bernie Sanders supporter on Saturday. According to reports, Pierce grabbed a woman’s hair and hit her in the head for supporting Sanders. Pierce was reportedly talking to the woman and her boyfriend at the Loews Hotel in Atlanta around 3:30 a.m. before the attack took place. He was arrested for battery and was later released on $1,000 bail. Pierce has been very supportive of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and has been outspoken about his dislike for Bernie Sanders.
"Bernie Sanders can’t afford to stay silent any longer." Editorial, Sacramento Bee, 5/17/16.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Quickies: Some GOOD News!

     Now and then, truth and justice do triumph:

     When given the choice of standing alongside a decorated military hero or a bunch of militant LGBT activists – choose wisely.

     The leadership of Hampden-Sydney College learned that lesson the hard way.

     On May 19 I reported to you that the Virginia all-male college had chosen not to renew retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin’s contract – ending his stellar, nine-year career teaching leadership and ethics.

     Less than six hours later, the college reversed its decision and offered the retired general a one-year contract....

     The LGBT activists had wanted Hampden-Sydney to fire Boykin over a joke he made to a gathering of conservatives. They accused him of advocating for violence against gays and transgender people.

     “The first man who goes into the restroom with my daughter will not have to worry about surgery,” Boykin told the crowd.

     Remember always, Gentle Readers: Leftists and their mascot groups have no sense of humor. Then gauge how much of a risk you’re willing to take for the sake of a wisecrack, or the transient pleasure of a little plain speaking.

A Friday Assortment

     As my friend Adrienne has said, some day’s it’s just not worth chewing through the restraints. So have a few blips, slips, and quips instead of a “real” essay.


1. Prospects For An American Collapse.

     The brilliant (and far more beautiful than she thinks) Sarah Hoyt is tired of the doom-and-gloom talk:

     Okay, I’m sick and tired of hearing in every group I belong to that “Doom, gloom, the end is coming soon.”

     Now, I join with you in thinking that we’re on a difficult path and with the pool of two joker-Americans to pick from for the presidency, it might be a mighty step for joker-Americans, but the rest of us are going to suffer a worse economy, diminished prospects and likely, in either case, because hyenas smell blood, war at home and abroad....

     I mean, let’s be real, okay? I’m more than sick and tired of people envisioning a plunge down into the middle ages, or the stone age. I’m more than sick and tired of people imagining that tomorrow we’ll be Venezuela.

     Well, no, we won’t be Venezuela. For one thing, our version of Spanish is a fair distance from theirs and includes words for a lot of drugs the Venezuelans don’t consume. But there are reasons to “hope for the best” but “prepare for the worst:”

     There is, I’m trying to tell you, an inertia to good things as well as bad.

     When he spoke at the Californial LP Convention in 1987, Milton Friedman offered the opinion that the U.S. has been coasting on momentum from the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. However, except in the total absence of frictional effects, inertia diminishes logarithmically with time. We could be nearer to the bottom of the tank than anyone realizes. Indeed, the past fifteen years have provided significant bits of evidence to that effect.

     As hard as it is to change society for the better, it’s also difficult to change it for worse.

     I must disagree. It’s a lot easier to destroy than it is to create. Ask the “Palestinians.”

     Barring a cataclysm of epic proportions, computer programmers won’t become farmers.

     And how grateful I am for that!

     Yes, I know, you’re going to say “what happens when the welfare checks fail?”

     As bad as that would be, the cataclysm that would follow the total cessation of Social Security payments could be a lot worse. Many among the poor are able-bodied – Herbert Spencer called them “sturdy beggars” – who could sustain their lives by manual labor.

     People tend to imagine welfare recipients becoming destitute and descending on other neighborhoods.... they mostly sit in place and lament and try to use their victimhood to get stuff.

     If we were concerned only with the “purely” destitute, this would probably be the outcome of a collapse of the welfare system. However, our “poor” are the most entitled poor in history. Moreover, they’ve been heavily leavened with notions of racial and ethnic maltreatment that inclines a significant fraction of them toward “acting out:” violence.

     Don’t quit your job and become a goat herder.

     Good God, no! I want to be a lumberjack! Leaping from tree to tree!...

     Your first priority should be to maximize your income or your wealth.

     It’s equally important to secure it against seizure – a significant feature of collapses in countries inclined toward socialism.

     Your second priority is to make sure your home is safe...

     This tends to be better done as a community effort.

     Your third priority is making sure you’re safe....being situationally aware.

     Nothing can compensate for good situational awareness, especially when one is in transit. However, those who must frequently leave their fortresses to move through populated zones have a particular problem with this. He who can minimize such travel has an advantage.

     Be not afraid. And don’t give up.

     Be a little afraid. Fear can be a useful servant, as long as it falls short of the magnitude that paralyzes you.

     Please read all of Sarah’s column. If nothing else, it’s a divergent and useful perspective.


2. Trends In Censorship.

     Via Stuart Schneiderman comes this bit of news from the north:

     Citing the need to make transgender people “feel safe and secure in who they are,” Canada’s Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced legislation Tuesday that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of “gender identity” or “gender expression” and make anti-transgender “hate propaganda” punishable by up to two years in prison. The proposed legislation — which was unveiled on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia — would amend the Canadian Criminal Code to expand existing “hate speech” prohibitions to include any public speech or communication that “promotes hatred” on the basis of “gender identity” or “gender expression.”

     Don’t preen yourselves, fellow Americans, on your “First Amendment freedom of speech.” Left-liberals and activists in our hallowed land are demanding exactly such legislation...and should Obama be followed in the White House by either Democrat candidate, we’re very likely to get it.


3. “Deniers.”

     Time was, denier meant something akin to thread count in women’s stockings and pantyhose. Today it’s used in a much different fashion. The esteemed Jonah Goldberg comments on the various ironies and inanities:

     Put aside the fact that there is no such thing as settled science. Scientists are constantly questioning their understanding of things; that is what science does. All the great scientists of history are justly famous for overturning the assumptions of their fields. The real problem is that in politics, invocations of science are very often marketing techniques masquerading as appeals to irrefutable authority. In an increasingly secular society, having science on your side is better than having God on your side — at least in an argument.

     I’m not saying that you can’t have science in your corner, or that lawmakers shouldn’t look to science when making policy. (Legislation that rejects the existence of gravity makes for very silly laws indeed.) But the real intent behind so many claims to “settled science” is to avoid having to make your case. It’s an undemocratic technique for delegitimizing opposing views and saying “shut up” to dissenters....

     For starters, why are liberalism’s pet issues the lodestars of what constitutes scientific fact? Medical science informs us fetuses are human beings. The liberal response? “Who cares?” Genetically modified foods are safe, sayeth the scientists. “Shut up,” reply the liberal activists. IQ is partly heritable, the neuroscientists tell us. “Shut up, bigot,” the liberals shriek.

     (Cue my favorite Andrew Klavan video.) But wait: there’s more!

     In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing to fine businesses that do not address customers by their “preferred name, pronoun and title (e.g., Ms./Mrs.) regardless of the individual’s sex assigned at birth, anatomy, gender, medical history, appearance, or the sex indicated on the individual’s identification.” The NYC Commission on Human Rights can penalize offenders up to $250,000.

     See segment #2 above, and shudder.


     That’s all for today, Gentle Reader. Time for some decaf and fiction. And maybe later, a little yard work. Or not. See you tomorrow.

For Your Listening Pleasure

     The recent death of Prince has elicited a great deal of commentary about him and the many styles of music he went through over the breadth of his career. There’s no question he was comfortable with an unusually wide variety of musical families...but the following short video of a pre-concert preparation session really brings home how multitalented and versatile he was:

     I’ve heard “Summertime” done in many different styles, but the above is the first time I’ve heard it done as a tune-up exercise. And even so, it’s mesmerizing.

     R.I.P Prince Rogers Nelson.

Congress's aversion to its duty.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and other legislators have filed amendments to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in an effort to force a broad congressional debate, especially related to the war against the Islamic State (ISIS). It’s not simply that Congress hasn’t debated the use of force in the war against ISIS. It’s that as a body they actively resist such debate.[1]
The Republican Congress, that is.

Notes
[1] "Congress Is Ignoring Its Most Important Constitutional Duty." By Daniel L. Davis, The National Interest, 5/17/16.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Quickies: Two Governors And Lots Of Sniping

     Third parties don’t appeal to many voters, who are concerned that they’ll “waste” their votes on candidates who “can’t win.” Similarly, politicians who’ve attained high offices as candidates of a major party aren’t often interested in realigning themselves with a third party.

     That’s what makes this significant:

     Seizing new fuel for his appeal to Donald Trump's critics, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson has joined forces with another former Republican governor to strengthen his Libertarian presidential bid.

     William Weld, who served two terms as the Republican governor of Massachusetts in the 1990s, will announce plans Thursday to seek the Libertarian Party's vice presidential nomination, Johnson confirmed in a Wednesday interview with the Associated Press. The pair met privately in Las Vegas over the weekend when Weld agreed to run as Johnson's running mate in the party's upcoming nominating convention and into the general election.

     "We got together and shook hands on it," Johnson told the AP in an interview in Salt Lake City, where his underdog presidential campaign is based. "It brings an enormous amount of credibility to what it is I'm doing. I'm unbelievably flattered by this and humbled."

     Johnson is casting himself as the best — and perhaps only — alternative to Trump, as the New York billionaire's Republican critics struggle to identify another third-party candidate.

     The LP presidential ticket has little chance of scoring even one electoral vote; the one and only time that happened was in 1972, when elector Roger McBride, who would later be an LP luminary himself, cast his nominally GOP electoral vote for the LP ticket of John Hospers and Toni Nathan. However, the two-governor ticket lends increased respectability and seriousness to the LP. From the comments to that article and this one, that has some Republican diehards worried:

     Add 2% to the est 2% head start they get at the starting line in the form of all Dem votes voter fraud, and the 4% total gets Hillary elected. This is a serious election, perhaps the most serious ever. Gary and Weld are not serious men, they should be done with it and join the Dem Party.

     This is good news for: Clinton supporters, And deluded Libertarian voters... who can't admit that their pride and spite will only help Clinton, and hurt America.

     Why don't these douchebags just rips off the mask and endorse Bernie? What utter stooges.

     The underlying assumption is that the Republican ticket “should get” the votes that go to the LP ticket. In other words, the GOP “owns” those votes, and the LP candidates will be “stealing” them. The same claim was made when U.S. Senator for Minnesota Norm Coleman lost to Al Franken in 2008, except with even more venom.

     Among displays of political vanity, that attitude is hard to beat. It also suggests an unwillingness to grapple with why hundreds of thousands of Americans quadrennially cast their votes for presidential candidates “who can’t possibly win” – and of course, an equal unwillingness to work for those votes.

     Hubris is a precursor to Nemesis, Republican partisans. You might want to keep that in mind.

The Not So Hidden Persuaders

     You’ve heard about the Facebook “trending” scandal. You remember the attempt to silence Ezra Levant. You’ve heard about the “lawfare” campaign Michael Mann has mounted against Mark Steyn. And of course, you know about the “safe spaces” rage on American university campuses. The arrows point, generally, in the same direction: a set of blunt-force attempts to suppress news and opinions that displease the Left.

     They’re all bad, noxious, intolerable. Yet they’re not the most dangerous of recent strokes against freedom of expression. There are some that, by virtue of their greater subtlety and ability to couple with our desires and preconceptions, are far worse. Likely they’re attempting to operate on you even as you read this.


     Consider the recent spate of stories about long security lines at America’s airports. I don’t fly any more, so this is of no personal consequence to me...but this revelation most certainly is:

     As travelers suffer through long airport security lines, the Transportation Security Administration is spending millions on advertising, public relations, new uniforms, and office furniture.

     The agency has blamed budget constraints for the nightmarish lines, which have caused 4,000 Americans to miss their flights and 100 travelers to sleep on cots overnight at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

     However, an analysis of recent government contracts reveals that over the past month the TSA has spent more than $2 million on various services unrelated to increasing manpower or improving security.

     The agency awarded a public relations contract worth $53,234 for news clippings and media monitoring from a company that worked with President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign....

     The TSA is also spending heavily on advertising. This month the agency rehired a communications firm that in the past was in charge of the TSA’s “brand strategy.”

     The $1.7 million contract is for “continued marketing services and additional advertising support.” Sage Communications, LLC will provide Google text ads, online ads on travel related websites, video ads, Facebook and Twitter ads, as well as develop a “media plan and social media strategic communications plan.”

     Sage Communications will also monitor and report on the results of its social media and advertising campaigns.

     Once you’ve gotten past the insoluble mystery of why the TSA needs to advertise at all, perhaps you’ll ponder the clash between TSA’s ad spending and its “budget constraints.” The TSA claims to have no money for its core function, yet it has plenty to spend on promoting itself! Intriguing, eh what?

     That’s one.


     The Hillary Clinton email scandal has grown prodigious “legs,” such that no amount of airy dismissals by the candidate can neutralize it. So what’s to be done? Why, this, obviously:

     In the last few days, two articles have appeared defending Hillary Clinton's use of a private server for her classified communications. One, from the famously objective PolitiFact, continued their amazingly uninformed series of "fact checks" with a check of Colorado Senate candidate Jack Graham's statement that "it's clear that [Clinton] violated security laws." The other article was written by Paul Waldman at the Washington Post Plum Line blog.

     Please read the whole thing. Author Charlie Martin knows his stuff – and I can say that with assurance because, having worked in defense engineering for 25 years and having held high security clearances the entire time, I know the security laws and regulations quite well. He demonstrates that the articles at PolitiFact, the Washington Post, and The American Prospect, are erroneous in a fashion that is both consistent and deliberate: conscious attempts by their authors to paper over Mrs. Clinton’s several felonies and thus soothe those who doubt her trustworthiness.

     That’s two.


     Finally for this morning, there’s this adroit bit of indirect slander:

     All over the country, employers say they see a disturbing downside of tighter labor markets as they try to rebuild from the worst recession since the Depression: They are struggling to find workers who can pass a pre-employment drug test.

     That hurdle partly stems from the growing ubiquity of drug testing, at corporations with big human resources departments, in industries like trucking where testing is mandated by federal law for safety reasons, and increasingly at smaller companies.

     But data suggest employers’ difficulties also reflect an increase in the use of drugs, especially marijuana — employers’ main gripe — and also heroin and other opioid drugs much in the news.

     What are we to make of this? Here’s one reaction, from a usually more skeptical observer:

     I'm willing to bet that the Venn Diagram showing "People in poverty" and "People who use drugs" is almost a perfect circle, with just a few slivers on either side.

     Really? Should a sufficiently large number of readers form that conclusion, what elements of our political and media classes are most likely to benefit? Would that strike you as a conclusion the New York Times might want you to reach?

     That’s three.


     When all the errors are in the bank’s favor, you can be forgiven for thinking there’s more at work than sloppy arithmetic. – Me.
     “A mechanical process can reverse a bit at random, but motivation acts like a field — the elements won’t change unless the field does.” — James Tiptree, “Faithful To Thee, Terra, In Our Fashion”

     Persuasion is a much studied field these days. There’s so much money to be made – and not just in selling the public on a new cell phone or a body spray guaranteed to get you “all the way home.”

     The Left has suffered a number of failures in its blunter attempts to bludgeon the American people into buying its nostrums. The reactions against such phenomena as Occupy and Black Lives Matter have been so dramatically negative that the message cannot be missed. While this wasn’t exactly predictable, it was certainly “in the cards,” given the longtime American resistance to such techniques. Accordingly, the strategists and tacticians of the Left have reverted to their earlier tools: gradualism and soothing syrup.

     Gradualism gave us a state of affairs in which it’s possible for a city government to seize a whole community under eminent domain and turn it over to a private developer; for unelected bureaucrats to harass a voter-fidelity activist with the full power of the federal government; for other unelected bureaucrats to fine a couple $16 million for putting a pond on their own property; and for an activist district attorney to indict a Congressman for completely legal fundraising practices and a state governor for a legitimate exercise of his ex officio authority. Gradualism has removed all the Constitutional fetters from political authority. This has been the Left’s design for decades. Now it only needs to put into office men who will use that unbounded power to totalitarianize the country once and for all.

     If there’s a little problem with massive popular resistance, the Left will use its allies in the media to soothe those who dislike what they’ve seen and heard. The media have been good friends to the Left over the decades. Education and journalism have been its bastions since before World War II.

     The process is one of minimization and, when possible, the exploitation of the audience’s existing mindset. Don’t rant and rave denials; merely soften and redirect. Couple the message to what the listener would prefer to believe. Trust us, the TSA says: we’re doing the best we can with the meager resources those skinflints in Congress have allowed us. Hillary Clinton didn’t send or receive information that was marked classified. And all those jobless folks? Well, if they weren’t all on drugs...

     Get the idea?


     Making use of what people already believe, or what they’d prefer to believe if given a reason, is a far more powerful persuasive technique than bullhorning your contrary stance directly into their faces. The master persuaders have known this for a long time.

     Some years ago, there was a faddish set of notions about “subliminal seduction:” the use of persuasive elements below the threshold of conscious perception in broadcast advertising. It turned out that, while those techniques had been tried, they’d proved ineffective. Appealing to the conscious mind provides a more reliable return on investment.

     Review the instances cited above. Think about the other news items and opinion columns you’ve read recently. Ponder your own convictions and preferences, and how you automatically seek out those whose views tend to accord with them. It feels good to encounter a like minded, intelligent man who’ll tell you that yes, you’re the reasonable one, it’s the others who are off base.

     Works, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Unnatural Selection

Back when I was a young teenager (way before the web), I regularly read Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and Hot Rod magazine.  They had a way of igniting the imagination of a thirteen-year-old about what he might drive upon reaching that arbitrary age of sixteen.  In the meantime, go-karts, mini-bikes, and bicycles would have to satisfy that innate yearning for autonomy and speed.
 
One of the solutions that always seemed attainable to a cash-strapped kid was the kit-car.  They appeared in ads near the back of those same magazines.  Cool pictures of a Shelby Cobra GT, a British MG TD, even exotics like the Lamborghini and Ferrari.  The Dune Buggy was the only model that seemed real – or at least not an imitation of a real model.  
  
The prices for those cool bodies always seemed relatively reasonable – as low as $399.  Of course, that did not include the underlying chassis, power plant, and busted knuckles required to make the pipe dream a reality.  It would be on you to find your own Volkswagen Beetle to complete the project.

There is something somewhat similar to the kit-car going on in the South China Sea.  There, the Red Chinese are busy building artificial islands on nature’s VW chassis.  By taking natural reefs and dredging sediment from the seafloor, they’re creating artificial islands.  Some are growing by as much as eight acres a day.


The NY Times reports, “China appears to be pushing ahead with its building spree in the disputed waters.  On Tuesday, Chinese state news media announced that construction had begun on two new lighthouses in the Spratly Islands, adding to the growing number of structures that satellite images indicate China is building, including airstrips.”   The Obama administration argues that China can't use artificially constructed islands to expand its sovereignty, mineral and fishing rights or to impede the international right to freedom of navigation.  
 
Let’s just hope that the invisible-ink pen that Obama’s been using to draw red lines around the globe isn’t water-soluble too.

  Now consider what is going on in America today.  The Obama administration, in a letter to every public school district in the country, has decreed that kids must be able to choose what facilities they’ll use based on their self-declared “gender”.  The declaration goes well beyond bathrooms – it includes privacy rights, education records, and sex-segregated athletics.  Although the letter does not carry the weight of law, it does threaten that failure to comply could result in lawsuits or revocation of federal aid.

It should come as no surprise that Obama wants locker and bathroom use decided by one’s self-professed “gender-identity” over what’s on a birth certificate.


If we do not permit school-age kids to vote, smoke, or drink, why in the world would we let them choose their “gender”?  What kind of a parent gives in to a kid’s every whim or desire – especially on a matter of that magnitude.  Even worse is an administration that would promote this aberrant behavior as acceptable – while demanding the rest of America accepts it too.  


Thinking that a kit-car is the same as the real thing would be wacky.  Acknowledging the artificial islands as legitimate sovereign territory would be disastrous.  Believing gender is a function of the mind or the result of medical modifications is madness.  

Even so, we should have great sympathy for a kit-car that thinks it’s the real thing – no matter how well the bodywork, it’s just a replica.  If girls are suffering from body image issues now with our sex-obsessed culture, just wait until the “girl” that was a “boy” feels the pressure.  What could possibly go wrong?

When questioned about divorce by the Pharisees Jesus reminded them about Moses’ teaching in Genesis:  “But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female.”  Jesus had a stern warning for those that want to let kids decide if they’re “male” or “female” -- “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.   It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

In some perverted way, this is reminiscent of the Obama administration’s foolish “cash for clunkers” program.  The last thing the government should be doing is ensuring the destruction of VWs in order to promote the creation of mere imitations. 

So what is the Obama administration’s response to the contention that when it comes to China and bathrooms they cannot have it both ways? 

 “Yes we can!” 

Quickies: Antipope Francis?

     For some time now, Ann Barnhardt has denounced Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio, a.k.a. “Pope Francis,” as a villain and an enemy of the Church. I’ve tried to reserve judgment on the matter, being: 1) a lay Catholic of somewhat off-center convictions, and 2) not half as certain of my opinions on doctrinal and ecclesiastical matters as Ann Barnhardt. Also, it doesn’t conduce to certainty about a man to be half a world away from him and entirely unacquainted with him personally.

     But with this most recent papal effusion, I’ve moved a whole lot closer to Ann’s opinion of the cardinal from Argentina:

     In an interview on Tuesday with the French magazine La Croix, Francis minimized the difference between Islam and Christianity, arguing that the religions share a concept of subjugation.
     Today, I don't think that there is a fear of Islam as such but of ISIS and its war of conquest, which is partly drawn from Islam. It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam. However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew's Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.

     This connection is so asinine, it can only be explained as a deduction from the liberal tenet that all religions are morally equivalent.

     Let’s make the most generous possible assumptions about what Bergoglio said:

  • That he was misquoted;
  • That he spoke casually and in haste;
  • That he was mistranslated, perhaps deliberately;
  • That he was under pressure to satisfy the interviewer’s agenda;
  • That he simply failed to find the right words to express his intended meaning.

     Even if all the above were provably true, the quoted statement is as massively unwise and anti-canonical as any statement recorded as having been made by a pontiff. Worse, those five generous assumptions cannot simultaneously be true.

     The most benevolent possible evaluation I can make of Bergoglio, given all his other massively unwise (and frequently ignorant) forays into spheres a sensible cleric would instinctively avoid, is that he’s a fool: a well-meaning fool, perhaps, but that kind can do even more damage than a malicious one.

     Did the College of Cardinals have an agenda of some sort when it elevated this man to the Throne of Saint Peter? If so, what could it have been? Nothing in accord with the interests of the Church or Christianity in general, I’d say. Perhaps they sought to “back away slowly” from some of the more conservative stances of Pope Benedict XVI. If so, they got a whole lot more than they bargained for.

     Popes don’t last forever. At some point Bergoglio will depart from the papacy. What sort of man will the College choose to succeed him – and what will their selection tell us about the vector of the Church, the oldest continuously functioning institution in the world and the one most reviled by “those who have not joy,” who would see Christianity extinguished forever?

America: Banana republic.

The United States has begun to fit the social and political profile of a Latin-American banana republic. We have a multicultural society now, fierce racial antagonisms, a weak sense of national identity, a class of superrich who live mostly apart from the rest of the people, a ruling oligarchy, imperial presidents who possess dictatorial powers, a corrupt congress bought and paid for by corporate wealth, a police-ridden surveillance state, and a vainglorious military that, despite its long record of lost wars, remains the only institution in society that commands respect.

William T. Vollmann, in his 2009 book Imperial, writes that Americans have believed too literally and uncritically in their national myths of abundance (unlimited space and resources), money (bringing happiness, success, and national cohesion), progress (everything is getting better) and meliorism (every problem can be solved), and innocence. There are also the conflicting immigration myths of assimilation and mosaic. The first assures us that Mexicans will become like us, and the second that Mexicans will enrich us because they are different. Yet America’s overly generous and undiscriminating immigration policy is driven also by ethnic resentments and politico-economic calculations. As Americans have turned against the policy, naked power has stepped forward to tell them that the policy will remain the same, whether they like it or not. And this is another way that we have become like Mexico: We have awakened to realize that our government is not our own, that we are ruled, essentially, by our enemies.[1]

Not sure I agree with the "vainglorious military" point but I do with the rest of it. Obama got his fundamental transformation alright but he built on a foundation laid by decades of work by leftist fanatics and liars. America has been gutted racially, legally, morally, and politically.

10,000 miles away our troops fight people who are either not our enemies or who can do us little harm all while our own homeland is being invaded by third-world parasites and enemies. No American soldier mans the southern ramparts. Not one.

When the invaders get here, we ply them with public benefits and destroy our legal system's ability to deal with their pathologies and enmity. They shoulder aside Americans in the job market to the cheers of our leftist enemies. We wet our pants in excitement at granting these invaders U.S. citizenship. Shriners on parade floats are more discriminating when they toss Tootsie Rolls to bystanders.

One out of two dynastic contenders for the presidency was eliminated in this year's primaries and the one left standing is a corrupt, foul-mouthed, bloodthirsty, lying Alinskyite who is the darling of the leftist establishment and whose closest companion, Huma Abedin, is described, in part, by Discover the Networks thus:

Longtime former employee of the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, which shares the Muslim Brotherhood's goal of establishing Islamic supremacy and Sharia Law worldwide.[2]
If there's any coherence or rationality to how we approach politics and culture in the U.S. I'm not seeing it.

Notes
[1] "The Mexicanization of North America." By H.A. Scott Trask, Chronicles, 5/5/16 (emphasis added).
[2] Discover the Networks.