Cooking Chitlins: On Experimentation

How joyful it is to welcome chitlin season once again!  Went to my regular supper this past Friday evening, and I must say they were very tasty.

In preparation for the festivities, the preceding weekend I had thawed out a couple of quarts that I’d saved from last winter, and on a whim I tried a little variation when I heated them back up to eat.  Specifically, having warmed them back up, I put a couple of forkfuls’ worth in two teacups.  In one I added Worcestershire sauce, and in the other, Marsala cooking wine.

I am pleased to report that the Worcestershire sauce was a complete success, a result which I confirmed Friday at the chitlin supper when I had them bring a bottle to the table and I tried it out on an entire serving at once.

The Marsala wine was just too strong a flavor.  It may well be that because I added it to the finished product the flavor hadn’t had a chance to mellow out.  Maybe I’ll add it in while heating up a small helping next time.  The jury’s still out on that, in other words.

My next two experiments will involve apple cider vinegar and teriyaki sauce.  The vinegar will definitely be something to add while heating them back up.  I know some folks cook with it in the pot as well, and that’s certainly something I intend to try, based on how the smaller-batch experiment turns out.  The teriyaki will be something that can be, like the Worcestershire, added to the final serving.  You know, if you ever-so-slightly slur “chitlins teriyaki” when you say it, you sound amazingly like you’re saying “chicken teriyaki.”  So the impish chitlin chef could have a little fun offering his unsuspecting guests a nice plate of chitlins teriyaki.

I will keep Gentle Reader informed of my results obtained, as always.

On the Kaiser and the Administrative State

A couple of weeks ago a buddy forwarded to me a photo that a friend of his had taken, of House Doorn in the Netherlands.  This is it:


As Gentle Reader might surmise from the bust in the foreground, this was the house in which Kaiser Wilhelm II spent the last two decades or thereabouts of his life.  He is buried on the grounds there, and is likely to remain there forever.  His express wish was not to be returned to Germany until it became a monarchy again, and the likelihood of that occurring is somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.0.

Being the considerate, courteous feller that I am I thanked my buddy.  I passed along that I have the two-volume biography of Wilhelm by Lamar Cecil, which I found to be very well done, and remarkably fair given the subject.  Cecil doesn’t pull punches, but refrains from gratuitous character-blackening.  But it’s his final comment on Wilhelm that sticks in the mind.  Of the last kaiser it could equally be said, so Cecil, what Wellington pronounced upon George IV:  He lived and died without being able to assert so much as a single claim upon the gratitude of posterity.

My buddy then e-mailed me back to allow that Cecil’s judgment echoed what he had read about ol’ Kaiser Bill in both Paris 1919 and The War That Ended Peace, both by Margaret MacMillan.  I have both and recommend them both, but the exchange with my buddy got me to thinking back to the war’s beginnings.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, the Great War has been a fetish of mine for right at 30 years.  I can’t say I have any friends I know to give a tinker’s damn about it, but for me it is a source of endless fascination and continuing reflection.  [N.b.  By an odd coincidence, a very dear friend of mine had one grandfather who was a machine-gunner for the kaiser; the other grandfather had been a machine-gunner in the A.E.F.]

I have on loan from a mutual friend the BBC mini-series 37 Days, the story of the interval between the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination on June 28 and the August 3, 1914, British declaration of war.  As you might expect from the Beeb, the story is told primarily from the viewpoint of the Anglo-German dyad.  There are two brief scenes each of Franz Joseph and Nicholas II; the balance of the action takes place in London and Berlin.  The central character around whom the narrative is framed is Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign minister.  Ian McDiarmid plays Grey marvelously.

There are a couple of historical inaccuracies in the plot.

Franz Joseph is implied to be the motive force behind the famous ultimatum to Serbia, when in fact it was his cabinet, and above all his military Chief of the General Staff, Field Marshal Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, who seized upon the assassination (which Franz Joseph greeted with, above all, a sense of relief, remarking as much in so many words) to crush Serbia once and for all, both to remove a source of agitation for the empire’s Serb minority and to re-assert Austria-Hungary’s place as a Great Power in Europe.

In Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm’s initial reaction is presented as being bellicose, when it was nothing of the kind.  At least at first.  For obvious reasons the Austrians wanted to know whether they had Germany’s backing in doing anything to Serbia as such in response to the assassination.  So they sent Alexander, Count von Hoyos a foreign service official, with a memorandum in hand to see the Austrian ambassador to Germany, who was then to meet with Kaiser Wilhelm and the German Reichskanzler, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg.  Bethmann-Hollweg’s initial reaction during that meeting — and more importantly, the kaiser’s as well — was cautionary.  But during the Austrian ambassador’s meeting with kaiser and chancellor, Hoyos was meeting with his own German counterpart to “explain” the memorandum’s actual meaning.  Hoyos had long been, it seems, a proponent of violent reckoning with Serbia, and the gloss he put on the memorandum was that Austria wanted a short, victorious war against Serbia and it expected Germany to live up to its alliance obligations.  That “interpretation” was then communicated up to Wilhelm, and by the time dinner came around that evening, Wilhelm was wearing his war paint and declared that whatever Austria wanted to do, Germany would back it to the hilt.  Thus was the famous “blank check” given.

The final point of inaccuracy in the BBC miniseries is that it presents Bethmann-Hollweg as being much more belligerent, and much more energetic about provoking warlike measures by the Austrians, than he actually was.  He’d never served in the army and had no illusions about its out-sized role in Germany policy-making.  He had long been an unsuccessful opponent of Admiral Tirpitz’s quixotic naval construction programs.

But that’s not what this post is about.  The BBC miniseries very accurately presents the role played by the German General Staff, the Generalstab.  The generals very very much wanted a war, but not a war between Austria and Serbia.  They were looking for war with Russia, a preventive war.

What follows below is the (slightly edited) e-mail I sent to my buddy:

If you back up a half-step from the historical narrative and look at the meta-story of it, what you realize is that what was going on was that the responsible organs of government – the kaiser and the reichskanzler — abdicated a central decision-making function – how to address the continent-wide instabilities created by two decrepit, ancient political systems (Austria-Hungary and Russia) as they desperately fought for continued relevance in a notoriously volatile part of Europe — to supposed “experts” viz. the Army Generalstab. 

Everyone and his cousin knew the issue – What to Do About the Balkans, Dear – to be fiendishly complicated. 

But hist! the Generalstab more or less hijacked the decisional process.  For them the issue wasn’t the Balkans as such, it was the supposed settling of accounts (“Which accounts, exactly?” the innocent bystander might have asked) with Russia.  For decades – ever since Caprivi had let the Secret Reinsurance Treaty with Russia lapse in 1890 (I think it was), the Generalstab had assumed a war with Russia as part of Germany’s treaty obligations to Austria-Hungary.  To be true, they’d at first discounted the possibility that despotic Russia and republican France could ever find their way to the same bed, but in 1894 it had happened.  But they were “experts,” after all, and what good is an “expert” if he can’t “solve” any problem you set him, right? 

In 1914, the “experts” of the Generalstab offered several assurances to the responsible decision-makers:  (i)  There was a rapidly approaching, apocalyptic event – the overtaking of Germany by Russia in military and economic power – the result of which, if not stopped, was the utter destruction of Germany as a flourishing polity and puissant European power.  (ii)  Only the Army had the power to stop it.  (iii)  The only method of addressing this on-coming apocalypse was to cede authority and command over events to the experts, who were to be given free hand in crafting a salvation from it, and that salvation was a specifically military solution.  (v)  There were no unknown developments to fearfrom the experts’ be-all-and-end-all solution of provoking a general war against Russia in the east (oh, for example, the American industrial economy being effectively thrown into the scales on the other side, or Italy getting bought by the Allies with promises of Austrian territory).  (vi) Any known risks of side-effects had been fully accounted for and contained (the Schlieffen Plan and knocking France out of the war in six weeks, thereby reducing the British and more critically the Royal Navy to impotence . . . assuming Britain even bothered to come in at all). 

You will readily recognize in the above the fundamental paradigm of the modern state.  The organs pursue their own agendas, which they form internally and without reference, by and large, to the determinations of the responsible political organs.  Those agendas grow from the agencies’ own objectives, the ultimate outcomes of which, whatever other attributes they might enjoy, invariably display one common feature: the increase in the control exerted by that agency, and the protection of its insiders.  The agencies invariably present their programs never as a trade-off among competing priorities, but rather as the sole chance of staving off catastrophe.  The agencies explicitly take the position that no one from outside them can possibly understand their pet issue(s) or be morally entitled to take a position on them which must be respected and is entitled to be accounted for in any ultimate resolution.  The agencies strenuously maintain, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that they possess full knowledge of every possible consequence of their actions, have accounted for those consequences, and have so arranged everything – Everything, I tell you!! – that no meaningful harm can come from just turning the keys over to them, and if we’ll all just shut up and do as they say, the lion will lie down with the lamb and all will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds. 

Hold that template up to nearly every single agency of modern government, and you will see it fits like pigskin on a pig.  The legal system?  Check.  The EPA?  Check.  The Fed?  Spot-on.  The educational industry?  Oh boy yes; try making a suggestion about how classroom education might be improved to someone carrying an NEA card in her purse and see how much an Outsider gets listened to.  Pretty much any of the alphabet-soup agencies?  Like it was tailor-fit to them.  The military?  Pretty much yes, although the cultural memory of Vietnam has done a great deal to pop a lot of seams in the cloth (kind of ironic that the one aspect of modern America which doesn’t fit perfectly the paradigm of summer, 1914 is precisely the American military in its relationship with the responsible organs of government). 

And now remind me how the Kaiser’s decision to put the generals in the saddle in July, 1914 worked out.

We are glibly informed by our president that, “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” and so he’ll jolly well do as he pleases and Congress be damned.

We have the Consumer Financial Protection Board, which actually isn’t a “board” at all, but rather a non-firable single administrator whose budget comes from the Fed’s surplus income and who answers to no one (mercifully, that structure was just the other day ruled to be unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit).

We have the EPA just more or less deciding to destroy the American power system through regulating carbon dioxide as a “pollutant”.  The courts, indulging the lunacy, agreed that what comes out of your chest as you exhale is subject to regulation by the EPA.  Think about that one, Gentle Reader.  The product of one of your basic life processes is subject to regulation in Washington, D.C.  You are a discharge point.  The EPA runs the National Point Discharge Elimination System (at least for wastewater; I can’t say off the top of my head whether it applies to airborne pollutants — like your breath — as well).  Can you say “residency permit” and “internal passport,” Gentle Reader?  Don’t think it can’t happen; the Army Corps of Engineers famously tried to regulate wet-weather pools on private land as being “navigable waters”.

It is an unfortunate fact of Life that it is far, far easier to do harm than good.  It took the better part of 600 years to build the cathedral at Cologne (or Köln, as we Germanophones would say it); one truck bomb lit off by an ISIS sleeper cell (and the German security services have admitted that such are already there) could bring it down with a few hours’ work.  The German Generalstab managed, with a few weeks manipulation of processes and personalities, to provoke a war which just about destroyed European civilization; in fact, it did destroy it.  If in 1895 you’d asked anyone but a raving lunatic whether it was OK to shoot and gas 6,000,000 people because of where — not just they, but their ancestors going back six generations — went to church, they’d have tried to calm you down while they quietly fetched the gentlemen bearing the straitjackets.  If you’d suggested that it was OK to kick hundreds of thousands of people off land they and their ancestors had inhabited for centuries (as happened in Poland, and eastern Germany, and the Sudetenland), they’d have very carefully put a table between you and them.  If you’d proposed that it would be a very good thing to starve to death your entire independent agricultural class, they’d have run for the hills shouting there was a madman on their tails.  And yet by mid-century all this and much, much more had happened, and had been blessed not just by the perpetrators but by “serious” third-party observers, such as The New York Times whitewashing the Holodomor.

What might an uncontrolled administrative state work by way of mischief?  I am afraid that I will live long enough to find out.  I am terrified that my sons almost certainly will.

The Economist Gets It Wrong

This is almost becoming an evergreen post title.  Once upon a time, The Economist was a serious magazine (it describes itself as a newspaper, by the way), to be taken seriously.  It was not at all unusual to open an issue and see letters to the editor from senior sitting cabinet ministers of serious countries.

Not, as Inspector Clouseau would say, any more.  I let my subscription lapse quite a few years ago, and nowadays I mostly read it on the throne in the gents’, here at the office.  I forget just when they went to being a shill for the usual drearily predictable far-left wing causes.  I’ve commented on the style manual apparently in effect at the place, under which every article on no matter what topic has to be tied somehow back into How Awful Global Climate Change is and why it would be real swell if we all just blew up the entire world economy on the off-chance that we might influence the “average global temperature” by two degree . . . 125 years from now.  Or something.

This year they’ve gone all-in to elect Her Herness.  Every week’s edition is full of how horrible it would be if Donald Trump is elected because he says such Mean Things and he’s so tacky and “thuggish” and so on and so forth.

If The Economist has done any extensive reporting on Her signing off on 20% of U.S. uranium production to the Russians, at a time when Her husband was being paid several hundred thousand dollars to give a twenty-minute speech to a Russian bank in Moscow (I mean, for God’s sake, even The New York Times reported on it, it was so egregious), I’ve not seen it.

If they’ve seriously analyzed the detailed report of the FBI director, in which he very meticulously went down each and every element of multiple federal felonies, showing that She checks every single box . . . and then recommended no prosecution, the week after Her husband and the U.S. Attorney General just happened to have a lengthy pow-wow in a private jet (of course! “global climate change” is only a problem when one of the unwashed masses wants to let off a little carbon), it’s got by me.

If they’ve mentioned the time gaps in Her e-mails that she (falsely) represented as being Her complete work-related e-mails — gaps when She was documented as being overseas, and there are days when there’s not one single stinkin’ e-mail in the pile she produced (fancy that: the U.S. Secretary of State is overseas on official business, and not one solitary work-related e-mail is sent to Her or by Her for multiple days, when over Her tenure She averaged 21 per day) . . . I haven’t seen a word of it in their pages.

Just another example: At the same time that Her department is squeezing the government of Sweden on its joyfully doing business with countries which are among the strongest, most active sponsors of world-wide terrorism — including specifically Iran — Her husband sets up a fund-raising arm in Sweden that collects a cool $26 million, and Bill Himself pockets $750,000 from Ericsson, which had been selling communications equipment to Iran for use in that country’s security services.  Almost immediately after Bill pockets his three-quarters of a million dollars for a few minutes’ speech, the U.S. State Department backs off Ericsson, allowing it to “police” itself.

Look:  The Economist is perfectly entitled to pick a side and to toss away its 170-plus years’ reputation for the sake of the ideology of the moment.  I’d wager I’m not the only person who has watched what they’ve made of themselves over the past 20 years, and has decided their subscription just wasn’t worth it (it isn’t cheap and never has been).  They can do without me, and seem to be doing fine.

But I do get fatigued by their relentless propaganda.

The cover story of the July 30, 2016, edition is “The New Political Divide,” in which, in the editorial leader (for those unfamiliar with the magazine’s layout, they lead off each week with a series of editorials, the lead of which is the cover story; then there are the letters and news blurbs; then comes a longer article on specifically the cover story) for which we are informed:  “The conventions [Republican and Democrat] highlighted a new political faultline; not between left and right, but between open and closed.”  By “open” they mean specifically open borders and free trade.  They identify Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as being the hucksters for “closed” and  Her as at best “equivocating.”

I don’t necessarily disagree with the proposition that, all else being equal, the free movement of people and goods across what are, after all, only man-made lines is a Good Thing.  I don’t even disagree with this statement:  “The multilateral system of institutions, rules and alliances, led by America, has under-pinned global prosperity for seven decades.”

Where The Economist goes off the rails is in the bait-and-switch of its analysis.  The key word here is “global,” but not in the sense that they wish us to take it — that is, “world-wide”.  Yes, the post-World War II prosperity has become world-wide, and even over just my own adult life has accelerated beyond any measure that could reasonably have been hoped for it at my birth.  It’s just amazing.  But:  The mood that has fueled the rise of Donald Trump is not an antipathy for “open” but a resentment that the benefits of “open” have become, over recent years, anything but “global,” at least not in the sense of “commonly shared by everyone”.

You see, there is a wide perception — and one backed by reality, unfortunately — that the population has become separated into two groups.  One the one side are those groups who bear the chief burdens of “open,” and on the other those who enjoy the bulk of the advantages.  The floods of illegal immigrants from Mexico and points south, and who are supposed now to receive work permits, driver’s licenses, welfare benefits, public housing rights, and so forth, are not competing for jobs, housing, and economic stability with those who most strenuously advocate their continued tide.  It’s pretty safe to say that not a single staffer at MSNBC is going to lose out on a job or promotion to an illegal immigrant.  Nor will a single government functionary.  Nor will a professor at a college.  Or a lawyer.  Or a doctor.  Or an accountant.  Or . . . well, you get the picture.  But the guy who drives a truck delivering auto parts to dealers around Little Rock, for example?  His livelihood is at stake when someone able (because living with three generations of four separate families, all wedged into a three-bedroom house) and willing to work for 40% less than he’s been making now has a work permit and doesn’t have to fear deportation when he gets his commercial driver’s license.

By like token, it doesn’t take much persuading to convince our out-of-work former factory worker that the rules by which China is allowed to play “international trade” are so stacked that he’s just plain screwed, now and for all time.  The guy who used to work making machine components has watched his company shut down the factory because of over-regulation, higher taxes, increased labor costs (only a small portion of which our hypothetical worker can trace into his own pocket, by the way), or whatever, and then move production overseas.  Company’s now doing fine; our Worker, not so much.

And then, of course, he sees the wealthy and prominent scofflaws doing as they damn well please, while his kid gets ground up in the juvenile justice system over a playground fight.  He sees Her getting caught red-handed compromising our national security, and likewise getting away with it.  He hears stories of enormous banks pushing loans to people they know can’t afford them, and then when the borrowers go belly-up, the banks thoroughly gun-deck the foreclosure process . . . and nothing seems ever to happen to them.  They remain as big as ever, and he hears the sums of money — tax money, his tax money — shoveled out to them to keep them afloat.  He hears a presidential candidate dismiss his concerns as “clinging to his guns and religion.”  He hears his home, his family, the world he grew up in and would like to pass down, to some degree at least, to his own children dismissed as “fly-over country”.  He is told that he is a bigot if he dares to question the wisdom of the Elites.  He is — at least if he is white — constantly accused of something called “white privilege” and for the life of him he can’t understand what’s “privileged” about having gone to work at age 16 and paid for every damned thing he owns out of his own pocket.  He notices that the people pasting these labels on him seem to be doing conspicuously better than he and his family are.

Precisely how reasonable is it not to expect a population so treated to embrace someone who promises to Change It All?

What The Economist seems to forget is that once upon a time most of a country was pretty easy to convince of the benefits of free trade.  In 1906 the Liberals in Britain blew up the Unionist Party in a general election.  The Unionists had pinned their flag to protectionism.  The Liberals wrapped them in the issue and rode to a landslide victory.  People can understand the benefits of free trade . . . when those benefits can be shown to benefit themselves in ways they can see.  It’s when “free trade” is used as a cover for the Insiders to get fat while the rest of the joint goes without that people turn away from it.  It’s the perception — and especially when that perception increasingly tracks reality — that the world is rigged against them that will turn people against that system, time after time.

I suggest it’s not just generic “inequality” that has got Americans up in arms this year.  America has never really done envy very well.  For decades the socialists would complain about how they just couldn’t get much traction here, setting class against class.  In America, they found, even the poor were determined one day not to be poor, were pretty OK with a system that would let them one day not be poor any more, and in fact even become well-off, and expected one day not to be poor. And they expected their children would not remain forever poor, forever shut out from opportunity to better themselves.  But what Americans can’t stand is a scam, a fraud, a rigged game of heads-She-wins-tails-you’re-a-bigot-and-lose-your-job-to-someone-whose-very-presence-here-is-a-crime.

But then again, no one at The Economist is going to lose his job to some government-backed factory in China, or to some guy who gave the finger to the country’s immigration laws and now has a work permit and lives in public housing.  No child of a staffer there is going to be rejected by a college because X% of the class entering places are now reserved for children of a certain color, or from special places, or whose parents speak very specific languages, or who engage in peculiar — very peculiar — behavior.  They know how to work the system and its rules; their children will do just fine.  Our truck driver from Arkansas?  His 17-year-old daughter is trying to navigate a house of mirrors and he can’t help her and he knows it.  You really want to piss a man off?  Set his child up to lose out and then keep him from pitching in to help.  And then rub salt in the wound by lecturing him on how contemptible he is while you’re doing it.

Yes, there’s a political divide out there, but it’s got bugger all to do with the one The Economist preaches to us.

Sometimes You See it in a Single Card

[Ed. — Wow.  I haven’t put anything up on this humble little blog since spring.  What have I been doing?  I couldn’t tell you, for the life of me.  The time just sort of heaves and sighs, and poof! there are another few months gone under the bridge.  Is this what we have to look forward to, as we age?]

You can see it in the slightest things, sometimes.  Someone in whom a particular mind-set, a philosophy, a Weltanschauung is so stamped that it has become a part of who he unthinkingly is will sometimes do or say something and not realize that he has laid bare, to some degree, the most fundamental mechanisms of his soul.  Reporters, the overwhelming majority of whom in Western societies are hard-core leftists, are especially prone to do such things.  They’re so far to the left that they don’t even realize that they are leftists; that’s just how the world looks to them.  And so they’re forever turning cards face-up on the table so that the rest of us can see what’s going on behind their eyes.  They’re no more self-conscious about it than a dog licking his balls.

I recently ran across a splendid example of it, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the newspaper I’ve used as my internet start page ever since CNN took to shilling for al Qaeda back in 2006.  [Remember the snuff film they produced, of U.S. soldiers getting killed by snipers in Iraq?  They made and released that film in an explicit, self-proclaimed effort to influence the outcome of the 2006 mid-term elections.  CNN took that film, which its own makers had announced as an intention to subvert the American political process, and ran it, again and again and again.  What would we have thought if the Germans had made a similar film in 1944 and then Movietone had run it with the newsreels before every showing of every film in the U.S?]

The article deals with a statute with a wonderfully German name:  the Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz, or the Federal Education Improvement Law.  With typical glee in abbreviation and acronym (the Gestapo’s nickname was also one: in truth its full name was the Geheime Staatspolizei) it’s universally known as Bafög.  In round numbers it provides for federal level financial aid  to German students who are attending university (and presumably the technische Hochschulen as well).  The process starts with filling out a standard form, much like the FAFSA form here in the U.S.

At least, the Bafög provides that financial aid to students whose families aren’t well-off above a certain threshold.

The article’s title — “Unity and Justice and Bafög” is a play on the first words of the German national anthem: Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit, unity and justice and freedom.  The point of the article is that our newly-minted Abiturient — the holder of the coveted Abitur, which allows you to attend college in Germany — looking forward to the freedom and Selbstbestimmung (self-determination) of adulthood, with the university years as joyful, stimulating, liberating, challenging, endlessly intriguing opening chapter, is in for a let-down when he sits down to fill out the Bafög application. You see, on page 3 of the form the student is required to state his parent’s income and resources.  Too much and you don’t get any Bafög assistance.

Oopsies!  Turns out the blossoming student isn’t viewed as being quite liberated from his parents, after all.  More to the point, his ability to be a care-free student —

is materially affected by attributes of his family.  Wait.  Isn’t one of the Big Points of university exactly the separation of the student’s identity from that of his background?

The article correctly states the issue implicated:  We are called upon to take a position in the “eternal conflict between freedom, equality, and justice”.  You see, the problem with Bafög is that it is taxpayer funded.  By all taxpayers.  Including the baker whose son is doing an apprenticeship at the local machine shop, whose daughter is a waitress at the restaurant down the street, and whose wife is a nurse’s assistant at the hospital.  His and their money is being taken from them to fund the heightened life prospects of our new student.  Remind us again how this is just and equitable, if the student’s ability to launch himself in life with recourse to the resources of those who — at this point in life at least, before spouse and children appear — have the No. 1 Biggest Stake in his future prospects, is not to be taken into account.  [Note that just making university “free” to everyone doesn’t address our baker’s objections.  He’s still having to fork out to give someone else’s child a leg up in life, irrespective of the ability to help of that child’s parents.]

The article suggests that from our hypothetical tradesman’s perspective, it would be much fairer to require the student and his family to borrow the money and then pay it back from his presumably greater earnings.  As they do it in America, the author points out.  But what has been the result of that system in America, the author asks.  “Mountains of debt” just at the outset of one’s career.

The other way to go is the Scandinavian model, in which everyone — including the children of millionaires — has a right to support from the state.  To treat the children of the wealthy differently would be “not to take them in earnest.”  Whatever.

And now, the tell.  “The liberation from the oppressing bonds of background, which it [the money-for-everyone system] promises the student, has another hook.  It only come as a package.  In other aspects of life as well the state prefers to work directly, without disruptive intermediaries such as the family, with people.”  It is a “großangelegtes Vereinzelungsprojekt” — a comprehensive atomization project — with “grave side effects.”

There you have it.  The socialist system rests upon what is in substance an unlimited claim upon the individual humans who make up society.  It cannot and will not tolerate any other locus of power or independence.

First and foremost is the nuclear family.  It is no accident that among the earliest “reforms” of every socialist dictatorship (and they all are, even the Scandinavian ones with the smiley face) is a programmatic subversion of the nuclear family.  Divorce laws are loosened, the legal privileges of married status are withdrawn.  Children are removed, sometimes by force (membership in the Hitlerjugend or the Young Pioneers was not optional), and often by enticement (universal “free” day-care, anyone?) from their parents’ supervision.  The adults from whom they receive their daily, drip-drip-drip of influence are no longer the parents (or grandparents, or older siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, and so forth) but rather government functionaries, teaching lessons, values, and self-understanding chosen by the state.  Children are encouraged to spy and report on their parents.  Those who do (or who are said to have) are celebrated, publicly.

Churches come into the cross-hairs for the same reasons.  From the liquidation of the hierarchy under the Bolsheviks to Hitler’s co-opting the German churches — kudos to Bonhoeffer and the other organizers of the Confessing Church movement in Germany; they weren’t going along to get along — there is a remarkably consistent pattern in the subversion of religious organization by socialist government.

The Cultural Revolution was more of the same.  A couple of years ago I read a fascinating biography of Chairman Mao, and of course that period comes in for some close examination.  Traditional Chinese society is, of course, exactly that: deeply and abidingly traditional.  Although the Reds had completed their formal conquest of the country by 1949, and even though they had starved — very intentionally, by the way — somewhere between 45 and 60 million people — mostly peasants — to death during the Great Leap Forward (the link is to the Wikipedia article, which give a high of 42 million and a low of 18 million; on the other hand, this history gives the 45-60 range), Chinese society still remained in many of its core organizing principles the same traditional society it had been.  Mao realized that he had to smash, irretrievably, that hold which tradition had, because in traditional Chinese society the state, as such, played so small a part in everyday life.  Hence the Cultural Revolution’s targeting of everything which traditional China revered, first and foremost the teachers.

It was Mussolini who made famous the formulation: Everything within the state; nothing outside the state; nothing against the state.  This is the first and basic credo of the socialist.  You can pretty it up and say, “Government is just the name for the things we all do together,” but it’s the same thing.  You can stick a label on it — Gleichschaltung — so you can speak in catch-phrases.  You can even attempt to replicate it, to some degree, in the context of a free association, in such things as labor unions, with their ladies’ auxiliaries, athletic teams, children’s groups, and so forth.  But that doesn’t really work, does it, without coercion.  Witness what happened in places like New Harmony:  Without the coercive power of the state, the experiment in an all-encompassing socialism flew apart under the stresses of its own centrifugal forces.

Which is why, at bottom, if the premise of socialism is this unlimited claim upon the individual lives of the people, its essence is violence, physical coercion.

But how does this fascism-with-a-smiley-face play out in wonderful Scandinavia?  Let’s go back to that FAZ article for a reference to just one of those “grave side effects”:  “There are for example few lands in which so many people as in Sweden die completely alone, without any connection with their family.”  Or we can look at the WHO data on alcohol-related disorders:  For males, the rate in the U.S. is 5.48%.  In Sweden it’s 6.32%; in Finland 6.39%; in Norway (you know, that place we’re all supposed to be like) it’s a whacking 9.05%.  Here’s a link to an article in The Washington Post about the prevalence of diagnosed depression.  In the U.S., according to the map at the link, the rate appears to be in the 4-4.5% range.  It’s hard to tell from the map (there’s a further link to the underlying study, if Gentle Reader wants to read that far), but it looks like Sweden comes in at 4.5-5%, and Finland and Norway at 5.5-6%.  Those don’t sound like terribly bad numbers, until you consider that the jump from 4% (the U.S. low-end) to 5.5% (the low-end in wonderful Norway) is a 37.5% leap.

It looks, in other words, as though whatever else the intrusion of the state into every nook and cranny of its citizens’ lives is working for the better, it still seems not to do a very good job of avoiding your dying drunk, depressed, and alone.

Cheer up, Comrade.

Variations on a Theme by Ferguson

As I think I’ve mentioned on this humble blog before, the most interesting part of the U.S. Department of Justice report on the Ferguson, Missouri riots was not the racial aspect of what the Ferguson police department were or weren’t doing (and certainly not the conclusion that the officer was perfectly justified in shooting dead a violent felon who’d already made one attempt to seize the officer’s weapon and use it again him).  It was the degree to which Ferguson monetized its city court system and by extension its criminal law powers.

We are now seeing a variation on that theme, except that now we’ve got two rent-seekers fighting over the spoils.  “Rent-seeking” is what economists call the practice, as phrases it, of “seeking to increase one’s share of existing wealth without creating new wealth.”  Among the most egregious rent-seekers are (i) government at all levels, and (ii) lawyers.  I still recall hearing a fellow lawyer gloating over some peculiarly ill-advised statute which our state legislative assembly had passed, with specific emphasis on what a boon it was going to be for lawyers such as himself.  It made for depressing listening, the more so when I considered that he was correct.  That statute was going to generate untold extra business for lawyers in situations where the world just doesn’t need lawyers to be mixed up in them.

There is a company in Utah, Corrective Education Company, which markets its services to retailers.  For retailers, Gentle Reader should understand, shoplifting is a non-insurable risk.  That means that when someone steals from them, they either get it back themselves or they eat the loss.  It is part of the reason that, as the (true) saying has it, “The poor pay more.”  They do.  They do that because in poor neighborhoods losses to shoplifting are greater, the margins are thinner, and the money to cover the losses has to come from somewhere.  So it comes from everyone paying more for the same product.

What Corrective Education Company (CEC) does is a species of what is known in civil litigation as “alternative dispute resolution,” or ADR.  The point of ADR is resolution of civil disputes is that it is faster that a full trial and the results are less subject to judicial screwing-up.  It is phenomenally popular among economic actors whose business existence is exposed to repeated risk of litigation.  CEC has taken that same concept and is applying it to criminal offenses, specifically shoplifting.

What happens is that when a perp gets caught shoplifting from a CEC client, he is offered a choice:  He can have them turn him into the police for criminal prosecution, or alternatively he can sign an admission of what he did, then go through what CEC promotes as a “life skills” course the point of which is to impress upon the perp why it’s not a good idea to be a criminal and some degree of how to avoid staying a criminal.  And the perp pays CEC, roughly $500 or so.  Some portion of that money goes to the victim, but most of course stays with CEC.  Oh, and by the way, the perp doesn’t end up with a criminal record.

This idea has sparked outrage from entirely predictable quarters.  Remember Ferguson?  Well, there is an entire host of players who feed off the criminal justice system.  Police, prosecutors, court staff, judges, and then the whole tail-end process — the probation services companies (many if not most cities contract that out, either to private operators or to larger government entities, like the state itself), drug testing companies, counselors, and other busy-bodies.  The perps pay for them too, by the way, through the assessment of court costs, fines, and fees for all those private probation service companies, drug testing companies, counselors, and other busy-bodies.  Those outfits sure as hell don’t work for free, and the taxpayers have no interest in funding them.

What made the Ferguson system so pernicious, and I can vouch that their offense was distinct only in degree, not in kind, is that when the perp who’s copped a plea so that the prosecutor and police can tick that box off as being a closed case can’t find a job because of a criminal record, or can’t hold a job because its attendance requirements are inconsistent with having to run down to his probation officer every week or however often, and so can’t pay his court costs, fines, and fees, or he’s just not making enough money to pay them, he gets cycled back through the process, spending time in jail on the way (so he loses what job he had, and now can’t pay those court costs, fines, and fees), and on and on.  Plus, he’s now got a criminal record.

By the way, the court costs, fines, and fees for even a misdemeanor offense are uniformly a helluva lot higher than $500.

At any rate, in California (Gentle Reader knew that was coming, right?), the San Francisco city attorney has sued CEC, alleging that what it’s doing is extortion, false imprisonment, and so forth.  The case was filed back in November, 2015; I just saw a television news report of it yesterday on my way through a room where a television was on.  So I decided to see what I could find out about it.  Here’s the Los Angeles Times write-up, complete with link to the complaint filed.  And here Reuters, and SFGate, with their respective write-ups.

Let’s get an idea of the scope of the problem, from the LAT:  “Last year alone, retailers lost $44 billion to theft by shoplifters, employees and vendors, according to a national retail security survey. The CEC founders have said their ‘vision is to reinvent the way crimes are handled, starting with retail theft.’”  Forty-four billion dollars literally walking out the door.  Mind you, that’s not breaking-and-entering, or hijacking the trucks carrying product.  That’s broad-daylight theft.

Now let’s hear from the city attorney who’s filed the suit:  “But the civil lawsuit, filed in San Francisco County Superior Court, calls the tactics ‘coercive’ and ‘deceptive’ and says the program ‘has not been approved by any California court or prosecutor.’”  Well, of course it’s not been “approved”; this is a competitor to the other side of the criminal law industry.  They’re offering first-time perp a roadway out of his pickle for $500 and six hours pissed away in a seminar.  Versus dozens of hours spent with police, prosecutors, waiting around at cattle-call court dockets, then many hundreds of dollars in court costs and fines, followed by several thousand dollars to some private probation supervisor and drug-screening company (along with the hundreds of hours pissed away dancing attendance upon them).  Whom, exactly, does Gentle Reader think the owners, management, and employees of these third-party providers support come election time?

Even more to capture the motivation behind this lawsuit, here’s a longer extract from the LAT article:

“But legal experts said that particularly in California — where Proposition 47 has made petty theft a misdemeanor — it is unlikely that police and prosecutors would have pursued it.

That makes the threat of referral for prosecution problematic, said Stanford Law School professor Joan Petersilia, who with her students is surveying the increase in diversion programs — some of which partner with for-profit companies — that have resulted from shifts in California criminal justice policy.

Petersilia called CEC’s tactics ‘just so obviously wrong’ and said they do not fit the philosophy of restorative justice, which is based on empathy for the injured party and a solution that repairs the harm.

Most of the money under this model goes to CEC, not to the retailer or injured party, she said, adding that for those with money, it is not punitive enough, and for those without, it is unduly harsh.”

“Just so obviously wrong”; that is a characterization for use by someone who doesn’t really have an argument that will stand up against being pushed against.  What is the “tell” (to use a poker expression) for what is really going on here?  It’s in the bland phrase “increase in diversion programs — some of which have partnered with for-profit companies — that have resulted from shifts in California criminal justice policy.”

This is nothing more than a fight over the money that can be extracted from petty criminals.  Remember that, for starts, such crimes are at the bottom of just about every prosecutor’s priority list.  That’s just a fact of life, both for economic and political reasons.  No district attorney has a budget that will permit him to go hammer-and-tongs after every petty thief.  No district attorney won or kept office on a campaign platform of cracking down on the gal grabbing a lip-stick on her way out the door.

Most important to remember, in deciding how vigorously to wring one’s hands at the horrors of these perps getting nabbed not by the constituted authorities but by their own victims, is that even when they are prosecuted,  all that money in court costs, fines, and fees to those “diversion programs — some of which have partnered with for-profit companies” also does not go to “the retailer or injured party” either.  It sticks with the court officials, with the penal system, with those “partners” of the criminal legal system.  So Ms. Petersilia’s crocodile tears don’t move me much.

I long ago abandoned using the expression “justice system.”  No, what we have is a legal system.  In fact, it is more properly characterized as an industry.  It feeds multiple actors, some governmental, others private.  But what they all have in common is that they all pay their home mortgages, put tires on the car and shirts on their kids’ backs off the proceeds — we may call them the back-end proceeds — of crime.  They have livelihoods for so long, and only for so long, as an endless stream of perps is dragged through a legal system which is tailor-made to extract the maximum amount of cash from them for the minimum input in time.  Take away that cash and they’ll have to go get jobs and convince others to do business with them.

CEC is neither more nor less than threatening the rice bowl of an entrenched cadre of rent-seekers.  And so I have zero sympathy for their plight.

Harriet and Andy

The news in numismatics this week is that Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, is to be booted from the face of the $20 bill in favor of Harriet Tubman, of Underground Railroad fame.

Jackson’s getting the axe for two reasons:  The present administration is determined to put a face on U.S. currency that is not a white male face, and Jackson owned slaves.  He is also warmly despised for ejecting the Five Tribes from the Eastern United States.  So he has to go.

Harriet Tubman was a leading figure in the organization and operation of the Underground Railroad, that system of hiding places and safe houses which conducted escaping slaves from their points of origin to Canada, where the fugitive slave laws didn’t apply.  It was work conducted, at least in the South, at peril of the parties’ lives, and once in the north, at peril of arrest and imprisonment.

Suffice it to say that Harriet Tubman was equipped with guts enough to equip a regiment.  If you were to set out to fill an auditorium with the Greatest Americans who have thus far lived, she’d have a seat somewhere.

And yet I do not favor kicking Andrew Jackson off the $20 to make place for her.


For starts, a portrayal on U.S. paper currency is, if you will look at it, presently reserved for people who did great deeds in their capacity as public officials, not for acts of private significance, however worthy.  The only even possible exception is Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill, but even then, Franklin was among the United States’ most important public servants.  The revolutionary alliance with France, that enabled us to win the war for independence in the first place, was a product of Franklin’s credibility at the court of Louis XV, of Franklin’s acknowledged place in world society (he regularly corresponded, as an equal, with the pre-eminent scientific minds of his generation).  Even before the war, he represented several colonies in London, and it was his personal experience of vituperation in Parliament which decided him that continued affiliation with Britain was not a workable long-term solution.  Later, he was a key player in the constitutional convention in 1787.  So even though he never held any public office under the United States Constitution, he was one of the men but for whom that compact would never have come into existence.

The other public servants scarcely need introduction.  Washington?  Father of the country.  Lincoln?  His deeds require no justification for the reverence in which we hold his memory.  Hamilton?  Father of our national economy (and also a key player in the constitution’s birthing).  Grant?  If being the key commander in winning the Civil War doesn’t merit his place, what might?  On coinage the pattern is similar.  Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson.  Eisenhower, who held together the Western allies in defeating Germany.  The two heads I don’t really understand are Truman’s on the dime and Kennedy’s on the half-dollar.

There is a single exception, and one that never took off:  The Sacagawea dollar (by coincidence I happen to have one in my pocket at this moment).  But even she has a claim to a service in the public interest:  It was she who guided the Corps of Discovery (better known at the Lewis and Clark Expedition) over the western mountains, who was valuable in securing for them the safe passage from the tribes whose lands they crossed.

Now let’s think of why Jackson might be on the $20 bill.  He was the founding light of the oldest continuing political party in American history.  Being a party hack doesn’t really merit a spot on the currency, though, does it?  Victor of New Orleans?  Well, as every school child knows, that battle was fought after the peace had been signed, although the point has been made that it in fact was not, in all likelihood, totally irrelevant for that reason.  There is strong reason to believe that Britain, had it been in possession of the mouth of the Mississippi, would not have surrendered it willingly after the war, which would have utterly changed the complexion of later American development.

No, I think Jackson earned his spot on the $20 bill when he stared down the South Carolina nullifiers.  As Gentle Reader will recall, a protective tariff had been adopted for the benefit of northern industrial interests.  The new imposts had the desired effect, of making imported manufactured goods more expensive than domestic production.  The burden fell hard on the Southern agricultural interests, because of their dependence upon their trade relationships with the British to move their cotton crop.  They bought a large proportion of their manufactured goods from Britain as a result of that trade.

Needless to say, the Southern interest was outraged at the new tariff law.  South Carolina announced an intent to “nullify” the federal statute.  It even passed an ordinance declaring the law to be unconstitutional and null within its borders.  It just was not going to apply in South Carolina (sort of like all these bullshit “sanctuary cities” that have announced that the federal immigration statutes don’t apply within their city limits — San Francisco is very much in the slaveholders’ tradition in this respect).

Let’s pause for a moment and take stock of where things stood during the Nullification Crisis:  In 1832-33 the United States was still a comparatively weak country, a comparatively small country.  Its parts were not yet bound by an enormous rail network, and outside the coastal plain there weren’t even all that many canals.  Large areas were still virgin wilderness (that situation applied far longer than one might expect: not far from where I live there is a county in which there were still over 100,000 acres of virgin hardwood in 1910).  The forces of cohesion in the country were still fragile, and there were still many powerful actors in the world who would have rejoiced in a failure of what was then known as the American Experiment.  This was still a world in which people’s demands for written constitutions were believed to be, and were treated as, an act of rebellion.  In fact, the Revolutions of 1848 in Central Europe were based in large part on precisely that — demands for written constitutions to tie down monarchs’ privileges.

[By the way, note what this understanding of constitutionalism has to say about the notion of a “living constitution.”  Until the U.S. Supreme Court got into it, everyone understood that a written constitution was written for the precise reason that its meaning did not morph over time into whatever you wanted it to say.  The U.S. Constitution was a revolutionary document for exactly the reason that it was written and its meaning did not change to suit the whims of the ruler of the moment.  The idea of a “living constitution” in which no provision has any permanent meaning does violence to the very concept of a constitution, and until the American left got at it, was universally understood to do so.]

The United States with its written constitution was a direct and immediate threat to all those crowned heads in Europe who fiercely resisted the pressure to shackle themselves to a written document with ascertainable substance.

Had South Carolina succeeded in openly defying the federal government as to Congressional action in respect of a matter unambiguously placed within its constitutional competencies — the regulation of trade with foreign nations — the American Experiment would have failed.  The country would not have survived, and there would have been no Underground Railroad because the borders would have been largely closed off.

Jackson was having none of it.  Congress authorized the Force Bill to compel South Carolina’s compliance with the law.  But of course, it would have been Jackson as commander-in-chief who would have been charged with implementing that, or not, and if so, how vigorously.  And what was Jackson’s position?  Well, a visitor from South Carolina asked him if he had any message he’d like to send to the good folks back home.  Jackson gave it to them with the bark still on it:  “Yes I have; please give my compliments to my friends in your State and say to them, that if a single drop of blood shall be shed there in opposition to the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man I can lay my hand on engaged in such treasonable conduct, upon the first tree I can reach.”

South Carolina knew he meant every last word of that promise.  Compare and contrast Dear Leader’s “red line” in Syria that wasn’t.  South Carolina knew what it had to expect from Jackson, and a compromise was reached.  Syria knew what it had to expect from Dear Leader, and it has acted accordingly.

Jackson, in short, did no more and no less than save the union in 1832-33, at a time when there was an immediate danger of its dissolution.  For that, he more than deserves his place on the $20 bill.  Whatever Harriet Tubman’s private courage and dedication to the cause of human liberty may have been, her life’s work simply does not rise to that level of national significance.  The Underground Railroad never would have changed a damned thing about the institution of slavery; there is no way on earth they could have spirited enough slaves out of the South to make any but the most minuscule dent on the institution.  It took a civil war to make that happen, and had it not been for Jackson’s stance in the face of the nullifiers in 1832-33, there never would have been the northern industrial and demographic powerhouse twenty years later which tore the poison lance of slavery from the national body by main force.  Just wouldn’t have happened.

If you absolutely want to have Tubman’s face on U.S. currency, bilge either Truman or Kennedy, preferably the latter.  But to degrade the man whose courage saved the country betrays a profound ignorance of American history.

My Own Identity

Gentle reader will have observed, perhaps, that I quite carefully avoid writing about topics, or mentioning searchable data, which would permit me to be identified.  This is not accidental; I decline to expose myself to the kind of internet harassment which is now a standard part of the generic toolkit which today’s leftist carries with him.

But today . . . today, I will reveal Who I Am.

Before we get there, though, I want to share a few thoughts on what has become (in)famous across America as “H.B. 2,” or House Bill 2, the legislative designation for the statute which recently became law in North Carolina.  Here’s a link to their legislative website that has the full text of the statute.

Several of my leftist Facebook friends have been feverishly posting all manner of tripe about how the thing is Just Such a Terrible Assault on the Very Humanity of these poor souls who once upon a time were more honestly called “cross-dressers” or “transvestites,” but now, in a dreary attempt at linguistic promotion to a scientifically valid category, call themselves “transgender.”  Now, mind you, they still have either an X and a Y chromosome, or two X chromosomes, just as they did the day they were born.  In many cases they will still be wearing a penis and testicles underneath their hot little black dress.  But they’ll be dressed to the nines to look like a woman.

They are to be pitied more than censured.  Dressing up to pretend like that is just pathetic, as it speaks to a self-dissatisfaction so profound that you have to wonder how they face the world each day.  You don’t have to be a narcissist, but how much would you have to hate yourself not even to like what sort of human you are, so much that you priss about in public wearing heels?

“Identify”:  That’s what we’re told these poor creatures are doing; they’re “identifying as” whatever it is they claim to be.  By which they mean “self-identify,” because of course biology has identified them as male or female.  Yes, I’m perfectly aware that there are children born with bits and pieces of both, but we call those sorts of things “birth defects”; there are a tiny number of those born per 100,000 live births; and there’s a very well-regarded organization — the March of Dimes — which takes it for its mission the avoidance and correction of such birth defects.  We’re not talking about adults with uncorrected birth defects.  We’re talking about adults who want to play-act at being what they’re not.

And of course, there are the cross-dressers who, for want of a more gentle expression, are neither more nor less than sexual deviants.  They don’t “identify” as this-that-or-the-other.  This is just how they get their jollies.  Excuse me if I’m not impressed.

In any event, North Carolina passed a statute which does three principal things.  It requires schools which have bathrooms, locker rooms, and other spaces in which it is reasonably foreseeable that a student will be in whatever stage of undress, and which spaces are capable of being used by more than one person at the same time, to designate such spaces as being for the use of either but not both males and females.  [Single-user spaces are not required to be so designated.]  And it requires them to permit the multi-user spaces to be used by, and only by, persons whose biological sex, as indicated on their birth certificate, matches the sex designation of the space.  The bill requires “public agencies,” which are defined so as to include pretty much every governmental actor other than schools, to make similar sex and use designations for their own multi-user bathrooms and changing facilities.  For both schools and public agencies there are exceptions — pretty narrow, to be sure — to the use restrictions.  Finally, the bill prohibits localities — cities, counties, and their respective agencies — from requiring private actors, principally contractors doing business with those localities, from establishing, as a condition of doing business with the local government, a duty to permit cross-dressers from using whatever multi-user space they please at the moment.

That’s it.  The legislature wished to exercise its absolute prerogative to centralize decisions such as that at the level of the state.  And then it exercised its authority to set the ground rules for the entire state.

I’ve read that statute through multiple times and I’m just not seeing the hatred in it.

Oh, but you see, the hatred is in my refusal to accept as legitimate your little game of “today I’m a girl.”  No you’re not, and I have zero moral obligation to play-act along with you.  If you’re so damned proud of who and what you are, then own it.  It’s like homosexuals who want you to call them “gay.”  No, you’re not “gay,” you’re homosexual.  If you’re so all-fired-up proud of it, then call it by its right name.  Don’t hind behind a euphemism.  More to the point:  You have no legal right to demand that I play your games, that I adjust my life to make room for what you do with your genitals to get yourself off.

To get an idea of just how horribly messed up things have got in this country, recently a fellow went to the University of Washington campus.  He’s a white male, roughly 5’10” tall, and obviously adult.  He asked people he ran into to explain to him, if they could, why he was not a 6’5″ Chinese seven-year-old girl.  No.  Seriously.  He did this, and those sad-sack “social justice warriors” (here’s a list of some of the most prominent, so you don’t, if you’re responsible for hiring in your company, accidentally hire any of them) couldn’t muster up the guts to tell him he was simply incorrect, that he was neither female, nor 6’5″ tall, nor Chinese, nor seven years old.  One girl politely questions whether he’s quite that tall, but that’s it.  Watch the whole video.  As the commentary accompanying the video at the link points out, these people are ripe for dictatorship.  Over at Ace of Spades, they connect the dots:

“People conditioned to accept outrageous falsehoods from people claiming to have a special right to their own reality are an existential threat to the republic. If a 5’10” white man can tell you he’s a 6’5″ Chinese girl, and you are required to believe him because each person constructs his own quantum reality moment by moment, it’s no difficult thing to also accept that killing the kulaks and putting the farms under inefficient state rule will result in a greater grain harvest.”

This is all the more true when you consider that there’s no logical boundary line between my quantum reality and yours.  You are a part of mine, and I of yours.  If I “identify” as a struggling member of the proletarian class, how am I not equally entitled to “identify” you as a member of the kulak class, whom I “identify” as my oppressors?  If I convince an entire nation to “identify” as the victim of a Diktat designed (ed: as it in fact was) for the indefinite future to suppress my people, to burden them in this world and the next with the responsibility for a war (which I “identify” as having been forced upon my reluctant Volksgenossen), where is the objection to my “identifying” whatever group I please as having sold me and mine down the river?

Do you see how hilariously funny “identification” can be?

I don’t have daughters, a fact prominent among my list of blessings.  I was terrified I might.  When, before the birth of our third son, the wife decided that with this one we were going to find out ahead of time (she was convinced her luck had finally turned and I was horrified she might be right), we went to the ultrasound clinic.  After doing the usual sorts of measurements and whatnot, the tech kind of rolled things around on the screen so we could see better and there was no doubt about what that was, showing between the femurs.  My relief was so great I exclaimed, “Hat trick!!”  That almost became his nickname.

People like the men who play-act as women are why my wife and I have not permitted our sons to go to public bathrooms unaccompanied until they were of an age to fight or flee on their own.  Remember, if this man “identifies” as a woman, then he views my son as fair game.  And for the heterosexual pervert who simply wants to prey on women and especially small girls, how much of a leap is it for him to dress up (hell: he needn’t even do that; he can just say he “identifies” as female and it’s open season in the girl’s locker room) in order to gain access to his victims?  He’s already a monster and knows it; why should a little rouge and eye liner upset him?

The retort is made that I’m tarring all the transvestites with the same brush.  I’m not.  In no way am I saying that every man who insists on using the women’s room is a pervert who’s just trolling for his next victim.  What I am saying is that there will be some.  And I cannot know, until it is too late, whether this particular man is or is not among them.  You know, we don’t screen every last passenger who gets aboard an airliner because we think everyone is a terrorist; we screen them because we don’t know that they aren’t.

So who am I?

Well, I “identify” as the Emperor Napoleon.

I demand that I be treated as the Emperor Napoleon, conqueror of Europe, may rightfully expect to be treated.  I demand that I be given whatever works of art I demand for my imperial collection (got my eyes on a couple of Vermeers from the Met).  I demand that the commanding officers of the armed forces recognize in me their commander-in-chief.  The laws of course do not apply to the emperor, so we may dispense with that.  And every, but every woman is mine by right of sovereignty.  You, o peons, may address me (while averting your plebian eyes, of course) as “Your Imperial Majesty” or simply, in later conversation, just as “Your Majesty.”  I demand that airplanes, buses, elevators, and all other forms of public accommodation shall await my pleasure.  You must treat me according to my royal station; we royalty suffer untold pangs of degradation when our sacred persons are denied the recognition that is lawfully ours.  You non-royals simply don’t understand.

If some nasty ol’ 6’4″ hairy-legged man in sensible shoes has the right to cop a squat beside your eight-year-old daughter, then I have the right to be the Emperor Napoleon.  There is no defensible moral or functional distinction between those positions.

Gödel and Washington

Among the very earliest posts on this humble little blog was one on Washington’s Farewell Address, posted on the occasion of its anniversary. In truth I’d not read it until then, an omission which I now very much regret. The Farewell Address must be one of the most extraordinary documents in American political history, and it is worthy of tremendously more attention than gets paid to it these days. It should, rather, be required reading in just about every level of American education.

For the moment I’d like to return to a part of it, specifically the following passage:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.“It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?”

I’d like more specifically to drill down on the statement, “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Let’s just say that modern American public discourse is obliged to discount that thought. Religion, or perhaps better stated religiosity, is thought to be in bad taste at best, oppressive by merely allusion to it at worst.

Some time ago while ruminating, what I am pleased to call my mind began studying on the question of exactly on what basis do I require of my fellow humans that I be treated as anything other than an instrumentality. We’ve all heard of Kant’s categorical imperative, but I mean, really? If you, dear reader, have an objective and I am in the way of its achievement, by what right do I claim that you must, to borrow a line from one of my favorite Abe Lincoln stories, “plow around” me? It can only be that I claim some peculiar status in the world which you inhabit.

You say we are all equals, in some moral sense. How is that? Do we see non-human life exhibiting this same recognition of abstract equality? Or do we see, even among pack animals, behavior which cannot be explained except upon purely utilitarian grounds? The alpha male drives the juvenile male from the herd, to wander alone in a world in which he is not at the top of the food chain, until either he is eaten or finds another herd in which he can with violence establish himself. Males battling each other for the privilege of mating with the females, and the females not observably having any choice in the matter. Males preying on their own off-spring. The sick or the old or the lame abandoned to the predator. It all makes sense if you view those animals’ existence from an amoral perspective. Not so much if you apply Kant’s imperative as among them.

What is it that makes humans different? Why should you extend to me any greater consideration than you would a tree, or a rock in your garden, or raccoon who wants only to feed from your garbage? Turning Lincoln’s critique of the slaveholders’ racialist apologia on its head, it cannot be because I am your equal in intelligence, because as like as not you’re sharper than I am. It cannot be that I have some unique talent for any particular task or form of expression, because again, you probably excel me there and besides, on what basis do I assert that my talent for X is somehow more worthy than yours for Y? Strength? No. Leadership? Not there. Looks? Not even in the park. Am I more useful than you? Highly doubtful. No, the only this-worldly basis that I have to demand your recognition of me as your equal is because I can compel it. But that’s nothing more than a catch-all description of the lone male wandering the brush and forcing himself into a new pack, pride, herd, family group, etc. Or, even more bluntly stated, it is the proposition that Might Makes Right.

Thomas Hobbes famously grounded his conclusion that all men are equal in the fact that every man can kill any other man, for each man must at some point sleep. Very true, and very much of a piece with his characterization of the natural condition of man: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. But that’s not an identifiably moral basis for asserting equality.

I defy anyone to enunciate a anthropocentric basis upon which you must address me as your equal and which does not on closer examination boil down to expedience or force (which is itself little more than a specific application of the principle of expedience). Expedience of course cannot be reconciled with Kant’s imperative. And what if in fact I am not useful to you, if my existence athwart your path is inexpedient to you? Oops; I’m not sure I like that outcome one bit.

No, if I want you to recognize in me anything more morally compelling than that raccoon knocking over your garbage can, I must refer to a morality that confers that claim on me from outside our shared humanity. That “outside” can come only from a supra-human source, from a source that we by its very nature as supra-human characterize as “divine,” as in partaking of divinity, the attribute we reserve to Him whom we confess to be God. Only by recognition of the divinity of God may you recognize a small portion of that divinity in His creature, in me. Small it assuredly is, but it is enough, it is a basis to which you can point and acknowledge my claim upon you for no other reason than the fact that I am.

I am. Only a confessing believer in a higher being can logically recognize that as being a perfect statement of claim. Without that belief you must necessarily ask, “You are what?” and adjudge that “what” to be or not be sufficient.

Or so I reasoned. Seemed tidy enough, and explained enough to me for my own purposes. I am no mathematician. My D and D- in two semesters of calculus resolved that much if nothing else. So I beg indulgence from those whose abilities in that regard extend beyond those of the great apes. As better explained in a book later on lent to me by one who actually enjoys theoretical mathematics as a hobby (de gustabus non disputandum est, and leave it at that) Kurt Gödel (rendered in English, happily deprived of diacritics, as “Goedel”) demonstrated that you cannot prove a system from within that system. I won’t go further into the particularities of his proof for knowing that I would misstate something, but suffice it to say that he showed that you cannot bootstrap a logical system. I was mighty proud to find out that my stewing wasn’t so wildly off the mark after all: you cannot prove up a logical system of morality from within that system. Kant’s categorical imperative seems to be a “big bang” analogue, but respectfully I’m not having that.

Washington was, in other words, dead-on right when he reminded his fellow citizens that the maintenance of a republic over time could not succeed without virtue, and that virtue cannot exist without religion. For without religion, without the acknowledgement of a mind, purpose, and power above all human comprehension, there can be no morality but only the expedient of the moment.

I’d also observe that the truth of the above can be demonstrated by observing the tragi-comedy of “international law.” In point of fact there is no such animal, because there is no authority to which the nation-states are willing absolutely to concede the right and power of enforcement against themselves. So we get treated from time to time to the spectacle of some professional bloviator allowing that such-and-so is plainly contrary to “international law,” by which is meant that Country A has done something to Country B to the speaker’s vigorous disapproval, but which will go entirely unpunished. The only source of “international law” is the same source which Chairman Mao identified as the source of political power.

I first turned my attentions to the Farewell Address in the fall of 2012, as America was about to go to the polls and re-elect to the presidency a man who is about as close to the antithesis of George Washington as a citizen could imagine. This is a man who, when asked point-blank in an interview to define “sin,” replied that “sin” was when someone did or desired something that was inconsistent with his own thoughts and positions. All the hoo-hah about whether he’s a Muslim or not is really mis-guided, as I saw it observed once: This is a man who does not recognize any being as superior to himself. He can have no religion because he truly believes himself to be a latter-day messiah, but the Good News He brings is solely that of His own advent among us.

Today, in 2016, we get to observe the spectacle of two candidates, one of whom is – barring divine intervention – going to be our next president, neither of whom brings anything to the table other than a firm conviction that he or she, as the case may be, is entitled to the office because. And neither of whom has any known floor below which he or she will not stoop.

Four dead Americans, one of them a serving U.S. ambassador? What difference does it make “at this point” that She lied to the American public, lied to the dead men’s families, about why those men died? They’re dead and her political party won the election; that’s what’s important. The formal representative of his nation to a sovereign country slaughtered like a wild animal and his corpse dragged through the streets? That’s just chaff, at this point.

A man who has bragged, in writing, about buying his way to influence with politicians? Whose entire public persona is built on the practice of saying or doing anything necessary to close the deal on his own terms? This is the same thinking that got us the Tonkin Gulf Resolutions. Those were built on fraudulent representations of an attack that simply never happened (don’t believe me? read In Love and War, the book by Vice Admiral Stockdale, who was in the air over the Maddux and Turner Joy when they were supposedly attacked, and who point-blank states it never happened).

Back in the day, when it first became undeniable that Wm. Clinton had shamelessly perjured himself in deposition about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, I had a conversation in which my interlocutor repeated the New York Times-approved talking points that it just didn’t matter because it was purely and private matter and besides shut up. I very vividly remember telling him that it very much mattered when a president perjures himself because the only thing that stands between us and – well, at the time the most prominent failed state was the former Soviet Union, but now you’ve pretty much got your pick – was the notion that when someone raises his right hand and swears to tell the truth, that he will do so. Without that presumption the court system is meaningless. And when the court system is meaningless, people will implement their own justice and seek redress on their own.

I refer Gentle Reader to President Washington’s observations, all those years ago.

As the anniversaries of Washington’s Farewell Address succeed each other, we the posterity to whom he addressed himself blunder on, heedless of his wisdom. Re-learning lessons tends to be more difficult than learning them the first time around.


Of Green Bananas

If I were Amr Adeeb, host of the — apparently popular — Egyptian talk show “Cairo Today,” I’m not sure I’d be buying any.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has an article in today’s edition about a rant Adeeb recently went on.  He took the opportunity to speak some home truths about Islam.  Not “extremists” or “people who are abusing the name of Islam,” or such claptrap, but Islam itself.  His co-host, Emad El-Din Hussein, tried to stem his tirade, without success.

They were right in the middle of their show, and, almost like those first rancid burps and watering mouth you get right before you begin to vomit up everything you’ve eaten since last Tuesday afternoon, he bubbles up:  “This won’t make many people happy, but these perps were quite clearly Muslims.  Everyone is saying these terrorists weren’t Muslims.”  Then the first projectile irruption:  “No!  You lie!  They are Muslims and they are among us!”  His co-host interjects:  “But who taught these attackers?  Where do the Muslims in Britain and France get it from?”

Another plume erupts, spattering the far wall of the room with great gobs of stinking Truth:  “They get it from Islam!  These horrible things come from our religion; our religion is full of these inhuman things.”  His co-host tries the PC-approved approach:  They were individual perps.  Not true, counters Adeeb.

Suspicious, perhaps, that the inevitable post-mortem investigations and revelations will reveal her to be an imbecile, co-host then trots out the canard that These Poor Muslims are Just Being Misused.  Adeeb coats the carpet eight inches deep in Honesty, well over his co-hostess’ dainty shoes:  “Nonsense.  This is an integral part of Islam.  We grow up with these lessons, that is a part of our diseased psyche.  For these people it is OK to kill non-Muslims.  Don’t tell me that the IS aren’t Muslims; no one can misuse you when you are healthy.”

And it goes on:  “Why does this only happen with Islam?  Always it’s us, Islam.  We have a problem with our religion.  We cannot live in harmony with our religion.  Wake up finally and recognize this reality.”

Adeeb and his wife are both television co-hosts, and very popular it seems.  They came to prominence in the latter days of Mubarak’s regime, and were vehemently opposed to his Muslim Brotherhood-sponsored successor, Mursi.  When Mursi was toppled they were vocally supportive of it.  Wonder what they’d have to say about our would-be president’s Muslim Brotherhood operative whom she keeps at her side.

I don’t speak the language, but this appears to be the video of his rant.

This is what “speaking truth to power” sounds like.  Not the crybully whine of Someone Chalked a Political Candidate’s Name on the Sidewalk and now I Have to go Suck my Thumb in my Safe Space.  Not piling on some plumber who dared suggest that a candidate’s promise of re-distributive Marxism might not be a good idea.  In going off as he did, Adeeb did neither more nor less than quite literally render himself a marked man.

Given how Islam reacts to people who dare — even indirectly — to suggest it may, in the language of the American kindergarten, “have issues” (ask Salman Rushdie if you don’t believe me, or Ayan Hirsi Ali), were I this ol’ boy I’d make sure I re-ran all the background checks on my personal security detail.  I’d update my estate planning documents.

And I might reconsider whether I wanted to buy that next bunch of green bananas.

Oh, Well, but Other Than That, Mrs. Lincoln

What’s the play actually about, anyway?

Sometimes you come across something that, almost in passing, so glaringly reveals an underlying truth about its subject matter that it takes your breath away.

This week some random guys who adhere to no identifiable ideology or religion just randomly decided to light off a couple of bombs in Belgium.  It was a bad week for workplace violence, in other words.  And in other news, the president enjoyed yukking it up at the ballgame with a murderously oppressive regime.  But I digress.

In follow-up to the Brussels bombings, this article ran in USA Today.  The headline sort of tips the author’s hand:  “The Quran’s deadly role in inspiring Belgian slaughter,” by a fellow identified as Nabeel Qureshi.  From his self-description and how he relates his family background, he seems to be one of those adherents of the Religion of Peace that is being referred to on that silly “Coexist” bumper sticker.  His father spent a career in the U.S. Navy, starting as a seaman and retiring as a lieutenant commander (which, by the way, tells you his father must have been pretty hot stuff, to make it that far up from that far down).  “As a Muslim growing up in the United States, I was taught by my imams and the community around me that Islam is a religion of peace. My family modeled love for others and love for country, and not just by their words.”

All to the good.  I’d have no problem with him, or his family, for my next-door neighbors, any more than I’d object to any other American family.

But let’s let Comrade Qureshi tell it himself:

“As a young Muslim boy growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, it was impossible for me to look up a hadith unless I traveled to an Islamic library, something I would have never thought to do. For all intents and purposes, if I wanted to know about the traditions of Muhammad, I had to ask imams or elders in my tradition of Islam.”  That is, as he notes, no longer the case.  Just as the Bible’s translation into the vernacular enabled the masses to access for themselves just what exactly scripture has to say about any particular thing, without the interposition of the clerisy, so today’s Muslim masses can look it up for themselves.

And just what are they finding?  Why, they’re finding the same things that Qureshi did, once he no longer was reliant upon his elders and imams.  “Yet as I began to investigate the Quran and the traditions of Muhammad’s life for myself in college, I found to my genuine surprise that the pages of Islamic history are filled with violence.”

Do what?

“When everyday Muslims investigate the Quran and hadith for themselves, bypassing centuries of tradition and their imams’ interpretations, they are confronted with the reality of violent jihad in the very foundations of their faith.”  “The Quran itself reveals a trajectory of jihad reflected in the almost 23 years of Muhammad’s prophetic career. As I demonstrate carefully in my book, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, starting with peaceful teachings and proclamations of monotheism, Muhammad’s message featured violence with increasing intensity, culminating in surah 9, chronologically the last major chapter of the Quran, and its most expansively violent teaching. Throughout history, Muslim theologians have understood and taught this progression, that the message of the Quran culminates in its ninth chapter.”  [N.b.  The foregoing quoted language has links in it over at the USA Today website.]

Qureshi then pulls a few chestnuts out:  “Surah 9 is a command to disavow all treaties with polytheists and to subjugate Jews and Christians (9.29) so that Islam may ‘prevail over all religions’ (9.33). It is fair to wonder whether any non-Muslims in the world are immune from being attacked, subdued or assimilated under this command. Muslims must fight, according to this final chapter of the Quran, and if they do not, then their faith is called into question and they are counted among the hypocrites (9.44-45). If they do fight, they are promised one of two rewards, either spoils of war or heaven through martyrdom. Allah has made a bargain with the mujahid who obeys: Kill or be killed in battle, and paradise awaits (9.111).”

According to Qureshi, the implications of Surah 9 are acknowledged by modern Muslim theologians.  “Muslim thought leaders agree that the Quran promotes such violence.”  And there’s the rub:  The most potent recruiting tool and mechanism for radicalization available to ISIS is . . . just quoting the foundational documents of their religion.  “With frequent references to the highest sources of authority in Islam, the Quran and hadith (the collection of the sayings of the prophet Muhammad), ISIL enjoins upon Muslims their duty to fight against the enemies of Islam and to emigrate to the Islamic State once it has been established.”

And that, folks, peels away quite a bit of bullshit that’s being peddled by self-loathing Westerners.  The “extremists” among the Muslims have the theologically better argument of their “moderate” or assimilated co-religionists.  That is the irreducible fact that stares us in the face over the shards of glass and spattered bits of airline customers.

Pity the Muslims don’t have the theological equivalent of modern U.S. Supreme Court jurists to explain to them that all those words simply don’t mean what they say.  No, when ISIS wants to convince a young Muslim man that his most solemn duty is to fight, kill, and maybe die in order to subjugate practitioners of any religion other than strict-form Islam, they perversely go out and just show him the actual words and have the temerity to suggest to him that they mean precisely what they say.

Deconstructionism, in other words, hasn’t made very deep inroads into Islam.

A couple of quick points.  Islam appears to be enjoying something of the same process that Christianity went through, at least in its early phases, with the Reformation.  There was a reason, after all, why for so long either translating the Bible into the vernacular, or even possession of a translated Bible was a capital offense.  Literally.  Get caught with a Wyclif Bible and they’d make short work of you.  Step 1 of the Reformation was therefore what is now known as “disintermediation.”  It’s really not much more than the same process as online commerce.  The internet has largely dissolved the barriers between the ordinary Joe on the “Islamic Street” and the authoritative pronouncements of his faith’s founding documents.  Generally disintermediation is a very good thing.  Anything which undercuts the ipse dixit hierarchy of any one group (priests, imams, broadcast network news shows, judges) over another, by providing the people that walked in darkness direct access to ultimate authority (Holy Scripture, the Koran, multiple independent news sources, or the actual words of constitutions and statutes) is to be praised on that ground alone.  I’ll state that as a categorical.

So what is to be done if the ultimate authority commands, in pretty plain language, behaviors such as we have seen in Brussels, Paris, New York, Madrid, London, and so forth?

I honestly don’t know.  It seems to me that the fellow quoted by Qureshi has a long, hard slog ahead of him, and whether the thing is to be done at all must be seen as wholly questionable:  “Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of the Quilliam Foundation in the United Kingdom, has said, ‘We Muslims must admit there are challenging Quranic passages that require reinterpretation today. … Only by rejecting vacuous literalism are we able to condemn, in principle, ISIS-style slavery, beheading, lashing, amputation & other medieval practices forever (all of which are in the Quran). … Reformers either win, and get religion-neutral politics, or lose, and get ISIL-style theocracy.’ In other words, Muslims must depart from the literal reading of the Quran in order to create a jihad-free Islamic world.”  By his own words he may well be chasing a will-o-the-wisp.  What Nawaz calls “vacuous literalism” the boys of ISIS can call “the words’ plain meaning,” without strained or sophistical reading.  And slavery, beheading, lashing, amputation, and “other medieval practices” are “all . . . in the Koran.”  Well, of course they are; that’s what makes it so straightforward to convince the jihadisti that they are commands of Allah. Just read the damned words, boy, and make up your mind for yourself.

And what is this about creating a “jihad-free Islamic world” in the first place?  If jihad is part of the central framework of Islamic existence in this world, then how can you excise it and still call what you’re left with “Islamic”?  I recall once, a number of years ago, this billboard alongside the interstate in a city near where I live.  It was from one of these First Church of What’s Happening Now, where Christianity is on offer as a practical therapeutic lifestyle option.  The billboard encouraged the wanderer to come discover “a non-religious path to God.”  That is an oxymoron plain and simple, folks.  It seems as though what Qureshi is positing is the same sort of oxymoron.

The Protestant movement’s most powerful arguments rested on the elemental fact that, once translated and accessible, Holy Scripture was seen not to provide authority for quite a bit of what had grown to encrust the Roman Catholic church as an institution.  The problem today is that what the ISIS recruiters are propounding can be seen to be very much in the Koran, in exactly as many words as they’re saying.

Islam is not, in other words, a Religion of Peace, not on its own terms, read in the ordinary sense of the words actually used, without contorting them into their opposites.

The situation outlined by Qureshi makes it doubtful whether anything like a Protestant Reformation can ever be in the cards for Islam.  Accomplishing that would require millions of Muslims all over the world to believe in the in-most recesses of their hearts that the ordinary words of the foundational texts just do not mean what they so obviously say.  How do you convince people of an argument the unspoken subtext of which is: “Mohammed didn’t know what he was talking about”?  My understanding of Islamic dogma is that the Koran’s words are not actually those of the prophet, but rather of Allah himself.  Quite different from even the most literalist Christian fundamentalist, believing every word in the King James Version to be divinely inspired.  To “interpret” the Koran in a way which would allow peaceful coexistence requires you to accept either that, to some extent, Mohammed was a false prophet because he failed accurately to transmit Allah’s pronouncements, or alternatively, that Allah knowingly allowed his words to be mis-transcribed.  How can either of those suggestions be acceptable to a devout Muslim?

Not all problems have solutions.  I very greatly fear that Islam is among the problems that don’t.