Rorschach Test for the Left

Ending this journal with the same post that started it 17 years ago.

Currently there is a strain of logic that is appearing on college campuses and salons of the Left as America goes to war. This logic is what is called the “rape victim asked for it” defense of the indefensible. This logic which has been repeated in the letters to the editor of this and other papers states that the terrorists are not at fault for the attack on the Pentagon and WTC – we Americans are. The terrorists were merely reacting to American policies abroad such as the support of Israel and continued sanctions on Iraq and are therefore ultimately not responsible for the 7,000 dead. The American government is – and since the government represents the will of our people, we Americans are to blame for the death and destruction of September 11, 2001. All that remains is for a call for reparations to the families of the dead hijackers.

As several commentators on both sides of the political spectrum have pointed out, this logic is flawed for a variety of reasons. First, it de-humanizes the terrorists by making them into thoughtless automatons, lacking the human quality of “free-will”. However, we know that these terrorists had the free-will to call off their mission by walking away, refusing to do it, or by contacting authorities. Instead they exercised their free-will by choosing to kill as many people as they possibly could.

Secondly, they excuse the attack by blaming American policy abroad. American support of Israel is mentioned as a possible reason for the attack. This logic seeks to ignore the fact that Israel is the only democracy in the region, and that for every atrocity blamed on the Israelis there is another one perpetrated against them. It also ignores the fact that the Israelis have never committed a terrorist act against the United States, unlike other groups within the region. Nor does it take into account the thirty years America has worked to build a lasting peace within the region, and the fact that the US is hated almost as much by the Israeli Right as the Islamic Right as a result.

Islamic fundamentalists have universally condemned the Camp David Accords negotiated by President Carter and signed by Egypt and Israel, an agreement which President Anwar Sadat of Egypt paid for with his life – assassinated by members of the Islamic Fundamentalist movement. These groups do not want peace between Israel and the Palestinians. What they seek is what Arab commentators have euphemistically called  “finishing what the Germans started”, namely, the slaughter of all Jews present within Israel. This claim was reiterated this week by Osama Bin-Laden’s fatwa calling for the “killing of Americans and Jews wherever they might be”.

The motives of the attackers are still unclear – a problem which allows the imaginations to run wild on the Left, blaming the attack for American aggression against North Vietnam (a state currently seeking better ties with the USA), North Korea (a Stalinist regime known for its rattling of sabers while food bowls go empty), and the all-encompassing term, “American Imperialism”.

Such attempts at ascribing motives to the attackers simply show that the attackers didn’t have any. The attacks become a kind of Rohrschach Test for those bearing a grudge against the US government in which they see the motive they want to see. Such attempts have everything to do with the mindset of the explainer and nothing whatsoever to do with the true motives of the attackers.

In a sense this is an attempt by minds to make sense of the nonsensical. By providing motive to the attack, people feel better. They can take comfort in people having been killed for a reason, that the attack was some kind of message which we now must heed. This attempt at understanding is the Left’s attempt at gaining control of the situation. However it is the kind of control exercised by a battered wife who seeks to take command of the violent outbursts and attacks of her husband by making him happy and avoiding the actions which set him off. However, to an outside party it is evident who is in control in this situation: the husband is. And the only solution to the problem is to remove the woman from the situation or jail her husband. In our situation there is no “jail” that will hold Bin-Laden, nor is there anywhere that we can run. Imagine a scenario where a group attempts to free him by holding a city hostage to a small nuclear device. Our only solution is to hunt him down and kill him before he kills us.

This anti-American government logic also ignores the positive things America has done in the Muslim world. America has fought two wars against a Christian nation, Serbia, to halt atrocities the Serbs were committing against Muslims in Kosovo and Bosnia. It has been the primary aid donor to Afghanistan. It intervened in Somalia in an attempt at bringing peace to the collapsing nation and attempted to feed its starving population while bandits robbed aid agencies and UN forces and Muslim militants shot and killed American soldiers. America’s experience in Somalia prevented its intervention in Rwanda a year later. 800,000 people were murdered in an orgy of violence which the US and UN forces could have easily prevented. Since Osama Bin-Laden has been implicated in the actions in Somalia against US forces, by the logic of the Left he would also be responsible for the resultant slaughter in Rwanda.

Finally, it ignores the failures of Islamic fundamentalism in the region. What has Osama Bin-Laden and the Taliban done for Muslims except starved and killed them? Bin-Laden killed more Muslims in the WTC and embassy attacks in Africa than the Israelis have in years of bloody fighting in the West Bank and Gaza. He is wealthy, yet how many hospitals has he built? How many clinics? How many Muslim children has he put through school?

Bin-Laden and his organization are nothing new – contrary to what you may be reading. We have seen his type before: Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The Hutu Militias which like to explain their atrocities using political terms. Slobodan Milosovic and his fanatical followers of thugs, murderers and rapists which also resorted to religious imagery – albeit of a later time (13th Century vs the 12th Century espoused by the Taliban). Idi Amin in Uganda. And of course, Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich.

All of these men have stood up against the USA and been exposed as murderous charlatans. Bin-Laden and his Taliban supporters will as well – if not abetted in their conquest by the well-intentioned Left.

17 Years Is Enough – The Razor is Ending

After 17 years I am going to make this blog private and move its content to a private domain. 17 years is a lot of reference material, and I’ve found using the site as a reference has been the greatest asset to me over the years, so I’m going to continue doing that – just not publicly. The Internet will do fine without a blog no one reads.

TheRazor was forged in the heat of 9-11, and the early posts reflected the fear, the potential and the hope for a better future that horrifying event portended. Like so much of Life the Reality was a mixed bag. The threat of organized jihad fizzled out in the caves of Afghanistan with al-Qaeda and the Syrian desert with ISIL. In its place is slow cultural suicide embarked upon by the West as it imports millions of Muslims with no interest in assimilating them by teaching them Western values. In fact that very idea is considered “racist” by many who willfully choose to ignore the significant cultural differences between these immigrants and their own country.

At the same time China rises and expands its influence, ignoring European and American pleas for human rights and democracy. China doesn’t care about #METOO, gay marriage or the plight of Syrian migrants. All it cares about is molding the world as it sees fit and making money. In a sense it is the perfect capitalist state – irony of ironies, huh? Thanks to a Western elite schooled in anti-Americanism and Disneyland-themed multi-culturalism, China faces little resistance from Europe and the USA.

Finally, America has become divided to the point where I believe our country is irretrievably damaged. It’s as if a virus had been passed through our screens turning blue on red, black on white, men on women, rich on poor. I’d like to remain optimistic and say that nothing lasts forever, that this madness will pass, but after 17 years on this blog (and 30 years on the Internet) I think we’re beyond all hope. American is broken, China is the new world leader, and western culture will pass into history the way Byzantine and Ancient Roman culture have.

In short, I think we’re fucked and I don’t want to write about it anymore.

Is The Roman Catholic Church Beyond Redemption?

My wife and I were both raised in the Roman Catholic Church and left it during our early adult years. Several years ago she presented the following scenario to me. “Imagine you are the Devil and you’ve just helped dispose of the Son of Man only to watch his apostles spread The Word. What would you do to roll-back the impact of Christ in the World? You’d take over the Church.” She believed that all the evils perpetrated by the Church over the Millennia, the religious wars and Crusades, the persecution of Jews, the impoverishing of the peasantry, the Trial of Galileo – all could be explained easily if one set aside all preconceived notions of the Church, ignored the propaganda, and viewed it for what it was – an institution developed not to spread the Word of God but of Satan. The recent grand jury indictments in the Pittsburgh diocese brought that scenario back to mind.

“A pedophile priest made a nine year-old boy give him oral sex before washing his mouth out with holy water.” If true, can anything be more Satanic than that sentence? Unfortunately given the number of sex scandals uncovered over the past 25 years, no extraordinary proof is needed because the statement is no longer extraordinary. I remember the anger when singer songwriter Sinead O’Connor tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in 1992 to protest the abuse scandals rocking Ireland. Americans weren’t ready for O’Connor’s protest. It would take another decade before the scandals erupted in the USA.

As a Catholic school student and altar boy there had always been whispers of abuse although I personally was never confronted by it. I recall hearing that one priest at my all-boys high school was a bit overly-friendly and “touchy” with boys, but I don’t know how far his behavior actually went. One of my teachers, a Jesuit novitiate, took my friends and me to see a movie that in retrospect was inappropriate: Liquid Sky – a low-budget movie about sex and drug addiction. We were interested in art films and New Wave music, and we had a good time discussing the movie afterward at a brightly-lit all-night deli. Nothing untoward happened. The priest remains one of my favorite teachers from high school and I still regard him highly. I later learned that he left the priesthood soon after we graduated which was probably a good idea in retrospect.

Although I left the faith, I’ve always felt somewhat protective of it. My late mother was a devout believer and so are many others who I respect and cherish. My atheism/agnosticism cannot be used as a weapon against any people of faith if that faith brings them comfort and solace in this extraordinarily heartless and cruel world. Faith or its lack should not be weaponized – an interesting phrase. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called the abuse in the Pittsburgh Diocese the “weaponization of faith.” He cited the following instances:

  • One priest tied up a victim with rope in the confessional in a “praying position.” When the victim refused to perform sex, the angered priest used a 7-inch crucifix to sexually assault him.

  • At a parish rectory, four priests made a boy strip and pose as Jesus on the cross while they took photos. “He stated that all of them giggled and stated that the pictures would be used as a reference for new religious statues for the parishes,” the grand jury wrote. Two of those priests later did jail time for sexually assaulting two altar boys.

  • Priests told children they would “go to hell” if they told anyone what happened and “nobody would believe a lying child over a man of God’s word.”

  • In one church, a priest told a boy who confided he had been gang-raped as a 7-year-old that he had to provide sex to get to heaven. He would then be molested for three years before the priest was transferred.

Reading these allegations I am left speechless. Maybe the Church is irredeemable and unable to provide comfort and spiritual guidance. So I put that question to the experts at the social media website, Quora.

Carl Smotric believes it is. “Irredeemable? Yes, I’d say so. They’ve wielded too much power for too long. They’re sincerely convinced that their many undeserved privileges are an entitlement, and that, in reality, they needn’t answer to any law but their own. Unable to provide comfort and spiritual guidance? Ironically, they’re able to do that. Heroin is comfort to the junkie. A stuffed toy is comfort to an abused child. And the Church’s message of salvation can be comfort to the billions of people who were told by that very same outfit that they’re broken, hell-bound and in deep trouble. The Church breaks peoples’ legs, then demands their gratitude for providing crutches. Spiritual guidance, same thing: if people are willing to buy the bullshit, then it’s spiritual guidance to them, more or less by definition.”

William Gray writes, “As long as the RC church insists on the priests’ celibacy, they are self-selecting for pervs. Of course most priests do not succumb to acting out on temptations of the flesh, but even one molested child is too many and the church’s moral authority will remain a mockery.”

Others disagreed. Ernst-Otto Onnasch, former Professor of Philosophy at Utrecht University, writes, This is not very likely. What happens within the Roman church, also happens within regular families. Is the family therefore a corrupt institution? What happened is done by individuals, although being represents of the church. The problem are these individuals and not the church as institution”.

James Hough, Catholic who teaches Catechism, RCIA, and Prayer classes, writes, “The Catholic Church was founded by Christ, as Pope Francis said, as a field hospital for sinners. And everyone in it is a sinner. One does not judge a hospital by how many wounded end up there, but by its cures, by the people who took it seriously and actually followed Christ. Thus to judge the Catholic Church, we need to look at her great saints, and see if we are following them. We need to pray and sacrifice for our Church, because it is only going to be as effective as its weakest member. If that weak member is cooperating with Christ, the Church is going to accomplish great things.”

Sources of Fentanyl in USA Opioid Crisis

Posted without comment.

When Your Enemies Are Nazis You Have The Moral Imperative to Kill Them

Cross-posted at Wow! Magazine

The Danger of Hyperbolic Rhetoric

Imagine a time traveler appears on your doorstep. She offers you the chance to return to Germany 1933 and stop Hitler. Would you take it?

Imagine having the power to stop the Holocaust, or the war that took hundreds of millions of lives. Even Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence failed against the reality of the Nazi regime, leading Gandhi himself to make such bizarre pronouncements as “Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. As it is, they succumbed anyway in their millions.” He even advised the British to surrender to the Nazis and lay down their arms, stating if the Nazis “do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself, man, woman and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them.” Thankfully the defense of Humanity wasn’t left up to Gandhi but instead to the likes of Churchill and Roosevelt, and Hitler and his Thousand Year Reich ended up charred, half-burnt bones in a shell crater.

Looking back we realize the Nazis posed such a moral threat to Humanity that no moral person of conscience could waste such an opportunity if given the means to stop Hitler and his regime, since inaction would itself be considered immoral. One would have to act and would have all the moral justification needed to do so.

Fast-forward to today and the recent anti-Trump hysteria propagated in leftist social media echo-chambers.

  • The Anne Frank Center in a Twitter post warns of the alarming parallels between the Trump administration and the Nazi regime, including “He exploits youth at a rally,” and “He strips vulnerable people of their families, jobs and ability to live.”

  • Wikipedia lists the detention centers housing children and families for deportation alongside the Jewish concentration camps of the Nazi regime.

  • A 2017 article in Foreign Policy in Focus states, “The presidency of Donald J. Trump, hoisted on the shoulders of white supremacists, is a glaringly dangerous period for our country. It’s important to recognize this dangerous mix of moral turpitude, dereliction of duty, and incompetence before we fall deeper into fascism and moral tragedy.”

  • Adam Roy’s essay for the Jewish magazine Forward is titled, “Yes, We Should be Comparing Trump to Hitler.”

  • In a New York Times Op-ed, Charles Blow notes the following similarities between the two leaders (as summarized by Kyle Smith).

    • HITLER: Wanted to make Germany great again.

    • TRUMP: Wants to make America great again.

    • HITLER: Wore funny little mustache.

    • TRUMP: Wears funny little hat.

    • HITLER: Shunned alcohol.

    • TRUMP: Shuns alcohol.

    • HITLER: Time magazine Man of the Year, 1938.

    • TRUMP: Time magazine Person of the Year, 2016.

    • HITLER: Fascist.

    • TRUMP: Republican.

    • HITLER: Lied about Jews being the source of Germany’s misery.

    • TRUMP: Lied about ratings for The Apprentice, his Electoral College victory being the biggest since Reagan’s, and whether anyone else had been on the cover of Time more than he.


But if you truly believe that Trump = Hitler, you are morally obligated to act not just against him, but against his regime and those who continue to support him. We are seeing this sentiment appearing in the following recent examples:

More ominous incidents have occurred which the liberal media has refused to link in a patter of dangerous behavior caused by liberal incitement.

When you demonize your opponent using hyperbolic rhetoric, not only do you dehumanize them and their supporters, but you claim the moral right to act. If you believe that you are living in Weimar Germany in 1933 then you must act now to prevent the Holocaust and war which looms. As Gandhi’s statements prove, there is ultimately no non-violent alternative. Misogynistic Twitter screeds and kicking those you disagree with out of restaurants will only take you so far: Trump and his administration still stands. Ultimately a liberal convinced of the Nazi analogy will have no choice but to act as Hodgkinson and Corkins acted – and that is why the hysteria over Trump has gone too far, and why the remaining adults among liberals need reign in the crazies on their side, because if they don’t someone is going to take the Hitler analogy to its ultimate violent conclusion.

As we see the danger isn’t limited to the President: anyone associated with his administration is at risk. Some of those shot at in 2017 weren’t even Trump supporters, but they were Republicans and that was good enough for Hodgkinson.

Kyle Smith in the National Review challenges these comparisons, pointing out the obvious differences between the two leaders:

HITLER: Murdered 11 million according to one analysis.

TRUMP: Has murdered no one thus far.

HITLER: Invaded the sovereign states of Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Free State of Danzig, Denmark, France, Guernsey, Hungary, Italy, Jersey, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, San Marino, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia.

TRUMP: Has invaded no sovereign states.

HITLER: Started a world war that killed more than 5 million in his armed forces alone, plus many millions more in other countries.

TRUMP: Has started no world wars.

In 2005 Evan Derkacz at AlterNet wrote, referencing Andy Warhol’s famous quote as a base, “In the future everyone will be Hitler for fifteen minutes.” The future has arrived and the Hitler Hysteria is at a fever pitch. This time no time machines will be needed in the eyes of the self-appointed, delusional moral guardians of History. Their myopic view of the past is enough to blind them to present realities that Trump is not Hitler, that his administration is not populated by Nazis, and the true threat to our freedom does not emanate from the White House but the indoctrinated footsoldiers of the liberal elites willing to do anything to achieve their righteous goals.

The social upheavals of the 1960s gave the US the Black Panthers and SLA, and Europe the Red Army and Bahder-Meinhoff Gang. Antifa’s antics and the showboating of a DoJ employee are merely the early warning signs. Unless the liberal elites act, there will be blood, and the destruction of the country which they’ve desired for 50 years will be at hand.

Update: Allen Richardz, writing at The Hill, calls this rhetoric “A strategic blunder.” He points out the political danger of this hysteria but fails to mention the actual danger this rhetoric poses.

Update: Maxine Waters: “God is on our side” and calls for more confrontations, and the Trump administration is recommending officials arm themselves. This is going to end well…
——

*I’ve lived 50 years unaware of this word, believing the “c” word was the worst epithet one could level against a woman. Having grown up with four sisters the “c” word was one that was scrubbed from my vocabulary in my youth, so I am greatly disappointed in Mr. Fonda teaching me at this late age yet another insulting word that – unlike Mr. Fonda himself – I will not use against those (like his sister Jane) I personally despise. Such an insult damages the character of the person using it much more than that of its intended target, as is surely the case with Mr. Fonda’s usage here.

Photo by jfxgillis

Memorial Day 2018 – Remembering Lt. Augusto M. Xavier

As far as I’m concerned secular America has a single holy day, and it’s today. While the day has devolved into a day off to swim, shop or barbecue I think it’s important to remember and give thanks to those who gave everything so that we would be free.

Today I’d like to thank Lt Augusto M. Xavier.

Lt. Augusto M. Xavier was born in California on May 26, 1941. According to the Virtual Wall Project 1LT Augusto Xavier, flying an A-4C SKYHAWK, on March 10, 1966 was killed while flying close air support for the A Shau Special Forces Camp. He was 24. His body has never been recovered.

Image result for augusto m xavier

Lt. Augusto M. Xavier, USMC

 

Two days ago Lt. Xavier would have turned 77 years old.

As you go about your day shopping or barbecuing, take a moment and thank Lt. Xavier for the sacrifice he made. Honor and remember him in your own way.

 

The Attacks on Social Media Companies Are Deserved And Should Continue

Cross-posted at Wow! Magazine

This past week saw Facebook under attack after a scandal involving abuse of user data. Suspicion quickly spread to Google, Instagram, Twitter and other “free” social media platforms. Various article have appeared online showing users how to see the data these platforms collected. I’m generally suspicious of the sudden rise of any grass-roots social movement since inevitably the grass turns into corporately funded astroturf. But regardless of who’s behind it this crusade is well-deserved.

Conservatives and libertarians should not shed any tears seeing these social media platforms being beaten down. None have been friendly to our agenda and most have been downright antagonistic, silencing conservatives while promoting left wing content. I have advocated leaving Facebook, quitting the platform in 2012 after I got into a flame war with a former friend over whether the late Helen Thomas was an anti-Semite for saying the “Jews should get the hell out of Palestine.” It turned out she was and so was my friend, and I learned that most relationships one has in life have an expiration date, and trying to extend them is like eating food past its sell-by date: you risk poisoning yourself. Mark Zuckerberg’s multi-billion dollar empire is built on a huge toxic waste dump of relationships long past their prime. If we really cared about our friends we’d pick up the phone, send a letter or even shoot them an email. Posting a picture on Facebook of your vacation or your kid’s graduation from college is just humble-bragging, each post poisoning the relationship a tad while the likes encourage you to post more, all for the sake of boosting your value to advertisers.

Liberal attempts at saving these social media giants have already begun, with this article from the New York Times suggesting ways for them to change. The problem is that each way laid out in the article won’t work. Turning Twitter into a collective would destroy it as members realized the cost of 140 characters didn’t justify the price shareholders would demand for it. Anyone who has read the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich or seen the movie adaptation The Social Network knows that democratizing or voluntarily breaking up Facebook is an impossible task for its founder who has exercised dictatorial authority over his creation since the beginning and has employed cut-throat means to protect it. A “Do-Over button” would clean out years of relationship detritus, but would also demonetize each user who did so, turning the one who pressed it into a $0 commodity versus their current value based on their years of online activity.

How much activity is that? Visit this link to learn how check out how much data Google has on you. I did and found the search engine has 8gb on me – enough to fill two DVDs. If you want to see something really creepy, check out Google Maps Timeline and see how the company has tracked you like the CIA an al Qaeda terrorist. And the scary part? If you are like me you let them without truly appreciating the potential of the technology to invade your privacy. Clicking on the map I see everywhere I’ve been the past 5 years including trips to Israel, Europe and travel all over the USA. Double clicking on one of those visited American cities I pull up a map where Google tracked me while walking and driving around at an astonishing level of detail. Why?

A visit to Charleston South Carolina several years ago tracked by Google through my cell phone.

In the Surveillance Age we find ourselves in if the data exists it will find its way into the hands of those who want it, be it an illegally-acting government agency or hackers. What has saved us so far from serious damage to our civil liberties and privacy is the lack of tools to make sense of that data, to ask questions and receive useful answers by finding the tiny signal in the vast cacophony of meaningless noise. Those tools are now available and it may already be too late to protect us. Demands to delete the data will only limit the damage since these corporations have backup strategies from the file level all the way up to replicating an entire data center, the data existing in multiple locations worldwide in case any one location becomes “a smoking hole in the ground.” It’s almost impossible to delete your email from a corporate mailing list let alone 8gb of personal data. There is simply no incentive for a company to delete data while the financial incentive remains to hold on to it.

The solutions aren’t simple. We must use anti-trust law to break these companies up – hard to do in a political climate where these companies donate millions to the Democrats and the “Stupid Party” are loath to break up corporations on principle (It may be no coincidence that these companies are reaching out to Trump and the GOP). By splitting up these companies we would fragment our data profile, making it more difficult for anyone to put these pieces together to predict our behavior or track us. Most importantly we need to stop acting like children and take control back from the corporations. Most companies provide means of opting out of data collection: use them. I personally don’t trust these corporations to do that, and look forward to an apt that sits between Facebook or Google and your computer or mobile device and feeds these companies bogus data. If you want to really get back at these companies, providing them with a flood of nonsense data would send the signal-to-noise ratio spiraling into the Abyss. Some apps like Tor are a step towards this capability but aren’t there yet. Imagine an app that reports to Google you are walking down Negdsen Untestnii road in Ulan Bator Mongolia instead of hitting your neighborhood Starbucks in South Philly. That data stream will give Google’s algorithms fits – when such an application exists.

Ask yourself: Is Twitter worth it? Does using Instagram make you happy? Is Facebook making your life better or worse? All of these applications are free on the surface but we pay for them with our privacy. Privacy is a currency that is easy to lose but hard to gain back – just like Freedom.

Google Must Be Destroyed

The End of the Chinese Miracle

Cross-posted at Wow! Magazine

Last week the Chinese Communist Party announced it was ending term limits, allowing president XI Jinping to hold the office as long as he wanted to. The day after the announcement I caught a BBC program discussing the move with three experts on China, all representatives from Academia including one from a Chinese institute in Hong Kong. None of the panel criticized the move. I didn’t expect the expert from Hong Kong to criticize the move for the same reason I don’t expect Russian academics to criticize Putin: such actions tend to be bad for one’s career (and in Putin’s case, health). And I wasn’t surprised by the support of the other panelists: the Left’s authoritarian impulse has only strengthened over the years since the deaths of Mao and Stalin. But what surprised me is the BBC panel leader’s failure to ask the single most important question: So what if Xi’s a great guy. What happens to China after Xi?

There are very few absolutes in history, but one that has stood the test of time from Babylon through the civilizations of Egypt, Greece, Rome and China itself is this: Absolute power corrupts. In ancient Rome after seizing power and leading Rome into what would be viewed as its golden age, in 27BC Octavian was granted the title of Augustus and granted absolute power. During his reign Rome flourished in all ways. It was a time of (relative) peace and prosperity, the era later known as Pax Romana. But after the death of Augustus in 14AD his stepson Tiberius became emperor, and the empire slipped in a slow 82 year decline that ended with the murder of the tyrant Domitian. At that time the glory and prosperity of Rome had been replaced with a police state where everyone was under suspicion and could be pulled out of bed in the middle of the night and be beheaded in front of their families for treason. Rome would enjoy peace and prosperity again under a few later emperors, but the empire was on a slow, unstoppable descent – the seeds of its destruction having been sown even before its greatness had been achieved.

In his Interpreter column in the New York Times Max Fisher ends his piece on Xi’s move with a tweet by Cornell political scientist Thomas Pepinsky: “I’m no China expert, but centralizing power in the hands of one leader sounds like the most typical thing that a decaying authoritarian state would do.”

That’s a rather gentle way of putting it. The fact remains that no nation, no state or empire has made such a move and benefited from it – even in the long run.

I’ve recently returned from a holiday in Spain. It was my first trip to that country and I know more about it’s ancient history thanks to my continuing studies of the Roman and Carthaginian empires than I do of its modern history. To me Francisco Franco was a punch line in Saturday Night Live skit, where Chevy Chase acting as a news anchor would interrupt programming with the breaking news that “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.” But in the eyes of the Spaniards I met, even more than 40 years past his death, Franco was no joke. Franco’s authoritarian legacy underpins many of Spain’s problems today. The regionalism that is ripping the country apart today was kept at bay by Franco’s brutal rule. Even 30 years in the EU where Spain has received billions of more euros from Brussels (or to put it more accurately, taxpayers in Germany and the UK) the economy is still weak and sensitive to market changes. Would Spain be better off today had the Republicans defeated him in the Spanish Civil War? It’s easy to argue that yes, Franco’s authoritarianism damaged the country and set it back at least a century. A similar argument could also be made for Italy after Mussolini.

China’s leap into the modern era began under Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. It ended last week. China under Xi has joined a long list of autocrats and their nations and empires, and like them History will judge Xi and China as failures.

Sometimes Dreams Do Come True

Image result for philadelphia eagles

It’s hard being an Eagles fan. Pats fans have no idea what it’s like to live for years, decades watching a team that one moment does wonderful things and the next blows wonderful opportunities.

This piece by The New Yorker’s John Seabrook explains it well.

Google Must Be Destroyed

“Carthage must be destroyed.” Ceterum censeo Carthaginem delendam esse often abbreviated to simply Carthago delenda est. So ended every speech by the Roman senator Cato the Elder in the years between the 2nd and 3rd Punic wars, the latter the final war that finally accomplished what Cato and others demanded. In the years of the Republic from about 400BC to 100BC Carthage was the only power to ever seriously threaten Rome’s existence. In 216BC four years into the 2nd Punic War, the Carthaginian general Hannibal came within a hair’s breadth of destroying Rome by wiping out Rome’s legions at the Battle of Cannae. The Romans hung on and Hannibal lost his chance, but the Romans never forgot the desperation after that battle and statesmen like Cato saw Rome as never being able to rest easy as long as Carthage existed. Cato eventually got his way and during the 3rd Punic War the Romans razed the city of Carthage and sold the Carthaginians into slavery.

Fast forward 2,000 years into the future and we are faced with a different type of enemy, one that does not field armies or own navies yet poses an existential threat regardless. Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are amassing hundreds of billions of dollars in profit by brokering information and distorting reality. These modern companies are just as threatening to our freedom as Hannibal’s elephants were to the Romans’. Unless we recognize the existential threat we face and act soon our freedom will be lost forever.

Google Must Be Destroyed

Chances our you’ve done a search for an item you need, say a new pair of boots. Within minutes every website you visit presents ads for boots or related winter gear. By using a “free” search engine like Google you have handed Google another few data points about you. Google knows where you are (unless you are accessing through a VPN - something most people in the USA don’t do), your likely age and sex (by the choice of boots), and your socio-economic bracket (the price range of the boots you searched for, where you searched for them e.g. Walmart.com vs Nordstrom.com). The data points from that one search are collected by Google and added to those from other searches you’ve done. After a few searches Google has a very good idea who you are, what your likes are, what you hate, and more. That more is starting to get noticed.

In a 2015 The Atlantic article “People’s Deepest Darkest Google Searches Are Being Used Against Them,” Adrienne LaFrance points out how using a simple Google search as “need fast cash” can open up the user to potential fraud and financial misery. She writes, “Not only are lenders taking advantage of people in vulnerable financial situations, not only are lead generators sometimes skirting Google’s ad policies and even violating state laws, but companies are sharing individual data in a way that puts consumers directly at risk. All this comes down to the widespread availability and longevity of personal data online.” Google later banned these ads but not before investing heavily in a payday loan startup “LendUp.” A test Google search finds ads still present although interspersed with articles from government regulators and consumer agencies warning about their dangers.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was pilloried at the time for the following quote: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” Those who work in the IT field recognize the genius of this quote. The first things you can fix. The second things you can prepare for. It’s the “unknown unknowns” that keep sysadmins and designers awake at night.

In short we don’t know what we don’t know, and by manipulating and censoring search results Google is in fact manipulating reality. In “The New Censorship” Robert Epstein examines the methods Google employs to censor voices it disagrees with such as manipulating the auto-complete results, altering images displayed in Google Maps, and demonetizing YouTube videos its employees find offensive.Epstein writes, “If a librarian were caught trashing all the liberal newspapers before people could read them, he or she might get in a heap o’ trouble. What happens when most of the librarians in the world have been replaced by a single company? Google is now the largest news aggregator in the world, tracking tens of thousands of news sources in more than thirty languages and recently adding thousands of small, local news sources to its inventory. It also selectively bans news sources as it pleases.”

But his biggest complaint is Google’s usage of a site blacklist which even competing search engines use. Epstein writes, “When Google’s search engine shows you a search result for a site it has quarantined, you see warnings such as, “The site ahead contains malware” or “This site may harm your computer” on the search result. That’s useful information if that website actually contains malware, either because the website was set up by bad guys or because a legitimate site was infected with malware by hackers. But Google’s crawlers often make mistakes, blacklisting websites that have merely been “hijacked,” which means the website itself isn’t dangerous but merely that accessing it through the search engine will forward you to a malicious site. My own website, http://drrobertepstein.com, was hijacked in this way in early 2012. Accessing the website directly wasn’t dangerous, but trying to access it through the Google search engine forwarded users to a malicious website in Nigeria. When this happens, Google not only warns you about the infected website on its search engine (which makes sense), it also blocks you from accessing the website directly through multiple browsers – even non-Google browsers.” Epstein found his hijacked website was blocked by other browsers because these browsers were using Google’s blacklist to censor their own results.

Not only was Google manipulating the Internet through its browser, but it was also manipulating the Internet through competing browsers as well through the shared information. Epstein writes, “You may disagree, but in my view Google’s blacklisting practices put the company into the role of thuggish internet cop – a role that was never authorized by any government, nonprofit organization or industry association. It is as if the biggest bully in town suddenly put on a badge and started patrolling, shuttering businesses as it pleased, while also secretly peeping into windows, taking photos and selling them to the highest bidder.”

Earlier this week Google was sued by two former employees for being fired for their conservative views. On January 9, 2018 Bookworm Room posted internal messages of Google management discussing the internal memo by James Damore questioning Google’s Diversity Hiring program. She writes, “The complaint explains that Buckley holds a high-ranking “SRE” (Site Reliability Engineering) position. If you think he doesn’t have a say in content, I’m sure he and those who work with him will differ. By the way, proving as did Altman that it’s not just American academia that’s insane, Colm is an Irish Social Justice Warrior, hailing from Trinity College, Dublin.” Here’s one of Buckley’s messages:

https://i1.wp.com/www.bookwormroom.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Google-on-tolerance-and-intolerance-2.jpg

James Damore’s and David Gudeman’s lawsuit isn’t the only one Google is facing. In October conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager filed suit against Google for the demonetizing of his YouTube videos collectively known as “Prager University.”

The New Surveillance Age

Since 2016 Google has released a series of appliances that allow hands-free querying of the Internet. Collectively known as Google Home these devices incorporate microphones to listen for the command “Hey Google,” followed by a question. The device then searches the internet and provides a spoken response. Apple was the first to come up with the spoken search/response application “Siri” on its iPhone in 2011, moving to stand-alone products known as “HomePod” in December 2017. In 2014 Amazon released the stand-alone speaker “Echo” using its Alexa search service. Although these devices are keen to emphasize their utility by using the term “speaker” or “smart speaker” to suggest the information is delivered to the user, they do not highlight these devices are always listening. The microphones in these devices are always on, although the software will only interact with the user when a key phrase such as “Alexa”, “Hey Siri” or “Hey Google” is used. In effect people are allowing their conversations to be monitored 24/7 within their own homes.

Would you allow a CCTV camera to be installed within your own home and pointed at you and your family at all times of the day? Would you allow it if Google or Amazon promised to allow you to order an item with a wave of a hand? In effect we have traded our freedom for convenience without appreciating the consequences. A friend related before Christmas how her 11 year old daughter used one of these appliances in a clever way. “Hey Alexa,” the girl said, “Tell me all the orders you’ve received over the past month.” The device dutifully listed all Amazon purchases, telling her all the presents her parents had purchased for her from the shopping site. If an 11 year old can game the appliance for her own benefit, imagine the ease a hacker of government intelligence service will have when these devices are ubiquitous.

While Google and the other makers of these appliances have promised to protect privacy, they have shown themselves to be lousy stewards of it so far. It’s true that we’ve had similar devices in our pockets for years. After all Siri’s been around on iPhones since 2011 followed in 2012 by Google’s “Google Now” assistant on Android handsets. Just because we aren’t aware of a danger doesn’t make it non-existent. There is nothing stopping a determine hacker or government intelligence agency from activating a microphone on a phone or appliance and transmitting a conversation. How long will it be before a Federal indictment against a mob boss using such a tool? I don’t worry about the usage of this tool against terrorists or mafia members. I’m worried about the usage of the tool by Google or Amazon to add to their data points for directed advertising.

Imagine a situation where you are in your kitchen with your significant other and you suggest replacing your old counter top. Then you log in to your computer to start your search only to find Amazon advertisements and Google searches pushing counter tops already there. How did it know you were interested in counter tops before you started searching? Now imagine talking about Glocks, pressure cookers or abortion and the possibilities become much more sinister. How would you prove this was happening?

Of course the companies claim they have safeguards in place to protect your privacy. But laws have not caught up to this technology and without laws and punishments in place there is nothing to stop a company like Google changing its policy. History has shown that whenever the means are available a company will exploit them for profit unless the fear of discovery and punishment outweighs the potential for profit. Ask Wells-Fargo.

Google’s parent holding company Alphabet is now one of the largest companies on the planet. Google controls a staggering 90% of all searches and as shown by Dr. Epstein’s discovery has a hand in controlling the remainder. If Google sold cars or electricity it would have long ago been broken up or regulated as a utility. So far it has avoided all attempts at federal control no doubt due to its status as top lobbyist on Capitol Hill. While other companies like Amazon, Facebook and Twitter should also face anti-trust scrutiny – and Amazon is finally seeing some after its purchase of Whole Foods – Google stands out for the danger it presents to average Americans who rely upon it for its search engine, email and mapping applications. As a conservative I’ve tried to boycott Google for its treatment of Damore and blacklisting of conservative websites. It’s not easy, and based on what Epstein found it may be pointless anyhow. The only solution is lawfare.

After the 3rd Punic War Rome was unchallenged in the Mediterranean for the next 500 years, and its golden age had begun. The threat by Google to our freedom is just as real as Carthage was to Cato’s Republic. It is time to end the dominance of Google for our own privacy and the future of a free Internet.

Google must be destroyed.

Update: Feb 4, 2018: Kevin Carty, writing at the New York Post, “Tech Giants are the Robber Barons of Our Time“:

“This means that the antitrust lawyers at the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission can use their existing powers to go after the biggest tech platforms.

US antitrust enforcers have all the power they need to resume the trust-busting that freed Americans from companies like Standard Oil and plutocrats like J.P. Morgan. They just need to use that power, now.”

Eyes in the Darkness

Driving down the country road listening to music too loud, a dog on my lap and another on my shoulder. I travel down this road several times a week, it’s a connection to larger roads that lead to the interstate, but tonight was I was driving down it to pick up a pizza in the small town nearby. A car passes coming the other direction and I avert my eyes to the white line at the edge of the road on my right to avoid being blinded. An instant later and they are back peering into the darkness, confirming the gentle curves and twists of a road that I feel as much as I see while I drive down it. And that’s when I saw them. The eyes in the road.

A pair of eyes on the road glowing brightly like two orange embers embedded in the pavement. Within seconds I see what they belong to, an orange tabby cat, its body broken on the road in the other lane hit by a car (the one that almost blinded me? I wondered), and then its gone as I speed past at 60 miles per hour.

It’s dead I thought to myself as I continued on my journey, but those glowing eyes. I knew that cats and some other animals that are active at night have something like mirrors in the back of their eyes that reflect light, somehow helping them to see much better in darkness than most other animals. How long does that effect last after death? I wondered. Was it possible the animal was still alive?

It couldn’t be I told myself. It looked very dead. Besides the cold will kill it if it is still alive since the temperature was below 20 degree Fahrenheit.

Should I turn around? I asked myself. I made excuses. I’ve been sick. It’s too cold. I’ve got two dogs in the car which will absolutely freak out if I bring a cat into the car.

I continued, turning onto another road that led to the small town nearby.

It’s late on a Sunday. What will I do if the cat’s still alive? A side trip to the vet will be expensive. It’s just a cat. It’s dead.

But those eyes in the darkness. What if it wasn’t? What if it was only stunned? It’s just a cat. That’s not who I am. Not what I’m about. What have I become if I pass up an animal like this? I slowed the car down and pulled into an access road to a tobacco field and turned around.

This is stupid I said to myself, the cat’s dead and if it’s not you’ve just made a very expensive decision that likely no one will care about. It’s just a cat.

I spotted the cat exactly where I expected it to be coming to a stop and turning the hazard flasher’s on. There was plenty of visibility both ahead and behind me and so my stopping would present no danger to other drivers.  I saw the eyes were open, unblinking staring at nothing. The dogs started barking, sensing my unusual behavior, and I opened the door and left the car. I looked around me. There were three mobile homes a few hundred yards away, and the nearest was dark. Did this cat belong to one of these homes?

I lifted the cat’s warm body into my arms and a few drops of blood fell from its mouth. Illuminated by my car’s headlights I stood stroking the cat’s soft fur. It was a young female, likely less than a year old. Her head was way too loose on her neck meaning it was likely broken. I held two fingers to her heart and felt nothing. In the cold air my breath bathed her body in tendrils of steam so I held my breath to see if there was any hint of life from her. None. She was gone, a short life ended only moments before I had come upon her body.

Two cars slowed and passed me. I wondered what they thought of me, a bearded old man in a heavy coat cradling a dead cat in his arms stroking its fur. But I didn’t think it’s right for such an animal to die alone on a cold country road. Cats may be independent but they are still our responsibility just as dogs are.

I laid her down gently in the frozen grass away from the ditch at the side of the road. Here her body would rest without being crushed into the pavement. Perhaps her owner would find her and know what happened to her. Perhaps not. Regardless I had done enough. My conscience was appeased.

I returned to the car, turned it around and continued on my drive.

But I can’t forget those eyes in the darkness.

Japanese Dramas and Romantic Comedies

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Japanese Dramas and Romantic Comedies

 

Ex-Catalonian President Flees Spain

Former Catalonian president Carles Puigdemon has fled Spain and arrived in Brussels where he had been promised asylum.

Lynyrd Skynyrd Killed in Plane Crash 40 Years Ago Today

40 years ago this evening the plane carrying the band, their backup singers, their tour entourage and two pilots ran out of gas and crashed into a heavily wooded area in southern Mississippi killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister and backup singer Carrie Gaines, both pilots and their tour manager. Tom Farrier, former director of safety with the Air Transport Association has a terrific write-up on the crash that silenced a band that defined the genre of Southern Rock.

Although famous for Sweet Home Alabama and Freebird, the song that stands the test of time best is Simple Man. As an aging parent myself there’s gold in those lyrics if you are patient enough to find it.

Related Articles: USA Today on the crash. Rolling Stone.

So How Are the Philadelphia Eagles Doing This Year?

For the first time in over 20 years I don’t have any idea, nor do I care. I grew up watching football and playing street games of it. I lost interest in high school and college years, but eventually came back to the sport after returning to the USA after living abroad. Living outside of Philadelphia the Eagles were my team, and I followed the team zealously through the Andy Reid years including the disaster that was the Super Bowl appearance in 2005. In 2013 I wrote, “But every season the game seems to lose some of its appeal. Maybe there are too many penalties in an attempt to make the game safe. Maybe it’s because I’m growing older and have seen some pretty bad things happen to people. Maybe it’s because I’m just turning into a big pussy. But there’s only so many times I can see a player get hit and lay motionless on the ground while holding my breath before I begin to think something is wrong both with the sport and my enjoyment of it.”

For several years I ponied up several hundred dollars a season to the NFL and DirecTV for the NFL Sunday Pass, but as the CTE scandal grew I eventually dropped the package before quitting satellite completely and becoming a cord cutter. As I wrote in 2014, “The NFL has denied the existence of CTE the exact same way the tobacco companies denied cancer caused by smoking. Recently the league has pushed the problem into the future by calling for “more study” just as the cigarette companies called for further research on lung cancer when the Science behind the causative link between smoking and lung cancer was unequivocal. What they’ve done is criminal but not surprising given the amount of money league owners have invested in the game.”

I quit watching the sport because of conscience, but I still read about it and followed the Philadelphia (and Dallas) newspapers to read about the Eagles and their dreaded rivals the Cowboys.

Then Colin Kaepernick and his protest against black oppression happened and spread through the league. Now millionaires were protesting against the very nation that gave them the opportunity to become wealthier than nearly everyone else in the country. And their billionaire bosses supported them.

What originally had been a matter of conscience became like so much these days political.

So poof! A lifelong interest in the sport is snuffed out completely. Perhaps the Eagles can pick up fans from Antifa, Code Pink, or the Democratic Underground.

I think my Euro-centric friends are right: soccer is much more interesting.