Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category.

Limousine Liberals and Faux Populists

I’m a big fan of philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb, writer of The Black Swan and more recently AntiFragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. In AntiFragile Taleb warns:

 

Never listen to a leftist who does not give away his fortune or does not live the exact lifestyle he wants others to follow. What the French call “the caviar left,” la gauche caviar, or what Anglo-Saxons call champagne socialists, are people who advocate socialism, sometimes even communism, or some political system with sumptuary limitations, while overtly leading a lavish lifestyle, often financed by inheritance – not realizing the contradiction that they want others to avoid just such a lifestyle…

A former client of mine, a rich fellow with what appeared to be a social mission, tried to pressure me to write a check to a candidate in an election on a platform of higher taxes. I resisted, on ethical grounds. But I thought the fellow was heroic, for, should the candidate win, his own taxes would increase by a considerable amount. A year later I discovered that the client was being investigated for his involvement in a very large scheme to be shielded from taxes. He wanted to be sure that others paid more taxes.


 

Just something to consider as Elizabeth “Stands with Fistfuls of Corporate Cash” Warren grabs the limelight as the “New Hillary” of the Left. Former Congressman Barney Frank said in a recent Huffington Post piece that the Democrats are closing ranks trying to protect large corporate banks to wrest campaign contributions from the GOP. She’s following the path set by Old Hillary who has become well-known for her Goldman Sachs speeches. Shikha Dalmia wrote in a September 29, 2014 USA Today essay, “(I)t appears the woman [Warren] who went to Washington to vanquish the corporate powers-that-be has become a classic Washington insider serving those powers.”

Kick Turkey Out of NATO

Lord Palmerstone once noted that nations do not have permanent allies, only permanent interests. This statement assumes that a nation always acts in its own best interest, and this assumption is the basis for the realist school of international relations. Realists always expect national actors to do what is best for themselves. If an action does not benefit the nation in any particular way, or worse threatens it, then one cannot reasonably expect it to act even though one might think and others might agree that it is the right course of action. In international relations at least according to the realist school, there are no completely altruistic acts by nations or their actors.

I’ve been rooted in the realist school of international relations well before I got my degree in political science, having grown up while Henry Kissinger acted as Nixon’s national security advisor and later secretary of state under him and his successor Gerald Ford.Realists not only expect nations to act in their best interests, but regimes and the organizations constituting them to do the same. In statecraft realists aren’t surprised when regimes do what’s best for them even when it might compromise or damage others, but are willing to act in their own best interest when the opposite party acts in theirs.

Case in point: Turkey. Under the regime of Recep Erdogan for the past 12 years Turkey has been acting in the best interest of Erdogan and his ruling party the AKP. Erdogan is an Islamist in a nation where political Islam had been banned for decades after its re-founding under Kamal Ataturk. While Ataturk and the secularists saw Europe as a useful ally that would strengthen Turkey and their regime in the Middle East, Erdogan has instead positioned Turkey as the next Islamic Caliphate more in line with the Ottoman Empire of the 17th century rather than secular and Democratic Western Europe.

Perhaps the biggest interest Erdogan has besides the desire to remain in power is to avoid empowering the Kurdish minority within Turkey. Unlike the Palestinians, the Kurds  have a much longer claim to their land stretching from northern Syria across southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq to Iran. One commonality between Erdogan and his secular predecessors has been the oppression of the Kurds in Turkey and their nationalist aims. The no-fly zone established in northern Iraq after the first Gulf War led to autonomy under Saddam and later the post-Saddam Iraqi government. Iraqi Kurds are as close to independent as Kurds have ever been, and their Syrian, Iranian and Turkish cousins recognize this.

From Erdogan’s perspective the decimation of the Syrian Kurds by the Islamic State (IS) is welcome. It weakens the Kurdish cause by reducing the number of Kurds in the region. Plus the Syrian Kurds were also strong supporters of the PKK, Turkey’s al-Qaida. From the realist perspective Erdogan will not act against IS on behalf of the Kurds unless there is an even greater, more pressing interest to do so.

And that’s the problem. Current American and European leadership is run by idealists not by realists. American and Europeans leaders simply do not understand why Erdogan  and to more worrying degree Vladimir Putin  act the way they do. To them bombing Kurds in Turkey instead of IS in Syria makes absolutely no sense just as annexing Crimea and dismembering Ukraine. They do not see the world the way Erdogan and Putin do, but realists do. Realists recognize that Putin and Erdogan will only act when the pressure applied to them is real and painful.

For Erdogan that pressure should include Turkey’s rejection from NATO and any possible future admittance to the EU under his regime. If Turkey acts in its own interests, so should the EU and the United States. The truth is that instead of being a beacon of secular Islam as Turkey once was, Turkey under Erdogan has become just another corrupt, Islamic Middle Eastern dictatorship with caliphate dreams. Turkey has condoned the rise of IS as well as backed  other terrorist groups such as Hamas. It has kept a tight leash on the American base in Incirlik, preventing it from participating in the second Gulf War and in attacks on IS.

Switching from Erdogan’s perspective, what is in America’s best interest? The dream for a secular Islamic state isn’t dead, it’s just moved to the southeast. As Iraq and Syria fall apart, the US should throw their backing behind the Kurds. The Kurds are not infected with the anti-western, anti-Semitic and anti-American ideology of Shi’a Iraq and Iran, or Erdogan’s Turkey. They are our only natural allies in the region besides the Israelis and should be supported not just with rhetoric, which the current administration excels at, but with military and logistical support against IS as well as diplomatic backing for an independent Kurdish state.

Doing this would pretty much end the alliance with Turkey, but the alliance is pretty much all but dead. Would the US actually send troops to Turkey if it invoked Article V? What if it invoked it against Israel, as some had suggested when the Israelis raided a Turkish ship attempting to break the embargo of Gaza?

What would the consequences be? Turkey would likely ally with Russia, but this is happening anyway as the Europe of the early 21st century looks increasingly like the Europe of the early 2oth century. After all, what’s the point of having a military base in a country if you can’t use it? Let the Turks and Russians try to get along on their own as they did in the 19th century.

For more on the subject read Michael Totten’s latest which inspired this post. Bernard-Henri Levy also states that should Kobani fall, Turkey should be kicked out of NATO.

 

 

 

The Razor Celebrates 13 Years

For 13 years I have used this medium as my soapbox, to stand and shout into the Void known as the Internet. 2,352 posts. 6,048 comments. Over that time I have swung from righteous anger in the months following 9-11, to optimism and hope in the years after the Iraqi invasion at a time when I was personally trying to change the world, to disappointment following the economic collapse of 2008 and the election of Barack Obama, to the despair of the Benghazi and IRS scandals, ending finally in the cynicism shrouded nihilism of today.

What can I say, but I’m simply stubborn. While I may no longer wish to change the world and simply want to be left alone in my current libertarian exile, there are still things I need to say and this is the only medium I have found to say them.

I have failed at essay writing, and authoring fiction and non-fiction books. I have failed at numerous small businesses and enterprises. Many of my predictions made in this journal and the positions I have argued have been proven wrong. In 2006 I said Google wouldn’t be around in 2011 and that Lindsay Lohan would die tragically in 2007. 8 years later Google is still my homepage and Lindsay Lohan is still alive, although whether her career is alive is arguable.

But my marriage of 24 years has never been stronger. I have helped raise a child over these 13 years, and while he’s not heading towards a full scholarship at MIT or Harvard, he is a very decent human being whose future in this world concerns me. I have built a writing-based career and nurtured the Wife’s education so that together we are comfortable. We have put money to work in our community, buying local products and hiring local workers whenever possible so that our success is shared with others. Our choices have allowed us to take an active role in animal rescue, saving dozens of unwanted animals from miserable deaths.

I was also right about some things. In 2005 I predicted the real estate bubble was becoming unsustainable. I was right that the soaring oil prices of 2008 would succumb to economic gravity and fall. And I was right in 2011 that removing Khaddafi from power was a bad idea.

The world may be indifferent to my existence yet I am confident I have made it a better place. So I may not be as respected as Charles Krauthammer or popular as Matt Drudge, I do occasionally write something worth reading.

I’ve picked one post from each year that is still worth reading today. Enjoy.

2001 -  Judging News Sources: Truth or Trash

The problem with bias is that it assumes the average reader or listener will believe everything that he or she reads or hears regardless of its source. However for Americans exposed to everything from sightings of Elvis to alien abductions to Clinton scandals, developing a “truth detector” (or its crudely named opposite, the “bullshit detector”) becomes an important skill. Such a skill starts early as children take on the media preferences of their parents, and is refined later in high school and often college when critical thinking skills are emphasized (one purpose of this journal is to save these skills from their demise at the hand of the Politically Correct). (Read the entire post)

2002 – October 2, 2002 – No Prize For Jimmy

President Carter’s crowning achievement was the Camp David Accords which returned the Sinai to Egypt in exchange for the end of a state of war between Israel and Egypt. While the accords ended a shooting war between the two countries, it is worth noting that the agreement was not even negotiated by the Americans – most of the diplomacy having been done by the King of Morocco and the Ceausescu regime in Rumania. Washington DC was simply the money to fund the deal. (Read the entire post)

2003 – May 25, 2003 – Censorship Today

It is important in a society for people to follow the same code of behavior. Americans are notorious for being more unmannered and direct than many other nationalities. Recent events show the impact a slow-death of civility in our society has. It is why President Ford’s saying that “We can disagree without being disagreeable,” remains a shining example that allows us to protect our rights to free expression. (Read the entire post)

2004 – June 25, 2004 – Cognitive Dissonance and Islam

The Saudi royal family has spread Wahabism around the globe, and now are about to be consumed by it. All the makings are in place for a jihadist overthrow of the kingdom: a corrupt government infiltrated by jihadists, a dying king, a large yet effete royal family containing many supporters of the jihadists, and the cognitive dissonance which prevents the leaders from recognizing the true enemies within their own ranks caused by their own inflexible understanding of their religion. (Read the entire post)

 2005 – April 12, 2005 – Visiting the Funeral Home

“These ceremonies are for the living,” the funeral director said. I commented that her job seemed more like a cruise director or wedding planner. “My job is to…” I almost got her to say it but she didn’t. She wanted to say:

Put the “fun” back into “funeral” but she artfully stopped herself from saying that although I knew deep down she wanted to. What followed was a more politically correct explanation of her duties and how much she enjoyed her job.

Well, I suppose it takes all types. (Read the entire post)

2006 – August 10, 2006 – We Are All Israelis

I stand for Israel because I see it as a desert that has bloomed through the hard work and brilliance of its people. I see a people that has suffered unjustly for thousands of years continue to suffer today. I see a people who refuse to accept the status of victims. I see a people who value peace but aren’t willing to trade it for annihilation.

I stand for Israel because Israel is a nation where Arabs, Jews and Christians live together in peace – next to states where religions and their books are banned outright. I stand for Israel because it values everyone. It holds gay pride rallies next to nations where gays are hung from forklifts. It treats women as equals in all ways, while the women in nearby nations can’t even leave their homes alone.

I stand for Israel because it is at the frontier of civilization, an outpost of honesty in a region mired in corruption. I stand for Israel because in the fight to preserve the light from the darkness, we are all Israelis. (Read the entire post)

2007 – October 7, 2007 – The Kiwi And the Eagle: Anti-Americanism in New Zealand

I recently wrote about my Wife’s experience while serving at a hospital in Tanzania with a 24 year old New Zealander. The girl was well versed in anti-American propaganda and felt compelled to heap abuse on my Wife. The Wife is quite capable of defending herself, but she lacks my background knowledge of American foreign policy and world history. During our brief phone call, I provided her with some basic facts to combat the Kiwi’s propaganda regurgitations. Afterward I decided to dig deeper into the youngster’s bigotry and did some research into New Zealand’s attitudes towards Americans. What I found changed my mind about wanting to visit the place anytime soon. (Read the entire post)

2008 – October 20, 2008 – The Good Daughter

Fenwick Island was different; our family was different. There was nothing left to do but accept these truths.

I took the box containing the ashes and at the Wife’s request I opened them and removed the plastic bag that held them shut with a twist tie. Inside were the mixed remains of both the Father-in-law and the Mother-in-law. The Wife cradled them under her pullover as we climbed the dune and walked to the waterline of the beach. As the Kid took the dog upwind, she undid the twist tie and allowed the bag to billow open. (Read the entire post)

2009 – November 19, 2009 – The Weak Horse Named Obama

A friend who voted for Obama last year (and regrets his decision BTW) asked me why I opposed the civil prosecution of terrorists and supported military tribunals. He thought that treating them as run-of-the-mill criminals was an insult, and that by convicting and sentencing them in a military tribunal elevated their status from terrorist to warrior. Here are the reasons I gave him for why I believe that Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision is the worst political decision made since President Ford pardoned Nixon in 1974. (Read the entire post)

 2010 – August 10, 2010 – Riders in the Storm

As with the storms, my instinct tells me that something is seriously wrong with my country. That same paralyzing fear that I had during the storm is with me everyday. The skies are ominous, yet Obama and the Federal Government are driving us deep into the storm and there is nothing much we can do it about it since both are deaf to our concerns. All we can do is listen to our instincts and take every chance we can to limit the danger to ourselves and loved ones the President and the Feds seem determined to visit upon us. (Read the entire post)

2011 – September 6, 2011 – A Short List of Lessons Since 9-11

Islam is Problematic And Our Ruling Elite Doesn’t Understand It
9-11 and the events over the past 10 years have taught us that Islam is different from all other world religions. It is not Christianity with different traditions unless the comparison is made to Christianity prior to the Renaissance. Then Christianity was a political and cultural defining force that determined all aspects of life for the lowliest peasant to the greatest emperor. It determined when each arose, what he did prior to work, his job, how he dressed, how he ate, and his relationship to his superiors (in the case of the emperor, to the Pope). There were no concepts of freedom in thought or deed at that time. The identify of “self” as inviolate would not become accepted until the Enlightenment in the 18th century. Tolerance of other cultures, ethnicities and especially religions simply did not exist at all. (Read the entire post)

2012 – January 17, 2012 – In the Belly of the Swan

Assess the situation. Keep calm. I tend to speak quickly and loudly when I’m nervous so I intentionally slow down the cadence of my words. Keep everyone calm. Crack a bad joke even though no one feels like laughing. Talk about the weather. Whatever it takes to keep everyone – including myself – from panicking. As a writer by instinct I feel myself observing myself, but that is also a task for the future; better to stay in the moment, the now. Time stretches, knees knock, keep scanning the darkness. “Safeties off?” “Yes,” I command. We are locked and loaded. The past is written, the future no longer exists. In the dense fog, in the belly of the swan, waiting for what must happen to happen. (Read the entire post)

2013 – April 3, 2013 – We Are Idiots

The system is corrupt yet we do nothing about it. We are told happy days are here again, that the stockmarket is at record highs, yet those of us who dabbled in the market prior to 2009 have still not recovered from the losses suffered then, leaving us on the sidelines of this rally. Small investors piled into the market and out of the market late back then, proving they were the “greater fools” and some are doing so today as the market skyrockets and smart money looks for the exits. Sure our 401K’s are expanding, but the numbers are meaningless for anyone other than those planning to retire in the coming months before this bubble bursts. Self employed people and contractors like myself don’t have 401K’s, we just have our wits and an ever sharpening skill set that we use to stay employed, but both are slowly being eroded by time as we age and the younger cohorts below us grow hungrier and more competitive. (Read the entire post)

It’s Jews All The Way Down

The name of this journal is in honor to Occam’s Razor, the tool of logic used to decide when faced with two theories having the same evidence the simpler theory is most likely true. I selected this name because of the explosion of conspiracy theories that followed the 9-11 attacks. Occam’s Razor is to a conspiracy theory what a can of RAID is to a cockroach. In the immediate aftermath of the attack there were a multitude of explanations and justifications, from Bin Laden striking the blow to protest America’s refusal to curb global warming to the controlled demolition of the towers by the US government itself. Like cockroaches these theories managed to survive and evolve into what we now call 9-11 Truthers, a movement that has become a cottage industry where the only people not responsible for the 9-11 attacks are the ones who actually claimed responsibility for committing them.

Every generation has its tin-foil hat crowd, as do both sides of the political spectrum. FDR knew about Pearl Harbor well before the Japanese launched the attack. JFK was killed by the CIA, mob, Cubans or a conspiracy involving all three. The moon landings were faked as was Elvis’s death. Reagan was killed by Hinkley and replaced with an imposter. The CIA was behind the AIDS and Crack epidemics of the 1980s. Vince Foster was “suicided” by the Clintons.

There’s an anecdote where a great scientist delivers a lecture on cosmology in which he remarks the earth orbits around the sun. At the end of the lecture an old woman stands up and shouts, “That’s poppycock. Everyone knows the earth sits on the back of a giant turtle.” The scientist then asks the woman, if that were true what is that turtle resting on? “It’s turtles all the way down,” she answers.

I’m reminded of this anecdote whenever I visit sites like Zero Hedge where it seems the vast majority of posters are advocates of one conspiracy or another, and often many. Whether its the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17, the rise of ISIS, the civil war in Ukraine, rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza or the Ebola outbreak, some insidious group is behind it – and it’s never the obvious the person or group claiming ownership. Instead that person or group is claimed to be a shill or patsy.

Take for example the Ukrainian civil war. Although Russia is the obvious aggressor because it has the most to lose by having an independent and prosperous Ukraine on its border, the Russian government is not to blame. Instead a belligerent undercover NATO forces are massacring Russian speakers in the East and goading Russia into the war. NATO also bombed Flight MH17 and fabricated the telemetry and satellite data showing the plane was downed by a missile fired from Russian controlled territory. The whole purpose of this exercise is for the West to ignite a war with Russia, one that will cause the price of fuel to skyrocket for the benefit of American energy companies.

Then there’s al-Qaeda and its off-shoot ISIS. It’s a common belief that these groups are under the control of the CIA and the Mossad. All the terrorist attacks committed by these groups, all the beheadings and massacres are manufactured by bureaucrats in Langley and Tel Aviv, operating “false flag” divisions devoted to creating mayhem that then provides justification for their governments to meddle in the Middle East on behalf of the TPTB, the Powers that Be.

Mind you there is not a scintilla of proof behind any of this, and when proof countering this narrative is raised the conspiracy theorists simply move the goal-posts onto another area where the proof is not as definitive. Or they claim the proof offered was itself manufactured, making it impossible to disprove their position. Conspiracy theorists believe such maneuvers make their positions stronger, but the impossibility of disproving a theory actually weakens it from a rational point of view. For example a single piece of evidence could disprove Evolution; simply find the fossil of a modern animal such as a human or horse in sediments dating from the Jurassic Period, and the theory would be gravely weakened. Yet there is no such evidence that can possibly refute the theory that the World Trade Centers were destroyed through explosives set in the structures by the CIA or Mossad as many Truthers believe. The fact that we have video and thousands of eyewitness accounts of the airliners slamming into the buildings does not weaken their convictions. The dearth of such acceptable contrarian evidence forces these ideas out of the realm of factuality and into faith.

And who are the TPTB? It depends on whom you ask. For many it’s the extremely wealthy oligarchs that run the world’s economies, men of unimaginable wealth whose faces are not known, but who control the fates of Man in the same way the gods controlled the fates of the Greeks and Romans. But then one could ask, well, who controls The Powers That Be? Inevitably we run into the Jews. The Jews are the world’s favorite Wizard of Oz, the man behind the curtain that controls everything Evil. If something bad happens there is inevitably a Jew behind it.

But why stop there? Who’s behind the Jews? And then the lady at the back of the room stands up and says “It’s Jews all the way down…”

Over the past 5000 years of their existence other tribes and their religions have come and gone but the Jews remain. They have survived countless persecutions, pogroms, and the greatest mass-murder in History and still they remain true to their faith and identity. Over that time Jews have risen to the heights of power in every civilization they have lived in, wielding power in service to Ottoman sultans, defining Communism in Russia, and serving the cause of freedom and democracy in the American senate. Their success in the Arts is unparalleled. Countless writers, actors, directors and musicians hail from the ethnic group. Their importance to finance, established during the middle ages due to the prohibition of usury by the Catholic Church, gave them the control of wealth that lays at the heart of most anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. This survival and even thriving at times is historically unusual, and when you put success together with survival over 5 millennia, you have a recipe for those of weaker minds to fall for conspiracies involving favoritism or treachery.

And I must emphasize that anti-Semitism is the purvey of weaker minds. It takes much effort to understand History and its complexities, and that is simply too much for many to employ. It is much easier to fall back on conspiratorial beliefs that are simplistic but with a strong history of their own. And that I think is the problem with facts: they take more effort to put together to create the Truth than to weave falsehoods into a great Lie. It is much easier to dream up a conspiracy theory that explains the loss of Malaysian Flight MH17 than it is to objectively examine the evidence. It is also a much more compelling story. But just because it’s compelling doesn’t mean it’s correct, and that apocryphal lady’s belief in turtles will not pluck the Earth from orbit around the Sun and set it upon an infinite column of reptiles just as the Jews are as guilty or innocent as any other ethnic group for the sins of this world.

On the Writings of Julius Caesar

A few days ago marked the 2000th anniversary of the death of Augustus Caesar. The event passed quietly as far as I can tell which is a shame in my opinion. Augustus as well as his adopted father Julius Caesar shaped the foundation of our society in a way that even they would not have imagined. He should at least be remembered if not celebrated.

Most of us get history shoved down our throats. I remember being forced to read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar freshman year of high school when I was more interested in smoking pot and listening to Blondie than understanding Elizabethan English, even that of the Great Bard. Of course Shakespeare’s take on Caesar was about as factual as Tina Fey’s of Sarah Palin so I suppose I didn’t miss much. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve developed an interest in and a deep appreciation of ancient works. For this I credit “Black Swan” author and philosopher Naseem Nicholas Taleb, and the crazy frat boy turned project manager who turned me on to him. Taleb is one of the few writers I’d like to meet, and he has written extensively about the stoics and other ancient philosophers. I started reading Seneca because of him, and it hasn’t been easy. I’ve learned that I am weak when it comes to translated works. I need the rhythm and comfort of modern speech to appreciate these ancient writings, and while I’ve struggled with Seneca’s translation, The Complete Works of Julius Caesar as translated by W.A McDevitte and W.S. Bohn has been a good investment of $1.50.

Caesar writes in the 3rd person as if some disembodied narrator which I find somewhat annoying, but once you get past that his story comes alive. You are in the mind of one of history’s greatest generals at a crucial point in our civilization’s history.

One thing becomes quickly clear: Caesar is always at the disadvantage in battle. In Gaul his forces are always out-manned by the tribes arrayed against him, but Caesar understands victory does not rely on numbers alone, and his tactical genius combined with a veteran, well-disciplined force overcomes the numerical advantage of his enemies. But it isn’t easy. Here is a sample of Caesar in battle.

Caesar had everything to do at one time: the standard to be displayed, which was the sign when it was necessary to run to arms; the signal to be given by the trumpet; the soldiers to be called off from the works; those who had proceeded some distance for the purpose of seeking materials for the rampart, to be summoned; the order of battle to be formed; the soldiers to be encouraged; the watchword to be given. A great part of these arrangements was prevented by the shortness of time and the sudden approach and charge of the enemy. (Gallic Wars, Book 2, Chapter 20)

What comes through his narration is the unpredictability of war. One would also expect Caesar to embellish his successes while airbrushing away his failures, yet Caesar’s retelling of events comes through as exceedingly honest. For example, Caesar didn’t win all his battles. In fact at the battle of Dyrrachium he almost lost everything against another one of History’s great generals, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus or Pompey the Great.

Pompey had taken up a position upon some hills with his back to the sea. Unable to assault Pompey directly Caesar set about building fortifications around Pompey’s position with the idea of boxing him and eventually strangling his army. Pompey’s navy controlled the sea so his army could resupply whereas Caesar’s could not, but thousands of horses need a lot of forage Caesar became expert at picking off cavalry in search of food for their horses. A stalemate descended on the battlefield, and it wasn’t until two Gauls defected from Caesar’s camp to Pompey that the stalemate was broken. They informed Pompey about where Caesar’s forces were weakest, and Pompey focused his attack on that point. Caesar’s army turned and fled, and he struggled to figure out what happened, stopping panicked soldiers himself for details of the rout. Learning the circumstances Caesar believed that he had lost the war. Then his luck changed. Caesar writes,

In this calamity, the following favorable circumstances occurred to prevent the ruin of our whole army, that Pompey suspecting an ambush (because, as I suppose, the success had far exceeded his hopes, as he had seen his men a moment before fleeing from the camp), didn’t approach the fortification, and that his horse were retarded from pursuing… By retarding the rapidity of the enemy’s pursuit, preserved our army. (The Civil Wars, Book 3, Chapter 72)

Caesar had developed a reputation for daring as a general, but this can only have been abetted by his experienced army. Nowhere was this more apparent then at the Battle of Pharsalus, the climactic battle of the Roman Civil War. Before the battle Pompey had managed to starve Caesar’s army of supplies. Pompey employed this strategy of attrition, waiting for Caesar’s forces to fall apart under the stress of skirmishes and lack of supplies. Caesar in turn sought to provoke Pompey into battle, appreciating for himself the wisdom of Pompey’s strategy but Pompey resisted being drawn into battle. At this point Pompey had the high ground on a hill and had double the number of troops – 45,000 vs Caesar’s 22,000.

The pressure on Pompey to finish off Caesar’s forces was strong. His advisers and lieutenants pushed the old general to destroy Caesar and his army, and they claimed the victory at Dyrrachium proved that Caesar was fatally weakened. Excited at the prospect of ridding themselves of Caesar and returning to Rome as heroes, Caesar quotes one of Pompey’s generals as denigrating Caesar’s forces. “(This is not) the army which conquered Gaul and Germany… a very small part of that army now remains… the flower of the forces perished in the two engagements at Dyrrachium.” Finally Pompey relented, announcing “I have persuaded our cavalry, and they have engaged to execute it… to attack Caesar’s right wing on the flank, and inclosing their army on the rear, throw them into disorder, and put them to the rout, before we shall throw a weapon against the enemy.” (The Civil Wars, Book 3, Chapter 87).

Throughout his works Caesar portrays himself as favoring a peaceful resolution to a crisis over war, and when war was necessary, enforcing a just peace on the defeated. The lives of captured soldiers were spared; towns that surrendered to his army did not have their citizens put to the sword. These were uncommon practices by his enemies according to his Caesar, and his concern with his enemy and the Republic showed before battle. Facing double the number of men in his army, a force well supplied and enjoying better ground and lead by a general Caesar himself respected, Caesar exhorted his forces as Pompey  began arranging his men for battle. “He took care to remind them that he could call his soldiers to witness the earnestness with which he had sought peace… he had been always reluctant to shed the blood of his soldiers, and did not wish to deprive the republic of one or other of her armies.” (The Civil Wars, Book 3, Chapter 90).

The pivotal battle turned out to be somewhat anti-climatic from a modern point of view, but here again Caesar’s experienced troops were the deciding factor. Charging towards Pompey’s forces required Caesar’s soldiers to cross a vast no-mans-land between the two armies. Pompey under the advice of his adviser Caius Triarius held back his men, waiting for Caesar’s troops to tire and then be easily beaten. But his experienced troops understood what Pompey was doing and changed tactics in the middle of their run. Caesar writes, “(Caesar’s men) perceiving that Pompey’s men did not run to meet their charge, having acquired experience by custom, and being practices in former battles, they of their own accord repressed their speed, and halted almost midway; that they might not come up with the enemy when their strength was exhausted.” (The Civil Wars, Book 3, Chapter 93). Caesar notes that Pompey’s men did not fail in the battle, “for they received our javelins, stood our charge, and maintained their ranks,” but within minutes the tide of the battle changed. Caesar had made up his thin ranks not in the customary three rows but four. This crucial fourth row of men were able to withstand the cavalry charge Pompey had planned; had that fourth row not been there the cavalry would have broken through Caesar’s line and been able to attack his forces from behind. But the fourth line held and pushed back the cavalry, sending it routing. Once that happened the battle was for all intents and purposes over. Pompey left the battlefield and returned to camp, eventually disguising himself and fleeing.

Throughout the books Caesar drops names of those who helped him which reminds me of the way American presidents pepper their speeches with the names of average Americans. I find it fascinating that over 2000 years later these men, or at least their names, are not forgotten thanks to Caesar’s pen. Caesar writes, “There was in Caesar’s army, a volunteer of the name of Crastinus, who the year before had been first centurion of the tenth legion, a man of pre-eminent bravery. .. He looked back at Caesar and said “General, I will act in such a matter today that you will feel grateful to me living or dead.”” Earlier in the Gallic Wars he notes “two very brave men, centurions, who were now approaching the first ranks, T. Pullo and L. Varenus. These used to have continual disputes between them which of them should be preferred, and every year used to to contend for promotion with the utmost animosity.” These two men became the main characters of the HBO series Rome. Caesar sprinkles these names and vignettes throughout this works, betraying what I consider to be a literary sensibility by the writer. Caesar was educated in the Greek classics so he probably understood the importance of supporting characters to help tell a story, and since the Romans themselves were just as interested in their own history as we are in theirs, he no doubt knew that his story would be much more interesting if it wasn’t filled with self-aggrandizing commentary. It’s a lesson our current leader should learn if he was open-minded enough to appreciate the thoughts of a “dead white male.”

I know I’m not the first to realize this, but the epiphany that a long-dead man like Julius Caesar could come alive in my imagination through his writings has been profound and humbling. The Renaissance thinkers believed that the Greeks and Romans had discovered all there was to know about the human condition, and that it was up to them to rediscover that knowledge and refine it. Like them I am simply amazed at how little has changed between Caesar’s era and our own when it comes to the human condition. Caesar is betrayed and lied to just as the EU is today by Vladimir Putin. He experiences fake friends just as the US does in the guise of the Saudis. His men act with honor and cowardice just as our soldiers do today. We may shoot missiles instead of launching javelins but I would bet that if you took one of Caesar’s legionaries and put him in a foxhole in Afghanistan he would get along just fine with American soldiers.

It is readily apparent to me why Caesar has not been forgotten over the millennia. He speaks to us across Time to remind us of that we face the same struggles he did, possessing the same soul-destroying fears as well as our own capacity for courage and greatness. Through his writings he transcends death and serves as an important guide for us as we stumble towards our own future.

 

2 More Years of Failure Instead of Impeachment

John Boehner does have some brains at least. The House Speaker has ruled out impeachment, saying “(I)t’s all a scam started by the Democrats in the White House.”

Boehner is right. The GOP doesn’t need to make a martyr out of the worst president I’ve lived under in my brief lifetime. Better instead to let Obama golf his way through his lame duck presidency as the world falls apart and the Democratic Party’s 2016 chances with it.  Let the Democratic Party own this mess without the distraction of Obama’s martyrdom. They need to savor the failure of his presidency as only his opponents have and face the consequences of their stupidty to raise this inexperienced academic to the most powerful position in the world.

My late mother-in-law used to always tell someone when they complained, “You chose this path.” We as a country chose this path and we are constitutionally obligated to suffer the consequences of our actions. No matter how much I detest this president, I do not want to see him impeached unless incontrovertible proof arises for  “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” All the scandals I have documented on this website, all the idiocy the world and this country has suffered from the incompetence, misguided idealism and sheer greed of this president and his administration do not rise to that standard.

I opposed the impeachment of Clinton when I was a Democrat, and I oppose the impeachment of Obama as a registered Republican. I am relieved to see Boehner appreciates what impeachment means to the political fabric of the United States in contrast to those who will impeach anyone whom they oppose.

American power is not half as scary as its absence would be.

That’s the punch line from this Economist article.

American interest in the outside world has ebbed and flowed throughout its history. We are now in an ebbing phase, and I’m not convinced that the GOP will produce and internationalist candidate to buck the trend rather than a neo-isolationist like Rand Paul. It’s interesting to watch the world squirm though, especially the freeloading Europeans (the British excepted).

Shifting Political Alliances and Friendships

Since most of my Facebook friends are liberals (about 2/3rds at last count), my newsfeed on Facebook provides me with a steady stream of consciousness from the liberal perspective. Take for example a friend of mine who lives and works in Hollywood. He takes predictable positions on issues and inevitably concludes that all problems in our society are caused by the opponents of the progressive agenda. I hold my tongue. When the Occupy movement was in full-swing, his posts and the comments of his friends (he has 6x the number of friends than I do on FB) demonized the 1% and belittled anyone else who questioned the authenticity of the Occupy crowd or the intelligence of its slogans. Fast forward two years later, and the same friend who demonized the 1% supports tax breaks for millionaires in the form of subsidies encouraging liberal movie moguls like Harvey Weinstein to keep movie production in California.

I am not pointing this out to show how stupid my friend is. Quite the opposite. He’s an intelligent man who has built a very successful life for himself. There is nothing wrong with pursuing policies that are in our own self-interest as long as we don’t start believing that our motives are purely altruistic. As for supporting tax breaks for millionaires while at the same time demanding for them to “pay their fair share,” we are all prone to cognitive dissonance regardless of our ideology and more importantly we are all manipulated by our leaders, although some more than others. It is our job as social beings living in modern society to be naturally skeptical of what we are told, and to also question as objectively as possible our own deeply held beliefs. I have my blind spots just as he his, but at heart I believe he is a good person even if he does spout off like an idiot sometimes*.

After my personal beliefs have moved through the ideological spectrum I am becoming increasingly aware of the limits of our two-party system. Take for example the Republican Party, the one I am currently registered with. Within the party there are people who have chosen the party because it reflects their beliefs. I am one of these people. While I don’t subscribe to everything the party stands for, I believe that it reflects my views at this time better than the other party. But that could change.

Ralph Nader is proposing a libertarian/progressive alliance. Under such an alliance my progressive friend and I would be united under the same banner. It’s an interesting idea to consider especially since the top GOP candidate that he mentions, Rand Paul, is one of my current favorites. I noted that at a recent speech at UC-Berkeley Paul received a standing ovation from the crowd. That told me that perhaps there was an awareness among the left of the common ground the two groups shared. After all drug decriminalization, the expansion of individual freedom and an end to crony capitalism were once celebrated by the progressives of  the 1960s. Today this mantle has passed to the libertarians who now find themselves a home in the Republican Party of all places, the more accommodating of the two parties.

Such an alliance would shatter both parties but in my view they deserve such fates. The GOP leadership has shown little interest in the ideas of the libertarians or other ideologues in their party, choosing instead to sideline anyone who dares question their authority (like the grassroots Tea Party organizations). It seems to me the only thing that John Boehner and his ilk care about is taking power, and they will do anything, say anything to keep it.

The Democrats now act like the Republicans of the 1970s and 1980s. They stifle thought and expression through politically correct dogma just as the GOP did when the Moral Majority called the shots back in the Reagan-Bush era. Is selling arms to Iran to pay for guns for the Contras any worse than the NSA spying scandal under this administration? Is Watergate really worse than using the IRS to target administration enemies like Tea Party members? Is the Meese Commission any different from the anti-pornography crusade by Obama’s Department of Justice?

What’s the difference exactly between John Boehner and Harry Reid, or Reince Priebus and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz? One party wants the government to  control your life and is in power, the other wants the government to control your life and is out of power. Both parties want tax breaks for their friends and to end tax breaks for the friends of the other party. The only difference is the libertarian wing of the GOP and a small cohort of progressives who recognize the danger of government as exemplified by the IRS and NSA scandals.

Will such an alliance happen? It is impossible to say. Everything changes and what may seem impossible today becomes inevitable tomorrow. All I can say for sure that it’s in the best interest of my Facebook friend and myself to stay friends, to let the rants slide, and to never forget what bound us together in the first place.
———————-

  • Note: It’s been said that conservatives think liberals are misguided while liberals think conservatives are evil. The above essay reflects this, and it would be interesting to hear what my Fb friend thought of me. Does he think I’m evil because I support the Tea Party and am a die-hard non-Jewish Zionist? In order for an alliance between Left/Right to take hold both sides must stop demonizing the other. It’s not possible if either side continues taking the low road, and so far I’ve seen similar essays as the above written by conservatives and libertarians but as yet to have seen one reaching out to the Right from the Left.

The Spark in Nevada

Lenin and the early Bolsheviks believed the world had gotten to a point in its history that the proletariat would revolt. Like a forest full of dried timber baking in the hot sun all that was needed for the Communist Revolution they so desired was for a spark, iskra, to set the forest ablaze. The concept was so important to Lenin that he named his newspaper after it while he lived in exile. It was a continuation of Marx’s belief in the evolution of control over the means of production. Marx looked at the world around him at the height of the Industrial Revolution and saw the dehumanizing impact of life living in the crowded cities and working in the factories. To him this was a natural progression from the dawn of civilization that would inevitably lead to the rising up of the working class to take ownership of the factories they slaved in. Marx expected this revolution to occur in countries on the vanguard of the industrial revolution such as Prussia, France and Great Britain, but except for the brief interlude of the Paris Commune in 1848, socialist uprisings failed to materialize in these countries.

The United States has always had a small contingents of people who wanted nothing more than to be left alone. During the colonial period various groups came to America fleeing religious persecution in continental Europe. The expansion of America westward was led by individualists like Daniel Boone and religious heretics like the Mormons followed by vast waves of immigrants seeking better lives after escaping oppressive regimes in Ireland, Central Europe and Russia. Each individual of that time left a legacy that is written in our DNA as a people. Echoes of the suffering of each Russian Jew arriving penniless in New York City or illiterate Irish woman sleeping with her children on the deck of steamer paddling up the Mississippi from New Orleans can be heard as whispers in our collective unconscious. These unique experiences are why we so frustrate our allies and enemies alike. It is impossible for a Brit to truly understand why Americans instinctively abhor collectivism and celebrate the codified rights of the Constitution that protecting individual liberty. The divisiveness that comes with individual rights also encourages our enemies to see America as a “paper tiger” that will explode into confetti with the right spark, be that a sneak attack on the Pacific fleet while in port or twin skyscrapers in Manhattan.

This is also a lesson that the American left socialized on European collectivist thought has forgotten over the past generation. The American Left has always looked towards the Continent for inspiration but that had been tempered at least somewhat by the home-grown anarchism of Henry David Thoreau and at least found common cause with American libertarians. But sometime over the past forty years being a socialist or progressive has meant believing in the power of the State. This reflects an acceptance by the American Left of “Big Government” European-style Socialism which ironically is in decline in the Scandinavian countries, the UK and Germany. As a consequence anarchists and libertarians who once were considered extreme leftists are now viewed by the American Left as extremist members of the right wing.

Today’s American Left wing now sees the State as its salvation and protector. Unions in the private sector have almost disappeared yet the public sector unions are thriving. In 2011 the Economist reported, “government unionisation has risen from 23% in 1973 to 36% today, while private-sector unionisation has declined from 24% in 1973 to 7% today.” Challenges to state power are no longer coming from the Left as they did in the 1960, but from the Right as exemplified today by the Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada.

In this dispute the Left stands with the federal government while the Right including the libertarians side with the Bundy family. Progressive groups have gone on the attack including calling for the silencing of Tea Partiers and other supporters of the Bundy family. In It’s Time to be Honest: The Tea Party Has Become a Terrorist Group, Allen Clifton writes,

But the longer these people are given a voice, the more they’ve moved from a political movement to a domestic terrorist organization.  In politics, they’re doing everything possible to sabotage our country for political gain while outside of politics they’re becoming even more brazenly radical than ever before.

And much like traditional terrorists, these domestic tea party terrorists have a main goal of demonizing and destroying the United States government.


Burning Man founder and liberal activist Sean Shealy plans to hold “Bundyfest” promising 30 days of anarchy across from the Bundy Ranch. In a Facebook post Shealy pokes fun at Bundy then ends, “Get a grip, folks. It’s about some cranky old dude and some cows in the middle of a barren desert. And the rule of law.” Rule of law? Coming from the organizer of the largest LSD and Ecstasy bash in the country it’s nice to know Shealy has some boundaries. It would be nice if he turned himself in for promoting illicit drug use at his bashes, but I’m not holding my breath. The Left has come a long way from getting their heads bashed in Chicago in 1968 by the police force of Mayor Richard “The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder,” Daly.

The Bundy standoff has shown the true face of the American Left. Transport the hippies of 1967 through Time to today and it’s unlikely they’d find the federal government all that groovy. The anti-establishment of that era has become the Establishment.

So now it’s up to the right wing and its individualist supporters to take up the idea of “iskra.” The right wing and old-school libertarians have always had a paranoid fringe, but Edward Snowden’s  revelations of domestic spying along with the IRS persecution of conservative groups exacerbated by the government takeover of health care proves the wisdom of Henry Kissinger’s quote that even paranoids have enemies. Could Bundy be that spark that ignites the conservative base into open revolt?

Cliven Bundy is not a natural leader for everyone who distrusts the government, nor is his issue with the federal government a clear-cut case of abuse of the individual by the State. It would be nice if there was a more appealing leader than a Mormon rancher, and a more obvious case of government persecution, but the mere fact that the Bundy Ranch dispute continues making headlines on both sides of the political divide shows the there is plenty of tinder in the forest. Only time will tell if the Bundy standoff will set it ablaze.

War Is Not The Answer at the Bundy Ranch

I haven’t written much about the Bundy situation in Nevada because when I started delving into the 20 year old issue it quickly became complicated; I’m not that familiar with grazing rights and didn’t feel qualified to judge based on what I’d learned. I’m also active in wildlife conservation and actually do care about animals like turtles.

But what I can comment upon is the way the federal government has responded to the situation. I’m a firm believer in gun safety. I believe you should only point a gun at something you want to destroy. If you don’t want to harm that thing you don’t point your gun at it. Seeing pictures of federal agents pointing guns at protesters and more ominously laying in the dirt with sniper rifles pointing at the Bundy family members bothers me.

I’m also bothered by a government bureaucracy that is tone deaf to any criticism. They’ve let this situation go on for 20 years, and now seem determined to end it regardless of what happens. There are clearly some hot-heads in the BLM who seem determined to spill blood over what is a civil matter that should be resolved in the courts.

One must not forget that such acts breed extremism. For example some on both sides of the political spectrum believe that US interventions overseas breed terrorism, so it’s not a stretch to apply that logic to domestic intervention. Timothy McVeigh justified the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 on the ATF siege of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco Texas in 1993. We’re left to wonder what would have happened had Waco been resolved without violence.

The BLM may have thought following the standard playbook of a massive display of force would work; it hasn’t. Instead it has inflamed the situation and brought armed militia members to “protect” the Bundy family from an apparently uncontrollable federal bureaucracy. The people surrounding the Bundy ranch are Americans just as those they are pointing their guns at. They have families just as the Bundy’s do. There is no reason why this cannot be settled peacefully but it’s going to require cooler heads to prevail.

The Bundy ranch is a quagmire for the federal government. It needs to resolve the stand-off diplomatically without resorting to shooting Americans. It may not get 100% of what it wants, but a military victory over the family is impossible.

Update: Dead Americans for Chinese solar panels? Looks like Sen. Reid is saving the desert tortoise only to displace them for a Chinese solar panel company. Nothing surprises me anymore.

Update: Looks like cooler heads have prevailed after all. This time.

Update: More on Dirty Harry

 

The Racist Roots of Progressive Thought

Zombie has a thought-provoking article on the racist origins of popular progressive dogma. In the article he presents the topic, a neutral description of the topic, the progressive justification for the topic, the conservative thought behind the progressive justification, and the true racist reason underlying the policy. While some of the racist reasons seem a bit over-the-top, most are spot on and worth considering. The best one by far is abortion. Zombie notes:

The movement to legalize abortion was from its inception intended as a way to decrease the black and minority population, and the statistics show that a highly disproportionate percentage of aborted babies are black. The desire to preserve “racial purity” and to prevent over-breeding of the “lower” races and classes was the overt and publicly pronounced goal of the pro-abortion progressive eugenics campaign in the early 20th century; only after eugenics fell from public favor did the leftists devise deceptive new narratives to justify abortion. White progressives still believe that blacks cannot control their sexuality and are too irresponsible to use birth control reliably, so the only way to keep them from overpopulating is to keep abortion legal and cheap or free.

Given that in abortions outnumber live birth in New York City and in the state of Mississippi for blacks, can one be racist for opposing a practice that reduces the African-American population? Margaret Sanger is considered a saint by progressives who vehemently defend her against her own deeds (speaking to the Ku Klux Klan about eugenics and abortion) and her own words supporting race-based eugenics. I in fact view Sanger as a product of her time who should not be judged by today’s standards. Eugenics was commonly accepted across the political spectrum at the time, and her racist attitude didn’t deviate from the norms of her era. But to accept such a notion flies in the face of liberal ideology that disparages historical people by judging them by contemporary liberal standards, outright condemning Thomas Jefferson for owning slaves instead of celebrating his achievement of advancing the cause of Democracy and free thought at a time when both were almost non-existent. So Sanger’s past must be re-written and the lies vigorously defended by all means fair and foul instead of judging her by the standards of her own era which, while nowhere near aa saintly are perhaps also not as diabolical as conservatives would like to believe.

It’s interesting that some people truly believe I am racist because I am troubled by these abortion statistics. I am racist because I believe blacks have the same abilities as I do. I am racist because I believe blacks can achieve more without being under the thumb of the government just as whites can. Even living with blacks in the South or working with them in Africa does not insulate me from the label “racist” tossed at me by people who send their children to private all-white schools and whose friends and neighbors are the same skin color. We truly live in paradoxical times.

The Feds Want to Determine News Coverage

Think I’m being paranoid?
 

First, the agency selected eight categories of “critical information” such as the “environment” and “economic opportunities,” that it believes local newscasters should cover. It plans to ask station managers, news directors, journalists, television anchors and on-air reporters to tell the government about their “news philosophy” and how the station ensures that the community gets critical information.

 

That’s not a quote from a blogger or a tin-foil hat wearing journalist from an extremist website. That’s Ajit Pai, an FCC commissioner writing in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Pai writes, “The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.” Damn right it doesn’t.

We live in dangerous times. We don’t fully comprehend this yet, but we will soon – and hopefully before it is too late to change things.

Facebook’s Culture of Like Breeds Conformity

I don’t post on Facebook anymore, and haven’t since August 2012.. Like many conservatives/libertarians most of my friends are liberals. In fact just for kicks I went through and categorized my “Facebook Friends” into Liberal, Moderate and Other political categories based on their posts. 60% of these “friends” were avowed liberals while the remainder was split evenly between moderates and “other”. This exercise didn’t take much time; I don’t have all that many “friends” on Facebook. In fact I’d quit it completely if it wasn’t for the posts of a small subset of friends and George Takei.

I quit posting on Facebook after finding myself drawn into an argument with a liberal friend from my college days. I’ve been on the Internet since before it was called “The Internet.” When I was in college I hung out at a local BBS and frequented Usenet groups. I quickly learned the perils of flamers and trolls, and so by the time the 2000’s rolled by I had a full education on what topics to avoid and which to pursue and more importantly, how to pursue them, on the Internet. I learned that writing or posting in a faceless medium tended to make one abstract a friend into an opponent, an opponent into an enemy, and an enemy into a representation of pure Evil. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and I’ve fallen into it many times, usually here on TheRazor, and sometimes in discussions with like-minded friends. But usually I’m smart enough to recognize when I’m stuffing straw into a scarecrow in my arguments and realize that it’s a conscious fight to remain civil. Most of my liberal friends know I am no longer one of them, and they avoid reading this journal.

Unfortunately Facebook makes it easy to demonize the other side, whichever side that is on an issue, and the forum does not accommodate disagreement. There’s a “like” button but not a “dislike” button, so one can agree with a post but cannot disagree. This encourages conformity within a post by making it easier to like something that dislike. If one disagrees with a post, one has to express it in the comments.

When did we begin to expect people to agree with us? Was there ever a time in the past when people disagreed with each other without, to quote Gerald Ford, being disagreeable? Facebook’s culture of “like” makes any opposing view appear harsher in a post regardless of how gently it’s worded. Instead of offering a chance for intellectual stimulation that leads to growth, the culture of “like” demonizes alternate perspectives, encouraging group-think and conformity. Those who express contrary points of view in a post risk jeopardizing the “friendship”. The boosterism and jingoism of the “like” also encourages the poster to “play to the crowd” by providing posts and opinions that are known to be popular, thereby reinforcing the overall conformity of the group. I have learned that at heart I am a contrarian with a natural distaste for majority opinion – which can pose a problem at parties which is why I avoid them at all costs.

If I designed Facebook I’d have not only a “dislike” button but a “you’re f—-ing off your nut” button. I need to say this to my “friends” sometimes and hear it myself. I believe that all of us need to be challenged in our beliefs, and perhaps even change as a result.

And that’s another issue that depresses me with Facebook. The liberal friends I knew back in my college days without exception are liberal today, while I have gone from being a liberal to a conservative/libertarian. I don’t understand how one can hold the same perspectives and worldviews at 50 that they did at 20, or even want to. The world is so much richer and more complex than anything I imagined 30 years ago, and how could one’s beliefs resist the travails of time and experience?

So I’ve given up on Facebook, and it appears that others are doing the same. I’m increasingly seeing fewer and fewer people responding to the posts of others as they are drawn to a few popular figures like George Takei, just as the traffic for blogs has gravitated to a few sites, leaving others to speak or write to the void. This too shall pass, a wise man once said, and for Facebook (and the Obama administration) it can’t pass fast enough for me.

 

 

The Entitlement Mindset

I normally ignore any headline with a number in it, but the following article is an exception. 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person should be required reading for everyone, especially those new to the workforce. Alec Baldwin is a world-class @sshat, and while I disagree with the article writer that it’s the greatest scene in movie history (better than Roy Batty’s speech in Blade Runner? The Wagnerian assault on the VietCong outpost in Apocalypse Now? Any scene from Casablanca?) it’s an amazing scene. Now I want to close some real estate…

Everyday my wife deals with extremely poor people on medicaid who feel entitled to everything. They’ve got thousands of dollars in tattoos covering their torsos but they can’t afford the $3 office visit copay. The local free clinic has gone bust, and the local non-profit hospital is circling the drain because people won’t pay their bills. Oh but they are poor, right?

I’ve seen poor. I’ve walked the streets of Dar es Salaam and seen beggar children missing limbs, victims of the civil war in Mozambique, who are moved around the city by their pimps. I’ve been in smoky mud huts that people have lived in their entire lives who scratch out just enough from the soil outside to survive. Medical care was a fantasy for them because they couldn’t make it to the towns where it was offered by the NGOs or government. Trust me on this: compared to what you’ll see in sub-Saharan African, there is no poverty in America.

When I came back to America from living abroad for 5 years I remember riding the train into Philadelphia through Chester PA and being shocked by the rubble that passed for the city. That’s not poverty, at least as defined by the lack of money. The citizens in Chester were rich compared to the street families in Dar, what they were suffering from was a poverty of ambition. They were stuck in a hell all right, but not the one that progressives and liberals believe. It’s one that money can’t solve – as proven by the trillions spent on the War on Poverty that has led only to a complete surrender. Money can’t fix attitude nor can it light a fire within that compels one to better one’s situation.

I currently live in one of the poorest areas of the country. We moved here at least partly due to a noble cause. We wanted to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate, and I figured that we would do what we had done in Africa. Not only would the Wife treat the sick, but we’d plow our incomes back into the community. While conducting research in the Bush we expanded the research payroll with our personal funds, knowing that each person we hired would then be able to support their families. We hired anyone who could do anything. If you could wield a panga you could cut trails. If you could walk you could earn money simply by walking around the forest listening for the chimps. We paid young men to dig trenches around the research camp. For a year the people of the Kasiha village in the Mahale Mountains had some security in their lives, and they appreciated it. They were hard workers and protective of idiot Americans stumbling around in the Bush like myself. We left with $20 and no regrets.

Here in North Carolina I have had trouble finding people willing to cut my hay fields. I bought a hardwood stove but then had to take it back because I couldn’t find anyone willing to install it. After one of my dogs was killed along the road I asked a local carpenter to extend the fencing, a $3,000 job. He blew me off and never showed. Other property owners have the same trouble finding anyone willing to work. One said, “No one wants to work when the government pays them to sit at home.” Some have taken to hiring illegals, but I refuse to do that because I have a moral issue with it.

Yet these same people traipse into the Wife’s office and demand MRIs and expensive tests and procedures without knowing what they are asking for. When she refuses they question her judgment, as if they had gone through 4 years of undergraduate studies, 2 years of pre-med prep, 4 years of medical school, 3 years of residency and internship and 4 years of practicing as an attending. She brings 17 years of training into the exam room, yet these people disrespect her and her staff.

Disrespect. Dis as the verb. As the article above points out, respect is something earned by what you can do, not your intrinsic qualities. My Wife earns respect because she knows how to tell the difference between a harmless common cold and life-threatening pneumonia. 17 years of training has honed her clinical skills to the point where she now has instincts that have saved people’s lives. Seriously saved lives. I know of a handful of incidents including one where she had to battle an insurance company for a test that proved a cancer diagnosis. What have her patients made besides children, and it takes two of them to do that?

Anyone who demands respect doesn’t deserve it. If you are feeling dis’d it’s because you’ve done nothing worthy of respect. If you want to be respect, do something deserving of it.

Keys to the Kingdom Should Not Be Available to the Peasants

NSA officials are considering amnesty for Edward Snowden in exchange for the remaining documents he has in his possession. I don’t think much of Edward Snowden. I’ve called him an idealist and by extension an idiot. But I also don’t think much about an organization that allowed a low-level government contractor access to what the NSA official investigating the theft of secrets called “the keys to the kingdom.”

I’m still trying to wrap my head around an organization that vacuumed up everyone’s personal data in all its forms – phone calls, blog posts, emails, chats – then allowed a low-level contractor access to its methodology and processes for doing it. Either the NSA is lying for some reason only the readers of John Le Carre novel would understand and Snowden doesn’t have such an important cache of data, or he does and the NSA is so desperate it will do anything to get the data back. The Machiavellian inside believes the former but the IT worker in Fortune 500 companies believes the latter. Bureaucracies do stupid stuff all the time, and while it’s possible this is all some kind of kabuki theater meant to mislead Russian and Chinese intelligence sources, Hanlon’s Razor leaves me believing Snowden did in fact do what he says he did and the bureaucrats in the NSA are busy pouring over procedures and decision trees trying to figure out how to handle it.

Regardless I believe Snowden should get amnesty in exchange for what he knows. Allow him to return to the US without fear and sit in front of the House Intelligence Committee to explain how he did what he did. Televise the hearings and let everyone including the Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies know what he knows. Give him the soapbox he craves, and then when he steps down let him slip away into obscurity. Don’t give him a fiery send off like Michael Hastings, it’s not worth feeding the conspiracy trolls on the Internet. Leave him alone.

But as he’s speaking and hogging the limelight, change the locks on the kingdom and hide the keys in a place where the peasants can’t get hold of them.