Stephen W. Browne | Rants and Raves

Jun/16

10

Game of Kings and Powers

Well Game of Thrones is off into unknown territory. The HBO series has advanced further than the five books author George R.R. Martin has produced so far, and in my humble and very cautious opinion seems to be doing OK. So far. PLEASE!

And there is more good news for fans of period fiction and fantasy, a movie “The Last King” is coming out in July, about the early life of Håkon Håkonsson, the 13th century king of Norway.

Håkon survived an infancy marked by any number of people trying to kill him, became king in spite of them, and ruled for 46 years. His reign is considered a golden age of Norwegian history.

I don’t really have any hard data, but it seems to me that these kinds of movies and TV series are becoming more popular. I mean fantasy set in pre-technological civilizations, historical drama, and science fiction where political intrigue is integral to the story, such as “The Expanse” on Amazon.

I can remember when years went by between science fiction series on TV. Historical dramas were pretty common at one time, but fantasy was exclusively light entertainment such as “Bewitched.”

So what happened to popular taste?

A scholarly friend once suggested that what we’re seeing is a re-normalization of tastes following a historically unusual period. His thesis was that popular taste in fiction has always been fantastical throughout history. Consider the Epic of Gilgamesh, the tales of King Arthur, fairy stories, etc. He pointed out the realistic novel set in present time with no fantastic elements was a historically late invention.

Others see this trend as a retreat from rationality, a return to a pre-scientific world view.

Perhaps these are partly true. And perhaps we’re reviving an ancient literary tradition for another reason.

We all know there are things we can’t say with impunity, questions we can’t ask, and we all know pretty much what they are.

In the nation with the strongest legal protections for free speech in the world we are terrified of the consequences of voicing mere speculations that arouse the passions of the PC mob.

If you doubt this, remember how James D. Watson’s career was brought to an abrupt end by uttering some incautious remarks on a controversial subject. Watson has been called “the greatest living scientist” but it earned him no tolerance, no forgiveness. He did not even get the courtesy of a counter-argument. The various institutions he was associated with rushed to disassociate themselves with the discoverer of DNA.

Could it be that period drama, fantasy, and science fiction is today the only safe venue for discussing controversial subjects?

I once pointed out that one theme of the late beloved “Battlestar Galactica” was how a free society survives under stress.

Could it be that on some level we realize that life here is so good, so secure, that we have raised a generation that thinks this is the normal and natural state of affairs? That young people raised with this assumption are in no position to deal with the world as it is outside this fat happy civilization of ours?

That is unless they watched Game of Thrones last episode where they would have watched Jon Snow and his half-sister (or possibly cousin) Sansa Stark plan strategic alliances. So-and-so has common interests with them, but there have been killings between their families. Such-and-such are friends with enemies who committed unspeakable atrocities against their family, but might be persuaded with the right incentives…

Those who see “The Last King” will for a time enter a world where men would routinely consider killing an innocent baby, up close and personal, for being the child of a dead king.

We think politics is pretty dirty, but losers of our political fights don’t fear for their lives, and certainly not the lives of their children.

It was not always so. In parts of the world it is still the reality on the ground.

If we want to survive as a free nation we need to inculcate a certain tough-mindedness in each generation. The PC phenomenon shows we’ve been failing. Maybe this is how we make up for it.

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May/16

31

No, he didn’t apologize

First of all, Obama’s speech at Hiroshima wasn’t terrible.

I have to say that because Facebook and right-wing websites are full of indignant protests that Obama “apologized for dropping the bomb.”

No he didn’t. I have the text of the speech in front of me now and nowhere does he apologize. He said it was an awful thing, and who in their right mind would disagree? He said that war was an awful thing. Ditto.

The speech was a diplomatic homily. It says basically that war is terrible, and that atomic weapons have made it even more terrible. It avoided blame and dwelt on how our achievements in science and technology can be applied to horrific destruction.

This is scarcely an original observation but it was well said.

He said we should pursue the elimination of nuclear weapons, a goal both Ronald Reagan and Admiral Hyman Rickover “the father of the nuclear navy” endorsed.

He rather surprised me when he said, “We may not realize this goal in my lifetime, but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe,” because Obama always struck me as a “Let’s make us a utopia and we’ll get it done yesterday” kind of guy.

Obama did mention the atrocities of the Axis powers in an oblique sort of way.

“The world war that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth. And yet the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes, an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints. In the span of a few years, some 60 million people would die. Men, women, children, no different than us.”

He didn’t come out and say, “This is why you had it coming” but did anyone really expect him to?

The fact is an awful lot of people who don’t like Obama, and I’m not a fan myself, assumed he apologized and blamed America for dropping the bombs because that’s what they expected from him.

Whoever wrote the speech did a pretty good job of walking the fine line between commemorating the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and reminding his hosts that the government of Imperial Japan did bring it on themselves.

I have heard arguments for and against Truman’s decision to drop the bombs, and some of the arguments against come from rock-ribbed conservatives.

I myself think the arguments for carry more weight The bombing of Hiroshima came only two months after the 82-day battle of Okinawa had ended. A battle that cost 14,900 allied deaths and 80,000 deaths overall, as Japanese soldiers and civilians fought with fanatic courage to the bitter end.

Many of us have seen the film of a woman throwing her baby off a cliff, because they’d been told the Americans would torture and kill them.

I cannot imagine what she felt like when instead, the Americans fed them.

Obama gently reminded the Japanese that the Allied victory brought them a better way of life, a better philosophy than the fanatic militarism of their past.

“My own nation’s story began with simple words: All men are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Realizing that ideal has never been easy, even within our own borders, even among our own citizens. But staying true to that story is worth the effort. It is an ideal to be strived for, an ideal that extends across continents and across oceans. The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious, the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family — that is the story that we all must tell.”

Realizing this ideal between our two countries came at a terrible cost. A cost that will without doubt be paid again and again, because there are evil men in power in the world still.

I don’t say this often, but good job Mr. President.

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May/16

27

Single parenting

Monday morning my little girl asked if her friend could ride to school with us.

“OK sure, no problem,” I said absent-mindedly.

“And could you sign these papers?” she asked.

OK, permission slip for Park Day. Oops, discipline slip. A blotch on a usually perfect record, this one for late work. Grades – hey, advanced in reading! So glad.

Friend’s mother drops her off. We drive to school me still musing in the car.

Then I hear from her friend, “And I have to answer a lot of questions to see if I’m depressed or have anxiety.”

“Honey, sometimes you’re not depressed, sometimes you’re just sad,” I told her.

“Yeah,” she answered. “Sometimes I’m sad because the boys make fun of my name.”

“Well listen,” I told her. “In a few years they’ll all be wanting dates and then you can be mean to them if you want to.”

I should mention that she, like my daughter, is nine. And like my daughter she’s very pretty and will probably grow up to be beautiful, so the possibility of being mean to the boys is no idle threat.

She and my daughter have frequent sleepovers either our place or hers. Never been a problem. I’ve never seen any signs she’s anything other than a happy normal little girl.

Of course there could be things I don’t see. But I’ve got this feeling the schools are looking for psychological problems when the problem is childhood.

Kids can be pretty rotten to each other. I was physically bullied as a child in school because I was puny and kind of a smartass. (I dealt with it by learning to fight – and to be less of a ****.)

My son has a different problem. At 14 he’s bigger than I am – and I’m not little. He’s not a target for physical bullying, but the teasing, slanging, insulting are just as hard to take. Maybe harder because he can’t fight back.

My daughter may be the most well-adjusted person I know. She’s physically active, popular, has lots of friends, and is kind to kids who are not so popular.

It worries me. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. She lives in a broken home and is being raised by an eccentric older single father. Shouldn’t she have some problems?
Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free Range Kids movement and official “Worst Mother in the World,” has pointed out that statistics prove this country at this time is the safest it’s ever been to be a child.

Yet we are full of anxiety for our children.

My children have more freedom to venture further away from home than pretty much all of their age-mates. And their confidence shows. Other little girls look to my daughter to accompany them on walks. Neighborhood boys are beginning to cultivate my son’s friendship. Perhaps because they like the idea of having a big friend.

It’s not that I don’t worry about my children, it’s that I get a grip on myself when I do. I’ve lived in dangerous places. I know the difference between the reality of danger and paranoia.

It’s not that I discount the possibility of psychological problems. My immediate family has many cases of depression, hyperactivity, and Aspergers. It’s that I know the difference between those kind of problems and the **** life throws at you.

So why are we so worried?

Some of it has to be the technology. We didn’t have iPads, the Internet, or smart phones. It is having some kind of effect on our kids but we have no idea what the long-term effect will be, because there hasn’t been a long term yet.

And of course the media has something to do with it as well. Criminal predation on children is rare – but because it’s rare it’s news. Which gives us the impression it’s more common than it actually is.

And could it be we’re worried about ourselves and projecting it onto our children?

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May/16

24

The Uber Economy

Somehow I always knew I’d wind up as a cab driver.

I think it was that scene at the end of “The Razor’s Edge” when Tyrone Power said his next adventure might be going back to America and getting a cab so he could meet lots of people.

“Cool!” I thought when I first saw that movie, and again when I saw the vastly underrated remake with Bill Murray.

Of course, in this day and age that’s a whole lot more difficult than when he so blithely tossed off the idea. Cabs and cab drivers are subject to a stack of regulations which make entry difficult to impossible.

So I became an Uber driver.

The problem is, right now I can’t take a full-time journalism gig. Various commitments with my kids mean I have to, as in have to, take them somewhere four out of five weekday evenings. I also have to spend an hour-and-a-half every day without fail helping my daughter with her eye exercises. A commitment that will run at least another six to eight months.

Journalism hours are irregular at best. I’ve done some freelance work but at least one editor got miffed and cut me off when I couldn’t commit to becoming full time.

So I got a new phone and downloaded the Uber ap. When I go online and someone needs a ride I get a ping and a set of directions to pick them up. When they get onboard I get directions to their destination. (A sneaky trick they use to keep drivers from refusing rides to places they might not want to go.)

This is great for me. I can’t really take advantage of the best times; early morning and afternoon rush hour, and late evenings on weekends, but I can slow down the cash hemorrhage. For most people it’s a part time supplement to their income, but some do make a living at it.

OK, no benefits. I’m a contractor. Some have reacted to indignation at the idea and call it “exploitive” and “unregulated,” Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders among them.

Sanders however uses Uber almost exclusively. Hillary uses only limousines to avoid exploiting the little people.

What I’d like to point out to the honorable politicians is, this is not a choice between a good job and a bad job. It’s a choice between a job that exactly suits my immediate needs – and no job.

There is also another ride sharing company Lyftt, and something called Arcade City is vowing to redesign the business model yet again to make it driver owned.

What made this possible was computers and smart phones that put a willing buyer and a willing seller in touch in real time.

And this is only the beginning, I just found out there are Uber-like services for freight. Companies like uShip put people with things to move in touch with people who have appropriately sized vehicles. And that means from bicycles to semis!

What else has the technology made possible?

Well by now everyone is familiar with Kickstarter and GoFundMe. By the end of this year I expect to take delivery on a back pack designed for on the go travelers who need to take a business suit, and a new kind of winter parka.

I’m terribly disappointed the flying bicycle didn’t get off the ground, so to speak, but the point is I wasn’t out any money from a failed investment. And the entrepreneurs who think of these cool ideas have access to capital they don’t have to go begging to banks for.

GoFundMe makes charitable giving personal, sending our help and aid directly to the recipient without paying Goldman-Sachs-sized salaries to administrators.

Concierge medical practices avoid insurance hassles and maintain affordable prices for routine care at least in part because they have access to huge medical databases

We are seeing the democratization of access to information and capital at a time when complex taxation and regulation were strangling the entrepreneurial spirit. Of course there is a backlash from those who see their interests in keeping both tightly centralized and regulated.

Hang on to your hats folks, it’s going to be one heckuva ride!

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May/16

13

On fences and neighbors

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,”
-Robert Frost

Fences, barriers, boundaries, and borders have been much on my mind lately, and things that bother me about them that I can’t quite articulate.

It seems the Progressive project of the present era is to dismantle them all.

It started well. We wanted to end racial discrimination enforced by law, and we did. We wanted to end discrimination against women in the workplace, and made great strides. We wanted to end the legal persecution of homosexuals and did.

But we found that discrimination persisted in popular prejudices. We attacked them with laws rather than education, because education was too slow, and we made progress.

Then it got crazy. Not all at once, but a piece at a time until what was satire in one generation became sober reality in another.

Some examples in no particular order:

The latest flap about bathrooms and why shouldn’t men use the ladies?

We and the Europeans are conflicted about national borders, and whether we have a right to keep anyone out at all. Even if it means accepting huge numbers of people who are actively hostile to the political and ethical principles our civilization is founded on.

Feminist psychology holds sex is merely plumbing and “gender” is a social construct, an artificial barrier to keep half the human race oppressed. So if women are disproportionately represented in certain professions it has to be fixed, right now! Because it can’t be that some women like to have children and be around to raise them, can it?

The courts have decreed a business has no right to pick and choose among its customers. (If you’re Christian at least. We await the results of test cases directed at Muslims.)

Universities and large corporations have whole departments dedicated to recruiting people who look different, but Heaven forbid a conservative should be found in the social sciences or humanities!

And lately the federal government has been considering ways to make the suburbs of the nation more diverse in terms of income and ethnicity.

This has been going on for a while now, long enough to show some effects on society.

It does not seem to have made us one big happy family. In fact, our country seems more divided than ever. Divided by race, party, and even in our most intimate relationships.

As Wendell Berry remarked, “Sexual liberation ought logically to have brought in a time of ‘naturalness,’ ease, and candor between men and women. It has, on the contrary, filled the country with sexual self-consciousness, uncertainty, and fear.”

The same might be said for race relations. The long hoped-for healing seems to be receding from our grasp.

Even anti-Semitism, “the oldest hate” seems to be coming back with a vengeance.

Maybe that’s just the effect of a lot of people from different backgrounds mixing more than they used to. Throw people together who used to stay at arm’s length from one another and there’s bound to be some friction.

Or maybe it’s because some folks have shown they have no tolerance for other people’s boundaries. Don’t want to cater a gay wedding? By God you will, you intolerant Bible-thumping bigot!

Oddly enough, these are often the same people who think Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on their door with copies of The Watchtower are an intolerable intrusion on their personal liberty.

And maybe Progressives have it backwards.

Maybe a diverse society demands more acceptance of boundaries, not less. More of a common culture, not less.

Maybe toleration should extend to our prejudices and preferences, insofar as they remain personal and private. Maybe if people don’t want your company or your business you should go somewhere else.

“He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’”
-Robert Frost, Mending Wall

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May/16

7

A war like no other

I have just finished a long conversation with some of the greatest figures in the history of Western Civilization.

Over the past month I listened with rapt attention to tales of battles on land and sea, of political intrigues, the rise and fall of great states, and the decisive victory that shaped our world.

For 27 years, 431–404 BC, Athens and Sparta vied for control of the Greek world, which then extended from Greece proper west to Sicily and southern Italy and east to the Aegean shore of modern-day Turkey.

My entry into this world was via 36 DVD lectures from The Great Courses by Professor Kenneth W. Harl, professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University.

The lecture course is called The Peloponnesian War. The war the historian and eye witness Thudydides called, “a war like no other.”

I had previously enjoyed the 24 lecture course by Professor John Hale, University of Louisville on The Greek and Persian Wars which gave me a tremendous hunger to know more about the history of Greece.

That civilization we call Western is comprised of the speakers of European languages spoken in Europe west of the Ural Mountains, and in the last five centuries spread to the Western Hemisphere, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

The twin roots of that civilization lie among the ancient Greeks and the ancient Hebrews. If you are Western then no matter where your ancestors came from you are part Greek and part Hebrew.

Only a few generations ago this was universally acknowledged. Everyone knew the Bible and high school students on the American frontier studied ancient languages and history. President Harry Truman never went to college, and Gen. George Patton had the reputation of a rough profane soldier, but both could read Thucydides account of the war that led to the downfall of Greece in the original Greek.

And what did they learn from it, soldier and statesman?

They learned that as Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister of England said, that a country has no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.

The Athenians and Spartans led a coalition of Greek cities to defeat the invading Persians in a sea battle at Salamis and a land battle at Platea. A generation later they fought each other for 27 years.

Later still the Spartan allies of Boeotia marched into Sparta and destroyed forever the myth of Spartan invincibility.

They learned that to survive and prevail a nation must be adaptable.

Sparta was the premier land power in Greece, but learned to become a sea power to defeat Athens.

They learned to beware of demagogues. Democratic Athens was periodically swept by enthusiasm that led them to confuse their hopes with their abilities as Thucydides said about the disastrous invasion of Sicily.

They learned there are no certain outcomes. After the disaster at Syracuse that cost Athens hundreds of ships and thousands of men, they recovered with breathtaking rapidity. Then on what seemed to be the eve of victory, lost all.

They learned that everything has costs.

Athens funded their war by levying tribute upon the city states of their maritime empire, which their allies came to resent enough to rebel against. Rebellions that were often brutally put down.
They learned about the interdependence of nations.

Athens was forced to surrender when they could no longer feed themselves from their own lands and their route to the grain lands of the Black Sea was cut off.

They learned that civilizations like men, can die. Exhausted by the war, Greece was conquered by Phillip of Macedon and became a province of various empires for the next two thousand years.

And they learned that while many things change, some things never change. And they learned to tell the difference.

We have forgotten these things, but we will re-learn them, perhaps at great cos

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Apr/16

27

Gender Privacy

This bathroom thing has, pardon the expression, gotten out of hand.

Those of us in the punditry industry have been saying for a while now that it’s hard to do satire anymore because life has gotten so absurd it’s hard to tell the difference.

So now all we can do is give examples from the news and say, “You can’t make this $#!+ up!”

I never in a million years would have imagined so many people would be passionate about asserting the rights of guys to use the ladies bathroom.

“But I identify as a woman!”

Yes, and I’m really sorry about that. Honest to God I am, and I’m not being facetious. It must be living hell to live with that kind of confusion. But the fact is, you’re not.

“What about people who’ve undergone the gender reassignment surgery?”

Then you’re an unfortunate human being who has found a doctor willing to surgically mutilate you. But you still have an XY chromosome set. In my humble and Johns Hopkins University’s not-so-humble opinion.

(Johns Hopkins university hospital pioneered the surgery, and has abandoned it after concluding that the surgery does not turn a man into a woman or vice versa in any meaningful sense.)
However that law in North Carolina so many think is the Confederacy rising again specifically excepts those who have had the surgery.

“Transgendered persons aren’t all sex offenders!”

OK, but beside the point.

This is the point. I have a nine-year-old daughter. I don’t get to go into the ladies room with her, and she certainly doesn’t want me to although when she was younger I changed her diapers more often than I can count.

Why in hell should she want a stranger who is capable of standing up to pee in the ladies room with her?

It’s not about my fear of sex offenders preying on my daughter – it’s her privacy!

Is that so hard to understand?

Yes, ladies rooms have stalls. Yes we have public restrooms. And we have certain social conventions of behavior in them, which I think but do not know for certain are different for men and women.

I had a young man of confused gender ask me why he couldn’t keep using the bathroom of his (?) choice and what are you going to do, have a pantless inspection before anybody walks in?

Could we solve this the way we always have, with a certain benign hypocrisy?

If you can’t tell the difference between a lady and a drag queen, ignore it!

If you are a business owner, set your own policy and see if your customers can live with it. Target has already begun that experiment so we shall see. That North Carolina law is about public accommodations.

And why did they have to make an issue of it to begin with?

Well I can think of a couple of reasons.

One is that this is in no way shape or form a battle for “rights.” It’s a case of “Notice me damn it!” from a bunch of, again pardon the expression, drama queens.

And for a number of straight men and women, it’s virtue signaling.

“Look at me! I’m a civil rights hero!”

Sorry ladies and gentlemen, the Freedom Riders risked being murdered and buried in the swamp. You might get unfriended on Facebook. Oh the horror!

You risk nothing while making countless women uncomfortable in their most private moments on behalf of a tiny minority of pathetically confused individuals. They certainly deserve our compassion, but not turning our lives upside down to humor their delusions.

Behind that smug, I’m-so-much-more-enlightened-than-you posturing is a smarmy let’s-freak-out-the-squares attitude that I remember from my hippie days when I was that kind of @$$#0!e too.

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Apr/16

14

The silly season

In the United Kingdom and in some other places, the silly season is the period lasting for a few summer months typified by the emergence of frivolous news stories in the media. It is known in many languages as the cucumber time. The term was coined in an 1861 Saturday Review article,[1] and was listed in the second edition of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1894) and remains in use at the start of the 21st century. The fifteenth edition of Brewer’s expands on the second, defining the silly season as “the part of the year when Parliament and the Law Courts are not sitting (about August and September)”. – Wikipedia

In the early ‘90s I was living in newly-liberated Poland and working in a bank one day a week helping employees improve their English conversation skills.

The bank offices were being renovated and a glass door had been installed in the offices. This was kind of a new thing those days. To give themselves a greater feeling of privacy, some of the guys had put up some Playboy centerfolds on the glass.

Surprisingly to me, it didn’t seem to bother the ladies who worked there. I pointed out to the group that in America the ladies could sue the pants off the bank.

I don’t know how I expected them to react, but it did surprise me.

One employee just looked terribly sad and said, “You must have a wonderful country you can afford to worry about such things. We have real problems.”

Well, our country must still be pretty wonderful.

If I had to name the top things that worry me right now, they’d be:

One, the growing suspicion that in spite of the administration’s crowing about their signature accomplishment, Iran has not given up their program to acquire nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.

Two, that Putin is bent on creating a resurgent Russian Empire, skillfully spreading subversion, disinformation, and encouraging terrorism and small wars around the world. Worse, he’s good at it.

The KGB or whatever they call it these days, is better at stirring up trouble than we are at figuring out what kind of trouble it’s stirring up.

Three, the Third World is moving in with the First World. Everybody by now must have seen those pictures of hordes of Middle Eastern and North African Muslims battering at the gates of Europe, while inside Europe their cousins remain largely unassimilated minorities whose effect on their host societies is overall pretty negative.

In our country we have a milder version of the problem. We have large and increasing numbers of illegal residents, although of a culture closer to ours and a higher degree of assimilation.

So how we can maintain these democracies so painfully built over the last few centuries if we have such large numbers among us who have no comprehension of how democracies do things nor any particular desire to learn?

So call me a bigot, many have. But first, answer the question.

And lastly but perhaps most immediately, we have two rogue candidates running for the presidential nomination of their respective parties. And though I’m not particularly thrilled with the prospect of either of them becoming president I do like the way they’ve shaken up the ossified party system.

To a point that is.

What if come the election, the nominees are Cruz and Clinton as seems more and more likely?

Then we’re going to have substantial minorities in each party convinced the nomination was stolen from their candidate. And people convinced one candidate is in fact ineligible to run, only the Republican this time.

Has that ever happened before? It’s happened with one party, but to my knowledge not both at the same time.

So with all this happening around us, what are we concerned about? What are we arguing passionately about? What are friendships breaking up over?
Bathrooms!

Because one state passed a law requiring people to use public restrooms in accordance with the gender on their birth certificate, the nation is passionately arguing about the comfort of a segment of society no larger than three-tenths of one percent at most.

Why did they even pass that law? I presume those unfortunates could either pass as members of the opposite sex or not. If they could, I suppose they used their bathroom of choice.

If not, what do drag queens do? Did anybody even notice before this blew up in our faces?

We could have continued with the mild hypocrisy we indulge in for these situations but somebody had to make an issue of it and then somebody had to pass a law. And now we’re at each others throats over…?

Nero fiddled while Rome burned. We appear to be peeing.

We’re making Nero look sane.

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Apr/16

6

The dialog we’re not having

Note: A slightly different version of this appeared in The Farmers Independent as my weekly column.

“The spirit of liberty is one that is not too sure it is right.”
– Judge Learned Hand

Because I’m not God, I make it a practice to cultivate acquaintances outside my comfort zone.

By that I mean I don’t think I have all the answers, I don’t think I’m competent to run anybody else’s life, but I do think I’m probably wrong about some things. And by the way, I think that goes for you too.

Accordingly I try to listen to people who have different opinions.

Once upon a time that meant arguing with other people. I don’t do that much anymore, it’s seldom productive. Although just last night I found to my surprise I was expressing opinions with some
heat on an emotion-charged issue. So sue me.

At this point in time in this election cycle, with our country more dangerously polarized than any time I can recall I think it behooves us all to remember the injunction in the Torah that the first duty of a man in a dispute is to hear the other out.

So what have I heard?

Nothing that brings me much comfort I’m afraid.

But what worries me is not so much positions one could support or oppose, but a set of attitudes, held mostly but not exclusively on the “progressive” left. These include:

– Taxation is morally superior to voluntary giving.

A progressive friend supports universal government-supported health care. I disagree with his contentions it would be cheaper, fairer, etc. But at one point he said he supported it because, “People shouldn’t have to start a GoFundMe campaign to save their lives.”

What? Disregarding the desirability of socialized medicine for a moment, isn’t it inspiring that anyone can start a fund for friends, acquaintances and even strangers of good will to support someone in a time of dire need? Evidently some consider charity vaguely disgusting.

And in fact we now have a presidential candidate who has expressed his dislike of the whole idea behind charity.

– Unwillingness to live and let live.

Nobody can fail to notice there are gay marriage advocates who not content to have won the legal battle are now seeking out Christian business owners to drive out of business for not hosting same-sex marriages?

It doesn’t matter if you support same-sex marriage or not, this should scare you.

This is not the case of a hypothetical scarce good, there are plenty of people who will take your money. They are punishing you for your opinion, and claiming it is right and proper they should do so.

This leads to a question; why would you go where you are not wanted?

And the question itself suggests the answer; to show them that you can.

– Disdain for experiment.

There are demands for changes to long-established law and custom. Well perhaps some should be changed. And perhaps some laws and customs are long established for reasons we have forgotten.

So why not try it out locally and see what happens?

This seems to be unworthy of consideration. Everything must be changed everywhere, right now!

– Impatience with procedure.

The Founders put together a system in which innovations had to move slowly through the constitutional process, to insure changes were not forced upon society by ill-considered passions or passing fads. They understood that even with desirable change, how something is done is at least as important as what is done. Because unchecked power to do good can do harm just as easily.

Now many are possessed with the spirit of reform, procedure be damned! May I point out this is also the spirit of a lynch mob?

Hey, if we know he’s guilty why do we need a trial?

– Contempt for experience.

Beautiful theories of how to set everything right often conflict with experience. Theory without experience drifts into fantasy.

The reaction of those intoxicated with utopian theories is to dismiss objections based on experience. Worse, they often reject any suggestion they get some experience.

Recently I suggested to a couple of acquaintances who uncritically accept every, literally every, charge of police brutality that they read Rory Miller’s book, Force Decisions.

One rejected the suggestion out of hand as “propaganda.” I actually bought the book as a gift for the other. He hasn’t read it.

On another occasion I suggested to someone contemplating a run for congress as a libertarian that he start with more modest ambitions by attending city council and county commission meetings to observe and learn how government works at the local level.

“Learn what?” he sneered. “How to sit around and shuffle papers?”

This is one reason old codgers like me are so cussed.

– Unbearable self-righteousness.

All of us are of have been prey to this at some time in our lives, it’s one of the less attractive facets of human nature.

But today too many people seem convinced they are not only right, but morally superior to those they disagree with. Unwilling to even consider that someone not any worse than themselves could disagree in good faith.

Does that scare you? It does me.

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Mar/16

30

Corporate greed

The other day a friend irritated me. He used a buzzword, “corporate greed.”

That one’s been bothering me for a while and I really wasn’t sure why. After all, I’m not fond of corporations much myself. I’ve worked for a few in my time and I was always happiest when I was an independent contractor rather than an employee, and when I was one I was happiest when I was furthest from corporate HQ.

I don’t dispute their right to exist, I just prefer a different work arrangement than a Dilbert cubicle.

But I have friends who loathe the very idea of corporations, some with much more experience working for them than I do.

Sometimes I want to tell them, “So don’t drive a car, or use a cell phone, and find out who owns that newspaper you read.”

Corporations it seems, get no love. And greed must be the worst thing in the world from the way people talk about it.

Hollywood, you may have noticed, is very down on corporations and “corporate greed.”

From what you see in movies about noble Davids fighting corporate Goliaths you’d think films were made by humble craftsmen working in cottage industries. Never mind those cautionary tales about how Hollywood accountants can make the biggest hit of the decade into the biggest money-loser on paper to explain to investors why the movie that made the actors and producers rich isn’t going to repay their investment.

Corporations are particularly loathed on the left end of the political spectrum where people who are terrified of multi-billion dollar corporations are perfectly fine with multi-trillion dollar government.

And that’s why I get irritated with that buzzword “corporate greed.”

A corporation isn’t a person in anything but the legal sense. It can’t feel greedy, it can’t feel anything the people who make it up don’t feel.

It’s a form of organization, a way of getting people together to accomplish things they couldn’t working alone. Humanity came up with the legal and organizational structure of the corporation starting only a few hundred years ago. Now considering how many of the essentials and luxuries we enjoy are manufactured and transported by corporations you’d think we’d appreciate them like we do that corporate product sliced bread.

So why don’t we?

Well for one, it does take a certain temperament to work in a large impersonal environment – and I know that’s a stereotype, they’re not all like that. But enough are and some of us find it distasteful, like some really don’t enjoy being in the military. With which it has a lot in common.

For another, we all know large corporations have an influence on government we rightly suspect is not at all good for our country. Because if a corporation cannot feel greed, neither can it feel patriotism.

But is that the fault of the organization, or the fault of the government? If corporations can buy influence, surely it is because governments have influence to sell.

As to the charge of greed, that’s a loaded term. Is greed wanting more than you have? Some folks call that ambition.

Is greed wanting something at somebody else’s expense? That is reprehensible, but it’s not how markets are supposed to work. In a free market people exchange labor, goods, and services in ways that benefit both parties. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t do it.

Of course we know in daily life it doesn’t always work that way. Government can force us to deal with corporations. Corporations can lobby government to skew the playing field in their favor.

But this is a feature of all large scale organizations, including labor unions, NGOs, and professional associations.

Special interests’ influence on government may be the central problem of democracy. One for which there has yet been no solution found. There may not be one.

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