Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Freedom of Speech

To some extent, freedom of speech is meaningless without some freedom to be heard. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, it does not matter whether or not it makes a sound.

But there are rational limits to the extent to which people have the right to be heard. Free speech is a wonderful thing, but easily abused. When it is abused, we all suffer.

In an organized society in which people respect each other, me exercising my freedom of speech need not infringe upon the rights of my fellow citizens. I can picket in front of the state capitol building, but creating a situation in which it is impossible for someone who works in that building to be able to enter it is patently inappropriate. I can make a sign and go march alongside the road, but once I step into the road and impede traffic I have rudely forced myself upon those who are unwilling to listen. Along with freedom of speech comes freedom to not listen.

Would we allow a group to commandeer all radio stations for their own propaganda efforts on the grounds that precluding them from doing so violates their freedom of speech? Of course not. Quite simply, freedom of speech is not freedom to force yourself to be heard: it is the freedom to put yourself out their so that you can be heard. You may have the right to hand out pamphlets, but you do not have the right to paint messages on people's front doors.

Protesters either know or should know this. The clever ones get themselves arrested or tear gassed because they hope to raise public sympathy for their cause. The dense ones believe that they actually have a right to make life miserable for non-protesters. Either way, they hope that public authorities will come off looking like authoritarian goons who enjoy squelching the rights of the people.

And this is where the Occupy Wall Street folks have begun to lose mainstream Americans. Most of us appreciate free speech and many of us agree to some extent that corporate greed is hurting America; but most of us do not find shutting down urban traffic, monopolizing public spaces, or antagonizing the police to be appropriate means to the desired end. Want to see a breakdown in civil public discourse? Go watch OWS protesters treat law enforcement officials like trash, milk the system for all it is worth while decrying it as perverted, and belittle hard-working Americans for going about their business.

The following are a few suggestions of things that OWS could do that might be more effective than their literal physical occupations:
1) boycotts
2) raise children who understand that no CEO is worth 2,000 times the average
employee. If you have multiple children and they have multiple children
of their own, this one pays off exponentially.
3) use gentle logic and mild persuasion to encourage fellow citizens to
understand the harm that corporate greed can do. Please wear deodorant and
a clean shirt when doing this.
4) don't let slobs and potheads represent you in front of the cameras. Whether
you like it or not, you will be judged based upon your appearance.
5) if all else fails, emigrate. I hear Burundi is looking for some experienced

America is a great place to live. It is a great place to protest. The protests of the few should not forcibly impose themselves upon the lives of the many. When they attempt to do so, they are almost assuredly doomed to failure.

Friday, October 21, 2011


I am fascinated by the view that justice can only be done via courtroom proceedings.

No doubt that is a good rule of thumb. But it in no way approximates an absolute truth.

Take the statement,"the Yankees are better than the Red Sox." It may be true in the broader context, yet will often be untrue in the specific context. The Yankees have won more baseball titles than the Red Sox and in many years will have a better record than the Beantowners. But then there will be the anomalies: for example, a year when the Red Sox win the World Series.

When it comes to justice, the only real question should be "Did that person get what he deserved?" Or, in other words, "Did that person do that of which he was accused?" Anything else is little more than a procedural safeguard intended to ensure the correct answer to those two questions.

So, as much as it unnerves me that Colonel Gaddafi was brutalized and killed by his captors, I am not devoted enough to procedural niceties to insist that an injustice has been done. Using assassination to eliminate political dissent, that may be an injustice. Slaughtering your own people in response to their opposition to your policies, that may be an injustice. Killing an oppressive tyrant who rapaciously and ruthlessly imposed his government on the people through violence and terror, that is not an injustice.

When the punishment fits the crime, the only thing left to ask is whether or not one can make a plausible argument that the accused did not commit the crime. If the answer is no, then a courtroom is little more than form. Perhaps not gratuitous, but certainly not necessary.

So please forgive me if I find there to be nothing disturbing about Gaddafi's killing at the hands of a Libyan mob. The man had it coming. Justice has been served.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Growing Up

I don't think many people ever really grow up.

Sure, physically we reach maturity. Most people even reach a certain intellectual adulthood. But most folks never get out of emotional and social adolescence.

In a democractic republic with universal adult suffrage, that is a recipe for disaster. As the people lose the ability to balance their checkbooks and make prudent fiscal decisions and generally behave as responsible adults, so goes the country.

My generation may well be the first generation of Americans ever (certainly since the Great Depression) to leave its successors a nation that is in worse condition than the one our predecessors left to us. Public debt has ballooned, in large part due to our inane tendency to try solving every problem by spending money on it. Our military is the functional world police force. The economy is increasingly reliant upon externalities, leaving us vulnerable to forces beyond our control.

Spending more money cannot save us. Saving more money cannot save us. Making more money cannot save us. Using what we have prudently and efficiently and learning to be content with what we have may be our only hope. But that is increasingly unlikely in a world where people believe access to the internet to be an inalienable and basic human right. How reassuring to know that my ability to blog is apparently as important to life as my access to proper nutrition.

Children want to have it all. In that regard, I don't see much difference between a child and the average American adult.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Charity Begins at Home

Flowing from a selfless love for fellow man, deeply rooted in Christian tradition, charity is reflected in taking a personal interest in the well-being of our neighbors. It requires hands on participation, getting down into the muck to help the guttersnipe lift himself up.

Charity does not enable bad habits or unproductive lifestyle choices. It does not feed sloth and indifference, nor does it encourage irresponsible behavior.

Charity cannot be accomplished through a nameless, faceless bureaucracy. Compassion is at the very heart of charity and a bureaucracy is incapable of compassion. Government run "charity" is little more than a copout, an attempt on the part of the complacent to delegate a messy task that requires getting uncomfortable, that requires getting to know smelly, squalid, filthy little poor people. Expecting the government to do our charity for us is like putting a child up for adoption because we don't like changing diapers.

The society that tries to tax its way to charity accomplishes little more than building a wall between the well-to-do and the huddled masses. It creates a false sense of compassion among the mainstream and a destructive sense of entitlement among the indigent.

Perhaps ironically, if America tries to empower the government to control our charitable mechanisms, we the people may lose interest in being charitable ourselves.

So do not talk to me of the need for government intervention. Do not ask me to support taxing anyone so that we can hire more bureaucrats to oversee entitlements, welfare or otherwise. Instead, let's talk about how we can encourage those who have been blessed to share with those who struggle. Instead of filing the paperwork and cutting through redtape in order to empower someone else to do it for us, let's talk about developing real communities.

Without community, charity is meaningless. Giving someone charity while permitting them to remain outside of community is more like a guilt-offering than charity.

Friday, May 20, 2011

When Society is Run by Children Who Cheat at Games

Beware the society that becomes acclimated to following the rules only when it is convenient to do so.

All games have certain rules. Rules, generally speaking, are meant to address certain eventualities. When one of those eventualities occurs, the rule is followed and the system is preserved. Discard the rules, and the result is Calvinball: an absurd amalgam of ad hoc decisions which defy predictability.

One of the basic lessons that non-sociopathic children learn is that rules are meant to be followed. If you want to get dessert, you have to eat your dinner. If you want to go outside and play, you have to clean up your room. You cannot collect 200 dollars unless you pass GO.

Childhood games are the basic building blocks of social skills. Through play, children learn how to respect the wants, desires, needs, and feelings of others. The child who fails in putting these blocks together will end up being either 1) a narcissist or 2) an unlikable cad.

The law is little more than rules. It tells us what should be done, what may be done, and what must not be done.

Sometimes, we want something but the law acts as an impediment. A civilzed adult would recognize that it is his misfortune if the rules prevent him from achieving his goal. A petulant child changes the rules on the spot.

In the law, there are prescribed mechanisms for changing the law (rules regarding rules). We actually allow for players to change the rules in the middle of the game. However, we do not allow them to change the rules in the middle of their turn. News laws must be promulgated prior to their implementation; certain parties must agree to the change.

The politician or bureaucrat who violates the rules regarding rules is little better than the spoiled brat who does not care one whit about his fellow citizens. Perhaps what he does is supported in theory by the majority, but the violation of principle degrades the entire body politic and weakens the fragile adhesives that bond human society.

Don't like the law? Go ahead, change it. But do it properly.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Welfare State

I cannot recall ever having met someone whose grasp of economics and human nature was so shallow that they truly believed that complete Socialism could be a viable system.

The question that inevitably follows: how Socialist can a society become before the economics of it all bring the infrastructure crumbling down?

Take, for example, health care. Very few people with whom I am acquainted disagree in principle with ensuring that all children have access to health care: kids are too cute and innocent for us to imagine turning them away. But what happens when the freeloader in question is a lifetime smoker, occasional druggie, alcoholic adult who flits between jobs and has failed to contribute to the funding of the programs on which he would rely to fund his wayward lifestyle? What happens when parasites graft on to the host?

For every sad story about a cancer patient, odds are we could find a story or two about a single mother who keeps having children while on government support. For every person denied insurance coverage due to a preexisting condition, there will be another person whose litany of poor life choices and irresponsible behavior make them an utter drain on society.

Socialism's fatal flaw is not that it tries to help poor people. Socialism's fatal flaw is not that it asks the wealthy to support the poor. Socialism's flaw is that it asks the wealthy to indiscriminately subsidize the orphan and the slacker, the widow and the meth addict, the disabled and the lazy.

Unless and until we are willing to distinguish between the helpless needy and the hopeless needy, expanding entitlement programs is little better than taking a fistfull of money and tossing it out of the window of a tall building on the off chance that it will find a struggling wretch and not a slovenly brute.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

President Carter Meets President L. Johnson

Although "existential angst" is generally too strong a term for anything that I feel, it approximates the intellectual struggle going on inside of me right now. Fortunately, it is completely externally oriented around the question of whether it is better to have a strong leader who takes stands even if they are sometimes wrong or a weak leader who takes stands only after everyone else has left the table.

On paper, it is more difficult than it seems. If the former is the leader of a nation or a military, lives will be unnecessarily lost when he messes up. The latter, by dithering, would prevent losses, right?

Well, here we are in the real world, where things on paper rarely translate into on-the-ground realities.

I shall leave aside the small matter of congressional consent for war. There is no time to focus on exit strategies (which are probably a red herring anyway). Instead, my struggles come down to this: is it morally justifiable to send our countrymen to war if we have no intention of doing whatever it takes to win?

This is not a new question. Folks who lived through the Vietnam era will undoubtedly recognize it. But it is timeless, as current events have shown and continue to show.

On what grounds can I, as an American citizen, support telling my neighbor that he should go to some foreign land and die, but not so that we might win a war and advance our nation's core interests; instead, he should go and die so that civilians in another country won't, or so that a real but nebulous threat might be held at bay?

If we are going to be the world's police force, couldn't we at least get some nice badges or maybe a few boxes of donuts out of the deal?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Common Threads

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee
-John Donne

In the midst of this hyper-technologically advanced age in the history of humankind, I often feel that Americans take for granted the value of being in community with other people.

Growing up in a small town, everyone knew everyone. The turnover rate was low; most of us that graduated from the local high school had known each other since elementary school. We had shared experiences, common memories, a shared existence. My family was an oddity because we had only just moved into town when I was in third-grade.

Here in the city, they have different ways. Amidst the masses, there is an anonymity that causes one to feel overwhelmed, disconnected. Instead of knowing everyone in town, one can only possibly know a small handful.

I dislike people, but rarely do I dislike a person. When each person becomes more of a nameless face in an amorphous crowd, it is harder to empathize, sympathize, and harmonize. How can I feel my neighbor's pain if I do not know who he is, what his life is like, from whence he comes and whither he goes?

So here is to all of the friends, past, present, and future. To the people who share our lives, who enter them and do not leave. The ones who are able to silently remind us that even when we feel like islands, we are at least part of a vast archipelago.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

101 Ironic Politician Deaths

Ralph Nader: strangled to death by a seatbelt

Bill Clinton: choking on a cigar/ lack of blood to the brain

Jan Brewer: struck by a bus full of illegal aliens fleeing Arizona

Jennifer Granholm: smothered by a falling stack of unemployment applications

George W Bush: beaten to death by anti-war pacifists

Al Gore: hypothermia

Dick Cheney: lead poisoning

any TEA partier: in a government hospital

any Congressman: trichinosis

Larry Craig: loses his balance on account of his wide stance, falls, hits hit head on the toilet

Ted Kennedy: dehydration

Jimmy Carter: choking on a falafel

Silvio Berlusconi: impaled upon a stiletto heel

Kim Jong Il: hairspray explosion

Charlie Rangel: gets paper cut while filing taxes, gets infected and goes septic

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Teachers on Strike

There is something appallingly cynical about teachers going on strike.

Unions and collective bargaining in general serves two basic functions: protecting labor from abusive actions on the part of employers and enabling workers to share in the profits that a company makes.

As we saw with the American auto-makers, corporations that make collective bargaining agreements that are detached from the profitability of the company will eventually have to pay the piper. The problem was further exacerbated by the fiscally imprudent concession of defined-output pensions in lieu of defined-input retirement accounts.

The public sector unions have four problems, the first two are related to the problems that GM exemplified: they are fighting to keep defined-output pensions at a time when most people recognize the impracticality of funding those pensions and they do not contribute to profitability because governments are not profit-making enterprises.

The third reason is related to the second: governments are bureaucracies that are unrelated to profit-making. In bureaucracies of that nature, experience indicates that status quo is a stronger imperative than efficiency or effectiveness. That is to say, public employees protected by unions are virtually irreplaceable, not because of their talents but because their is no need to protect a profitability bottom-line and therefore little incentive to rock the boat by cutting deadweight.

Finally, there is the not insignificant matter of morals. Being a paid public servant is implicitly a conflict-of-interest. By definition, public servants exist to provide services to the public. Many of these services, such as teaching, are essential. Public servants, then, have a great deal of clout simply by the fact that the public needs them to keep doing what they are doing. If an autoworker goes on strike, not many private citizens will feel any impact and if they do it would probably not be immediate; if teachers go on strike, almost everyone feels it and immediately.

Public employees have every right to air grievances. But if a public servant gets to the point in which he is willing to go on strike, then he has placed in own best interests over those of the public and has ceased to be a public servant. When a teacher ceases to be a public servant, it is time to get rid of him.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Ignorance in the Digital Age

Much has been made of the impact that modern technology has had on society. I increasingly suspect that it has contributed greatly to ignorant public statements by prominent persons.

As humans, we all have our own worldviews, ways of conceptualizing the things that happen around us. Some are conservative, some liberal, some hodgepodges, some literally incoherent. But each of us has one of these lenses through which we see the world.

All of these lenses refract incoming light to some extent. Show the same picture to a conservative and a liberal, and you are liable to get two markedly distinct impressions of what happened. Hence the passionate debate over the placement of blame for the massacre in Tucson. To some, it was lax gun laws; to others, it was harsh gun laws; perhaps it was right-wing fanaticism chime in still others, only to be rebuffed by opponents who would have the shooter be a Marxist.

To me, the point of the whole saga is actually unrelated to the deaths of so many innocent persons and had little to do with the unstable mind of the swine who killed them. What I saw arising out of the haze that still obscures our unimpeded understanding of what truly happened last Saturday is a civilization that has perfected the art of jumping to conclusions and using instant communication formats to spread those conclusions like so much manure.

Now, I will not pretend that jumping to conclusions is by itself a foolish thing to do. But it can be. Two examples: jumping to tenuous conclusions that slander and libel other persons and refusing to let go of those conclusions when subsequently gained insight so strongly suggests that they are scurrilous at best but much more likely bold-faced lies.

One final note on the matter: irrational dislike of a political figure was not monopolized this weekend by Mr. Loughner. Personally, I hold Mrs. Palin in low-esteem and generally consider her to be unworthy of the attention which this country has bestowed upon her. That said, her comments on blood-libel were apt (considering the origin of the term). Those who attacked her for using it seem to have displayed the deep-seated hatred for Mrs. Palin that Mr. Loughner had for Representative Giffords.

Want to make political discourse in this country more civil? Start being more civil yourself. The longer we go around accusing others of being uncivil, the more self-fulfilling the prophesies shall be. And at a time when ignorance can be transmitted instantaneously to millions of persons, that is something that should make even the stoutest of optimists tremble in fear.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Law

The law judges the crime, not the man.

There is a reason that the defensive plea of insanity is widely frowned upon by juries: justice is more about punishments fitting crimes than it is about making excuses for the criminal. If one person deliberately and wantonly kills another, should it really matter whether or not the murderer is "sane"?

Some modern sociological movements have tried to create a focus on the rehabilitational powers of criminal punishment. Justice, in their books, is more about 'reforming' criminals than it is about punishing wrong-doing. And there is some sense to the argument that it is in the best interests of the State to reform when possible.

But the argument taken on its whole is morally vacuous and devoid of practicality. Recidivism rates being what they are, the 'reform' focused movements are apparently attempting to save the entire herd from culling when many of that herd are rather patently unworthy of such protection.

What is the value of being a society that restores the criminal and ignores the victim? What is the value of punishing law-abiding citizens by subjecting them to the continued presence of repeat offenders? What is the value of sending a convicted murderer to a mental-institution?

The insanity plea arises from the same sort of logic that would turn the penal system into a mildly-unpleasant adult version of reform school. At the core of both is the belief that humans are basically good; likewise, both center upon the assumption that the circumstances of a person's life (impoverished upbringing, lack of schooling, mental impairments, and so on) dictate that person's fate.

Justice was formerly blind. Unfortunately, she has been granted her sight and does not know what to do with it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Tragedy

As one who more closely identifies with Republicans than Democrats, I have no particular love lost for the ideologies on the liberal side of the aisle.

But as an American, I find the assassination of an elected official of any stripe to be the most repugnant act conceivable from a civilized populace. There is a reason that so many assassination attempts come at the hands of the deranged: quite simply, it takes a certain amount of narcissistic insanity to believe that murdering another person will change the world for the better.

Although I cannot say that I am surprised, I was appalled to see the aspersions that were immediately and groundlessly being cast upon political opponents in the face of the events unfolding in Tucson. At a time when Americans were unified in mourning over an unspeakable and treasonous tragedy, some chose to stick a knife in their neighbors' backs. That sort of behavior is irresponsible, unacceptable, and reprehensible to its very core. Indeed, it enables the unstable mind of a murderous lunatic to exert control over public discourse in such a way as embarrasses us as a nation.

Go ahead and hate Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin; such is your right. But do not give them greater power than they already have. Do not lay at their feet the blame for things which are clearly beyond their control. At the very least, have the decency to wait until the facts- not mere suppositions, but solid facts- are on your side.

Here's pulling for Representative Giffords. And shame be upon all those who are either indifferent are who would use this to their own advantage. That kind of cynicism has know place in a civilized society.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Why Our Dialogue is so Disjointed

America has never been a true democracy, is not now a true democracy, and most likely never will be a true democracy. But hardwired into our national subconscious, somewhere right alongside our love of liberty, is a desire to be a nation of the people, by the people, for the people- a democracy.

In the beginning, only a very small portion of Americans were entitled to vote. Even though that has grown to universal suffrage for adult citizens, the very nature of a federal government carries with it certain undemocratic aspects. Whether it is the non-representative nature of the Senate or the indirect election of our president, certain undemocratic safeguards of the autonomy of states are wired into the system.

Why did the Founders bother with those states rights? Why do we still concern ourselves with them?

To me, the answer seems clear enough. The larger a supposedly democratic entity becomes, the less freedom of choice and liberty in general is preserved to individual citizens. The larger the democratic body, the more "losing" votes there will be, each losing vote representing a citizen who must live under government chosen not by his voice.

As a nation of over 300 million persons, it is inevitable that we would have many different cultures, religions, views on society, and so on. As the Civil War showed, sometimes doing what is right requires literally beating down those who are doing wrong.

But to whom shall be grant the task of deciding what is "right" and what is "wrong"? If fifty-five percent of Americans felt that having more than one child was a crime against the environment, would they be justified in declaring war on multi-children families? Must their percentage be higher, say 70%? May the elected representatives of that original 55% exercise the beat-down power on their behalf?

The difficulty we now face is that we have a central government that was given the power to correct certain injustices (e.g. institutionalized racism), but that power came with no strings attached and can now be used to force every state and the people therein to do the bidding of the unelected bureaucrats enforcing that expanded power which was given them by unelected judges.

The operative word there being "unelected". Try as they might, supporters of the "living" Constitution will never be able to adequately explain why the amendment process should be ignored in favor of judicial reinterpretations.

Time may yet prove that America needs an all-powerful central government, one in which a handful of states- and thereby a minority of the populace- and a slew of unelected officials get to dictate the terms of our liberty. Even a light understanding of the history of the great republics cannot escape the realization that there is only a very fine line between a democratic government and an oligarchy.