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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

JUST BECAUSE

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born”
-Antonio Gramsci

In the past, I've written a few times about what I think prompted the sudden cultural shift in the 1960s to take place - what drove the Hippie movement - aside from a long march of leftists through the various systems in the USA finally getting traction.
As I wrote in my bit on the new counterculture:
In the 1960s, young people recognized the culture they lived in and found it wanting. There were established traditions, morals, and patterns of behavior that the general public lived by, but were unable to defend or explain. Although culture had been passed down generation after generation, the reasons why things were done were just assumed, not explained. Parents did not think about why they held certain beliefs, and when confronted were unable to teach their young people. Part of this was because of a great failure of the primary foundational force of these cultural norms: Christianity.
People didn't know why they had their worldview - they'd never examined or questioned it - and were unequipped to answer when it was challenged.  Young people often took this to mean that there weren't good answers to their questions and rejected it.  Sometimes the parents agreed.
But when you do this, you leave the culture without a basic agreed upon set of foundations principles and ideals.  I wrote about this as well:
Christianity has been abandoned as the basis for ethical decisions and cultural framework in the west. Without that basic system of ethics, worldview, and law, western culture has been cut adrift in relativism and without foundation. There has been an attempt to replace the foundation of civilization with relativist leftist ideology, but it has no strength its self, like replacing someone's bones with Jell-O. Its very flexible and allows you to bend however you choose, but cannot hold up a civilization.
Our culture for years has been kicking the struts out from under the entire structure and is collapsing in on its self for lack of any sort of skeleton.  In the process, everything is beginning to look chaotic, random, and even insane.
However, its not that there isn't a new worldview or structure of ideals being promoted to replace the old.  They haven't simply burned it all down and forgotten it.  The left believes it has something that answers everything and fixes it all.
This is the one abiding and common theme among most intellectual leftists: they believe they are so smart, so skilled, so right, and so enlightened that they can fix everything they've torn down.  That whatever damage they cause will be easily remedied when they finally have enough power and have gotten everything they want.
THE NEW SYSTEM
And they have their system, of sorts, to replace the old.  That's what's going on right now on a huge scale.  The left has decided that they won, and its time to push through everything they want, no matter how voters think or what the country wants.  They've successfully gutted the old system enough now that they think its time to replace it with the new.
The new is simple enough in principle.  Its based one feelings and looking nice.  Its a system which replaces reason and fact with feelings and perception.  It replaces absolute with relative; objective with subjective.
This new system judges everything by a childish oppressor/victim worldview, dividing everyone into those who have been in charge and oppressing and those who have not and thus are victims.  The system is like Islam in that it is total: it covers religion, economics, culture, entertainment, education, law, and all other aspects of life in a complete package.
The tremors you're feeling in culture right now is the imposition of this new system from above while from below people still cling to the shreds of the old.  Homosexual "marriage" wasn't so much about the less-than-1% of the population that wants to marry.  Demanding everyone celebrate and admire Bruce Jenner's self-mangling "sex change" isn't about the 30,000 or so transgenders in the USA.  This is all just about replacing the old with the new and demolishing all the ideals and beliefs of the past.
The left will at the same time tell you marriage is utterly out of date and pointless in modern society, as it demands you embrace and celebrate homosexual "marriage."  Why?  Because they are being consistent - its not about liking marriage, its about leverage to demolish and render marriage meaningless.
A godless, empty, future of as many orgasms and pleasures as possible in your short meaningless life in service to the state is their future.  That's what they have planned.  Enjoy yourself.  Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die.  They know what they propose is devoid of purpose and hope, so they want to fill it with as many distractions and hedonism as possible so you can forget about it for a while.
A BONELESS SKELETON
The problem is, this new system is lacking in bones.  It can't replace the old system because there's nothing to attach to.  Relativism and endlessly shifting "progressivism" do not allow any real structures to be built.  In real, practical terms, you cannot build for a future you cannot know or predict.  You cannot work on new projects, when you never know if they're going to be declared hateful and bigoted next year.  You cannot research new ideas because you can't know if they will even be allowed by the time they are developed.
And in a culture without any concept of gratitude, constantly self-obsessed, and demanding all without giving any, you cannot expect any sort of functional work force.  In a culture that rejects the old, believes nothing has any meaning, and everything is relative, you can't even educate the workforce or the future.  In a culture that is constantly changing to match the newest ideas of "progress," you cannot even start to develop any plans.
In other words, this new system is utterly self destructive, it is violently, stupidly suicidal.  And in a sad, strange, but all-too-predictable twist, almost none of the adherents to this system can even begin to attempt an explanation for what they believe and why.
Like the parents of the boomers, the left today holds very strongly to certain basic propositions and ideals, and can't defend or explain any of them.  When asked, they become abusive, angry, defensive, and confused.  When they try to promote a new idea, they don't have even the tools to understand how to defend it, let alone any rational basis for doing so.  In the place of persuasion, they use insults.  In the place of conversation, they use demands and attacks.  In the place of reason, they use emotion.  This is not intentional; its all they know, all they have.
So what they have ended up with is tearing down everything the older generations held dear and built modern civilization around for not having any good answers... and replaced it with an ever shifting cthulhuian horror of insanity, and have no good answers, either.
This cannot last.  Cannot.  Its a matter of, I fear, a very short time before it all crashes down.  This isn't because I think they are so wrong, but because they are building a house of cards on a bed of sand.  The slightest wind will knock it over.  Almost nothing will fail to collapse it all.  When you replace what works and what we know with what you wish to be true and what you feel, that cannot possibly continue to function long.
And in the end, we'll have one of two possibilities.  The first, and much less likely - unlikely to the point of absurdity - is that the home schoolers, the traditionalists, the older Christians, and the people who haven't given up on all of it will rebuild and take the reins.
The second, and almost certain, is that a tyrant will arise, promising to save everyone by giving them all the things they want, if only everyone gives up their worthless freedom.  All he will ask is that they kneel.  And in a collapsing society with out structure or meaning, far too many will hit their knees grateful for some sort of order.
God save us from this future, a future that has played out all too often in the past and was predicted as long ago as 400 BC by Socrates.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

WORDS AROUND THE NET

Back when I started Word Around the Net about nine years ago, I was mostly reacting to comments, and trying to highlight the most interesting ones I found on the many blogs I scrolled through each day.  I'd noticed that often, the commenters were more interesting, informative, thoughtful, and useful than the blog posts themselves, or at least as much so.
Over time, the blog developed more into my thoughts on topics, and having read a lot about how to build an audience, I tried to get 4-5 things up every day, scrounging for topics and things to write about.  As a result, a lot of it was, if not filler, at least not the finest and freshest material possible.  There's always a lot to rant and comment about, but rarely anything truly meaningful and important to say.
For years I pushed this model, and built up to around 500 readers a day; not great, but better than about 80% or more of the blogs out there.  The whole thing crashed, hard in 2008 and I lost about half or more of my readers.  Still, I was able to keep the numbers up to around 200 a day most of the time, and then in 2012 I just lost interest.  So did most readers.  And my Google account blew up and I couldn't access my own blog for months.  I lost more readers.  Now I'm lucky to get 75 a day, and usually its lower.
Honestly the numbers don't concern me much any more.  Although I managed to turn my blogging into two paying jobs, they both blew up after a few months and I've never been offered anything more.  I discovered something though: if I post ten times a week or two, I get about the same number of hits.  And I suspect that about half or more of the hits I was seeing on my counter were drive bys, spammers, and search engine visits.  As in: not really readers anyway.
In fact, it appears that I have a core of readers that hasn't really changed much for almost a decade, who waits for content and comes by to read when there's something to read.
So my philosophy has shifted.  Instead of trying to put content up every day or follow a regular tight schedule as I did for years, instead I'm focusing on trying to hit a home run each time I post; trying to post only when something particularly interests me and I have a great deal of passion and something to say about it.
That won't preclude something goofy once in a while, although I tend to use my facebook page for that, or twitter.  But mostly I'm trying to post only when I really have something in me, rather than just to get content up.
And with my other writing taking up so much of the limited energy and time I have to work, the blog sort of waits until I can get there.  So I apologize if you want more stuff on here, but I think blog reading has shifted significantly.
In 2006 when I started, people read blogs.  They'd go to a blog and read its contents each day.  There were avid blog readers.  These days, I think most people use feeds and go to aggregate sites and pick stories to read.  So instead of being a fan of Bob's Big Blog, people are fans of Bob and read stories rather than check each day.
Maybe I'm off base, but that certainly seems to be the way things are going right now.  The age of the blog was about 2004-2008 or so, a tight window when you could get in and really fire up the interest.  Now, blogs are pretty low on peoples' priority list.  They don't fit as well on a phone and let's be honest, not many people are really readers these days.
So, that's an update on what's going on here at Word Around the Net.  Take care, and thanks for dropping by, however you do it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

PROSECUTORIAL ABUSE: A SYSTEM OF CORRUPTION

"A prosecutor is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer."

Its hard to like defense attorneys.  Most of the time their job is to try to get a guilty person off.  Because the system tends to catch bad guys and not railroad good guys, that means most of the time a defense attorney is acting against the best interests of society and trying to set a bad guy free.  That's their job.
And since most defense attorneys see their job as to win, rather than to make sure there's a just, fair trial, they are guilty of some pretty low, awful things to make sure their client walks, no matter how terrible they are.
However, all that said, there's a problem with prosecutors, and its been raising its ugly head more and more these days.  I don't know if its more common lately or just more covered because the news media is broader and more easy to access.  But there are definitely more reports of prosecutorial misconduct.
Most of it takes the form of withholding evidence or information from the defense, when the law requires it be shared.  At the Washington Post, Eugene Volokh has been excerpting pieces from Federal Appelate Judge Kozinski on just this topic:
Prosecutors hold tremendous power, more than anyone other than jurors, and often much more than jurors because most cases don’t go to trial. Prosecutors and their investigators have unparalleled access to the evidence.
...
But there are disturbing indications that a non-trivial number of prosecutors — and sometimes entire prosecutorial offices — engage in misconduct that seriously undermines the fairness of criminal trials. The misconduct ranges from misleading the jury, to outright lying in court and tacitly acquiescing or actively participating in the presentation of false evidence by police.

Prosecutorial misconduct is a particularly difficult problem to deal with because so much of what prosecutors do is secret. If a prosecutor fails to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense, who is to know? Or if a prosecutor delays disclosure of evidence helpful to the defense until the defendant has accepted an unfavorable plea bargain, no one will be the wiser. Or if prosecutors rely on the testimony of cops they know to be liars, or if they acquiesce in a police scheme to create inculpatory evidence, it will take an extraordinary degree of luck and persistence to discover it — and in most cases it will never be discovered.
Among the various different ways he lists that prosecutors abuse their power and even violate the law are these:
  • Its is very difficult for defense to know if the prosecutor is sharing all evidence
  • Feeding witnesses and "snitches" information to make their testimony more compelling
  • Concealing evidence that helps make sense of why the defendant acted the way they did
  • Concealing evidence that weakens their case, such as the nature and past of witnesses
  • Stacking on dozens of charges, including bogus ones, to make it seem like trial is hopeless, forcing a plea deal
Why do they get away with this?  Because they are protected by a 1976 federal court decision called Imbler vs Pachtman and a more recent court decision Van de Kamp vs Goldstein:
Under Imbler, prosecutors cannot be held liable, no matter how badly they misbehave, for actions such as withholding exculpatory evidence, introducing fabricated evidence, knowingly presenting perjured testimony and bringing charges for which there is no credible evidence. All are immune from liability.
...
Most recently, in its unanimous opinion in Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, the Court denied compensation to the petitioner, Thomas Goldstein, who had spent 24 years in prison based on the testimony of notorious jailhouse snitch Edward Fink. Prosecutors used Fink as a utility infielder in numerous cases, and he somehow always managed to testify that the defendant had confessed.
...
What kind of signal does this send to young prosecutors who are out to make a name for themselves? I think it signals that they can be as reckless and self-serving as they want, and if they get caught, nothing bad will happen to them. 
...
Who exactly is going to prosecute prosecutors? Despite numerous cases where prosecutors have committed willful misconduct, costing innocent defendants decades of their lives, I am aware of only two who have been criminally prosecuted for it; they spent a total of six days behind bars.
Basically the law makes it virtually cost-free to violate ethics and laws to get your conviction, and the system rewards prosecutors who do so.  That adds up to a serious problem.
The theory is that if you allowed defendants to sue a prosecutor for doing something wrong, then every case would be a festival of lawsuits for the slightest mistake or misstep by a prosecutor.  The entire system would fall apart, and justice would never be found for wealthy and persistent criminals.
There's something to this argument, but not enough to let prosecutors do whatever they wish without the slimmest chance of penalty.  Its true that in theory if found guilty of these acts, the prosecutors can be prosecuted, but it almost never happens, because the judges and prosecutors are basically part of the same club.  Often, literally.
Immunity from lawsuit seems proper to me, because every jerk lawyer would be suing for every single case.  But there needs to be mechanisms in place to hold prosecutors responsible and pressure them to follow the law, do the right thing, and hold to judicial ethics.
I have a strong, immediate tendency to leap to the defense of the law and order system.  I suspect and distrust organizations whose sole reason for existence is to find ways to get convicted criminals to go free.  In most cases, someone in jail for hard time is guilty of quite a bit they never got caught for, even if this one case is bogus.  And I want to give prosecutors the benefit of the doubt because of how rigged the system is against them.
But justice requires that we not abuse people just for a conviction.  Prosecutors are just as guilty as defense attorneys of thinking in terms of wins and losses rather than justice and injustice.  If you approach a case in terms of hostility toward the defendant or a game to win, then it becomes easier to think little "minor" cheats and abuses of the system are acceptable.  Attorneys are human, so its difficult to not keep score and have personal ego involved, but that tendency needs to be fought.  And lately, it seems like the bad in prosecutors is winning.  So what can be done?
ANSWERS
Kozinksi has some good ideas, such as making rules regarding evidence more stringent (all interviews and interrogations should be videotaped so its not the cop's word against the defendant's what was said, standardize and make more sure eyewitness testimony) and calling on legislatures to clean up and tighten wording of laws so they aren't so vague and easy to apply for stacking on charges.
Other suggestions he has such as eliminating judicial elections sound appealing, but the alternative - purely political appointments - has just as many flaws.  Its true that elections have serious problems, among them being that charismatic and rich, capable campaigners will trump serious, less interesting jurists.  But there are other concerns.
In Oregon, as in other states, judges have a tendency to retire before the election year, allowing the governor to appoint a "temporary" judge that then stands for election the next time.  Now established, the sitting judge almost never is opposed because to do so annoys that judge (meaning the lawyer who did so now has a very powerful  adversary in the courtroom).
The problem is that appointed judges are not necessarily any better.  In an increasingly politicized, ideologically-driven society, governors are appointing judges that are picked by how closely they adhere to the governor's political ideals and how reliably they'll do what the governor wants.  So you get as bad a situation without elections as with them - and as the Oregon situation shows, effectively the elected judges are appointed anyway.
SOLUTIONS
Ultimately, the only way to have a better system is to have better people.  Like solving politics, education, entertainment, news reporting, or any other segment of society, the answer is not government or law, although that can help, but to look at the source of the concern.
What we end up with in positions of authority and influence comes from the people and the culture at large.  We get the politicians and pundits, entertainers and informers from the culture.  What the culture is like is reflected in the people who work in it.  It is unreasonable to beleive that laws and rules will restrain corrupt, unethical, and unserious people.
Its not that there should be not laws, its that the laws are of little value if people are inclined to ignore or bypass laws.  The culture its self has to change for the laws to be of any value.  And if a culture is virtuous, ethical, and responsible, fewer laws are required.  A self-governing people don't require as much government.
We will never on this earth come to the point where no laws are needed because the people are so righteous and trustworthy.  But we can move closer to that point, and doing so means a shared, objective, absolute set of guidelines and ethical principles that the culture agrees to.  What this is will be up to the culture, but it has to be generally agreed upon and adhered to.
And that system has to be one that overall punishes wickedness and rewards righteousness, one that recognizes the difference between good and evil, can actually explain what that is, and holds to it without wavering despite shifting cultural trends.
Islam offers this, and I think that's why so many people are signing on around the world.  For all its horrors and attendant loss of liberty, Islam offers stability, consistency, and reliability.  You won't wake up in Saudi Arabia to find suddenly marriage has been redefined, or that you're now a monster for mocking what everyone laughed at yesterday.
Cultures cannot last without a skeleton to hold them together, and the ethical, philosophical worldview of a culture is that skeletal structure.  Without it, without that shared and reliable ideal, a culture dissolves.  The only question is how long it takes and how violent the dissolution is.
Oh, and which absolute structure rises to bring it back together again.

Friday, July 10, 2015

THE FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE

"Security under our constitution is given to the rights of conscience and private judgment. They are by nature subject to no control but that of Deity, and in that free situation they are now left.”
-John Jay

One of the things the founding fathers were most driven by, and indeed much of the settlement and foundation of the United States of America, was religious freedom.  Many of the immigrants to the Americas were driven by persecution from established religions in various European countries.  Jews, Moravians, Hugenots, and many other groups fled to the new world to start up a new life free from tyranny and oppression.
That attitude and the memories of being oppressed, attacked, tortured, and killed for your faith loomed very large in the minds of the founders as they worked on the new country and what it would stand for.  More than almost any other right, the freedom of conscience was central to the writings and thoughts of the founders.
What good is it to have liberty if you aren't allowed to believe and think what you wish?  How could this new country be a beacon of freedom and the rights of mankind if people were punished for what they believed?
The founders were very, very clear on this topic, writing extensively and passionately against the idea of an established system of beliefs and faith, or any sort of religious persecution.  Here are a few samples:
“If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.”
-George Washington

“We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.”
-John Adams

"No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority."
-Thomas Jefferson
The founders were primarily concerned about one religion establishing dominance over all others by using the state's power.  And until very recently, the left was very, very concerned about this, calling for freedom and individual choices.
Until recently.  Now we're told that what you believe and how you think about things must be either kept to yourself or kept within certain boundaries and guidelines.  Increasingly, pressure is on people to think what they want, as long as that's all they do.  Acting on your beliefs is considered not just mistaken but evil, if it varies from the left's beliefs.
Very recently in Oregon, a couple with a bakery who declined to make a "wedding" cake for two lesbians were ordered to pay the couple over $100,000 because the lesbians claim they felt "raped" and violated by the bakers declining.  And what's more, the Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Akavian ordered the couple to not ever discuss or talk about their beliefs in public, because he claims they violate the law and are discriminatory.
Now, whatever you think about homosexual "marriage" its obvious that this order violates several basic human rights in the name of shutting down freedom of conscience.  Because its not enough to tell people they are free to think and believe what they want.  You cannot stop someone from doing so.  That's like saying someone is free to like bacon, no one can prevent it.
The freedom to act upon and shape your life based on your conscience is paramount for liberty, because if you must do only what you're told, it is irrelevant what you believe and you have no freedom at all.
The anti-communist efforts of the 1950s were awful and wrong because of this basic principle.  It is this truth about rights and beliefs which defines why the McCarthy era was so anti-American.  Putting aside the truth of many of his claims and stated concerns, the tactics and attitude of the time was wrong.  Yes, Communism is an evil ideology.  Yes, its insidious and horrible and was creeping into society at all levels, so much so that we have a flat out open and avowed communist as a serious presidential candidate on the Democrat party side today (Sanders).
But the persecution of people and the attempts to crush the movement, arrest its members, deny them free access to society, etc based on their beliefs and ideology was wrong.  The entire process was a violation of constitutional rights and the foundational concepts of liberty in the United States, no matter how real the threat.
We have a basic system in this country already in place even in the military where someone's conscience is considered so sacred and so important that even during the draft, people cannot be forced to violate it.  Conscientious Objectors are allowed to serve without directly violating their beliefs by killing others.  The entire reason behind this is that we understood - in the past - in this nation that what you believe impacts and shapes what you do, and forcing people to violate their conscience is a tyranny which must not be tolerated in the state.
The government must never, ever, under any circumstances, punish people for what they believe.  And what's more, they must not at any time punish people for acting on that belief, unless it represents a significant and important violation of a superior human right.
In other words: never should the government punish someone for believing in Azathoth even if that belief leads them to not sell sunblock to white people.  However, the federal government must interfere if that cultist tries to sacrifice someone to Azathoth.
Today, we're told that we have a right to "dignity," according to Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court.  Not only is this a ridiculous, outrageous fiction akin to declaring that up is down and cake is pie, but its wholly without possibility of enforcing or protecting.  The implications of this absurd statement are almost impossible to express and we'll be seeing that very soon, I am certain.
But even if there was such a right, even if "dignity" was a human right, or the more commonly insisted upon right to not be offended, it would not trump freedom of conscience.
Let me restate that
Your desire to feel good about yourself or not be offended does not trump my freedom of conscience.  
You may not violate my conscience because what I believe I makes you feel bad.  And the right to act upon that conscience must be defended and protected by the state, not violated, no matter how bad it makes someone feel.  
But even if you somehow did have a right to not be offended, it is a lesser right than freedom of conscience.  This is patently obvious, if for no other reason than because that offense and how you feel is your conscience and beliefs being acted upon.  You are being hurt or offended because of what you believe.  So your reaction to someone's behavior is a demonstration of your freedom of conscience\.  Your freedom of conscience does not trump someone else's.
The way the left treats Islam is an example of a better approach to conscience.  Islam as interpreted by modern clerics and in the Koran is a pretty awful religion in terms of human rights and basic liberties.  It crushes the rights of women, it requires submission to a single state faith, and so on.
However, as long as Muslim faith does not begin to violate these rights, they should be free to believe and act as they choose.  The left shows how this can be done by protecting the rights of Muslims and not allowing them to be silenced or shut out of public areas.  Now, they're doing so not out of any allegiance to freedom of conscience, its part of their infantile oppressor/victim worldview, but the end result is what we should see for all faiths and beliefs.
Oliver Wolcott at the Connecticut Ratifying Convention has a troubling warning in his thoughts on the 1st amendment, however:
“Knowledge and liberty are so prevalent in this country, that I do not believe that the United States would ever be disposed to establish one religious sect, and lay all others under legal disabilities. But as we know not what may take place hereafter, and any such test would be exceedingly injurious to the rights of free citizens, I cannot think it altogether superfluous to have added a clause, which secures us from the possibility of such oppression.”
One of the main purposes of the first amendment was to protect people from religious discrimination and oppression.  It was meant to prevent the state from imposing one system of ideology over all others, to stop one faith system or belief system from dominating and oppressing any others.
THE SHIFT
There is legislation moving through the House of Representatives right now that would protect a church from federal penalties for refusing to hold a homosexual "wedding."  This is legislation that should not even have to be considered.  But these are the times we live in.  Michael Foucault has a different kind of quote, one which more closely reflects modern thought on the topic than the founders:
“Freedom of conscience entails more dangers than authority and despotism.”
Now this is taken out of context and doesn't mean exactly what it sounds like, but its a statement of how the left seems to view the world today.  Your beliefs are sinister and dangerous and must be stopped because they are getting in the way of what I believe, we're told.  Recently a congressman argued that religious beliefs must be restrained only to inside religious institutions, and this is mainstream thought in many universities and colleges.  Only bad comes from religion, we're told - at least, the organized religions they recognize.
Demanding that people be compelled to participate, support, and in their business assist in what they believe is wrong is a fundamental violation of liberty and the freedom of conscience.  This is not some strange new reactionary idea, it is one of the most bedrock concepts of American liberty.  Further, it is so patently obvious and common sense that only someone fundamentally foolish or at least temporarily insane could possibly question it.
This is not open to any level of debate.  There is no right to compel others to violate their consciences.  Period.  Full stop.  Absolutely none.  There is only the tyranny to force them to at the barrel of a gun.  And is that really the world you want to live in and see your kids grow up in?