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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Friday, January 31, 2014

NO BOOKSHELF WAS TOO LOW FOR HER STANDARDS

DECODING WHEDON

"I know guys with none of that worth ten of you. I've seen the footage. The only thing you really fight for is yourself."
-Steve Rogers

I'm probably late to the party on this but it occurred to me yesterday that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is live action Scooby Doo.  They even have the goofy lovable dog (werewolf) and shaggy (Zander).  The original concept was to be a preppy upper class girl turned into a tough vampire slayer as a total fish out of water, but the whole "exclusive rich girl in a private school girl" concept went out the window for the TV show.
But mostly I was thinking about how Joss Whedon writes.  I like his stuff okay, but at the same time I don't, and I couldn't really put a finger on it for a while.  Its funny and often clever, and he's good at making things have a twist that was unexpected.  He turns stereotypes and expected patterns on their head well without being contrived or PC.  There was always just something that bothered me.
Its not just that he's pretty poor at making his characters distinct; they all get the same sort of snarky laugh lines and one liners.  They all use the same sort of humor, and if it weren't for their names and appearance, it would be tough to tell them apart, that's not terribly rare in movies and TV.
No, its about ethics, which is odd because Whedon's work is usually very heroic and plainly good vs evil.  His good guys are usually very noble and selfless and try to do right in the face of all opposition and personal cost.
The problem is there aren't really any bad guys in his work.  Sure, there are a lot of evil minions.  You get the faceless, easily disposed types like the Chitauri in The Avengers or an endless array of meaningless vampires turned into ash in Buffy or the mercenary that gets kicked into the ship's engine intake, but they aren't really characters so much as targets.
Every bad guy that gets any character or writing in the story ends up being so sympathetic, so nuanced, and so backstoried that they end up being not so bad after all.  They only do bad out of some earnest need or good cause.  They turned out that way out of a noble intent or because terrible things happened to them when they were young.  Some tragedy, or curse, or nasty thing happened to turn them that way.
Even Loki is that way, although Thor pretty much set the stage for it by turning the story into a family squabble where Loki is the put-upon younger brother who is frustrated by being overshadowed and ignored by daddy.
Nobody is really evil, nobody is truly bad from within.  Its all nurture, never nature.  And their innate nature is so basically good that it peeks out constantly once you get to know them better.  I guess this is supposed to make them more fleshed out and complete as characters, but you know what?  Some people are just bad.  Some people are evil, because they are evil, and not because mommy refused to buy them that pony.
There's a lot of that out there in all sorts of fiction, though.  And even bad guys in real life are rewritten with history to make it seem like it never really was their fault, or even if it was, well you can see why they turned out that way, and if only people would follow certain policies or ideas, it wouldn't ever happen.
The only people who ever are shown to be really evil deep down are big businessmen and religious types (non-Muslim) who are horribly corrupt from inside and need no depth or explanation.  Gordon Gecko wasn't that way because he was mistreated, he's just greedy and evil.
In the end, if you don't have a truly interesting and bad bad guy, the good guys end up not looking as good and noble.   Because people don't really understand good either, and they push so hard at making the good guys nuanced by making them bad deep down too. 
Think back over The Avengers.  Of them all, only Captain America was truly selfless and noble, deep down.  The rest seemed to have selfishness, brutality, meanness, or some other thing wrong with them.  Black Widow was a heartless murderer.  Iron Man was a selfish hedonist.  Hulk just didn't care about anyone or anything except being angry.  Thor was just along to have fun and didn't care about anyone.  Hawkeye is just a guy doing a job with regrets only for killing his buddies. They all ended up being not especially good except Captain America who was the least explored character there and had the least growth.
He didn't get used to the new world, didn't have a problem with adapting, didn't learn anything, he was just... there.  Like Whedon wasn't sure what to do with him except be the old fashioned voice of conscience for Iron Man.  Of course Iron Man was the only guy that really grew or was affected, since all the marvel movies from Paramount are Iron Man movies, ultimately.  But that's another pet peeve.
The thing is, if there's no real good guys and no real bad guys, that contrast is never really there, its all so gray you can't feel a real triumph.  Lacking an ability to see good or evil really, all we get is incredible destruction which is a proxy for bad.  We can't figure out evil so... lets destroy Manhattan and its spectacular!  Being a good guy is about stopping the destruction!
I haven't seen it, but as I understand it Man of Steel is pretty much the same thing, but more so.  Superman isn't innately noble, heroic, and good, he's a terrifying alien who fights other terrifying aliens while flattening New York City and murdering people.
Whedon is better than most at this, at least he seems to understand good and heroism better.  The problem is, he is so focused on flawing his heroes that they end up too shadowy and gray in the end.  I'm surprised Captain America didn't have a tearful session where he revealed how he was molested by his uncle or something.
Its sort of frustrating, because this kind of writing is a proxy for character depth.  It doesn't reveal good or evil, it just shows you can throw baggage at characters and then use psychological constructs to program them into certain reactions.  It seems like there should be more to it than that.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A HORSE TAIL

"I've often said there's nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse."
-Ronald Reagan

I write fantasy.  I'd say for a living, but that implies enough earnings to survive on and that would be a slight exaggeration, like saying a AA battery can run Las Vegas.  But its something I have been doing for several years now, and I have a couple of books under my belt.
The strange thing is, I don't read a lot of fantasy.  I don't like much, most of it is pretty forgettable or the world doesn't appeal to me.  Too much of it is just awful, the kind of earnest nonsense that makes the genre a point of mockery for many people.
Something that often comes up in fantasy books and especially games is the horse.  Its a good old fashioned way of getting around; humans have been riding about on horses for thousands of years and they work well.
The problem is in the modern culture, almost nobody has more than a vague familiarity with actual horses and their nature.  And worse, being so influenced by modern culture, writers presume things based on their experiences that are nonsense.  I'm no expert on horses, but I do know some about them through limited experience and study with folks who are experts.
To begin with, horses aren't cars.  I know that sounds kind of obvious, but for some reason when it comes down to fantasy stories, authors seem to forget this.  Picture the scene with me now:
Cronan brought his steed to rein, its steel-shod hooves sparking on the rocks as it abruptly pulled to a halt.  The sun shone through the leaves of the canopy overhead on his broad, muscled shoulders as Cronan slid off the horse and looked around him.  This had to be the place the crone had mentioned, a cave with an entrance like a screaming mouth, filled blackness suggesting death and fear.  The vines overhead were growing low, hanging across the entrance as he strode inside, brushing his long black hair.  No darkness would stop his mighty sword from finding a sheath of vengeance in the lich this day.  He knew it could take him days of searching in the Labyrinth of Fell Desolation, but no matter how long it took, he would take his revenge.
Now putting aside the other problems with this melodramatic scene, think about something here.  What happened to the horse?  Its not like you can park one and hit the key fob.  A couple tweets and the alarm is activated, it will be there when you come back out, right Cronan?  Except it probably won't.
Horses are animals, and they have to eat pretty regularly.  They wander to look for food, and after a while start looking for company.  They aren't incredibly bright, so they will not understand you will be back, or what you're doing.  This mighty steed just saw the rider go into a cave and a day later not come back.
And that doesn't even count predators.  A big tough horse might look mean and dangerous to you, but it looks like a week of steak dinners to a lion.  Any world with liches in it will have nastier stuff than lions to deal with, as well.  That horse probably won't survive 2 days in the middle of the wilderness.  If it does, it will be miles away, having run from everything it couldn't stomp on (assuming its a warhorse) and Cronan will have to either track it down or hoof it with that big treasure chest on his back.
Which brings us to another problem.  Cronan the Barbarian is a typical mighty hero type, with shoulders so wide he has to go through doorways sideways and his 7 feet of muscle can bench press an ox.  That's great, but what horse is going to carry this guy?
He can get by with some gigantic draft horse type like a Clydesdale or Frisian, but not many others.  Your plain vanilla riding horse can carry a huge person like that, but not very long without trouble.  Don't get me wrong, a horse will go as long as you drive it to, they're dumb and very hard working when pushed to it.  But they'll die if you force them to carry a huge weight too long.
The only book I've ever read that even brought this up was Treason's Harbor by Patrick O'Brian.  His main hero Captain Aubrey is a big guy who varies in weight based on his riches and how long he's been at sea, but is a big fellow, and he needs a big horse to carry his weight.
But let's assume our hero found a huge horse to carry his huge frame; and armor, because only an idiot goes adventuring in a loincloth - a soon dead idiot - and that weighs a lot, too,  Plus all those weapons, food, bedroll and... well that's another post, I suppose,
Even a big, strong horse is still basically a horse.  And they survive by running away.  Not just running fast, but running first.  The first instinct of a horse when confronted with trouble is to run away.  And to make sure, a horse will assume pretty much everything is trouble.
Yes, you can train a horse to be mean, aggressive, and combative.  You can train a warhorse to kick and bite and ignore the sounds of combat, but you can't train a horse to stop being a horse.  That training will only take you so far, and will not remove its basic herbivore prey nature.
And that means the brute will sometimes think, without warning, that a rock is maybe a tiger and freak out on you.  It means that sometimes when a bird suddenly flies in front of the horse, it becomes terrified.
You see, horses don't have a fight or flight response.  They have a flight response.  You can train them to use their "fight over a mate" instinct on your enemies and you can get a stallion to emphasize their dominant nature over other horses, so they are mean and bite people.  But they're still made to run away when they face trouble.
When we see something strange or spot something that looks scary at first glance, we have a lot of options available to us, like examine it closer, go kill it, run away, hide and see what happens next, and so on.  Horses have one option when they're surprised: run.
We both have the same "what the--?" reaction when a quail explodes out of the grass in front of us, we both get that startled feeling, heart racing, skin prickling, step back in astonishment and so on.  The horse responds in fear and the need to get away fast so it won't be eaten.  Even the big mean warhorse.
Now, a well-trained, well-handled horse can be controlled sooner and won't have as many of these episodes, but they still have them.  Those mean little scrubby tiaga ponies that the mongols rode were less panicky, but still were panicky.
Because the horse is an animal, not a car.  It doesn't just drive where you point it, its a creature too with its own personality, inclinations, fears, and desires.  It has a mind of its own, and won't just go from point A to point B without any complications or events, and it won't just sit and wait until you get on next time for a ride.
Horses are pretty needy animals.  Part of their physiology requires that they keep moving, its why they stamp and move about restlessly, it keeps blood flowing through their long legs.  They have little skinny legs and a big heavy body; that breaks easily.  More primitive and less bred horses suffer less from this, but its still an issue. They need a pretty constant amount of food and huge amounts of water to keep going, you can't just ride them around and fill the tank every few days.  They need rest.
This is an issue that most writers don't seem to get either; horses can't carry you and all your stuff indefinitely.  They have to stop and take a breather.  Yes, they're way stronger than you are, but its like carrying your toddler around.  That little guy couldn't win an arm wrestling contest with you even using one finger, but you can't carry him all day without noticing the weight and needing a break.
That means no "riding for days" or you get what you see in Gladiator when he reaches his farm: the horse collapses and dies.  Horses are kind of stupid when it comes to running for you, they'll do it as long as you compel them to, but their bodies won't hold up under the strain.
And I'm not even going to get into the whole mare-in-heat thing (good luck restraining your warhorse then, tough guy).
So if you're writing horses in a story, try to keep this all in mind.  Its not that you have to have gritty constant absolute reality.  Nobody needs to hear about how often the horse urinates or combing burrs out of their mane, but just don't treat them like an inanimate object, either.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

RETRO WATN: The New Bigotry

A while back in 2011 I wrote this piece on the shift in cultural animosity from one minority group to another, as often happens in a culture. I particularly liked the examination of differing approaches to basic problems, which I might expand on some time to more topics as an exercise in clarifying conservative ideas on topics often understood by people.
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
-Martin Luther King jr

Ethnic minorities around the world have faced bigotry and racism whatever nation and culture they have been in. Blacks in Europe and America, Jews around the world, Whites in east Asia, Native peoples in any colonized nation such as Australia, and so on have all faced bigotry, racism, and societal attacks based solely upon their ethnic identity. Even whites such as Italians and Irish faced this kind of thing in the past in places like America.

The overt racism we all know about, such as racial epithets, separated drinking fountains, apartheid, and even physical attacks such as lynchings. The horrible image of the Ku Klux Klan, scattered in small groups around America from Alabama to Indiana to Oregon, is seared upon American conscience as a symbol of evil and racial hate. Calling someone a honky or a greaser is an easily recognized sort of racism.

But most older blacks found a more subtle kind of racism that they had to deal with at least as bad as the open kind. Advertising images of caricatured races and depictions in entertainment media were humiliating and cruel. Presumption of a certain kind of character was laid on them such as the drunken, combattive Irishman in Enland, the lazy, knife fighting Mexican in America, or the fat, clumsy oaf white man in Japan. Blacks to this day complain that they're picked on by the police, pulled over or questioned just for being in the wrong part of town.

News stories would presume guilt and even tendency toward crime any time a minority was accused. Stores would give poorer service - or no service - to someone due to their ethnic background. Jobs were less available, people treated them as stupid, inferior, or incapable merely based upon their appearance. Cops would arrest a minority for something they'd let one of their kind get by on a warning with.

These daily little cultural things were a fact of life for blacks in America, for example, and still are for some ethnic groups around the world. South African whites get little support or protection from the police, for instance. Jews face this sort of thing daily in Muslim cultures. Racism is still with us - and the more subtle kinds die the hardest.

Yet in America, almost all of that has been stomped out at the cultural level. Individual people will always have their stupid bigotries and ignorance, but as a society, America has just about done away with racism. Just look at the Oval Office for bare proof; a non-trivial amount of people voted for President Obama because he was perceived to be a black man.


As an institution and cultural feature, the overt and subtle negative aspects of racism are virtually gone in America, particularly for Blacks, although Asians face some still. Racism is rightfully shamed and attacked as stupid, ignorant, and just goofy. Treating people differently due to their ethnic background or appearance is idiotic - even when its treating them better.

That doesn't mean this behavior has ended, however. The targets have just changed. Now  jobs exclusion, presumption of idiocy or malice, and different treatment in private and public realms are all directed at ideological enemies.

Consider the difference between the Tea Party rallies and the Occupiers. The Tea Party had to pay (and was willing to) for permits to gather, fees for clean up and port-a-potties, and cleaned up after themselves. The Occupiers are squatting on public and private property, cleaned up very little (in very few areas), paid no fees, paid for no permits and no one demanded they do so. It took weeks before the governments decided to actually take any action to enforce their various laws. Some still aren't.

Consider how conservatives are treated in colleges and universities, with open scathing attacks by professors and fellow students. Slurs and personal attacks in popular media are common and regular. Entertainment portrayals of Christians and Conservatives are almost uniformly negative and cruel, unless these people change their minds or reject everything their groups believe in while pretending to still be part of them.

Getting work in Hollywood as an open conservative is virtually impossible unless you are a very established, bankable, popular star to begin with. And even then, the system will turn against you if you go too far - just ask Mel Gibson. Its not that he hasn't acted like a colossal jerk or said stupid, wrong things, its that he's not even remotely unique in that behavior yet he's the one they publicized and attack. Say "sugar tits" to a cop and make an anti-Semitic slur while drunk, you're dead. Drug and rape a little girl and its not really rape rape.

Conservatives regularly face the same kind of institutionalized cultural animosity and presumption at malice that ethnic groups used to in America. From academia to politics to news reporting to entertainment and on, Conservatism and Christianity specifically and deliberately are targeted for slander and abuse. The same sorts of personal slurs and cultural opposition that was once leveled at Blacks, for instance are now pointed at Conservatives and Christians.

And the thing is, there's no rational or ideological foundation for this animosity. While leftists disagree with the right on various issues, that disagreement isn't based on basic moral issues, but power and preference.

What I mean is this: Nazis and Communists, radical Muslims and other similar ideologies should be shunned and opposed by any culture. These ideologies are shaped around death, evil, and hate. They are detrimental to liberty, damaging to civilization, and proven to be murderous and cruel to the human spirit.

But conservatism is just a different approach toward the same goals as leftist thought. Take any given platform position of the left and you will see not opposition to the goal but in the means to achieve that.

For example, how to help the poor:
  • Leftist: Increase assistance for the poor, greater government oversight of economy to prevent perceived unfairness, and reduce payment and power of corporations, reduce income inequity through tax code.
  • Conservative: Reduce government interference in the economy to constitutional levels, encourage and reinforce virtue and ethical behavior in the citizenry, present the greatest possible opportunity for growth, liberty, and advancement to everyone.
How to deal with health care costs:
  • Leftist: Greater central government oversight and control of medical care, increase ability of patients to sue and punish bad care, reduce greed and profit motivation.
  • Conservative: Reduce costs through tort reform, reduced regulation, and greater competition.
Or how to deal with immorality:
  • Leftist: Teach kids to be nicer to each other, promote multiculturalism and diversity, increase laws to punish poor behavior and have more government programs to increase kindness and tolerance.
  • Conservative: Teach absolute moral ethical foundation to kids, encourage ethical behavior and virtue, return to traditional ethical values, and punish illegal activity swiftly and decisively.
Both sides are trying to accomplish the same goals, through different means. What's more, the difference of opinion in approach is not between some horrible evil means and reasonable, moral means. That's where groups such as radical Islam or Nazism present unacceptable answers. Consider these approaches to economic success:
  • Communism: destroy all ownership, redistribute every item equally, throw people who disagree in camps or kill them if they cannot be reeducated.
  • Nazism: kill all unproductive and inferior peoples, control corporate activity through strong central government, and seize holdings of those unworthy of living.
  • Radical Islam: Total top down central control of economy from religious leaders, forcing all to tithe to help the poor, and seizing property of any who will not submit to Islam, killing them.
Opposition to this sort of platform is not just reasonable, but the moral duty of all mankind.

The reason that Conservatism and Christianity are so opposed and even attacked in America and Europe is not due to any basic ethical concerns with each, but because they represent a challenge to leftist power. Leftists view these ideas as competition, and while they may attempt to present Conservatives and Christians as immoral, usually through outrageous invention and slander, the real reason for their attitude is power.

Because for the leftist, there is no absolute ethical standard by which we may judge and understand right and wrong. There is no basis from which we determine morality, except what is personally believed to be true. So all that is left is the power to assert one's personal preferences, even if sometimes that's presented as a moral position.

Racism is ugly and wrong, but so is crushing and mistreating people for holding an alternative political ideology and worldview. And that's what Conservatives and Christians face every day in America and Europe, fighting a defensive battle and presumption of malice. The goal is to silence the left's competition not due to any evil in their part but simply because they get in the way of the left's desire to control and implement their ideas.

And unable to win on the battleground of thought, reason, and evidence, the left appeals to Alinskyite attacks and prejudice, calumny, and hate.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Quote of the Day

"We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive."
-C. S. Lewis

NOT BEAUTIFUL

"I never prepare. I think that's completely overrated. It's a very simple job. All you have to do is hit this bright mark, stand in the right spot and say the line."
-Joaquin Phoenix "

One of the strange things about watching movies for me is how they treat leading ladies.  I liked Kill Bill 1&2 okay as cheesy action flicks, but the biggest jarring problem is having everyone act like Uma Thurman is some kind of total hot babe.  That took some acting skills because she's just not very attractive at all.  They acted like she was the reincarnation of Helen of Troy when she looks more like a mom down in the trailer park.
In fact, there are a lot of women in movies that are incredibly overrated and never should be treated as hot and beautiful.  They can act okay and I don't mind most of them in films, but please don't pretend they are lovely and stunning.
Here's a list of what I consider greatly overrated women in Hollywood today, in terms of looks:
Cate Blanchett - Brad Pitt in drag.  Women think she's so very elegant and lovely, and she keeps being cast in parts that require a woman of queenly beauty and grace, and she just doesn't do the job.
Carmeon Diaz - She's a man, baby!  She can clean up okay but the only film she was actually pretty in was The Mask, 20 years ago.  She's not a bubbly cutie, she's sort of unpleasant to look at.
Angelina Jolie - She is just odd looking, and seems the victim of an overethusiastic plastic surgeon
Sarah Jessica Parker - Seriously, she's not pretty.  She just isn't.  She was kind of cute in LA Story but all those horse jokes out there are not ironic.
Julia Roberts - Again, not pretty.  Shes Eric Roberts in drag, with a longer face.  Again, horse jokes.  I never found her very pretty and she long ago wore out her welcome.
Maggie Gyllenhaal - She looks like she was pretty but then spent 10 years in the pen smoking crack.  She looks very used up and damaged; no sequence showed that more than replacing cutie (but lightweight actress) Katie Holmes with her in the Batman films.  The contrast was shocking.
Susan Sarandon - Never been attractive to me, at any level, and especially not with her idiotic radical politics.  Unpleasant inside and out.  I suspect most of her attraction was the size of her hooters rather than her overall package.  As a young hippy dippy girl she had huge eyes and breasts and was otherwise meh, but she was considered super pretty.  Sorry, never did anything for me, I wish I could delete significant parts of Bull Durham.
Renee Russo - For a while, she was Hollywood's "it" girl, getting role after role and every one of them she was awful in.  She has a face like a crescent moon and not a pleasant voice.  The only film she wasn't terrible in was Get Shorty, and that says more about the story and director than her.  She's not hideous, she's just not that good looking and she doesn't make up for it with talent or skill.
Jennifer Aniston - there was a three year window or so in Friends when she was pretty, but she's well past that point.  I think the only reason she gets work is because she's the sympathy card for female viewers (Brad Pitt taken away from her by vampish exotic girl). Enough with the romantic comedies that make 7 bucks.  She's one of those actresses women love and men shrug about.  Little personality, not great looking any more.
Beyonce Knowles - I just don't get it.  She's got a nice body but she's just really unattractive in the face.  I hate to have to be the one to point this out.  Go ahead and yell racist or whatever, but maybe if you're going to do that you should look in the mirror.
There are some others, such as Emma Stone, who is just such an ordinary looking girl, and Sarah Michelle Gellar but they aren't big names treated as total goddesses by press and film scripts.
Again, its not that (most) of these women are ugly, its just that they aren't the stunning pinnacle of beauty that Hollywood presents them as or has them treated as in film.
*UPDATE: Gerard Vanderleun of American Digest says about Maggie Gyllenhaal: "Re: Maggie Gyllenhaal. Maybe Secretary just punched every Hollywood producer's big control button a bit too hard?"  I think that's pretty accurate, yeah.

Friday, January 24, 2014

LAW ENFORCEMENT AND LIBERTY

When every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners, saints
-The Rolling Stones, "Sympathy for the Devil"

One of the toughest jobs I can imagine is law enforcement.  Police tend to see the worst of everyone and their job involves dealing with the harshest and most dangerous portions of society.  Further, the people they deal with usually are at their worst and most hostile, which makes their job significantly more challenging.
On top of all that, the courts go out of their way to make sure the job of a cop is harder by letting bad guys go and finding loopholes to negate the work of police.  And if that wasn't enough, the job requires long, hard hours which are hard on the family.  And of course, there's always someone waiting to film you if you do something wrong, go too far, or just have had enough and yell at someone.
Any other job, if you have a bad day or do something stupid, you get a reprimand and get back to work, or just a pat on the back and told to be more careful.  As a cop you can get jailed.
And since everyone is looking to nail a cop, and the press loves to publicize stories about how a policeman did something lousy, they're all waiting for you to fail and will tend to spin things in the worst possible light.
Which is why on the whole, I'm very supportive of police, am skeptical of stories of their alleged abuse, and always want to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Every police officer I've encountered has been friendly, courteous, and well-mannered.
However, all that said, there is an aspect to modern police work which is disturbing to me and I think needs to be seriously addressed.  Everyone knows about police brutality, abuse of power, and even the few cases of corruption.  People know about that cop recently who got in an argument with someone over their cell phone and shot him.  Its horrible and wrong, and cops know it.  They hate that stuff more than ordinary folks.
What I'm concerned with is a bit different, and its something a lot of cops, maybe most, tend to think is a great thing.  I can illustrate this by the TV show CSI: New York.  Heavily influenced by conservative actor Gary Sinese, the tone of the show was significantly more right-leaning than most, particularly its parent program CSI.
But even on this show, the cops are all for gun control, they love the fact that its brutally hard for a citizen in New York City to buy and own a gun.  A lot of cops feel this way, it helps keep them safe and they believe it keeps the streets safer.  The simple calculus of fewer guns=less gun violence is compelling on first glance.  Now, I don't want to get into gun control issues here, I've dealt with them in the past pretty extensively.
No, this is an illustration of how the police view freedom and their job differently than you or I might, and perhaps everyone ought to.  For the cops, fewer guns means their job is easier and they're safer on the street, as they see it.  They are law enforcement, nobody else needs to be armed anyway.
This principle of "it makes our job easier and it helps us catch the bad guys" is expanding rather alarmingly in America.  I think the real starting point was in a shoot out between cops and a drug gang in the 1980s when the police had pistols and the drug gang had machine guns.  A lot of cops died, and it took hours to finally catch the bad guys.  So the cops started to arm up, significantly.  And the "war on drugs" has been the genesis for a lot of arming up by cops, as the criminals get more lethal and well equipped.
Now police departments have armored personnel carriers and rockets and drones and grenades and more.  The police is becoming a sort of quasi military and I understand why: they're up against military-armed bad guys and want the edge.
This all started to get particularly alarming in the late 90s when President Clinton signed a Defense Authorization bill which had language in it allowing police to buy military surplus goods.  Michael Shank and Elizabeth Beavers write in the UK Guardian:
Here's how it all happened. A little-known Pentagon program has been quietly militarizing American police forces for years. A total of $4.2bn worth of equipment has been distributed by the Defense Department to municipal law enforcement agencies, with a record $546m in 2012 alone.

In the fine print of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 1997, the "1033 program" was born. It allows the Defense Department to donate surplus military equipment to local police forces.

Though the program's existed since the 1990s, it has expanded greatly in recent years, due, in part, to post-9/11 fears and sequestration budget cuts. The expanse, however, seems unnecessary given that the Department of Homeland Security has already handed out $34bn in "terrorism grants" to local polices forces – without oversight mind you – to fund counter-terrorism efforts.
This program has gone unaudited all these years, and the only cost to the police is transportation, storage, and maintenance.  Even small towns are picking up SWAT-type squads, and it is estimated that 150 swat raids take place every day across America.  Journalist Radley Balko testified before congress in 2007 that swat raids have increased in America 1500% over the last two decades.
But it goes even further than weaponry and tactics.  There are cameras everywhere now, not just in the US, but all around the civilized world.  Some of these are security cameras, such as at a place of business or parking lot.  Some are fixed to automatic teller machines, filming people making the transaction.  But many are there to catch bad guys in the act, such as traffic cameras.  These cameras are getting so omnipresent that the show Person of Interest uses the idea as a central design to the setting.
Having police subpena every camera in an area to get a glimpse of criminals and crimes taking place sounds great, right?  Except it goes beyond that.  You're being filmed when you are not breaking the law.  And further, once the police have that footage, they keep it, they don't throw it away.  It comes out any time they're on a case remotely related.
Ever get fingerprinted?  You're on file, forever, in databases that the police can dig up any time they want.  They don't need a warrant to check the fingerprint logs, just be on a case.  If you're arrested and printed, then turn out to be not guilty, they still keep your prints.  If you've been printed so the cops can eliminate you from your house and find anything from a robber, those go on file too.
Your DNA, same deal.  We need this to eliminate you from the samples; thanks sucker.  We have it forever now.  Seems like at the very least they should be required to destroy those samples after a certain time period.
And if you think this won't hurt you unless you break the law, reconsider.  There was a case during the Bush administration in which a Seattle radical leftist lawyer who defends terrorist cases was arrested because his print showed up on a piece of the bomb used in the Spain train bombing.  The FBI found his print, they claimed.
Except the print was very partial and smudged, and their "computer enhancement" and expert had so little to go on they guessed most of the print.  That this guy was a radical terrorist buddy didn't help him any but he was cleared because it wasn't his print at all.
All of these steps - cameras, guns, tanks, etc - are justified because it helps the police catch the bad guys.  Come on, don't you want to cut back on crime?  What's a little camera and your prints on file going to hurt if we can get the bad guys?
The problems with this are manifold (untrustworthy prosecutors, sloppy lab work, mistakes made, false arrests, etc) but the worst is the philosophy behind it all.  Their argument is simply this: your liberty matters less than our job.
There's a reason Thomas Jefferson said he'd rather 100 guilty people go free than jail one innocent man.  He was exaggerating, but the point is clear: society and liberty benefit as a whole and in the long term far more if liberty is protected more than bad guys caught.
When the police become the enemy, nobody wins, and that's what these measures do.  There are regular comments by law enforcement types and legislators that everyone should be printed and DNA captured so we have it all on file.  It would make things so easy!
But that's private stuff.  The only reason a cop can fingerprint you on arrest is that its an extreme situation and protecting the public requires giving up a bit of liberty when the setting justifies it.  Printing everyone just in case goes too far, even if it does make the job easier.
Liberty means we do things the hard way, if it means protecting our freedom.  And an overpowered overbearing police force takes away our freedom bit by bit.  This is an issue not many consider, but Radley Balko brings up a fascinating point in an article for the American Bar Association. He notes that of all the amendments, the 3rd (military cannot quarter people in your house without permission) is the one most ignored and thought meaningless.  Not so, he argues:
Given the apparent irrelevance of the amendment today, we might ask why the framers found it so important in the first place. One answer [lies in] the “castle doctrine.” If you revere the principle that a man’s home is his castle, it hardly seems just to force him to share a portion of it with soldiers—particularly when the country isn’t even at war. But the historical context behind the Third Amendment shows that the framers were worried about something more profound than fat soldier hands stripping the country’s larders.

At the time the Third Amendment was ratified, the images and memories of British troops in Boston and other cities were still fresh, and the clashes with colonists that drew the country into war still evoked strong emotions. What we might call the “symbolic Third Amendment” wasn’t just a prohibition on peacetime quartering, but a more robust expression of the threat that standing armies pose to free societies. It represented a long-standing, deeply ingrained resistance to armies patrolling American streets and policing American communities.

And, in that sense, the spirit of the Third Amendment is anything but anachronistic.
A standing army in our cities violates the 3rd amendment, and gives the government too much power, he argues.  And with the paramilitary police, that's where we're getting to.
Every so often we're reminded of this, especially during the Clinton administration, when the department of Justice under Janet Reno repeatedly used excessive military force against citizens it disagreed with.  From Ruby Ridge to Elian Gonzalez, the doors were kicked down by armored guys in machine guns, and people were even shot to death.  
The recent rash of "SWAT-ting" where a call is put into the police resulting in a huge SWAT-style raid on a home also helps show the dangers of this sort of overpowered militarized police force.  When the government gets too much power, too much presence, and too strong for the people of the US to defend against or threaten, that's when liberty collapses.
All it takes is someone in power without scruples and so certain in the righteousness of their cause that they activate all this to exert their control and we've lost everything as a nation.  Better that the cops have a tougher job than we lose our liberty, even a little bit more than we need to.
The least liberty given up the best, according to the founding fathers.  Its easy for us on this side of history to think they went too far or were a bit radical, but we've never faced the tyranny and abuse of might that they did.  Let's not go there, even a little.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

THAT'S HEDLEY

"What the hell are you worried about? This is 1874. You'll be able to sue her."
-Blazing Saddles

There was a tremendous amount of fascinating activity going on behind the scenes during WW2 and right before it.  The book A Man Called Intrepid is full of details and amazing bits of information from the time period.  One particular story is of interest, and it was in an email forwarded to me by a friend.
In the 1930s, the possibilities of radio were being first explored for what could be done with this new technology.  The concept of radar was out there and its first, rudimentary systems were being developed.  The Americans had the best radar, and they shared that tech with the British, which made it possible for the British warplanes to always mysteriously be where they were most needed during the Battle of Britain.
Radio was also being experimented with for sending secret information.  It was known that you could in theory get a device to obey commands sent over radio, but the exact process of getting this done was unknown and difficult.
One Austrian scientist named Friedrich Mandl was the head of Austria's biggest weapons manufacturer.  He would attend dinners with his beautiful young wife Hedwig and leaders of the German and Austrian fascist movements.  At these dinners, he would talk about his company's latest developments in radio controlling missiles and torpedos, and the technology involved.  Young Hedwig was so lovely and seemed so shallow she was ignored, as she listened and learned everything being said.
Hedwig wasn't a fan of Nazis, and she wasn't fond of her husband's weapons business, so much so that her annoyed husband locked her up in his palatial home Schloss Schwarzenau.  However, Hedwig managed to escape dressed as a maid in 1937 and made her way out of the country to Paris and then to London.  
In 1938, Germany annexed Austria, whose people willingly joined Germany.  The German government seized Friedrich Mandl's company because he was a Jew and nationalized it, and Mandl himself had to flee to Argentina where he eventually became an adviser to Juan Peron.
Hedwig meanwhile resumed her film career.  She'd starred in a little European movie about a bored wife and her fantasy life and had a nude scene in it, along with a few other controversial scenes.  It had been released in 1933, when she was then 18 years old. Louis B. Mayer met with Hedwig Mandl in London and signed the young woman to a long term contract. 
Meanwhile, however, she was busy.  Although beautiful and easy underestimated, Hedwig was a genius, and she'd understood her husband's talk about radio control better than he had.  In fact, she understood it so well that she created and patented a system that worked to remotely control weapons.
Her basic understanding of the technology was being followed through by the Germans, and by the 1940s they had a working system in place.  The problem was that it could be jammed, something that had probably come up in the conversations at dinner.  A jammed radio signal meant no control.
Hedwig at another dinner party met a talented musician and inventor named George Anthiel who had been experimenting with synchronizing player pianos to create symphonic pieces harmonizing different pianos at once.  His system had been complex and innovative, and the results were quite impressive, although a bit too modern for my taste.
Discussing how it was done and a certain radio control issue, Hedwig and George got together and worked out a method for the radio control and receiver to automatically hop to another frequency if jammed, without losing contact.  By then Hedwig had remarried to Gene Markey, An American producer and screenwriter.
On August 11, 1942, U.S. Patent No. 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and "Hedy Kiesler Markey", giving the system for making this frequency hopping technology possible.  This technology was initially opposed but then later developed further by the US Navy, and by the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 was part of US weaponry and communications.  This technology became standard for any radio system that searches for and moves to different frequencies.
Such as your cell phone, for example.  Any time a signal is weak or too cluttered with interference, it will go find a better one and you (usually) don't even notice the change.  Your wireless computer and other gadgets all use this technology. It lies at the heart of fourth-generation "LTE" wireless technology.
Hedwig was honored in 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Lamarr a belated award for her contributions.[4] In 1998, an Ottawa wireless technology developer, Wi-LAN Inc., acquired a 49% claim to the patent from her for an undisclosed amount of stock.
Oh and Hedwig?  You probably know her under a more familiar, famous name, the name that Mayer changed hers to: Hedy Lamarr.  
Lamarr made 30 films with MGM, including White Cargo, Samson and Delilah and My Favorite Spy.  Her beauty and sophisticated looks made her famous as "the world's most beautiful woman."
She had wanted to join the National Inventor's Council in the 1940s, but in the end decided she would be more useful to the war effort by selling war bonds as a famous actress.  Hedy retired from film in the 1960s and spent the remainder of her life in quiet seclusion.  Her ashes were scattered in the Vienna Woods upon her death in 2000.

Monday, January 20, 2014

COMMON KNOWLEDGE: SACCO AND VANZETTI

"My wife is absolutely certain that if I tell what I believe, I will be called a traitor to the movement and may not live to finish the book."
-Upton Sinclair

One of the points of this series has been to correct excesses, confusion, and myths about different news stories and cultural events in the past.  When I dig into these stories, I usually find two things.  First, that the generally accepted storyline about these events is riddled with falsehoods.  Second, that the reaction to these falsehoods usually is extreme and mistaken as well.
Its as if we are climbing onto a horse too quickly, fall off one side, then get back on so careful to avoid the same mistake that we fall off the other.   The Zimmerman/Martin case last year is a good example of this, one side crying racist murdering stalker of an innocent child while the other cried heroic noble protector brutally beaten nearly to death by thug.
In the end, the story almost always ends up being not either extreme - Zimmerman was using questionable judgment and while beaten wasn't hurt enormously but did act in reasonable fear of his life, and Martin was definitely a shady character much older than the picture usually shown around but probably not a murderous thug, just a drugged up teen posing as tougher than he really was.
And this isn't new.
JAZZ AGE ANARCHISTS?
For this edition of Common Knowledge, we go back in time, almost a century ago.  A pair of Italian Immigrants named Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco who came to America in 1908.  They were followers of Luigi Galleani, an Italian anarchist who was behind the bombing and murder of several US politicians and judges.  In the evidence included in a later trial, Galleanist leaders sent a letter to Sacco telling him to destroy all their correspondence (which apparently, he did not).
It was on April 15, 1920 when Sacco and Vanzetti robbed the Slater-Morrill Shoe Company factory in Braintree, Massachusetts.  There the guard was shot while reaching for his pistol and a paymaster trying to flee the scene was shot in the back and killed.  Also involved in the robbery was fellow anarchist Mario Buda, and possibly a man named Riccardo Orciani.
Police quickly found ties between this event and a previous attempted robbery in Bridgewater Massachusetts the year before.  Both were speculated to be money-raising attempts for terrorist acts (such as a later bombing of Wall Street in 1920).
In the first trial, only Vanzetti was tried for the Bridgewater case.  The defense attorney produced hosts of Italian witnesses who all swore that Vanzetti was no where near that crime at that time, he was off doing wonderful family things.  At least one witness admitted being coached to memorize his testimony while on the stand.
The jury found him guilty of robbery and attempted murder, and Vanzetti bitterly blamed his lawyer.  The judge found out that the jury had examined the bullet casings to see if they were the right size for the gun, and the judge threw out their conviction of murder based on this.
 As an aside the inability of juries to independently gain the facts they need to decide a case when lawyers either deliberately or incompetently forget to bring that up is infuriating to me.  There can be no hope of justice if the jury is not given access to all the information they require to properly adjudicate and the hissy fit by a judge for them not following his rules was absolutely wrong here.
In any case, a subsequent trial put both Sacco and Vanzetti up for the attempted murder in the Baintree case. The prosecutor produced the weapon Sacco owned, a witness that saw the getaway car speed by firing pistols and identified Sacco, and witnesses that identified the automobile and articles of clothing worn by the men.  Forensic testing showed that not only were the bullets that killed the men from the type of gun Sacco owned, but they could have only come from his gun.
The case against Vanzetti was weaker, and they could not produce the other automatic which shot the guard.  Vanzetti had a revolver on him which might have been the guard's pistol.  He was tentatively identified as being one of the men at the scene, which would make him guilty of felony murder (engaging in a felony in which someone was killed, even if not by the individual being charged).  However in trial, the witnesses noted they couldn't be sure.  The prosecutors sought the death penalty.
During the trial, sensationalism began.  A Defense Committee, made up of Galleanists and friends of the pair, began a campaign of turning public mood against the trial.  Claiming racism and anti-immigrant fervor (yes, racism against Italians; for those history-challenged it was not uncommon in the early 20th century to be racist against south Europeans, Irish, and other groups), their publicity appealed to newspapers, some of which picked up the cry.  Nobel Prize winner in literature Anatole France wrote "The death of Sacco and Vanzetti will make martyrs of them and cover you with shame. You are a great people. You ought to be a just people."
Progressive Magazine The New Republic took up the cause and began trumpeting the innocence of the pair and how they were being cruelly railroaded by anti-Italian government types.  The Boston Globe followed suit, and the rhetoric was pretty familiar stuff about working class types being oppressed by the ruling class and so on. Labor union publications ran regular stories about the pair, portraying them as working class heroes fighting against a cruel system run by the bourgeoisie.
Meanwhile the case went oddly.  Multiple motions for retrial were attempted by both sides.  Some witnesses claimed coercion by the prosecution, and the same host of friends of the guys showed up as character witnesses, coached by the defense.  A defense firearms expert disassembled several pistols, including the one owned by Vanzetti, showing how their parts were interchangeable.  The judge ordered him to put the Vanzetti back together properly.  Later, it was found that the barrel in Vanzetti's gun was new and had never been fired.  The defense expert was questioned and claimed he'd not swapped the barrels during his display, and the judge ordered an older barrel be placed in the gun.  At this point the trial probably should have been stopped and restarted, because the evidence was so tampered with as to be useless.
It got even more muddy.  A man named Celestino Madeiros facing a certain conviction for murder, claimed he had been responsible for the Baintree robbery, and one member of his gang closely resembled Sacco.  Many people, including former Supreme Judicial Court justice and the Boston Herald called for a retrial.  The trial was concluded, and the men were found guilty by the jury.
Labor unions began holding strikes in protest of the trial and rallies were held in their defense.  Benito Mussolini contacted the governor on behalf of the pair.  Celebrities such as Dorothy Parker, H.G. Wells, Albert Einstein, and George Bernard Shaw signed petitions for a retrial or release of the two.
People began claiming evidence had been planted by the police, such as the one that fitted Sacco's gun.  They became a popular cause of the political left and icons of oppression of the working man.  Leftists to this day complain that the jury had no Italians on it (no evidence suggests any were in the jury pool), and point out that the prosecution's case was weak.
The trial was, and still is, portrayed as a government trying to punish people for their radical politics rather than about the evidence, murders, and robbery. By 1927, 25,000 people (mostly union members and radicals) took to the streets of Boston in protest.
In response to this uproar, the governor ordered a commission to examine the trial and see if there was anything to this other than leftist rabble rousing.  Their conclusion was that while the trial was a bit iffy, the pair were certainly guilty.
Upton Sinclair wrote a book about how the men were innocent and railroaded, but later letters were found indicating that he feared for his life and decided "It is much better copy as a naive defense of Sacco and Vanzetti because this is what all my foreign readers expect, and they are 90% of my public."  Sinclair's biographer Pasco later said in an interview with NPR:
I think he cut some corners on this. He thought that a larger truth was that there was repression in America and that that was his subject and that innocent people sometimes were found guilty. I think that he showed a similar kind of ethical lapse later on when he was very hesitant in the late 1930s and early 1940s to condemn Stalin.

Even if the men were guilty, he felt that the larger context of the world in which they were living rendered their guilt perhaps less important than it might have been otherwise.
As the son of one of the group of Boston revolutionaries told Pasco, “They all lied. They did it for the cause.”  The cause was more important than the crimes or the lives taken, more important than the robbery of working class people's payroll.  More important than the truth.
One of the attorneys for Sacco and Vanzetti, Fred Moore, was a strong defender of the pair, but when he became convinced that they were actually guilty of the crimes, they fired him.  Moore later told Sinclair that the men were guilty and further how he'd created fraudulent alibis for the men.
One of the primary men behind the public outcry defending Sacco and Vanzetti was Willi Münzenberg, who worked for Josef Stalin.  He raised half a million dollars for their defense and publicity, of which the Committee only about $6000.  As Chuck DeVore points out in Human Events:
Known by historically minded conservatives as “anti-anti-communism,” this crusading mindset of the left in America made the Cold War all the more dangerous by disarming a large segment of the American population to the notion that the Soviet Union and communism was a deadly enemy to be resisted. Instead, the theory of “moral equivalency” took hold, largely due to the efforts of people such as Upton Sinclair, whose influential writings portrayed the United States as a bad nation with no standing to criticize the U.S.S.R., a Socialist workers’ paradise.
In 1926, a bomb destroyed the house of the man who called the police on Sacco.  While in prison, Sacco called for the public death of the judge, who he blamed for everything now instead of his lawyers.
What was called Anarchy back then was essentially Communism.  They used the same rhetoric, the same philosophies, they followed the same ideological leaders and books, and they had the same goals.  And from the trial of these two men onward, Sacco and Vanzetti became the left's byword for how evil anti-communism was.  They turned the murder trial into a class struggle and portrayed it as oppression of their people.
Later examination of the testimony, the evidence, and physical evidence with more modern technology and techniques all support the guilty verdict, such as a 1961 examination of the bullets and guns.  But that's irrelevant.
The prosecution cut corners and pulled tricks to get their case to a guilty verdict.  The defense lied and manipulated testimony and even evidence to get a not guilty verdict.  Both sides withheld evidence and cheated.  Neither side of the court case was working out of the greatest interest in truth and justice.  The prosecution hammered witnesses about their politics, giving rise to the defense's argument that this was all just a political railroading.  The judge should have tossed the case out and had a retrial, but apparently had some personal interest in staying in charge.
But in the end, the two men were guilty as charged, and in all the arguments and politicking this was totally lost.  And to this day, you'll read regularly that these two heroic figures of the working class were cruelly betrayed by oppressive government afraid of Communism.  That they were not guilty but the trial was rigged by bigots who hated immigrants.
And that narrative was so useful to the left, that even knowing it to be utterly false, they clung to it and lied through their teeth.  It was valuable to advance their goals, and who cares what the truth is?  There's a "deeper truth" as we've been told by their sort in recent years, which matters more.
*This is part of the Common Knowledge series: things we know that ain't so.

Friday, January 17, 2014

OF CONSISTENCY AND THE TRUTH

"But with Obama's minions... they are required to observe Obamerta, the Obama Code of Silence."

I remember quite well when various former agency workers put out books that were taken to criticize or dislike President Bush.  Any passage that seemed to embarrass the president were leaked ahead of time and got lots of gleeful publicity from the press.
Any former White House type who would attack the president or criticize him were given the red carpet treatment on news shows and talking head programs.  Books by guys like Scott McClellan were cheered by the news media, and even criticized for not being written earlier, such as in this interview by Judy Woodruff on the News Hour in 2008:
But that leads to something that a lot of people are wondering here about why you waited to say it until now. Why not speak up when there was a chance to, if not change things, at least let people know that there was some what you`re now calling propaganda or misleading going on?
It can't come soon enough or often enough!
Now, as Ace of Spades points out on his HQ, the standards have shifted.  Now its a Democrat president that the news folks like and former Secretary of Defense Gates has written a book with some criticism in it.  Now suddenly its all wrong to even consider such a book , and Ace offers a few links and some quotes such as these:
Doesn't this book hurt the troops you claim to like?
So there's a bit of inconsistency here, a notable hypocrisy in play.  What was once welcome, wonderful, and proper - a shining of light on the rats in power - now is suddenly a shameful betrayal that hurts the troops.  And Ace is right, that's despicable and transparently partisan pom-pom shaking.
However, what Ace, and nobody else I've read on the right, has noted is that the right is doing the same thing.  As soon as Gates' book came out, there were gleeful bits from it posted all over the place.  See what a lousy commander in chief Obama is?  See how he hates the troops?  See how incompetent he is?  See what an idiot the president is?  Huh?  Huh?
Now, when McClellan's and all the other "I'm gonna cash in on Bush hate" books came out, I had a problem with what they were doing.  It did hurt morale, it did hurt American esteem worldwide, it did hurt the president's ability to do his job, it did embolden our enemies.  And guys like Ace were pointing that out at the time just like I did in blog posts.  This is a bad idea, with bad timing.
But nothing has changed about that.  Its still a bad idea, with bad timing.  Just because it kicks your enemy in the mangerines doesn't make it okay suddenly.  Integrity and honor is about being consistent and truthful regardless of how it hurts you.  Especially when it hurts you.  
If its a bad idea to publish stuff that's damaging to the president and the war, its bad no matter who the president is.
I understand the difference here for people.  The left thought President Bush was the greatest evil that has ever walked the earth and no horror or catastrophe was beneath his wicked scheming idiot chimp ways.  And the right thinks President Obama is a hapless incompetent way in over his head but still managing to impose communism on the nation and destroy it from within as part of a nefarious Cloward-Piven scheme.
I happen to agree that President Obama is lousy at his job and is running the war poorly.  I agree that the troops probably don't have very high morale already and that they are not his biggest fans, at least most of them, according to polling and anecdotal evidence.
But that doesn't make this okay, either way.  When people's lives are on the line, you have to be more careful.  When people are fighting a brutal, hateful enemy and trying to protect you and me - and freedom - then you have to show greater restraint and caution.
Gates didn't write this book out of some compulsion that the truth must be known!  At least, that wasn't his driving interest.  He wrote this book because a publisher backed a truck full of cash to his door for it, and because he had stories to tell.  In truth, its doubtful he actually wrote most of it, few of these fellows do, but its not impossible.
The thing is, this is a terrific example of the need for honesty and integrity.  I've written in the past about playing for the team and why its so wrong.  The old saw about "no enemies on my left, no friends on my right" (or reverse the political positions if you wish) is not about truth or honor, it is about power.  And that attitude, while all too easy to adopt, is part of why things have gotten so contentious and angry in America.  
I remember not all that long ago (before 2001, basically) when people of different political positions were able to disagree without hating each other, and you wouldn't end up with a screaming match every time politics came up.
And if both sides would cling to truth, honor, and integrity, then we wouldn't end up with it happening so often.  We have to stop presuming evil of those who disagree with us.  I get picked on and laughed at because I'll find good in President Obama.  When I see him trying to accomplish some goal I think is a very bad idea, I believe he's doing so because he thinks its a good idea.  He's not some cackling villain twirling his mustache as he plots misery and downfall, he is trying to do what he's been raised to think is correct and proper.
When someone you disagree with does something, don't assume the worst of them.  That's called "calumny" and its just wrong and hateful.  When someone you disagree with does something you like, don't find some excuse to attack it, give them credit.  This level of integrity makes you a better person, can positively influence the society around you, and hey, you never know, maybe they might do more of that next time.
The worldview of the people in power on the left is almost entirely bankrupt - there are exceptions, but they're basically mired in relativist trash and for them hypocrisy, shame, and lack of integrity is nearly impossible because they don't really hold to anything except gaining more power to implement their ideas, at any cost, and with any behavior.
But that doesn't mean they cannot do anything right or every single thing they do is filled with evil purpose and destructive intent.  And those of us on the right need to not follow down their path.  We can see what it does and where it leads.  The goal for us should not ever be power, but truth and right.  We should always seek liberty and justice, with honesty and integrity, not the power do what we wish.
Because if we slouch off into the same attitude and territory, then we don't deserve to win, don't deserve power, and will be as corrosive and bad for the nation and people we claim to love as we believe the left is.  And then, nobody wins.
Power is a tool to serve with, it is something to be used to help, construct, and serve others, not to rule, dominate, and impose one's wishes.  No matter how great you think those wishes happen to be - that's what the left thinks, too.
This little episode with Mr Gates' book is a great chance for the right to show at least some reluctance to yell, and perhaps a bit of integrity and show we have truth on our side.  Come on, guys.  Lets do something right and constructive for our community, family, and country okay?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

NO ASYLUM FOR YOU

"Give me your children and... aw you know the rest."

Germany has a sinister past that it can't seem to get away from.  I sympathize in a way, being a white American blamed for Slavery that ended over a century ago, but I think a few more years have to go by before we keep reminding them of the Nazi era.
Especially with aspects like the following.  Before Hitler came to power, German parents would often educate their own kids or send them to religious schools.  However, when the Nazis took over, they outlawed home schooling and shut down the religious schools.  Why?  Because they were not doing it right, they were inculcating the "wrong" cultural values, and would not keep up with modern scientific advancements and progress.
After the Nazis were defeated and Germany rebuilt, this particular policy... was left in place, mostly. The religious schools came back, but the home schooling was still outlawed.  You cannot keep your kids home and teach them yourselves.
Now, home schooling varies in its results, like all education systems, but for the most part, home schooled kids outperform those from public schools, and usually by a pretty wide margin.  So this isn't really a question of how well the children turn out, or what their education is going to result in, but rather a continuation of exactly the same mindset of the Nazis (see previous post on this for more details): your children are getting the wrong kind of education, no matter how well they do.  
This isn't about quality of education so much as the cultural influence behind the education.  Its about worldview and politics more than knowledge.  Your child may be able to add and spell and understand things, but they do it the wrong way.
Now, some parents are fleeing Germany so they can home school their kids the way they believe is proper.  I think most people would agree that one of the most basic rights as a parent is to raise your children as you see fit, as long as you aren't causing them lasting physical trauma.  Maybe you're weird or wrong, but that's your right.
But when it comes to education, some disagree not because of some problem with parenting, but because of a problem with the outcome of that education.  Your children are being raised thinking crazy stuff like respect elders, understand and honor tradition, and fear God.  This cannot be allowed.
So we have this bit of news, a case where the Romeike family fled to the United States because they wanted to home school their child, and for now at least, that's still legal in the US (and increasingly being done).  They requested asylum on the grounds that their civil right to raise and educate their child was being violated in Germany and that they would face prosecution upon return.
And this isn't a slap on the wrist.  Germany's government will take their children away and put the Romeike parents into prison for the crime of not sending their kids to public schools.  How well the children are educated is utterly meaningless to the German government, only that they aren't controlling the education.  Roger Kimball explains how it works in Germany:
Things are different in the Fatherland of Germany, where a judge recently ordered that parents may not have custody of their children because “the family might move to another country and homeschool, posing a ‘concrete endangerment’ to the children.”

Got that? Let me repeat it just in case. A German judge took children away from their parents because “he family might move to another country and homeschool, posing a ‘concrete endangerment’ to the children.”

In August, 20 armed police, equipped with a battering ram just in case, arrived at the door of this Darmstadt family and forcibly took four children, ages 7 to 14.
The judge in question in that German case admitted the kids were well-educated and socially well-adjusted, but he still ruled in this manner.  An American immigration judge granted the Romeikes asylum.  The Obama administration is trying to get them deported.  Kevin D. Williamson writes in the National Review Online:
The Obama administration, which in other notable areas of immigration law has enacted a policy of “discretion” regarding deportations, took the Romeike family to court to have its asylum protections revoked, and succeeded in doing so. The family has appealed to the Supreme Court, which has ordered the Obama administration to respond to the Romeikes’ petition, but the administration has so far refused to do so.
Williamson is doing a bit of subtle humor here with the "discretion" line. This is the same Obama administration which refuses to deport illegal immigrants, for example, but this particular family has got to go.
And as Williamson notes, this is not unusual on the left.  Hatred of homeschooling and even admiration of governments that crush and repress it are not uncommon on the left, because of the cultural and political results of home schooled kids.  These radicals are raising children without the proper level of PC indoctrination, white guilt, Howard Zinn-written history, and hatred of religion and parental authority.
And there's another level to this.  Home schooled kids are a step away from central government control of your lives.  Each bit of independence people have in their families is a bit the government has no power over, and cannot use that power to control or manipulate behavior and culture.  If you believe that the right-thinking people should have enough power to make sure everyone does what you consider right and proper, then people who avoid that power are a problem and even a threat to your utopian dream.
I'd be more willing to find other motivations behind the Obama administration's actions such as a desire to be friendly to another nation or skepticism of true basis for asylum, but his approach toward other immigration cases makes that exceedingly difficult.  His own aunt, for example, has zero reason to be allowed to stay in the country (other than being a black woman who is related to the president), and those likely millions of illegal immigrants the Obama administration is declining to prosecute or deport have zero reason to stay, and are in fact here illegally.
So the only conclusion seems to be "yeah, I hate home schoolers too, here, stick it to them."  The Romeikes have appealed to the Supreme Court, which has ordered the Obama Administration to respond, but so far the president has declined.  And why would he?  He can simply ignore the court when he chooses, there are no consequences to his repeated violation of the constitution and separation of powers.
At least, none for President Obama.  The country on the other hand?
I believe home schooled kids are the last, best hope for the future of the country, and I suspect that's exactly what the Obama administration and his allies on the left believe too.

Monday, January 13, 2014

VIRTUE AND HOLINESS

"You wrote to me once, listing the four chief virtues. Wisdom, justice, fortitude, and temperance.

As I read the list, I knew I had none of them. But I have other virtues, Father. Ambition; that can be a virtue when it drives us to excel. Resourcefulness. Courage; perhaps not on the battlefield, but... there are many forms of courage. Devotion to my family, and to you.

But none of my virtues were on your list.
-Commodus, in Gladiator"

To a certain degree, I share the concern libertarians have about Christian conservatism.  There is a brand of conservative out there that does want to limit what you can do legally in your own bedroom, that does want to outlaw certain behaviors and actions in the world in the name of righteousness.
Mostly its the left doing so these days (smoking, salt, speech codes, etc) but there's still a movement on the right to stop people from doing what they consider wrong or immoral by the force of law.  Now, to be sure, everyone does this and supports this to some degree.  Even the most rabid Ayn Randian has limits to what they believe should be legal in their fellow man.  Its just a question of where you draw that line: murder or heavy petting?
There's a guy in the Virginia Legislature who has proposed a bill which would criminalize oral sex between teenagers.  There's been plenty of this kind of moral behavior legislation proposed in the past, and most states still have some on the books such as how you can dress in public on certain days or what you can drink.  Western Oregon State University is situated in a town which outlawed liquor over a century ago, and reversed the legislation only recently.
And it is not unusual among Christians to hear at least one person wish there was a law to stop certain behavior or activity, because it is sinful.  There's always been a movement in Christianity which has grown or faded as the culture shifts over time which believes that it is up to Christians to make the world better through political and legal force.  That movement is quite small these days, but in the 80s it was pretty strong.
In the same way I reject the left's attempts to force people to be nice by the end of a gun, I reject the right's attempts to force people to be righteous by the end of a gun.  Laws against certain behavior such as homosexuality are just as misguided as laws against preaching against homosexuality.  Both are rooted in a basic misunderstanding of humanity and ethics.
You can legislate morality, despite the oft-quoted line.  Almost every law on the books has a moral basis.  What you cannot do is make people moral by legislation, which is what the saying really means.  You cannot make people righteous through any external force.  It is impossible to impose goodness on anyone.
HOLINESS
Righteousness is a characteristic of doing what is good and right and just from inside, it is a voluntary and natural response to a change within.  And yet, righteousness - true righteousness - is a response to something outside us, a glory that transforms and produces a response of gratitude.
Thus, you cannot make people righteous, you can only make them pretend to be righteous, when anyone is watching and when they might get caught.  Laws and rules and force are of no use here.
Laws do not make righteousness, they describe righteousness.  Take the 10 commandments.  Telling people Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery does not make people stop sleeping around. It makes them try to keep it secret and try to not get caught sleeping around.  But a righteous person does not commit adultery, they behave in a certain way because they are righteous, not because there are laws.
The fact that righteousness is an adherence to an absolute code of objective ethics does not mean that it comes about by the imposition of laws and ethics.  The mere existence of these laws doesn't create righteousness, it is from within and from a change of heart, a transformation of the soul.
That cannot come from a set of rules and regulations and the force to back them up.  If anything, that makes people more unrighteous as they keep doing wrong, but then compound the sin by lying about it and sneaking around.
Further, you cannot extort righteousness through a system of promises.  You'll only get people who give the pretense of righteous behavior around the people who give the goodies.  True righteousness is not how you behave, but why you behave, from inside.
Again, that's not to say there should be no laws, we just have to understand the simple truth that you're not making anyone ethically more pure by passing that law against murder.  We have to understand as well that people change from within, not without.
However, that doesn't mean we need to abandon culture and society to anarchy.  This is the mistake of the left, they've torn down every single structure, foundation, and framework to build a coherent, ethical culture and put nothing in its place.  Their attempts to create a replacement are nearly random and often contradictory, and always by force.  So we have exactly the same people who want tobacco cigarette smoking banned because its bad for your health and others around you demanding pot smoking be made legal.
VIRTUE
A diverse culture made up of fallen humanity cannot be made righteous, however you think that looks, from the outside, and you cannot force people to behave righteously by laws and force.
What you can do is create a system of virtues which a culture will adhere to, a system of principles that the culture agrees to and considers proper.   Virtues are a code of action that people live by and hold to, not laws produced by a legislation, but agreed upon morality that a culture produces and agrees to as a group.
There always will be outliers who reject this; criminals, radicals, etc.  You cannot produce a culture with complete homogeneity, and you wouldn't want to.  But you can produce a culture with enough people sharing enough of the same sort of basic beliefs that there's a shared identity and morality.
It is inevitable, in fact, that any organized society does have this kind of shared identity.  Even in the moral chaos of modern western culture, there are some basic shared virtues and vices.  Racism is a vice, for example.  Protecting children is a virtue.
Virtues are principles that people agree to and will structure their behavior around, rather than laws that are imposed upon them by a small group of people with power.  The laws of a culture almost always reflect these virtues, and lag behind any changes, but they are not the source of these virtues.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
The way to produce these virtues is by tradition, shame, education, and entertainment.  Consider the incredibly rapid transformation of modern society regarding homosexual "marriage."  20 years ago the very idea was laughed at by the culture and homosexual activists considered the very idea oppressive and "heteronormative," an attempt to force homosexuals into patterns developed by heterosexuals.
Today, you're a monster, a bigot, and a freak if you question the absolute gaia-given natural right of homosexuals to "marry" each other.  This happened not through legislation or force, but by pressure through education, entertainment, and shame.  Nobody was pursuaded through logic or reasoned into this shift, they were pushed into it by a group of people manipulating culture.
Almost all of the changes the left has wrought in culture have come through this system, through a concerted effort by a small group working through cultural systems to change people's perceptions and virtues rather than to force people to behave a certain way by law.
The left understood this far better than the right in the 20th century, and were very successful at it.  Many basic understandings and culturally shared principles were changed, even reversed through this pressure.  It is so effective that people don't really even see it happening or understand it.
Yet the left is in power now, and the ones in power tend to use the power they have to impose their ideas rather than the culture to bring about their ideas.  So now we get laws against excessively large drinks and human rights commissions that punish people for saying things they find improper.
WHAT VIRTUE?
Now, the problem with the modern left is that they're trying to create their own (often contradictory) set of virtues that people should live by, but they aren't true virtue.  Tolerance and multiculturalism aren't virtues.  Cheering for the underdog isn't a virtue.  Opposing tradition isn't a virtue.
The only way virtues can build a proper and enduring society with justice and opportunity for the greatest number of people in the greatest degree is if they are true virtues, the real thing rather than simply a checklist of the latest popular ideas from academics.
And most of the things that are actually good which the left proposes (tolerance of different ideas, for example) are the result of true virtues, not an example of them.  This ignorance of true virtue and their meaning causes the left to distort even their own virtues, so that what is called 'tolerance' becomes oppression and intolerance.
Real virtues - fortitude, wisdom, courage, justice, temperance, honesty, humility, charity, and mercy - are not only timeless, but are principles that have stood the test of time and proved their excellence.  At no point has it ever been good for any culture to reject any of these, and it has always been good for every culture which has embraced them.
True, these virtues are difficult and even contrary to the goals and wishes of certain people within a culture, but as I noted there will always be outliers.  The virtue of honesty is tough on politicians.  The virtue of humility is tough on celebrities.  The virtue of charity is tough on the ambitious businessman.  The virtue of courage is tough on the onesie-packing hot chocolate chugger.  But these virtues as a whole are incredibly good for all of society.
EXAMPLES
A long time ago, a man named Montesquieu wrote about what basic government types need to survive.
He noted that a tyranny, a dictatorship, requires fear to survive.  This fear keeps the people from rebelling, it forces them to obey, and it maintains the dictatorship.  It is fed by misinformation, mistrust, and a feeling of powerlessness, but always it comes down to fear.  Every tyranny in the history of the world has followed this pattern, right down to the modern day.  Insofar as any system leans toward tyranny, fear becomes more and more important.
Montesquieu further wrote that a monarchy, rule by a king or powerful class, requires honor to survive.  This honor creates a structure by why people will obey and bow to those in a higher class and the ruling class are considered the "font" of honor, the source of all honorable behavior.  When this sense of honor and obedience to a code and social structure fails, the monarchy falls.
And finally, Montesquieu wrote that democracy, or rule by the people either directly or through representatives, requires virtue to endure.  A people who do not have a shared basic set of principles to live by and further are not basically decent and trustworthy cannot properly run themselves and their government and representatives become increasingly corrupt and untrustworthy, even incompetent as a result.
When you lose either honor or virtue, you tend to end up with fear and tyranny.  Without a shared system of virtue the population can agree upon and follow, democracy inevitably, rapidly falls apart.
A more tangible and clear example of how this works is in economics.
I often say that Capitalism only works if people are virtuous.  I note that Socialism only works if people are holy.  And sometimes I get a response: see they both fail without good people.  The problem here is a lack of word comprehension.  There's a key difference between virtuous and holy, as I wrote about above.
Capitalism only works if people follow and agree to a system of behavior and morality as a culture.  You cannot have capitalism in a cold and heartless society devoid of care for their fellow man.  A sense of justice, mercy, and charity all negate the evils that capitalism can be reduced to.
But capitalism takes advantage of the unrighteousness inherent in all of us, it exploits that to the greatest benefit of the greatest number.
Socialism does not.  It requires a righteous people, or it cannot work.  Socialism actually rewards a lack of virtue, by benefiting people based on their social status and forcing businesses to do things which are not profitable so that others can have what the government decides they should.  As time goes on, more and more people figure out that working hard and achieving is a sucker's game because the people who don't get as much or more than you do, and you are penalized for doing so.  Only a righteous person would continue to work hard for the benefit of others to their own detriment.  Only a holy man would do miserable work for the same reward as pleasant work.
Capitalism requires virtue.
Socialism requires righeousness.
Its not the same; one is theoretically achievable with a fallen people in a troubled world, the other is only theory which cannot survive the test of reality.
GETTING THERE
The only way to get us to the point where we have a truly virtuous society is to raise children under this understanding and system of virtues, shame their lack, promote them through entertainment, and personally display these virtues conspicuously while praising and promoting those who do so.
No number of laws will ever, ever result in a society that is good, and you cannot get people to agree to any system of virtues through force from the top.  This change can only happen from the ground up, and further can only be maintained through constant, conscious effort to promote virtue and punish vice in culture and not through law.
Rewarding what is proper and good and punishing what is not through shame, cultural pressure, economic activity, and education will bring this about, not law, not the right politicians, and not the next election.  It is not possible to transform culture through politics and law.  These lag after and reflect culture, they do not lead it.
And true change and repair of a democracy cannot take place through any method but a shift in culture.  The thing to remember is that we cannot create a holy people or a utopian society on this earth.  All we can do is create a virtuous culture, and maintain it through constant effort.