Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Paranoia From The Left

Jared Loughner, the alleged murderer of several people in Arizona is being marketed by the disinformation organizations as the latest example of the menace posed by "right-wing" people and organizations. The large "news" organizations always seem to see bogeymen on the right, but never on the left.
A study of assassins would probably conclude that most were not right-wing, but just plain nuts.
Richard Lawrence, the failed assassin of Andrew Jackson was found not guilty by reason of insanity and died in the nut house in 1861. John Wilkes Booth is called a "Confederate sympathizer", but from his shouting sic semper tyrannis as he jumped from the box at Ford's Theater, it would seem that Lincoln's tyrannical measures were his motivation. Charles Guiteau shot James Garfield for personal reasons, not politics. Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated William McKinley is usually classified as a Socialist or Anarchist, but in either case is almost universally admitted to being insane. Lee Harvey Oswald was a left-winger and member of the Fair Play For Cuba Committee. Whether Oswald was the actual assassin of Kennedy, he is the "officially
recognized" one and was not a right-winger. John Hinckley Jr. was another nut, who was trying to impress Jodie Foster and did not shoot Ronald Reagan for political reasons. Arthur Bremer shot George Wallace for the purpose of gaining fame, not for ideological reasons. Lynette Fromm tried to shoot Gerald Ford, thinking that it was somehow going to benefit Charles Manson. Sara Jane Moore was if anything other than crazy, a left-winger. Giuseppe Zangara, the assassin of Anton Cermak and the attempted assassin of Franklin Roosevelt said in the Dade County Courthouse jail, "I have the gun in my hand. I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists." Oscar Collazo and Griselio Terresola, who attempted to kill Harry Truman were Puerto Rican independence activists, not right-wing activists. Leo Ryan, the only congressman to ever be killed in the line of duty, was murdered by communist/left-wing lunatic members of Jim Jones' People's Temple.

It seems that the purpose of always seeing right-wingers under every bed is to suppress criticism of government. To those on the left, most of what government is doing is A-OK; the only objection being that it is never doing enough. This is a criticism that the mainstream can tolerate.

Free speech was fine when it was possible to maintain control of who could be heard, but with the rapid dissemination of ideas by electronic means, the left has lost its near-monopoly over speech control. This has made it possible for "sinister forces" - a Nixonian term - to propagate ideas out of the "mainstream".
The first rule in the left-wing playbook seems to be to impute evil, insanity or bad will of some kind - usually hate - to your critic. If your opponent is a stark raving lunatic or has evil intent there is no need to refute his position; his lack of coherence refutes itself. It's what might be called a modified argumentum ad hitlerum; if Hitler said it, it must be wrong.

The second rule seems to be that whatever oppressions the government authorizes are legitimate. The fault is always with the Minutemen, never with the British government. If you don't want your powder seized, you're a radical. If you object to the Stamp Act, you're unpatriotic. If you object to the Quartering Act, you've got something to hide. Many examples from the present could be offered, but you get the idea.

The Arizona massacre not only does not demonstrate the principle that the left wants it to, it positively refutes it. If the NRA ran a dramatization of a left-wing malcontent attacking a relatively conservative woman congressman, but being foiled by an armed citizen, it would be dismissed as "right-wing propaganda."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Air Tax

January 23, 2011

Mendax News Service

The recent congressional backlash about Obamacare has emboldened the Republicans to pass a repeal of the act in the House, but it is expected to fail in the Senate. One of the biggest complaints is funding the program in a time of austerity for most of the country.

Senator Justin Morrill (R- VT) has proposed funding the program by imposing a tax on air. Morrill says that his proposal is a common sense approach to funding the program and will yield health benefits as well. All the details have not been hammered out, but the initial proposal is to weigh everybody in the country and determine their probable lung capacity. After determining how much air each person is using a tax would be calculated based on usage with an additional fee for the carbon dioxide exhaled. Morrill claims that it only makes sense for people to pay a carbon tax on all the carbon dioxide they exhale, thus contributing to climate change.

Several of Morrill's allies argue that everyone should pay his fair share for the air he uses and the carbon dioxide he dumps into the environment. As presently envisioned, the tax would be based on how much air - measured in standard cubic feet at one atmosphere - each person actually uses, not a one-size-fits-all approach. Athletes would obviously have to pay more than a sedentary person since they use more air.

One trial balloon being floated - real balloons would be exempt since most are filled with helium, not air - is a proposal that every child would have to present a doctor's certificate at the beginning of each school year, estimating the air usage by said child for a year. Adults would fall under a similar requirement for work. Those who don't work would have to present a tax certificate to obtain any benefits. Another proposal being explored is requiring everyone to show a tax stamp every time a purchase of drugs, groceries, gasoline or medical services is made. Supporters of the idea admit that there will be some who slip through the cracks, such as people living under bridges that live off the land, transients and other potential tax-cheats.

Opponents of the idea fret that once enacted, the tax will be increased and therefore seek guarantees that the tax can not be increased for five years. Congressman Neville Milquetoast, chairman of the group Conservative Republicans Against Paternalism, says that the plan is unworkable and won't raise enough revenue to justify the costs of implementation. Supporters counter that too many people have gotten a free ride for too long, using up the country's air and not contributing anything.

Some have raised what many are calling a "Naderite" objection - that being that the tax should be lower in places having poor air quality - but people are highly mobile and it just makes sense for the tax to be uniform, but also variable based on use. Others have tried to claim that it is similar to a capitation tax, forbidden by the constitution, but supporters have pointed out that it is a tax on the air used by the person; not the person himself and have not allowed themselves to be drawn into a debate over constitutional trivia.

Some, on what might be called the "Lunatic Fringe" dismiss the whole idea as unconstitutional, not recognizing the new paradigm we operate under nor that the constitution is a living document with no fixed meaning.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Scottish Jihad

What if the United States imposed a blockade on Scotland, occupied Edinburgh; bombed Glasgow and sold England weapons with which to fight the Scots and take their land?  In addition to this; what if the U.S. set up a military base in Geneva, Switzerland and quartered troops in John Calvin's house?

If, after a few years of this routine the U.S. starting experiencing terrorist attacks perpetrated by Presbyterians, would it be reasonable to conclude that all Presbyterians or Calvinists hated us because we are good, or hate us for our freedom? If someone were to inquire as to why we suddenly had lots of fanatical Presbyterians bent on jihad, would it be sensible to conclude that they were trying to justify the attacks?

A reasonable person might think it had something to do with our policy - not religion. An apologist for continuing the policy might argue that the Scots have always been a belligerent bunch and that this was just further evidence of their savagery and militancy and that Presbyterians have always been an intolerant lot. The naysayer might counter that all the militant Presbyterians seem to be from Scotland and the occupied territories; not Appalachia or other Scottish strongholds. Someone applying Occam's Razor to the problem might point out that the Presbyterian Problem started after we occupied Scotland and Geneva, particularly after Ian Paisley came out and said that was the reason for the attacks. Why would it be necessary to concoct all sorts of unlikely motives when the simplest one suffices?

Fortunately, we don't have any problems with Presbyterians perpetrating terrorist attacks against us, but there are some lessons that might be learned from the above hypothesis.

We have a similar problem with Muslims displaying ill will towards us. This is a really perplexing problem, but it might be noted that most of the perpetrators are not just of the Islamic faith, but mostly come from a certain area. If the primary or exclusively motivating factor is Islam, it would seem that lots of the terrorists would be coming from Indonesia, since it has the largest number of adherents to Islam. India also has a large number of Muslims as does Pakistan. The three countries combined have about one-third of the world's Muslims, but most of the World Trade Center attackers carried passports from Saudi Arabia, which only has two percent of the world's Muslims. Why this should be is a real mystery. Bin Laden says he objects to the U.S. having troops in Saudi Arabia because of the city of Mecca - holy to Muslims - being located there and he doesn't want "infidels" there defiling it. In his appearance immediately after the destruction of the WTC, he claimed that he had nothing to do with it, but that he applauded it and "swore to God" that it was going to keep happening if we kept aiding Israel and occupying holy lands. This is supposedly what he said, but since it was translated into English from Arabic or whatever language he was speaking, I don't know for sure.

If Bin Laden is lying about his reasons, what could be the real cause of hostility to the U.S. from Middle-Eastern Muslims?  He did not mention hating us for our freedom or because we are good or wealthy or anything like that.

Maybe it's the schools there or the water that causes Muslims in a certain geographical area to harbor ill will toward the U.S. It seems that if it's the water, the Israelis would suffer the same affliction, but they don't.

It might be preposterous to suggest that maybe they don't like the way Israel is the neighborhood bully and they perceive her to be supported by our government. It could also be that they think the U.S. government installs oppressive, puppet regimes in the oil producing countries, but what would give them such ideas?

Some might pore over the Koran for clues to the hostility and find calls to kill the infidel or other admonitions to violence, but these don't explain why the zeal to kill is so recently directed toward Americans or why Muslims outside the middle-east don't seem similarly motivated. The Muslim critic might retort that the New Testament is full of violent language such as "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." "I have come to cast fire upon the earth." "The violent bear it away...." "..they will be divided, father against son and son against father..." etc. These could be used to explain our above-mentioned Presbyterian terrorists.

Islam does have a history up until 1683 of proselytizing by conquest, but the purpose of the attacks on the U.S. does not have a religious purpose, but a political purpose. As far as I've read, none of the attackers has made any demands that the U.S. embrace Islam or else; they have repeatedly demanded that we - our government - get out of their countries and stop aiding Israel.

People don't like being ruled by foreigners - English in India or Ireland; Moors in Spain; Spain in Mexico; United States in the Philippines, etc. - and usually prefer their own rule even if it is worse having a home-grown ruler.

Americans might not understand why foreigners don't want them intruding in their countries and forcing our ways on them. It can be explained succinctly by a Confederate soldier that replied when asked by a Union invader why "You rebels are fighting?"; "Because you are down here" was the response.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Outflanking Lewis

Once upon a time C. S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled, On The Reading Of Old Books. In it, he advises reading old books to avoid becoming conditioned exclusively by your own time. To quote: "It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one for every three new ones."

I like this advice because I tend to prefer old books to new ones, but I would think it sound advice even if I preferred reading new books. What brought this essay to mind was a recent story about the republication of Mark Twain's writings in a sanitized form, removing words deemed to be racially offensive and perhaps some other revisions. This is not the first time stories like this have appeared. Several years ago, there were stories of Lewis' own Chronicles Of Narnia being reissued in a version that had their Christian imagery expunged.

It seems to me not only silly, but the height of presumption to alter the work of someone else without his approval. Any modern revisionist that took it upon himself to "update" the Mona Lisa by putting a tattoo on her or adding an outboard motor to Charon's boat would be recognized for the criminal, iconoclastic kook that he was. When Ted Turner's outfit - I know not which one, TCM perhaps - started colorizing old black and white movies there was more objection than I have seen to altering the written works of the past. Colorization changes the appearance, but not the content of the work; changing the wording changes the message and deprives the reader of a vicarious excursion into the past. As Lewis says, "Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period."

Our age is afflicted with what I call "chronological snobbery" - the belief that all our predecessors were mired in ignorance, prejudice, superstition, gullibility and all that is bad or harmful. It's amazing that such benighted people should have produced such enlightened progeny. Fortunately they did, and now we can correct all their errors; but correcting their errors will deprive subsequent generations of discovering our perfection.
Where books are concerned, age is a pretty good test of worth. Plato, Dante and St. Augustine will probably still be read in five-hundred years, whereas Paul Ehrlich probably won't; but if we "update" the first three they will lose their value.

In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Mustapha Mond has a vault in which he keeps forbidden books. If the modernizing biblioclasts continue their work, future readers will need to find that vault.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Imputing Hate

Hate has a bad name. I read comments on various news articles and see lots of incoherent arguments usually peppered with vulgarity or obscenity, but hardly ever any expression of hate. Lots of columnists I read refer to "hate mail" that they receive, when what they actually receive could be more accurately described as "irate mail."

Nowadays, anybody that expresses opposition to, or disapproval of something is accused of "hate."
When the word "hate" is not used, the term "phobia" ( from the Greek goddess Phobos, goddess of fear and panic) is a handy substitute that adds the appearance of a clinical diagnosis to the calumny.

The question might be asked: In this secular society where I'm OK and maybe you're OK too; but maybe not; and everybody is entitled to his opinion, what is wrong with hate? What is wrong with hate from a secular perspective? Isn't the prohibition against hating anyone a religious admonition? Isn't the forbidding of hate imposing a "religion" on society?

There are some New Testament passages that clearly forbid Christians to hate anyone, e.g. "Love your neighbor as yourself..." and "Any one who hates his brother is a murderer....", but these are religious reasons for avoiding hate. As long as we're glomming onto religion to forbid hate, why can't we also forbid sodomy, usury or abortion? In the case of hate, we are forbidding an attitude; whereas in the case of the others we are forbidding actions.

Refuting a charge of hate is virtually impossible. If I claim that you are a racist because you want to live among people like yourself, there's not much way for you to prove that you are not. Jimmy Carter got into trouble for saying that he thought neighborhoods should be able to retain their "ethnic purity." This is what is described as a "gaffe" in politics, which is when you deviate from a prepared text and blurt out what you really think. Wanting to retain ethnic purity is a form of hate. If you want to associate with people like yourself, it must be because you hate all others.

Accusing someone of hate is supposed to disarm and discredit him without having to argue against his position. One's mental disposition is irrelevant to his philosophical position. One can be as hateful as Lucifer, but still be right. It is said that when a person dies, Satan (the name means "Adversary or "Accuser") comes to the judgment to claim his prize - but it will be no defense that you can truthfully say, "Oh, he's full of hate."
The reply will be something like, "Yes, that's true, but you did steal from the company, burn down your house for the insurance and commit adultery." What does it matter that he's the apotheosis of hate if the facts are on his side?

Laws against hate speech are laws against expressing offensive - to some - thoughts. Government has no business concerning itself with thoughts or emotions. Government should concern itself with actions, not thoughts.

It seems that the level of vitriol is usually in direct proportion to the ignorance of the one commenting.
A general rule is that if you can't express disagreement without resorting to obscenity and vulgarity, you probably don't have a very good argument even if it's not hate.

People who post comments on sites such as The Independent Institute or The Foundation For Economic Education, usually have something sensible to say even when they don't agree with the column being analyzed.

The closer one gets to "mainstream" journalism, the more idiotic and vitriolic the comments become. As you move closer to "tabloid" journalism, the comments descend to an even lower level and become laced with obscenity, vulgarity and other invective that many would describe as hate mail or speech, when actually it is more correctly "boob speech" or "dolt mail."  A significant fraction of the population seems to have an insatiable appetite for nonsense and the belief that calling people names or accusing them of evil motives refutes their argument. This is stupid, but it isn't hate.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Accidental Rights

Anybody following current events or political philosophy is probably aware of the various gradations of "purity" in parties and movements. Among Libertarians there are those that are referred to as "Beltway Libertarians", "Left Libertarians" or "Randians" , etc.

A term I have never seen is "Atheist Libertarians", even though there seem to be quite a few - Rand, for instance - and many of them are the most libertarian of the bunch. This is a case of someone grounding his philosophy on feeling instead of principle.

If man has rights, they must originate somewhere. If there is no God, they don't originate with him who does not exist; therefore, they must originate with man. If there is no creator, man is an accident; he is not "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." He is endowed with no more rights than a bacterium. Some people argue that rights originate in "nature." If this is so, where does nature obtain these rights and what are the consequences of their violation? How do we discover exactly what these rights are with which nature has endowed us? There are other explanations of where rights come from such as "society" or "the community" or government. These explanations don't work out very well for the obvious reason that if these entities bestow rights, they can just as easily and justifiably revoke them.

God might be viewed as the first and greatest libertarian. He gives man free will, but also a brief set of rules relating to his use of that will. Eighty percent of these rules are negative; "Thou Shalt not", steal, kill, lie, covet, etc. Only two are positive; Keep Holy the Sabbath Day and Honor your Father and Mother.

Jews, Christians and Muslims accept that these are divine commands, even if they have difficulty keeping them. From the standpoint of these religions, all the Libertarian arguments fall into place. This is not to say that all adherents of these religions are Libertarians, but to say that libertarian ideas are not incompatible with them.

The Atheist-Libertarian would probably argue that adultery is fine as long as no coercion is used - unless there is a breech of contract objection to it - and that there is no prohibition against strange gods, since there are no gods, strange or otherwise. As far as the Decalogue relates to the person and property of his fellow man, the Atheist-Libertarian would probably fall into line with orthodox practitioners of the three monotheistic religions.

The question is, on what basis are any of these things wrong in the absence of a divine prohibition? Why is it wrong to kill your fellow man, but not germs, roaches, poison ivy or kudzu? Why is it wrong to steal from your fellow man, but not from honeybees, sheep or silk worms? Don't animals have a right to the fruits of their labor? If not, why not? In the absence of God, how do we discover what kinds of things have rights and which ones don't? Is it wrong for the cheetah to kill the gazelle, or for the hyena to "steal" the gazelle from the cheetah after exerting all that effort?  Doesn't the cheetah have a "property right" in the gazelle after exerting its energy and labor to kill it?

How can an accidental agglomeration of cells be said to have any "rights"? What can that possibly mean?
One person - group of cells - says that it has rights and another equally complex group of cells says no you don't. Neither can appeal to any higher authority than his own will.

There might be some argument advanced from practicality that society just works best when rights are respected. This still does not explain what rights are, where they come from, how we know what they are or what "works best" means; works best for whom? The only philosophy that seems to make any sense from an atheistic position was summarized years ago in a Schlitz Beer commercial that proclaimed, "You only go around once in life so you've got to grab for all the gusto you can." An appeal to hedonism, but if your life is like smoke, that is here for a little while and then vanishes, it's the only thing that makes any sense, instead of worrying about non-existent rights.