Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The consent of the governed

A column for which I took notes two years ago and failed to complete:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ...

This "governed" believes, as Henry David Thoreau said (and as Kirsten noted the other day in her must-read essay "Casting My Whole Vote"):
"I heartily accept the motto, — “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — “That government is best which governs not at all” ..."
Voting is the process by which we are said to give our consent. All the more reason not to vote if you are fundamentally alarmed by the nature of your instituted government, especially if no one appears on the ballot who agrees with you.

The most profound summaries I know regarding government, beyond the pithy statement of Paine (and others) adapted by Thoreau, are these: "Government should defend our shores and deliver the mail and otherwise stay the hell out of my life" (former Wisconsin governor Lee Dreyfus) and "Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem" (former president Ronald Reagan).

In contemporary times, one group of candidates has campaigned on such proposals as a single-payer health care system with government as the single payer and therefore (since Dreyfus' golden rule notes that "he who has the gold makes the rules") the arbiter of our health choices — no care for you if you smoke, eat too much, don't exercise regularly, etc.

Another group also wants the government dictating our life choices, only with a different emphasis — whom we may marry legally, for example. And both groups embrace this government's alleged right to send troops around the world to "protect our interests."

My perception of freedom is that what people do with their minds, bodies and property is their own business as long as they don't infringe on others' free use of their minds, bodies and property.

No one on the ballot speaks for freedom in these terms. "Lesser of two evils?" Surely you jest; the differences between these two opponents of liberty are negligible in the end. I am effectively disenfranchised. Therefore, I withdraw my consent and will not vote.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I like turtles - the video

I continue to be charmed by Berkeley Breathed's response to the question, regarding the end of Opus: "Your audience has, by and large, mostly read you in newspapers. These are far less vital times for newspapers than when your career started. What has that been like -- having your work distributed in what seems, increasingly, like a dying form?"

"I like turtles," Breathed responded. "Maybe you saw the YouTube of the kid at Halloween saying precisely that to the TV reporter when she asked what he thought of being made up as a zombie. It's a perfect dodge from unpleasant candor."

With the page view count for the young zombie now well over 7 million, I'm thinking many people agree with Breathed's assessment. I like turtles, indeed.

Clarification of "The endorsement game"

I think most regular readers understand, but I didn't post my draft endorsement of Barack Obama the other day because I'm endorsing Obama. I ended up being the main writer on three endorsements last week — the one I kept to myself, and one more for each of the two main candidates. Not only do I plan not to vote Tuesday, but I consider both men opponents of the principles on which the United States of America supposedly were founded.

And I do want to assure regular readers, because I come to the little Blogger dashboard to share with you my honest and sincere thoughts and feelings about the state of my world and those parts of it we share. The exercise in choosing an endorsement was an intellectual puzzle: "If I did want one of these two would-be dictators to stick his fingers in my life, how would I justify that desire?" Most days here, you won't read a pack of lies like the one where I wrote that I believe Obama would "govern us as a centrist." I don't perceive a left, center or right; I perceive those who wield the power of the state like a bludgeon and those who believe in the power of the individual. But for the purposes of this intellectual puzzle, I had to assume the mask of a statist.

It actually was a little scary, much as C.S. Lewis is said to be freaked out as he wrote The Screwtape Letters, a series of essays in which senior demon Screwtape instructed his nephew, Wormwood, in the ways of drawing humans off The Path. To write the endorsement of a tyrant-wannabe with any degree of authenticity, you need to guide your brain onto a train of thought that desires slavery. You have to settle into the belief that it's right and proper for a huge controlling bureaucracy of drones to reach into virtually every aspect of your life, and then you have to choose which smiling menace you prefer in charge of the bureaucracy.

Some small sense of satisfaction emerges from the realization that I possess the talent to pull it off. I was praised both by those who favored the Butter-Side-Up candidate and the Butter-Side-Down candidate. But there's also the gnawing knowledge that that means I can be a good little propagandist if I choose. In the end, I missed speaking for myself. My proudest possessions are the pieces of wood on my wall declaring me the best newspaper columnist in this state.

Worst, I wrote the endorsements convincingly enough that no doubt a few minds were turned, and folks will trudge to the polling places Tuesday in the illusion that they will make a difference, and I never had the opportunity to stand up at the podium and tell thousands of readers I believe they are participating in a sham. That's why I needed to wash after participating in the exercise.

At least I can tell the handful of good folks who check out this blog what I was really thinking as I wrote my advice for Wormwood. What the hell anyway, right? I mean, who is John Galt?


Monday, October 27, 2008

Not voting as a strategic choice

I wish I'd said it as clearly and eloquently as Kirsten did.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Palin before she was Palin

I blundered into this interview that ran on MTV back around Super Tuesday with the babe-a-licious governor of Alaska and found myself more convinced than ever that the purpose of the McCain handlers is to ruin her career by squeezing this round peg into a square hole. Pay careful attention to the last 15 seconds.

Of the four members of the major party tickers, Gov. Palin is the only one who seems remotely interested in principles like those that led folks to found a new nation in these parts back in the late 18th century. No wonder powerful people want her crushed.

UPDATE: And just to clarify, I post this as an interesting curio, not out of any sense of support.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

The endorsement game

Let me make this clear: Nothing could make me report to a polling place at this stage in U.S. history. The differences between candidates are defined only by the priorities by which they intend to wield the forces of tyranny. Every vote is an endorsement of the state's authority to control individual lives and choices.

But as a practical matter a mainstream newspaper is not going to say that, unless you're in Las Vegas and Vin Suprynowicz is your editorial page chief. So we had to pick between the white-haired dictator wannabe and the black-haired dictator wannabe. It's an interesting intellectual exercise.

I drafted the following to guide my contributions to the discussions; I knew it would be fruitless to submit it as an actual draft endorsement. I did manage to sneak a hint of these thoughts into our final product, although you have to study long and hard to find them. Enjoy. Now I have to go wash my hands; I try and try and try but I can't seem to get them clean ...
Newspapers across the country have begun endorsing Barack Obama for president, many using poetic words about a time of great challenge, a dramatic speaker, a change of direction. We have no poetry to offer, but we present our conclusion that Obama is the better choice for America at what could be a turning point in this nation's history.

Obama is the better choice for no greater reason than the last eight years. George W. Bush campaigned eight years ago as something better than the previous eight years, a time when America's military had been used as a vast police force, invading Somalia and Kosovo, bombing Iraq and Sudan and Afghanistan. Like his father before him, Bush promised a kinder, gentler approach, a more modest foreign policy — "I don't believe in nation building," he stated flatly during one debate with Vice President Al Gore.

Sept. 11, 2001, changed everything. For a time it created a more united country, ready to chase Osama bin Laden and his followers to the ends of the earth to bring justice to those who killed innocent men, women and children on American soil. But the venture went terribly wrong.

The man who campaigned on a limited-government platform created a massive new federal department, the Department of Homeland Security, with authority to probe into Americans' private lives in the name of fighting terrorism. And that was the tip of a horrifying spending iceberg. The balanced budget forged by a Democratic president and Republican Congress was converted into a bloated deficit of unprecedented proportions. The national debt spiraled out of control — and when reckless policies led the nation to the brink of economic collapse this year, Bush's solution was more government, more borrowing and spending, a national debt of more than $11 trillion.

The nation that once stood as a beacon of freedom and human rights was infested with legalistic wordsmiths who justified nothing less than torture as a means of advancing our cause. The nation that eschewed the concept of a first strike when the Cold War was at its height now embraced the idea of pre-emptive war, invading a nation that "someday may" attack our shores even though it posed no imminent threat.

These are not the principles that the party of Lincoln, Taft, Eisenhower and Reagan stood for. The Republican Party has lost its way and needs to rethink its purpose and its values. That necessary soul-searching will be impossible if the party's standard bearer is allowed to enter the White House.

Barack Obama's political philosophy is far to the left of mainstream America, but no less a conservative authority than the Chicago Tribune has said that it knows this man and expects he will govern as a centrist. That's good enough for us. Washington, D.C., needs to be swept clean of the principles that have guided the administrations of the past 16 years.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Slouching towards Oceania

You have to admit, it's fairly amazing how much has changed these past eight years. James Leroy Wilson puts it in perspective in a piece called "The Fake Culture War" ...
But imagine that the year is 2000. Think of what you believed and felt back then. Someone comes up to you and asks what you think of this party platform:
1. Forbid non-partisan groups from running ads criticizing candidates during election season.
2. Allow the government to bug your telephone, read your email, and track your Internet surfing without a search warrant.
3. Repeal the Posse Camitatus Act, so as to employ the Army in domestic police activities.
4. Impose a National ID card, which individuals must use to fly and, potentially, to even check out a library book.
5. Employ torture as a routine interrogation measure.
6. Revoke habeas corpus for anyone merely suspected of being a terrorist ...
All this, eight more planks in the party platform and much more here.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

I like turtles

Oh dear, it's true.

I thought all of the little hints in the weekly Opus strip were jokes designed to make us fear our little penguin buddy was going to die but were really references to the end of the interminable campaign for president.

But now cartoonist Berkley Breathed is giving interviews about the end of the strip and sending Opus to "his final paradise" after Nov. 2.

A moment of silence, please ...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What good is freedom of the press
when the presses go silent?

Good comments, and to the point, to my observation the other day that I can't find nationalization of banks in the U.S. Constitution. JN helped me out when he said, "You're reading the wrong document. You'll find what you are looking for in the 5th Plank of the Communist Manifesto, comrade."

Whoop! There it is:
5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
So, although the government buying ownership stakes in banks is not found in that "goddamned piece of paper," the idea is not unique in history. That helped explain my uneasiness with the concept.

While I was reading, my eye was caught by the 6th Plank, which got me to thinkin' — always a dangerous thing:
6. Centralization of the means of communications and transportation in the hands of the State.
Here is the think: The print media is in a hellacious condition right now. You can buy stock in newspapers for a song compared to a couple-three years ago, but not many people are buying anyway. Papers are cutting support staff, cutting circulation staff, and cutting reporters and editors to keep the profit margins respectable. Some papers are doing things like canceling the Monday edition, or cutting back to once or twice and week and putting all their content online instead. They're still profitable businesses — for now — but the actual product is a shadow of what it once was, and there's no end in sight.

The migration of newspapers to the Web is seen as inevitable, and supposedly that's because fewer and fewer people want to read words on paper anymore. First, that's not my experience. Everywhere I turn, I find people who are unhappy with how their favorite newspapers have devolved and wish they would come back.

My think is about what happens if this trend continues to its logical conclusion. Here's the think: Long ago the federal government declared that a radio transmitter is not a printing press, and so freedom of the press was not extended to the electronic media. The Federal Communications Commission (see Plank 6) was created to regulate speech on the airwaves. Generations have now grown up to believe that you can print the word "f#@!" on paper but the government has the right to fine you if you broadcast it on the radio or television.

More serious, the FCC's Fairness Doctrine declared that you can slant your newspaper left, right, up, down or outer space and that's your right, but you can't slant the political debate on your radio or TV. Talk radio, once a vast vanilla wasteland where no one dared to take a stand lest they be forced to give equal time to the other side, has thrived since the Fairness Doctrine was repealed. And as you know, the idea of the Fairness Doctrine still has more than a little support.

The Internet is also an electronic medium. The feds have set a precedent that electronic media are different from presses and can be regulated. Another disadvantage of electronic media is that you can pull the plug.

If we abandon our presses, in other words, we probably abandon our freedom of the press. Our rulers have declared that freedom of the press applies only to presses, not to the dissemination of information in general. And for most of the history of electronic media, few have challenged that declaration.

I plan to spend the rest of my time in this earthly plain on two missions with regard to this subject. One, to preserve news and political speech in print, so that as our rulers increase their stranglehold on electronic expression, we still have an alternative. Two, to get people to start thinking of radio and TV transmitters, and the World Wide Web, as the modern equivalent of the printing press. If the First Amendment has any meaning at all, there's no reason why the electronic press can be regulated any more than the printing press.

If we fail in mission #1 before a tipping point of people grok #2, and if news in print disappears, then the government has set the precedent that it controls the content of the remaining means of communication. It can't easily reverse centuries of tradition that we can print without government interference or regulation. But the momentum is on the side of the belief that government interference and regulation in the realm of electronic expression is appropriate, and so the decline of newspapers and print news in general is a good thing for Big Government.

I don't know that our rulers are consciously communist. Calling someone a commie is so fifties. But those 10 planks work just as well if the goal is a totalitarian government that gives nothing more than lip service to liberty. And we're well on our way to that place.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Can't find it

I keep looking up and down in that document that created the federal government, and I can't find the part about nationalization of the banking industry, or any other industry for that matter.

"Stop throwing the Constitution in my face," Bush screamed back. "It's just a goddamned piece of paper!"

I don't mean to pick on Bush; he's only one of thousands of "public servants" with that attitude. It's just that few have summed up our rulers' mindset so succinctly.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Buffalo Springsteen

She was born on Sirius 4 and thus was ingrained with the fiercely independent spirit of that planet's settlers. Brash and confident, she knows her way around weapons of all sorts, most important the use of her hands to defend herself. A small handful of men, drawn by her substantially striking appearance, have found this out in small but convincing ways. Buffalo Springsteen is compellingly attractive, but — especially since she found her soulmate — she is more than capable of turning back any man who attempts to act on such compulsion.

When she learned the Zero Aggression Principle, Buffalo was transformed, not because it changed the way she handled herself but because it rang true in her soul. She always believed the use of violence to make a point was nonsensical because all that was actually proven was who’s bigger and stronger, but she made herself stronger so she could counter violence effectively. Initiating force seemed a counterproductive exercise, but neutralizing force with an equal measure of force made great sense.

She willingly but not eagerly took part in the Sirius 4 insurrection, uneasy because the response to oppression had its own oppressive elements, and something in the back of her mind wondered if the revolutionary government would be willing or able to abandon those elements once the need for them passed. Sure enough, she soon found herself growing alarmed at the new regime.

An independent woman who fights for independence, Buffalo Springsteen is a distant cousin of a great-great-great-great-granddaughter of musical royalty, and so she enjoys a well-played tune. She really has only one demand of others: Whatever you do, never, under any circumstances, ever call her Buffy. Never. Ever.
When I planned out the story of The Imaginary Bomb, it revolved around two men who made a living as independent freight haulers. As I wrote the tale, they met a man I'd never imagined named Baxter Hetznecker, who made a profound difference in the way the story was told.

When I planned out the story of The Imaginary Revolution, it revolved around two friends with different ideas about how to win freedom. Once again I've fallen in love with someone who arrived on the scene late but has made herself essential to the telling of the tale. I've often read how characters tend to hijack the story from the person who presumes to call himself the creator of their books, but it's delightful to see that play out in "real life."


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Buffalo Springfield

The three albums by Buffalo Springfield remind me of a condensed version of The Beatles' career. "Buffalo Springfield" is an amazing 1960s pop-rock album, which reminded me of The Monkees and Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, late-early Beatles ("Help!" "Beatles for Sale") and those kinds of bands when I replayed it the other day.

"Buffalo Springfield Again" is the band at the peak of its creative prowess. This is the Rubber Soul-Revolver-Sgt. Pepper era, where every track bursts with freshness and creativity. You've got rock and roll, country, psychedelia, jazz and — breathtakingly — "Bluebird." Not heard often enough in these times, this Stephen Stills composition is a four-and-half-minute wall of acoustic and electric guitar picking, harmonies and pure energy. Tell me I can only bring a half-dozen songs to that imaginary desert island, and "Bluebird" makes the list every time. Goosebumps and gasps all the way through, culminating with that surprise banjo bit at the end. OMFG, as folks say nowadays.

But I digress. "Buffalo Springfield Again" is a flawless album, and the flawless "Bluebird" is only the brightest diamond in a brilliant collection of tunes.

"Last Time Around" is Buffalo Springfield's visit to Abbey Road, or perhaps what "Let It Be" could have been if John, Paul, George and Ringo were writing better songs as their band started to unravel. This album has great tracks by Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay and Jim Messina, but the point is it's a collection of solo tracks held together by the fact that they're all members of a band that still sounded great but was not going to survive past this album.

My understanding is that Buffalo Springfield was born, thrived and flamed out in about 18 months in 1966 and 1967. It spawned an incredible legacy of music. In addition to their solo careers, these guys went on to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Poco; Loggins & Messina and all the permutations from those collaborations. Every so often I pull these three albums off the shelf and am blown away one more time.

Buffalo Springfield is one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Today you'll hear "For What It's Worth" on the radio from time to time ("Everybody stop, children, what's that sound"), which is terrific anthem, but if that's your only exposure to this band, stop where you are and go find some more. At the very least, brace yourself and take a listen to "Bluebird":


Saturday, October 04, 2008

Free market vs. The Empire

It's kind of interesting to have been reading about this for years, in places like Empire of Debt and its authors' Daily Reckoning site, but it's still a little startling to see it reported on the BBC:

"The era of American global leadership, reaching back to the Second World War, is over... The American free-market creed has self-destructed while countries that retained overall control of markets have been vindicated."

"In a change as far-reaching in its implications as the fall of the Soviet Union, an entire model of government and the economy has collapsed ...
It's a silly stretch for anyone to describe the American economy in recent years as "free market," but the gist of the observation is still compelling. Is this the end of the era of the American empire? Time will tell. The U.S. government's attempted solution is anything but free-market-friendly. Central planning and top-down micromanagement continue to be the hallmarks of the Washington, D.C., mentality. If anything, the new law is an attempt to consolidate imperial power even further.

The current situation doesn't feel like a defeat for free markets. It reminds me more of the climax of Atlas Shrugged. Did Congress just pass the Steel Unification Plan? How do I find that gulch?

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Hail Obama Youth

Thanks, Wally, for posting this scary little piece:

And thanks to denizens of YouTube for posting a piece that may have inspired it:

Or two:

This one may be my favorite: