Sunday, August 30, 2009

Royalty is unAmerican

As the long national mourning period for Ted Kennedy continues, a frequently heard observation is that the Kennedy family is the closest thing to royalty that the United States of America has.

It is a statement made without irony, usually in a fawning manner, and clearly with admiration.

And of course, the speaker usually lacks complete understanding what an indictment that statement is.

The United States of America was born in a complete rejection of the concept of monarchy. In creating a government theoretically divided into three equal bodies of power, the Founders turned away from the concept of a ruler governing by divine right, or placing a family dynasty in charge.

To describe the Kennedy clan in terms of "royalty" is to suggest the Kennedy clan stands for all that the Founders did not intend this country to be — which, given Ted's record over 46 years of consolidating power into the federal government's hands, may actually be an appropriate view.

B.W. At The Movies: Know1ng

To me the wheels started coming off Know1ng when Nicolas Cage's character stalks a young woman and introduces himself under false pretenses. He could have called her up and explained that he was an MIT professor with some questions about her mother, and that would have avoided some awkward moments later. But no, he has to present himself under circumstances that would convince any normal woman she needs to get herself and her daughter away from this psycho.

If that was the only hole in this film's plot, however, it might have been forgiven. If only.

Cage's character's wife died a year earlier; his bitterness leaves him talking about how life on Earth is either predetermined or a series of fantastic, chaotic coincidences — and he chooses to believe in chaos. The movie turns out to be about how he finds out the truth.

I will say no more. The only value in seeing this movie is to be surprised by its journey away from its promising premise — a strange little girl in 1959 produces a series of numbers that correctly predicts major disasters over the next 50 years, and the last three are yet to come — and into a, well, into what it becomes.

OK, I have one observation that may spoil the surprise for those intrigued enough to spend two valuable hours of their lives watching Know1ng: In some ways this movie's finale reminded me of James Cameron's marvelous film The Abyss, which I consider the man's true masterpiece. (I gagged on a titanic spoon enduring his more famous water movie.) The main difference is that The Abyss is a really good movie.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

The consent of the enslaved

The only way you can become a slave is with your permission.

"All men are created equal ... endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights ... among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ... to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Those are carefully chosen words, and today I'm thinking about the last 10. Governments tend to claim as much power as they can, but their just powers — those that are appropriate and (dare we say) legal — those powers can only be exercised when "the governed" approve or consent.

The reason government can only function with the consent of the governed is that we are created equal: No one can enslave you without your permission.

This idea is a radical departure from the status quo of 1776, which held that George III was in charge because the fact of his birth into the royal family made him more suited to govern than the rest of us commoners. From the Declaration of Independence onward, the caretakers of government were to be hired by all of us as equals, wielding only the powers we allow them to wield.

Ever since then, a large percentage of those hired caretakers have desired to seize the reins that George III once held. But they can't claim that authority by divine right; they have to obtain consent.

And that's where the concept of the political advertisement came from.

By the time a well-crafted campaign is done, you are so full of fear about what may become of you as a free man or woman that you're practically begging for a particular man, woman or program to take the liberty you've had since birth. How can you, an educated man or woman, make decisions for yourself about your own life? You must elect someone to handle the controls of your life.

It's all for the noblest of purposes: To feed the poor, to protect the land, to provide for the common good. Slavery is safe and secure and easy. Liberty is hard work. Next thing you know, you're ensnared.

Listen carefully when these charlatans promise to make life better for you — ask yourself, at what cost? What are they asking you to surrender in exchange for better health care, safer borders, energy independence, a full belly, cleaner air and water? There's always a price.

Concerned about our increasingly totalitarian world? It's happening because the architects of the police state have your permission — the consent of the governed. Solution? Start acting like you're free.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The blood of patriots and tyrants

... the people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive; if they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.

We have had 13 states independant 11 years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion?

& what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? let them take arms. the remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them.

what signify a few lives lost in a century or two? the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. it is it's natural manure.

I've thought about Jefferson's words a lot lately, as it dawns on more and more liberty lovers that tyranny is taking hold in the land of Jefferson. It's been developing slowly for more than a decade, this bipartisan cloud of tyranny, and pushback seems inevitable.

But I absolutely believe watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants in these times would not be healthy for freedom. Violent revolution against a brutal regime can only result in more violence and more brutality, and a revolution on those terms would require greater brutishness to be victorious, the ultimate "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

No, the revolution must be grounded in the Zero Aggression Principle and the principles of nonviolence espoused by Gandhi and others. Yes, ZAP does not prohibit the use of force; it prohibits the initiation of the use of force. Sufficient force defend one's self is acceptable under ZAP. But I believe forswearing violence is likely the most effective means of ensuring that whatever replaces this brutal regime is itself nonviolent.

Easy for me to say that in the abstract. It would get much harder as the tyrants begin to spill the blood of patriots in greater quantities, especially if it happens to be my blood. But there has to be a difference between the oppressors and the oppressed. When Gandhi's forces of peace allowed themselves to be beaten by British troops, doing nothing more than keep trying to exercise their freedom, they spoke volumes about who were the soldiers of liberty and who were the uncivilized thugs.

I suspect the time is not far off when living free, as most people conceive of liberty, will be illlegal and dangerous. We will need to make some decisions at that time. My choice is to live free in peace.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Live Till You Die

Song lyrics I wrote a long, long time ago ...

Nobody said that it would be easy,
Everyone said it could not be done —
But nobody said it would not be worth it,
So go for it now; you've only begun.

There's no shame in failing before the end comes;
Where there's life, there is hope you'll get done.
It's better to try, give it all that you have,
Than aim for nothing and hit it dead on.

There's just too many people out there
Who don't care if they live or they die;
There's just so much to find out there —
You can't laugh if you're afraid to cry.

Here's what to do: Live till you die.
There's no reason you should give up now.
Today is a blank page; write what you wish —
The rising sun will show you how.


Friday, August 21, 2009

3 political epiphanies

From a Warren Bluhm talk to a small group Thursday - hence the Wisconsin-centric references ...

Here are three moments in my life that stuck a light bulb over my head and made me say, "Yes, this is what I believe ..."

+ When, sitting in the bleachers at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the fall of 1978 listening to gubernatorial candidate Lee Sherman Dreyfus, I heard him say the now-legendary words, "Government has three duties: To deliver the mail, to defend the shores, and to get the hell out of my life."

+ When, watching the inauguration of Ronald Reagan in January 1981, he said, "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." I have since come to realize that statement goes far beyond "this present crisis" and applies to virtually every crisis imaginable.

+ When, covering a talk by Libertarian Party presidential candidate Andre Morreau at St. Norbert College in 1992, he said, "Both parties want to be your parent. Democrats want to be your mommy. Republicans want to be your daddy."

Both major parties are The Party of Big Government - they just have different priorities about what Big Government should achieve. And by attempting to accomplish goals for "the good of the people," they miss a basic point: Government is an instrument of force, not social justice. Its only tool is coercion - taxation eventually enforced at the point of a gun.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

You are where you are

It's not at all unusual for people to have a sense of dissatisfaction about their circumstances. "I really don't have a peace that I'm where God wants me to be." Or: "This is not where I envisioned being at this stage in my life." Or worse: "I don't know what I want to do with my life, but I know it's not this."

I think the question to ask is: What can you do where you are, while you're there?

A small bit that is good news and bad news: I suspect every life ends with something left unfinished. If you're living life to the fullest, you'll always be doing something until you can't anymore. So if you have a nagging feeling or a firm conviction that your life's mission is something else, don't fret too much about it, just start working on getting to that something (or somewhere) else. And if you're not too sure what your purpose is, well, start thinking (and, if you're so inclined, praying) — with a little self-examination, you'll find that mission, or you may discover you're already doing it.

And for better or for worse, you are where you are now. See what's possible under these circumstances because, for the moment, this is what you have to work with.

What I'm saying is not the old cliché "Bloom where you're planted." You have a huge advantage over a plant: You're mobile. You don't stay planted. You're on a journey. Not only are you not required to stay in one place, that's completely opposite of who and what you are.

To a huge extent the journey is the reward. The downside is if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. OK, those are both clichés, but they're better clichés and more to the point than "Bloom where you're planted."

And even more to the point, you won't make any progress if you spend too much time moping about being at this particular spot on your journey. Much is made in Christian theology about how Jesus worked with people where they were — he mingled with people his society despised, even (gasp!) tax collectors. If he worked miracles with those folks in their circumstances, he can work miracles with you in yours.

You are where you are. What can you accomplish while you're there? And if you're dissatisfied with where you are, what can you do — now — to get where you'd rather be? There's enough time in every day to do what you're doing and work on the things that will get you elsewhere, even if you can only find time for just one tiny step.

If you're sure you want to be somewhere else, taking those steps will make you feel better. And even if you're not sure, taking steps in one direction will help you clarify if it is, indeed, the direction you want to go. Sometimes exploration reveals you actually are where you were "meant" to be. More likely the uneasiness is a signal to get moving.

But you are where you are. This is what you have to work with. "What next?" is a decent question. A better question: What now?

Suggested reading: 48 Days to the Work You Love, Dan Miller; Do It! Let's Get Off Our Buts, Peter McWilliams.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Refuse to Be Afraid: The eBook

As I mentioned the other day, this is more of a Smiley Smile than a Smile, but better that than nothing - for now. Thank you to all who have responded positively when I wrote about these themes.

Click on the cover or this link to download your free 40-page eBook.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

B.W.'s Book Report: Alongside Night

Reading J. Neil Schulman's Alongside Night last week was a surreal experience. I found myself unable to distinguish whether I'd heard about certain world events from the news media or if they were plot points from Schulman's novel.

It is an undetermined near-future. The U.S. government's policy of printing money to pay its debts has resulted in rampant inflation and political unrest, and the entire economy is on the brink of complete collapse. A well-known economist who opposed the policy and warned of the collapse learns he is on a list of dissidents who will be arrested shortly, and he makes plans to take his family into hiding.

The novel is told from the perspective of the economist's teenage son, who is separated from the family and has a series of adventures and coming-of-age experiences before various matters are resolved. I'm being vague because I've already told you more about the plot than I knew before I picked up the book. All I knew was its reputation as perhaps the only purely agorist novel ever written, and so it was on my to-do list to obtain a copy someday. Schulman helped that process along by making it available as a free download — click here for more information and to get the .pdf (top of the page).

It's a terrific page-turner that portrays how a vibrant countereconomy might work. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good yarn that portrays where today's economic politics are inevitably leading. And hey, it's free. A Prometheus Hall of Fame honoree at that price is, well, golden.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Not to worry

For the next week starting today, I will be somewhat distracted by a happy family reunion-type event, so be assured: If my writing tails off for a while, the dread quotidian has not reached out and seized me back into the everyday drudge. I'll just be enjoying a visit from someone we haven't seen for a significant length of time.

Download the Tom Paine eBook, browse the archives, talk among yourselves, or whatever you need to get your Montag fix. Oh, knowing me, I'll probably keep posting anyway, but I'm tossing this note up as a "just in case."

In the meantime: Don't let anyone frighten you. Get free. And follow your dreams!


Monday, August 10, 2009

An unexpected life

I'm not entirely sure what draws me to visit The Unexpected Life of The Green Frog on a regular basis. It's certainly not the insightfully insightful insights into the politics of the day or the human condition.

I just like to see where Frog is today.

The blog is simple but hypnotic. Maybe that's all it is.


Saturday, August 08, 2009

Trying men's souls all over again

Writes Thomas Paine in the eighth of his Letters to the Citizens of the United States:
The independence of America would have added but little to her own happiness, and been of no benefit to the world, if her government had been formed on the corrupt models of the old world. It was the opportunity of beginning the world anew, as it were; and of bringing forward a new system of government in which the rights of all men should be preserved that gave value to independence.
Even as the ink began to dry on the Declaration of Independence proclaiming a break from the tyranny of European-style government, a faction began plotting to re-forge the chains and re-establish Europe in the new world.

When Thomas Paine returned to the United States in 1802 after a decade and a half abroad, he saw the leftover effects of a presidential administration who didn't trust the people to exercise the blessings of liberty appropriately. The ongoing influence of that thinking was evident 20 years later when that president's son was elected president himself, as if one family had the right to the keys of power like a European monarchy.

Into the 21st century the tug-of-war continues. Some find it altogether appropriate to eye a candidate for leadership simply because he or she bears the name of Kennedy, or Bush, or Clinton. Senators and congressmen's sons and daughters, wives and husbands, succeed to their position as if it were a family heirloom. And each succeeding administration finds new ways to clutch remaining bits of liberty from the hands of the people. But that's not the new style of government Thomas Paine and his fellow patriots envisioned.

These Letters to the Citizens of the United States, and Particularly to the Leaders of the Federal Faction strike me as more relevant than ever — and so I offer them as a free eBook or, should you prefer someone else to do your printing and binding, as a book for sale.

Click on the eBook image to download these important words — and see the context of what I wrote about here and there and again of late. Click on the words book for sale for more about the dead-tree edition or click on the Richardson & Bluhm logo for our full line of lovely editions.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

On the current national quarrel

Whoops. She's right — lewlew, that is, when she remarked on the last paragraph in yesterday's musing about the current health-care quarrel.

If the insurance companies, over the past several decades, only had shown some inclination toward helping people meet their health-care expenses as opposed to building shrines for themselves and their employees, perhaps the power-grabbers would not have sensed an opportunity.

Aren't you supposed to grab your audience with the lead in the first paragraph? =)

In a nutshell, this is the largest shell game shilling the consumer in need of medical care. You hit the issue spot on in that one lovely sentence. I wish solving our need for medical care without nannyship and red tape were as eloquent. Harrumph!

I have long been of the opinion that the goal of an insurance company is first to keep your premium in its possession for the longest possible time. I have watched mighty edifices constructed along highways, gleaming architectural tributes to the insurance industry. I have taken tours and seen the expansive fitness centers and tasted the delicious food in the cafeterias where the insurance company minions went when they were not in their cubicles — or, in the case of the executives, when they were not in the well-furnished offices that were larger than the modest offices where I and a dozen other people toiled.

And I knew these luxuries were provided with money that should have been used to more fully reimburse the expenses of customers who were told the policies they purchased only covered a certain percentage of the cost, leaving them with bills for thousands of dollars.

The current quarrel regards whether this status quo is acceptable, or whether the process should be placed in the hands of a non-productive class of greedy souls who seize the income of the producers by guile and force, then redistribute it for a variety of bribes and acts of violence, saving a significant chunk for themselves.

The insurance industry has generally failed its customers while executives bask in personal and collective luxuries, opening the door for the fear-mongers to grab a piece of the action.

At the root of the problem is that we have become to believe in a system where I make a token investment in my own personal health but someone else — either a private company or Big Brother — should pay the bulk of the cost, leaving me free to purchase video-game systems and iPhones and other pretty toys.

It seems ensuring my healthy survival should be a higher personal priority — especially when the third party I hire insists on making judgment calls (as it has the right under the golden rule — "he who has the gold makes the rules") regarding how my doctor and I wish to spend the money it is providing for my medical bills. In a perfect world, the doctor tells me a reasonable price to cover his/her costs and an appropriate profit, and I hand over the cash or arrange installments.

Instead the medical payment system is as convoluted as any Internal Revenue Service process, and the simplest medical procedure comes with multiple bills and fiscal surprises. However, to reinvent the system to give more power to the creators of the IRS seems foolhardy to the maximum.

I don't have the answer. Well, no, I think I do: Give me the responsibility for the cost of all of my routine care, and I'll buy some of that insurance for catastrophic medical needs. Eliminate the middlemen and -women and the lawyers and the politicians from the process, and perhaps the doctors won't have to charge me as much as they do now.

Some people, economically wiser than I was in my youth and early middle age, already fund their health care like that. It works so well for them that the politicians are crafting a bill that would take that choice away, penalizing those who choose not to purchase a basic insurance policy and prohibiting the purchase of individual policies.

The lack of squealing from the insurance lords tells me that they'll still receive an adequate piece of the pie to keep the comfortable edifices they built with our premiums. And the politicians will keep their limousines and private planes and expensive suits; perhaps they'll even exempt themselves from the monstrous system they're creating for the masses.

People are raising their voices and objecting because it's clear they're watching a shell game. Almost everyone agrees medical decisions should be made by patients and their doctors. Neither the status quo nor the proposed solutions addresses this basic agreement.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Regarding the grand argument over health care

Let me see if this tin-foil hat fits ...

The news is abuzz with reports of how Republican hooligans are hijacking Democratic politicians "listening sessions" on the "health-care reform," which amounts to seizure of what remains of the "free market" insurance industry similar to the previous seizures of the banks and auto industry.

Democrats allege a GOP conspiracy to disrupt the proceedings. The GOP denies this. The people who come to these events with doubts about the congressional plan are insisting to anyone who asks that they were not contacted by any community organizers in advance and they weren't taking orders from any national organization.

Attach tin-foil hat to B.W.'s head. Thank you.

So who benefits when critics of the "health-care reform plan" look like thugs? Correct: Supporters of the plan. Are supporters seeding the crowds with agitators disguised as angry taxpayers?

Remove tin-foil hat.

I don't know what's going on. However, I am encouraged that citizens have serious questions about giving any more power over their health decisions over to Big Brother.

If the insurance companies, over the past several decades, only had shown some inclination toward helping people meet their health-care expenses as opposed to building shrines for themselves and their employees, perhaps the power-grabbers would not have sensed an opportunity.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Ripples of positive action

These reflections have borne what to my knowledge is the first poem inspired by "Montag ... etc." The eloquent PintofStout left this comment with "Rinse. Repeat.":
I'm not sure if you allow pingbacks or anything, but I thought you'd like to know this post (and the many before it) sprouted a subconscious seed in my brain that has burst forth to life. A poem hath bloomed: Shipwreck (link goes to the intro blog post). Thanks.
Follow the links and you'll find an intriguing little creation about, well, let him explain. I'm tickled to have jarred something loose in PoS's brain — thanks for letting me know!

When a person starts taking positive action, it has a ripple effect. The series of posts that jogged PoS's poetic prowess was a ripple of its own. Not long ago my longtime long-distance pal Wally Conger tossed out a mysterious Facebook entry in which he wrote something to the effect of "That's it! I'm going to get started on some longtime Web business ideas." I recall thinking, "Hmm, I wonder what that's about," and kept my eye out for the results.

A few weeks later Wally sent me a bulk e-mail — from a new e-mail address — announcing his new eBook, Fire-Up Your Cash Flow Over A Donut and Coffee in 10 Minutes — Or Less! It's a quick read packed with thought-starters and ideas and led me to Wally's new Web site. In his site's introduction, "Let's Smash Wage Slavery," he describes the place as "a storehouse for ideas, comments, discussion, and even products targeted to free you from the ugliness of tyrannical work structures."

Positive action yields positive action: I resolved to write. And not just write, but to jump in the way Ray Bradbury put it in his wonderfully inspirational book Zen in the Art of Writing:
Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me.

After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.

Now, it's your turn. Jump!
So, every morning since July 20, I've been stepping on a landmine every morning. And I've been reading, too. Wally's eBook led me to other eBooks and free stuff out there in the ether. The concept of the free eBook especially caught my attention: It looks fun and and easy to produce, and I've learned a lot from a handful of the eBooks I've found. Some are original like Wally's, and some are repackages of interesting public-domain stuff.

Sunday, I noticed how those first two weeks of writing kind of flowed together thematically. Just for fun I tossed them together into an eBook — you may have already noticed the link to Preserve the Embers; Stoke the Fire sitting up there in the upper righthand corner of this page.

And it was fun, too — so much fun that by the end of the week you should start seeing more eBooks in that corner. One is a convenient edition of Tom Paine's Letters to the Citizens of the United States, which I've written about these three times of late. I figure you might want to see what got me so excited.

And another is a scaled-down eBook version of Refuse to be Afraid, the book-book I announced with some fanfare before getting sunk by the dread quotidian. Think of it, for now, as my Smiley Smile, the bits of a big project that got bogged down, a glimpse at what may eventually emerge later.

The eBooks are free; you can print them out (as I do, old-fashioned tree-killer that I am) or read them on screen. And I'm also converting them into print-on-demand mini-books. It feels counter-intuitive that people would spend money for a physical version of something they can have for free, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. And it gives me a chance to remind folks of the other Richardson & Bluhm products that are out there.

Reactions like PintofStout's (and Sunni's shout-out a few days earlier) are evidence of the ripple effect and momentum that positive action produces. Now, I wonder what it was that inspired Wally to get off the dime and launch his venture? What splash caused the ripple that is Fire Up Your Cash Flow?

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

'peace, moderate taxes and mild government'

Being as woefully ignorant as most of my fellow citizens of the history of the country where I've spent all but a few days of my entire life, I was fascinated reading Thomas Paine's eight Letters to the Citizens of the United States, and particularly to the leaders of the Federal faction.

I was vaguely aware of the onerous Alien & Sedition Acts that were passed to suppress free speech, or more specifically the free speech of the Adams administration's political adversaries, but wasn't aware that some folks (like Paine) continued to call for investigation and prosecution of Adams for years after he left office — or that Adams snuck out of the White House early in the morning of March 4, 1800, not waiting to witness the inauguration of new president Thomas Jefferson.

And it seems that many debates we occasionally hear today already were raging when Paine wrote these epistles, in 1802 and 1803 (the eighth letter is dated 1805, but the first seven came in a November-to-April flurry).

Paine accuses Adams of wishing to dissolve the new republic and replace it with a monarchy-style system of succession much like Britain's, where the king's sons or daughters were destined to reign. (That may explain why John Quincy Adams later felt motivated to run for the office his father once held.) A Quasi-War against France was ginned up and Adams' Federalists clamored for the raising of an army of 50,000 men, ostensibly to defend against the inevitable French invasion. Paine felt this standing army was more likely to be used for some other, more sinister purpose.
The suspicion against the late Administration is, that it was plotting to overturn the representative system of government, and that it spread alarms of invasions that had no foundation, as a pretence for raising and establishing a military force as the means of accomplishing that object ...
Of the Sedition Law, which levied a $2,000 fine and two years in prison for anyone who dared write or publish "any libel (without defining what a libel is) against the Government of the United States, or either House of Congress, or against the president ..."
... it is a much greater crime for a president to plot against a Constitution and the liberties of the people, than for an individual to plot against a President; and consequently, John Adams is accountable to the public for his conduct, as the individuals under his administration were to the sedition law.

The object, however, of an enquiry, in this case, is not to punish, but to satisfy; and to shew, by example, to future administrations, that an abuse of power and trust, however disguised by appearances, or rendered plausible by pretence, is one time or other to be accounted for. (from letter VI)
Except for the changes in names and language use, Paine could have been writing after any recent administrations had been put to bed, for it appears the federalists eventually won the argument. It is now common "for a president to plot against a Constitution and the liberties of the people" and to keep the populace generally alarmed over the threat of invasion and all sorts of other alarming notions.

The Revolution had been fought to secure liberty and separate from the violent world and machinations of the British Empire.
It requires only a prudent and honest administration to preserve America always at peace. Her distance from the European world frees her from its intrigues. But when men get into power, whose heads, like the head of John Adams, are filled with "strange notions" and counter revolutionary principles and projects, things will be sure to go wrong ...

The independence of America would have added but little to her own happiness, and been of no benefit to the world, if her government had been formed on the corrupt models of the old world. It was the opportunity of beginning the world anew, as it were; and of bringing forward a new system of government in which the rights of all men should be preserved that gave value to independence. (from letter VIII; Paine's emphases)
It's fascinating to read the thoughts, 27 years later, of the man whose Common Sense framed the intellectual basis for cutting ties with old England, to see how he thought the young nation was fulfilling the dream. He clearly believed that the United States had dodged a bullet and that the election of Jefferson had preserved and re-established the principles of the Revolution.
The characters of the late ad of the present Administrations are now sufficiently marked, and the adherents of each keep up the distinction. The former Administration rendered itself notorious by outrage, coxcombical parade, false alarms, a continual increase of taxes and an unceasing clamor for war; and as every vice has a virtue opposed to it the present Administration moves on the direct contrary line.

The question, therefore, at elections is not properly a question upon persons, but upon principles. Those who are for peace, moderate taxes and mild government will vote for the Administration that conducts itself by those principles, in whatever hands that Administration might be. (from Letter VII)
Peace, moderate taxes and mild government continue to be ideals Americans believe in, judging from the campaign rhetoric that accompanies every election. Although Paine clearly believed Jefferson had delivered the goods in that respect, I can't think of a single modern president of whom the same could be said. Oh yes, peace and moderate taxes and mild government are promised — but the purpose of campaign rhetoric is to get elected, not to deliver the goods, especially not those particular goods.

If freedom were something granted by government, or a constitution, we would be in a heap of trouble. Fortunately we were born free. Governments can and often do obstruct freedom, but they are powerless to absolutely extinguish it. As long as liberty exists in a corner of a free man or woman's mind — and it always will — there's a glimmer of hope that common sense will prevail at last.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Rinse. Repeat.

Refuse to be afraid. Free yourself. Dream.

Rinse. Repeat.

I've found the little three-step exhortation at the top of this page has multiple applications. Longtime readers know that I started saying "Refuse to be afraid" because so much of modern communication seems to be about raising fears. Terrorists are lurking in every dark corner of the land, most of the food you eat may give you cancer or make you obese or both, and termites may eat the foundation of your house unless you treat it with a certain product.

My advice was simply not to fall for it. Refuse to be afraid. OK, you're nervous and/or scared, but don't let it control you. Refuse to be controlled by your fear.

Then I realized not being afraid was only the first step. You're not afraid, fine. Now what? "Free yourself." Get loose of what you were afraid of. Resist the solutions offered by the politicians and the salesmen and create your own answers. Fly.

But free yourself to do what? Fly where? That's where the dreaming starts.

Releasing the fear makes you free — free to dream — dream of doing something amazing.

How do you apply this advice? It depends on what you're afraid of, or what someone else is trying to frighten you with. But it seems to me the process is the same in most cases. Refuse to be afraid. Now that your fear is under control, you can free yourself to consider many options or take the action you feared. Once free, you can set goals, objectives, dreams ... and go for it! (Whatever "It" may be.)

And then move on to the next fear ... rinse, repeat.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Resolving a contradiction that isn’t

An old friend perusing these thoughts the other day admitted to some confusion about what appear to be some contradictions in my recent writings about consciousness.

On the one hand, I wrote about keeping your mind focused in the moment, because you certainly can’t control what happened yesterday and tomorrow literally doesn’t exist and never will. At any given moment there’s only now.

Then a few days later I wrote about asking what you would do if you knew you could not fail, and then I added guess what, you can’t fail — move on accordingly.

If we should live in the moment with no thought of a future goal, he asked, what’s the point of a to-do list or dreams or goals or the other stuff I’ve been writing about lately?

Good question; the hiccup is in coupling “live in the moment” with “no thought of a future goal.” (P.S. I think he grokked this, as his e-mail was titled “I’m confused...not really.”) Making a conscious attempt to stay in the moment is not the same as “going willynilly all over the place,” as he colorfully put it elsewhere.

In fact, staying in the moment can be a cure for willynilly syndrome. Often the moment has several demands — a conscious, constant attention to priorities can keep the mind focused. This electronic toy full of bells and whistles, on which I’m typing these thoughts, is a great example.

While I’ve been composing, it’s been playing the great album John B. Sebastian, and my mind has wandered to a variety of places that could have sent me to the search engine. (Whatever happened to the young lady who shared my passion for Sebastian and accompanied me to a couple of his concerts when we both were in high school? What was the story again of how the album was released on both MGM and Reprise records? Where did I put my Woodstock album anyway?) Meanwhile, my e-mail dinged; there’s a new message waiting.

But the current goal is to finish these thoughts. The needs of the moment were for me to stay on this page, typing. Staying in the moment is not incompatible with having a goal. I have started developing specific goals for where I hope to be in six months, a year, five years — but life is still what happens to you, moment by moment, while you’re busy making other plans.

My friend concluded with some great advice: “... if you are consciously trying to live in the moment, it is taking your mind away from its natural course, wandering, picking up, sorting and filing other ethereal information it meets in its travels.”

I agree that a little mind-wandering is necessary to maintain one’s sanity. A sense of direction helps prevent the wandering from being out-of-control willynilly; a sense of the moment helps the goals from being so rigid that we miss a sudden or subtle shift in priorities.

All of this navel-gazing boils down to this, however: I am here in this place now, and I control only my actions and reactions now. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I just heard a sound coming from the puppy’s direction that may need my attention ...

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Delighting in serenity

Another gem from Letter III of Tom Paine's Letters to the Citizens of the United States, in which the great freedom advocate sounded the alarm about those who wanted to convert the US of A into an Old World monarchy/dictatorship in 1802-03 (and later, some might say, succeeded beyond their wildest dreams):
There is a general and striking difference between the genuine effects of truth itself, and the effects of falsehood believed to be truth. Truth is naturally benign; but false-hood believed to be truth is always furious. The former delights in serenity, is mild and persuasive, and seeks not the auxiliary aid of invention. The latter sticks at nothing.

It has naturally no morals. Every lie is welcome that suits its purpose. It is the innate character of the thing to act in this manner, and the criterion by which it may be known, whether in politics or religion. When any thing is attempted to be supported by lying, it is presumptive evidence that the thing so supported is a lie also. The stock on which a lie can be grafted must be of the same species as the graft.
What's especially striking about Paine's letters is that, although the specific circumstances are different, the tactics of those who would assault individual freedoms haven't changed a whit. This is another example.

It seems to me that when you've touched on the basic truth of a thing, you experience the serenity Paine mentions. Any anxiety you might feel is more like an excitement of wanting or needing to share the truth. Truth does indeed have a "mild and persuasive" nature to it.

"Falsehood believed to be truth" is a different beast altogether. An intensity and even rage accompanies the demeanor of those who know they're right but maintain a sliver (or even a plank or two) of doubt. In its extreme, this is the anger of "We gotta round up them illegals and ship 'em back to Mexico before they finish ruinin' our country" or "That smoker over there in the corner is poisoning my air" and "The fight against climate change requires you to submit to the state, and how can you even doubt?"

Self-evident truth settles into the heart and takes up residence. Falsehood believed to be truth is the proverbial resounding gong or clanging cymbal. Again, it's Malcolm Reynolds and "I got no need to beat you; I just want to go my way."

The holder of truth knows that at some point, the truth will become self-evident even to the hardest to convince. The holder of the falsehood-believed-to-be-truth needs to convince, because maybe if he can find enough other people to believe the falsehood it really will be true. But a falsehood believed to be true by a vast majority is still false; that's the underlying frustration and the root of the fervor.

The truth "delights in serenity." What a wonderful phrase!

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