Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review: "The [Un]documented Mark Steyn" has published my book review.  Thanks to Gregory Zeigerson (who drew the striking caricature you can view by clicking on the link) and the rest of ParcBench.  And thanks to Mark Steyn.

In the twenty-first century, after decades of leftist domination of academia and media, learned, articulate, and erudite scribes on the other side of the false leftist/conservative dichotomy are elusive. 
After decades of America’s march toward transformation (fundamentally and otherwise) into a lower-brow, more Puritanical European country without the reverence for philosophy and art (in other words, the worst of both worlds), certain foreign-born-and-raised Americans, who embody the American spirit more than most natural-born citizens, provide some of the most trenchant and enlightening words to the shrinking minority who retain and sustain that spirit.
Mark Steyn arrived and admirably, effectively, and impressively embodied both elusive phenomena. His admirer Christopher Hitchens was a similar figure to some extent (at least after he partially disowned his past Trotskyism). Now that Hitchens is gone, Steyn (whose views are somewhat different, for better or for worse) may be the most important mainstream public pundit. He is an inestimable happy warrior (as he calls himself).
He was born in Toronto and educated at a boarding school in Birmingham, U.K., before he dropped out (ending his formal education). A former disc jockey, he is still a recording artist (Ted Nugent praised him as “the czar of common sense” as he praised Steyn’s big band rendition of “Cat Scratch Fever”)—his CDs are for sale and his tracks are audible at his website, But he is best known as an incendiary (and uproarious) writer and conservative pundit, filing his posts for Steyn Online, National Review, Maclean’s, and other publications as well as broadcasting as an occasional guest host for Rush Limbaugh from a small New Hampshire town forty minutes from his home country (he remains a Canadian citizen).
The author of the provocatively titled America Alone and After America (among others) has a new collection, The [Un]documented Mark Steyn: Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned (Regnery), published in October. An anthology of previously published short pieces with diverse subjects, ranging from 1987 to a few months before publication, they are united by an overarching theme: an intransigent, indefatigable defense of the virtues of Western civilization. 
Steyn is using proceeds from the book’s sale to fund his interminable legal battle for defamation initiated by climatologist Michael Mann (inventor of the infamous “hockey stick” graph), but buying this informative, integrated, witty collection is no act of charity. Whether musing on coffeehouse culture (he may disapprove of me writing these lines in a coffeehouse while sipping a “vanilla steamer”), or contrasting hygienic advances taken for granted today with the curious (and antithetical) attitudes of celebrity environmentalists, or castigating the nattering nabobs of “diversity” (“where nations go to die”), or (somewhat bizarrely) composing the “memoir” of Monica Lewinsky’s dress or an interview of an alternative-universe Marilyn Monroe circa 1996, or concluding with a contemplative, earnest, subtly passionate tribute to William Wilberforce (the nineteenth-century British legislator credited with outlawing slavery in the British empire who arguably ushered in the international abolition movement), Steyn skillfully and hermeneutically holds high the banner of Western individualism, virtue, standards, and fiscal restraint (and genuine liberalism) while skewering his “liberal” ideological opponents, from leftist North American journalists to overseas jihadists.
While implicit, Steyn’s logical arguments and grasp of the conceptual level of thought provide a convincing, subtly pro-reason framework that few of the myopic pluralists on the left can match. And the high school dropout’s extensive array of facts, vocabulary, and allusions is matched by few credentialed pundits on either (or no) side of today’s ideological and political conflicts. No matter how sagacious or historically aware you are, you will learn something from Steyn’s facts and integration while being entertained by his wit. (An example of the latter: “James Lileks, the bard of Minnesota, once offered this trenchant analysis of Pete Seeger: ‘“If I Had a Hammer”? Well, what’s stopping you? Go to the hardware store; they’re about a buck-ninety, tops.’ Very true. For the cost of a restricted-view seat at a Peter, Paul, and Mary revival, you could buy half a dozen top-of-the-line hammers and have a lot more fun, even if you used them on yourself.”) One need not agree with all of his views (such as his traditionalism and quasi-Victorianism) to respect the adept prose with which he argues and expresses them.
Unlike the anti-ideological, percept-oriented pragmatists and multiculturalists he ridicules, the perspicacious Steyn makes connections that, while fairly obvious to the relatively few rigorous, rational intellectuals left, are all too rare in a culture of disconnections. Whether objurgating celebrity environmentalists or lambasting leftists for failing to come to the defense of their own (see his impassioned lament on the fate of cartoonist Molly Norris) or teaching his less astute allies that government will not change significantly until (more fundamental) culture is changed, the depth of this author’s perception and conceptions is a vital corrective to a short-sighted, shallow culture.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Difference Between (Most) "Liberals" and (Most) "Libertarians"

A day or so ago, I read a post on a certain "social networking" site that inquired about "the difference between liberals and libertarians" (or something to that effect--I can no longer find the post).
     In a Kantian culture ravaged by modern philosophy and "progressive" education, words have, to a significant extent, lost their meaning in the minds of most people.  Most "liberals" today are not liberal--they are leftist (ergo, anti-liberal).  "Libertarian" can mean any number of things at this point (a gallimaufry of disparate individuals have used the term to describe themselves, from Murray Rothbard to Arlen Specter to Bill Maher).  I will use the term below to refer to those who generally advocate free minds and free markets (in other words, consistent liberty and mind-body integration in the politics, though, in a culture that has entrenched a mind-body dichotomy, few would identify it in the latter terms).
     There are still exceptional exceptions among both camps, but, in general, there is not much difference between most leftists and most libertarians--except in politics.  (Which means the leftists are generally more consistent than the typical libertarians.)  Most libertarians (implicit and subconsciously, anyway) share the same fundamental ideas as most leftists and other statists: the primacy of consciousness; metaphysical dualism; irrationalism; and altruism.  Like the rest of their culture, many (most?) libertarians are almost unphilosophical (if not anti-philosophical), and much libertarian discourse is about as crude and amoral as most leftist discourse.  Perusing most libertarian sites, one finds variations of many of the same tired, clich├ęd, banal tropes, memes, and cultural allusions: "Don't tase me, bro;" "don't touch my junk;" "bitches be like ...;" "keep calm and ...;" "the first rule of [fill in the blank] is don't talk about [fill in the blank];"etc., ad infinitum.  (Long after my most widely read post was published, I discovered a comment by a libertarian on his own blog who apparently did not read my entire post or missed the fact that I had already addressed his criticism of it in the post.  He accused me of something like "nerdage"--or some other neologism--and not understanding that the purpose of a film version of Atlas Shrugged was to increase awareness of the novel, or something like that.  You can see how that has worked out.  Acknowledging the exceptional exceptions, the author of that venerable novel turned out to be right about most libertarians--they not only tend to start with politics as a primary, they show little interest in any other branch of philosophy, even aesthetics.)
     Since most people in a culture tend to share the same fundamental worldview (whether they consciously consider such recondite, all-embracing topics or not), and the Left is a more consistent application (political and otherwise) of this culture's fundamental ideas, it is hardly surprising that libertarians are relatively obscure and marginalized.
     Are there any general differences between leftists and "libertarians" besides the specific political views they advocate?
     Certainly.  I can think of two (and they are closely related).
     Recently, one Internet meme that made the rounds of libertarian pages was: "I'm a libertarian because ..." and the respondent would fill in the blank.  One of the best answers I read: "I'm a libertarian because I understand economics, and I'm not a misanthrope."
     Like libertarians, most modern so-called "liberals" are not misanthropes.  But most of them do not understand economics.  If they did, they would not be "liberals."
     Unless they are misanthropes (and few of them are).
     Libertarians, in general, tend to evince a greater facility with the conceptual level of thought (despite myriad cultural and educational obstacles to it).  They tend to be more logical and can make better arguments for their views (even some of their incorrect views) than the disintegrated mainstream leftists tend to make.  Which is one reason why, when they approach the subject of economics, they can see connections between statism and poverty--between the enormous, often indirect and hidden, costs that the penurious (and others) pay via their own and others' taxes (including taxes on "the rich" and the hidden tax of inflation)--that elude the Eloi's notice.  (And then there are the minimum wage and other laws. ...)  Most of them may not be philosophical enough to integrate their political views with deeper views, but they grasp this much.
     Despite the desperate state of the world, it remains a metaphysical fact that man is good.  Exceptional exceptions always excepted, most people are decent and want to advocate ideas that they believe are moral and that they believe facilitate peace and prosperity.  Those who understand economics, are not seriously confused, and are generally benevolent are somewhere to the "right of center."
     Those who do not understand economics and have an "intellectual" bent gravitate toward the left in a leftist culture.
     Those who do understand economics, are not seriously confused, and are malevolent are bitches who "be like" Paul Krugman.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

You're (Still) a Good Nation, Charlie Brown

“Had H.L. Mencken been revived from his grave to watch the last night of the Republican National Convention, he would have recognized the scene.  He would have heard the anecdotal, folksy speeches, the paeans to family and God, and he would have understood that the booboisie is alive and well in America.  He would have said something wittier than even Mark Steyn or James Wolcott could come up with and then asked to be killed and returned to his grave.”
Myrhaf, “Conventional Republicans”, The New Clarion, August 31, 2012

The Republican Party is like Lucy van Pelt, and the American electorate is like Charlie Brown.  The former has been holding the football of individualism and a modicum of fiscal sense for almost fifty years (at least—perhaps the venerable and venerated Goldwater was an exception), and hoisting up a thin, shabby booth of mountebankery offering nostrums for their customer’s mental health of little value but exponentially increasing price.  (At least the little girl in the comic strip never raised her nickel admission fee, not even to keep pace with inflation.  Even she had a virtue or two.)  The former has shamelessly yanked that football from out of the path of a desperate, earnest electorate countless times, but precious few of the latter’s members have had the sense to scream “AAUGH!” as they tumble in the air and fall headfirst.  Indeed, the repeated head injuries have knocked precious little sense into their progressive education- and media- shrunken, myopic heads.
Many of the booboisie (if you prefer Mencken’s term) and the Eloi (if you prefer Wells’s)—as well as those with considerably more awareness, including self-awareness—like to parrot a platitude falsely attributed to Albert Einstein: insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  As far as anyone can tell, the platitude, which has its uses was coined in fiction long after Einstein’s death by novelist Rita Mae Brown, who is affiliated with Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia (or, at least, its Young Writer’s Workshop, which I twice attended).  Non-leftists, independents, and “swing voters” have been turning to the stupid party for decades when they’ve had enough of the more consistent excesses of the crazy party … and they apparently expect different results.  Even those who like to mouth Brown’s slogan (which, as I noted, has its uses).  A phenomenon of millions of compartmentalized minds in a culture of otherwise functioning adults is probably nothing new in the history of the West, but its scope appears to be unprecedented now.  Alas, this is no longer Jefferson’s America.  The Enlightenment philosophy that he tried to bequeath to his university and his country has long been supplanted by an antithetical death carrier of a philosophy.  Jefferson’s America (to say nothing of his university) is now John Dewey’s America.  The crown prince of progressive education was also the crown prince of pragmatism, and he taught his unformed charges (directly and indirectly) that there is no such thing as causality, that one can not know the outcome of any action before performing it, and even that good old-fashioned Aristotelian/Enlightenment logic has worked for so long that it’s time to jettison it for something “new.”  Most of the booboisie and Eloi absorbed all of this by osmosis (assuming they’ve ever even heard of Dewey), and most of the more learned of Republican voters (some of whom I hold in the utmost respect) never fell for it in the first place.  But it has ineluctably and inexorably eroded the critical faculties (and the “common sense”) of the members of a once-chary demographic.  (A minority of the demographic retains elements of chariness.  Some of them, like Robert Tracisnki, proffer relatively good arguments for continuing to vote Republican, despite the party’s outrageous otiosity.  The fecklessness of a single vote, coupled with the well-documented voter fraud, all but eviscerate such arguments.)  Brown’s fictional character expressed a vestigial awareness of Enlightenment cause-and-effect, and a some progressivized and pragmatized simpletons continue to spout it and share it online, too percept-oriented and too blind to the conceptual level of cognition to notice its clash with the rest of their behavior and their culture.  It really is impossible to practice bad ideas consistently.
One would never know that watching the professional Republicans, however,  If they have yet to repeal a single entitlement program, it has escaped my notice.  And the federal budget (and state budgets), under their watch, grow to such amounts that Mark Steyn has referred to his adopted country as the Brokest Nation in History, noting that no one in the history of mankind has owed anywhere near this much money—and no one (collectively) has this much money.  If there is a significant difference, in operation as opposed to rhetoric, between the two major political parties that have mulcted American’s wallets and vitiated their rights since time immemorial, it is beyond my ken.  Indeed, the encroaching police state is unquestionably bipartisan.
Despite the peculations, puerile pedagogy, and outrageous molestations and abrogations Americans receive from what their government has become, they remain, in the main, admirable people: benevolent, magnanimous, industrious, and inventive.  Even in Los Angeles the Damned (as the Sage of Baltimore loved to damn it), vestiges of the American character are still evident.  I can only imagine how evident they are in more decent environs where more of the Enlightenment’s vestigial rays still shine.
That will not last forever if decent people continue to reward a party of disingenuous charlatans profiteering from the statism they affect to deplore—and the decent people don’t even hold them accountable.  An “AAUGH!” after every missed kick will not turn Lucy into an honest placeholder.  And before too long, Charlie’s numb skull will crack when it hits the ground.
While one hesitates to predict anything with certainty in these uncertain days of voter fraud and another generation or two of leftists programmed at Charles Sanders Pierce Elementary School, Alexander Sutherland Neill Junior High, William James High School, and John Dewey State University, congressional midterms six years after the election of a two-term president are typically overwhelmingly won by the other party.  Even in 1986, the Great Communicator’s adversaries were triumphant.  His significantly less popular counterpart today, the Great Half-White Hope, has been facing half-empty audiences in the hustings on the campaign trail for his fellow jobholders.  Even the crazy party’s base is catching on.  But these are unprecedented times.  One hesitates to predict anything with certainty.
In the blog post quoted above, on the eve of the 2012 presidential election, Myrhaf observed: “Romney should win in November. With the economy as bad as it is, in the worst recovery since the Great Depression, the election should not even be close. The Tea Party formed spontaneously because the American people were shocked by the Democrats’ power grabs in the first two years of Obama’s presidency. This election should be a landslide on the order of 1972, 1980 and 1984. If it is not, take it as a sign of America’s cultural decline. Take it as a sign that the Democrats have changed the sense of life of the American people. And be afraid.”
The sense of life of the American people has changed significantly, but even many Democratic voters (the older ones, anyway) yet still retain residual virtues from a virtuous past.  The country has been fundamentally transformed (long before the current huckster in the Oval Office came along or was even born), but the transformation may yet be reversible.

It certainly won’t be reversed by voting again.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Another Week to Remember

And I thought that the week prior to the one that just passed was memorable ....

Here are just a few highlights of the ineluctable implosion of life as we know it in the West as manifested in unfolding events last week (in increasing order of gravitas), two of which came and went with a whimper and one of which with a relative bang:

Last Saturday morning was the first Saturday morning in the lifetimes of most of us in which no television network broadcast cartoons.  As is often the case in seemingly trivial events, the reasons behind the change (and what they portend in other concerns and endeavors) are more significant than the specific loss iterated (though most would probably feel a pang of loss at the news before shrugging and moving on to the latest episode of America's Got Ballast or their favorite stupidphone app).  See the linked article for the specific alphabet agency (guess which) that played an integral part in this elimination (and never forget that that agency is just an application of a more integral ideology).

In the capital city of the former land of the free (south of what is currently the freest country in North America), friends, relatives, and other activists silently protested the official and legal silence surrounding the Secret Service- and Capitol Police-related shooting of Miriam Carey on the first anniversary of the killing.  (The earnest, compassionate race- and "social justice"-minded professionals in the media were too busy turning the less innocent Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin into household names to inform about the firearm-related death of this black individual and pry answers out of the clamped-shut maw of the authorities, which is one of the reasons I have to link to a religious conservative site with which I have reservations.  Their reporting on this incident comes across as objective, however--and do stay tuned to the final punchline.)  (And due note the metairony that unarmed Miriam Carey was shot miles away from the White House while the recent armed intruder inside the venerable building was not.)  (Martin McPhillips alerted me to this elusive, shameful secret and the aforementioned article.)

And then--by far the most memorable event in some time--there is the Ebola-related scare in Dallas, which caused relatively significant alarm but was, for the most part, downplayed or ignored on the (literal and cyber) street (for better or for worse).  As usual, Mark Steyn provides the mandatory reading (and do resist the urge to cachinnate perusing such a serious piece on such a serious issue).

To recap: what P.J. O'Rourke calls big, intrusive, obnoxious, bumptious, presumptuous, destructive government is now quietly "nudging" (beyond Cass Sunstein's wildest dreams) cultural institutions into extinction (while, contrary to stated intentions, failing to replace it with programming of any demonstrative educational value).  It is shooting innocent people far away from protected locations who didn't even break one of its countless intrusive laws (and it is quite a challenge to avoid breaking any of them these days) while taking armed threats inside the protected locations alive.  And it is imperiously and implacably barring harmless Canadians (who are now the real "free Americans," relatively speaking anyway) from crossing the border while failing to stop a resident of a plague-infested nation from landing in the former home of the brave.

And Wells's Eloi (or Mencken's booboisie, if you prefer) will line up to re-sanction more bipartisan big, intrusive, obnoxious, bumptious, presumptuous, destructive, incompetent, reticent government next month.

Ensuring an endless parade of memorable weeks (until the implosion is complete--or enough human individuals once again live up to their nature as the rational animal despite all of the cultural and political impediments in their way).

I wonder what's next.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Week to Remember

As the week winds down (as far as this individual is concerned, weeks end as Saturday segues into Sunday), let us reflect on a week of reports of recent violent incidents in the United States in ways usual and unusual (neither the usual ways nor unusual way were likely to be widely reported by the culture’s professional and veracious mainstream media, but this individual generally ignore the professionals and has been ensconced in work and James Ellroy’s new novel, so he would not know for sure).
As usual, Radley Balko is the best source for the usual ways (and, as a Washington Post contributor, can be considered a consummate and credentialed professional).
Mark Steyn and Larry Elder are non pareil commentators regarding the unusual way.
Balko, the author of Rise of the Warrior Cop (New York: Public Affairs, 2013), relayed (via the Post, no less) in a Thursday article that, on August 5, police in an Ohio Walmart shot and killed John Crawford III, a 22-year-old man who was holding an unloaded air rifle he had taken off one of the store’s shelves.  A witness had told a 911 dispatcher (and, later, the media) that Crawford was pointing the gun at children.  He subsequently retracted that assertion, apparently after viewing surveillance video of the incident (which is available to view at the link).  As Balko notes, “… the video makes clear that Crawford never pointed the gun at police, and strongly suggests they never gave him an opportunity to drop it.”  A grand jury declined to indict any of the officers involved in the shooting.  Balko, who, in his book and elsewhere, has chronicled the encroaching militarization of the inchoate police state more effectively and extensively than anyone else (certainly more effectively and extensively than any other professional), articulately and persuasively argues that exaggerated public and private hysteria as a result of rare mass shootings has contributed to an atmosphere in which the public and police overreact to harmless (if often eccentric) individuals, often resulting in lethal force against innocents.  (Some sources report that an unarmed, compliant, peaceful citizen is now eight times more likely to be shot by police than by criminals in the United States.)
Yesterday, Balko recounted the September 4 shooting of unarmed Levar Jones by South Carolina state trooper Sean Groubert during a routine traffic stop for seatbelt violations.  Jones behaved impeccably; Groubert shot him when Jones ducked into his vehicle to retrieve the license Groubert requested.  (Those who live in the United States could reread the two proceeding sentences, especially the last five of the former, and reconsider the status of their putatively free country.)  Groubert was fired, and he has been charged with felony assault.  Balko articulately and persuasively argues that a “police culture” endemic with unfounded paranoia about officer safety (despite steadily decreasing officer fatalities and serious injuries) likely contributed to Groubert’s actions and similar incidents (and will contribute to more if the views and training underlying them do not fundamentally change).
For decades (and especially the last decade), U.S. police have been becoming increasingly militarized and aggressive.  (Notably, an attendee at James Ellroy’s book signing in Pasadena on Thursday inquired about the author’s views on the subject, which was, to say the least, off topic.  The topic would not likely be broached during such an event at such a venue if the problem were not systemic and serious.  Ellroy, who could be fairly described as a police apologist, declined to comment, insisting that he does not comment on current events.)  Supporters of such militarization and aggression insist it is necessary, not only for the safety of officers but for the safety and security of the general public as well.  This militarization and aggression has accompanied a metastasized national “security” apparatus (courtesy of the increasingly inaccurately named Justice Department’s FBI, the relatively recent Homeland Security Department, and the NSA) that snoops on and records private telephone calls and text messages.  Representatives of the FBI (which is the oldest of the three but is still younger than some living people) have admitted that agents have been spying on citizens through the cameras of notebook computers for years.  The Islam-inspired terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which an earlier, less robust version of the apparatus failed to detect or prevent, were a crisis that statists of all persuasions (on both sides of the false left/conservative dichotomy and in between them) would hardly let, as one of them put it describing a later crisis, go to waste.  (You may recall that one of the aforementioned attacks was partially thwarted by private citizens on one of the planes, and, while the Homeland Security Department's TSA has yet to foil an attack, private citizens on planes have arrested Islamic terrorists that somehow eluded the consummate, sapient, efficacious professionals of the TSA.)
Presumably, an atmosphere of such all-encompassing surveillance and swift, overwhelming police response would ensure that U.S. citizens were safe (from everyone but police, anyway, and certainly from Islamic terrorists on U.S. soil).
On Thursday, an American Muslim beheaded his former co-worker, Colleen Hufford, in Moore, Oklahoma.  He was about to behead another woman, Traci Johnson, when a sheriff’s reserve deputy (which does not imply a particularly militarized response) shot him.  (Johnson is reported to be in stable condition.)  Steyn notes that the individual had the Muslim greeting “Assalamu Alaikum”—“Peace be upon you.”—tattooed on his abdomen.  Steyn also reports that he tried to convert numerous co-workers to Islam.  If that were not enough, Elder (who links to an Examiner article by Julia Davis) comments that the perpetrator “[d]id everything but take out a billboard” on public social media that he would commit such an act.  (Incidentally, the perpetrator had a long criminal record but was hired by the Oklahoma food processing plant anyway.  He was reportedly terminated immediately before the attack for arguing with his co-workers about the propriety of stoning women to death.  In an atmosphere in which a single arrest for a victimless crime can disqualify one for gainful employment in the United States, such a hiring is, to say the least, curious in the first place.)
Although the first two violent deaths noted above are so familiar as to be as routine in the land of the once-free as a traffic stop for a seatbelt violation, the third is surely unprecedented (or, at the very least, unusual).  Authorities have assured a generally credulous, complacent, and apathetic public that the police militarization of the past few decades is necessary for public safety (implying that more innocent citizens are protected by it than those who are tragically sacrificed to it).  Authorities have also assured the same public that a massive and invasive security apparatus is necessary to detect and prevent terrorist attacks (which have nothing to do with Islam).  The very old and the very young must be molested, groped, and terrified at airports, and the very nerdy must be surveilled while they “fap” (to use the crude demotic of a charming, eloquent culture), to prevent mass death from those who can be detected by confidential, intrusive, privacy-vitiating spookiness (and only by confidential, intrusive, privacy-vitiating spookiness).
Consequently, the death of Colleen Hufford and the assault of Traci Johnson must have been flukes (and the religion of their attacker had no more to do with his crime than institutionalized pragmatism, authoritarianism, and evasion had to do with the deaths of John Crawford III and Levar Jones).  Surely, the restrained and prudent government of the free twenty-first century United States of America will minimize, if not eliminate, future Colleen Huffords and Traci Johnsons, even if it must kill a few John Crawford IIIs and Lavar Joneses in the process (while watching, molesting, and impertinently, implacably insulting the rest of us).

Returning to the governing philosophy of the era before the Hoovers (Herbert and J. Edgar) and learning from superior leaders in freer eras certainly couldn’t be an option.

Monday, August 25, 2014

It's Late

After the recent controversial police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and subsequent protests and rioting, some citizens are slowly focusing inchoate awareness on what they see as a recent problem.  Leave it to what passes for media today to shine its dark light on what is turning out to be one of the least unreasonable (and, quite possibly, most defensive) police shootings--in a culture where indubitably egregious and outrageous police killings are practically quotidian.

Belated awareness is better than none, however.  It's always encouraging when Wells's Eloi and Mencken's booboisie rub the sleep out of their eyes.

But even then, the boys and girls next door cannot help but view the problem through the age-old Marxist lenses of race and class.

D. Brian Burghart, editor of the Reno News & Review, has been one of several people to attempt to construct a database of police shootings in the United States.  He has written a generally good (by today's standards, anyway) article about some of his findings--but he just cannot avoid bringing up the subject of race.  Regard this curious excerpt:

"Journalists also don't generally report the race of the person killed. Why? It's unethical to report it unless it's germane to the story. But race is always germane when police kill somebody."

Burghart just asserts that race is "always germane"--its not.  And one would have to have the same relationship to and regard for reality and the truth as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to believe that journalists did not "report" Michael Brown's race (and that they did not decide to share this example of government lethality with their credulous customers, many of whom evince their incredulous ignorance in the comments to Burghart's article, because of it).

Burghart continues, and, after noting that "African-Americans" and the mentally ill "make up a huge percentage of people killed by police," he writes (apparently missing the significance):
It's also refreshing for a media professional to acknowledge one of the countless instances of gender inequality in this misandrist culture that doesn't faze the feminists.  And it should not be surprising that black and mentally ill people are disproportionately killed by police--because "it's poor people who are killed by police."  (If it's "racist" to note that poor, violent, urban areas saturated with police activity tend to be disproportionately inhabited by racial minorities, then I'll add it to my collection of epithets.)  Anyone with the view that poor minorities are disproportionately targeted by cops because they are poor and/or minorities should turn off CNN and Fox News, read Radley Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces (New York: Public Affairs, 2013--paperback edition published today) and Dan Baum's Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure (New York: Back Bay Books, 1996).  [If they are Rush fans, they can turn to pages 241 and 242 of Neil Peart's Roadshow: Landscape with Drums: A Concert Tour by Motorcycle (Burlington, MA: Rounder, 2006) to learn what happened to guitarist Alex Lifeson and his family in Florida on New Year's Eve, 2003--thankfully, they lived to tell about it.]  Balko and Baum both trace the rise of police militarization to Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign, but Nixon himself was just the bastard great-grandson of John Dewey.

I hesitate to highlight race and class (though, in a Marxist culture, it is unavoidable), but here are just three cases off the top of my weary head of non-poor white people killed by police in egregious cases that should have generated at least as much publicity and outrage as Michael Brown's:

"And if you want to get down to nut-cuttin' time, across the board, it's poor people who are killed by police. (And by the way, around 96 percent of people killed by police are men.)"

Sal Culosi

Erik Scott

Donald Scott (no apparent relation to Erik Scott--Donald Scott's homicide is covered extensive by Baum)

Jose Guerena was not white, but he was (like Erik Scott) a non-poor, innocent military veteran

And the concerned media professionals worried about white cops shooting black people must have been busy covering "reality television" or been distracted and choking on the fumes of Leonard DiCaprio's and Al Gore's carbon-spewing private jets when these innocent people were shot:

Kathryn Johnston

Isaac Singletary

And the most heartbreaking, outrageous police shooting story this wary and weary reporter has yet to read:

Aiyana Jones

(These are all off the top of my head.  In a halfway rational culture, they'd be household names as much as Michael Brown and the teenager in Florida.  But in a halfway rational culture, they'd all be alive.)

Comedian Chris Rock's "How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked By the Cops" video is making the rounds among many otherwise informed and reasonable people, but as the anything-but-exhaustive examples above more than confirm, anyone--from eight-year-old Aiyana Jones to ninety-one-year-old Kathryn Johnston, from "poor" Isaac Singletary to middle class veterans Jose Guerena and Erik Scott to upper-middle-class optometrist Sal Culosi to millionaire (in the early Nineties, when that meant something) Donald Scott to Alex Lifeson of the entertainment industry elite--can "get their ass kicked" (or worse) by cops for doing nothing wrong, now.

Those who rely on the mainstream media for their information will likely forget about all of this until the next high-profile case, but others may want to read Mark Steyn's work contrasting the bullet counts of U.S. authorities with those of other countries.  (At least one "conservative" is applying good old-fashioned "conservatism" skepticism of government excess to law enforcement, these days.)   Those others may want to pay close attention to the neglected aspects and facts that are evident to any who will focus their attention on them--and think about the cultural and philosophical trends that led to them.  They were already entrenched in this culture (in all of the areas that matter in the long run, anyway) when the twentieth century dawned, and it may be too late to change them (though I certainly hope to be proven wrong).

In the meantime, be careful out there.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Squandered Opportunity

This evening, I dined at a certain establishment on the Santa Monica Pier.
     Since this evening is in the twenty-first century, and the Santa Monica Pier is in the City of Santa Monica, the County of Los Angeles, and the State of California, its food is relatively expensive.  Although few people likely understand exactly why that is the case, I would have expected virtually everyone who would walk into that eating establishment to, at the very least, be prepared for "high" prices (and they certainly are higher than they could and should be).
     One young (but certainly grown) customer apparently was not.  He wanted to know why the prices were "so high" (and recited a verbal, itemized list of his expensive purchases).  He asked me--and no one else, as far as I could tell.  And I squandered another possible opportunity to impart some of my integrated understanding of this culture and its economy to those with less understanding.
     I am not sure why my fleeting interlocutor singled me out for his queries.  Perhaps he asked me for an introductory economic lesson because I was alone and he figured he'd be interrupting those with companions (which could very well have included everyone in the vicinity except me).  Perhaps I really do "look intelligent" (as a stand-up comedian once told me and the rest of the audience when a date and I attended a comedy club elsewhere in the county on a similar evening a few years ago).  I probably looked less intelligent tonight.  My desultory, windswept, and unkempt hair was in need of styling--or, at least, brushing--and I later noticed a ketchup stain on my Rush T-shirt (the Test for Echo Tour shirt with the photographs of the individual band members around age thirteen, for those interested).  For whatever reason, this young man asked me (and no one else) why the prices at this establishment were "so high."
     For a few reasons--including the whinging, puerile tone of voice of the questioner; my lack of preparation; and my suspicion that the individual was not really interested in an answer (and would not retain it)--I replied that I wasn't sure what to say.  I didn't particularly like the prices either, but people were willing to pay them.  I did not open my tote bag and extract my copy of The Capitalist Manifesto (I had just read Chapter 4).
     Unfortunately, that explanation is obviously not sufficient for someone who would ask such a question (and it was probably not sufficient for those bystanders, listening or not, who are ignorant of economics--probably all of them, none of whom was likely to be listening).  I do not think the gentlemen was interested in anything like an adequate answer, however succinct, and I do not think anyone listening would have benefitted from one either.  It is certainly not my responsibility to ameliorate this culture's educational defects; I am not a teacher.  But I do think there is a possibility that I squandered an opportunity to help this culture's victims, and I would like to salvage it here (in written, not verbal, communication, which is my metier).  I doubt that man or anyone else who witnessed my squandered opportunity will ever read this, but there is a possibility someone else will who may learn something from it.
     The reason prices are where they are has to do with laws of economics (specifically, the workings of the price system) in the context of a heavily taxed and regulated (some would say fascist) market economy.  The price system brings supply and demand into equilibrium.  A business is (and should be) interested in maximizing its own profits (just as every individual employee is interested in maximizing his own earnings, not helping out his employer by accepting a lower wage or salary than he could otherwise earn so that his employer has lower operational costs).  The demand for the food that particular establishment sells in its location and its immediate vicinity is such that it can charge prices at that level without lowering its profits.  One of the most basic aspects of economics is that a good's price falls when demand falls; concomitantly, its price rises when demand rises.  The business has determined that it can maximize its profits at those prices when considering the supply of similar food in the area, its customer's demand for it, and its production costs (which are certainly included in the prices).  And in 2014 in Santa Monica, California (where the government, which is a significant cause of the homeless problem, gives homeless people rooms and DVD players, despite the fact that Santa Monica is one of the safest and most comfortable places on Earth to be homeless), production costs include taxes and fees that are staggeringly high (though they are "high," to some extent, everywhere in the country, due to a century-plus assault on economic freedom--to name just one example, the federal government's inflation has increased the supply of money relative to gold and has lowered the value of everyone's dollars, which also leads to higher prices).  The establishment's customers (including me) valued the food it sold at those prices tonight more than they valued the money they (and I) were spending on it.  Those who cannot afford to pay the prices, or think the food is not worth the prices the business charges, will not pay for it.  (Some economists call this "subjective value"--I think personal value is a better term.)  If "high prices" are a problem, the problem is with the government policies that taxed and regulated the economy, increasing the cost of doing business and hiring people, destroying job and entrepreneurial opportunities, decreasing real wages, devaluing the dollar (lowering its "subjective value"), and raising the percentage of a product's prices that are taxes and fees (consequently, along with inflation, raising its total price).
     That is a condensed and limited explanation, and I doubt it would have enriched the understanding of those present since virtually no one is inured from the effects of an obscurantist culture and its educational system, which is run by those who are not interested in broad abstractions and the conceptual faculty as such and have worked (often sedulously) to stunt the reasoning abilities, attention span, and understanding of most of its charges (to varying degrees).  The overwhelming majority of those who run the school system are also interested in concealing the effects of government policies that drive down real wages and raise prices (not to mention employment and entrepreneurial opportunities).
     Since this brief attempt at imparting some understanding of economics, with this method, in this format, is more likely to succeed than anything I could have said on the pier this evening, perhaps it is propitious that an ignorant young man asked me about economics a few hours ago and I was unsatisfied with my response.