Archive for the ‘What’s Happening’ Category

Heinrich Himmler

April 17, 2015

Lately,  I  have been reading a biography of Nazi SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler and I am finding that reading about this man is a strange, somewhat unsettling experience. Himmler was a strange sort of man, even by the standards of the Nazi leadership who were generally an eccentric lot.  He was a mystic, a crank, and a fanatic on racial matters. He hated Christianity and tried to introduce a sort of Nordic neo-paganism in the SS. He was also the one individual who was most responsible for enacting Hitler’s Final Solution against the Jews and so oversaw the greatest crimes in history, yet he was not really an evil man by nature. This seems paradoxical yet it really isn’t. There were a great many men among the leaders of the Nazi Party who were corrupt, venial, cruel, or power mad. Himmler wasn’t one of them. He was not cruel by nature, though he could steel himself to appalling acts of cruelty in order to be tough. He did not seek to enrich himself through his leadership of the SS nor did he seem all that interested in pursuing power for its own sake. He didn’t even relish bloodshed, nor was he especially eager to kill millions of people.  How was it that he was responsible for the deaths of millions in the most cruel ways imaginable?

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The answer is simply that Heinrich Himmler was most concerned with doing what he believed was his duty to preserve the German people or volk. He sincerely believed the racist theories he propounded, that the Germans were the highest race and that the Jews were a threat to the Germans and the Slavs were an inferior race fit only for slave labor. He believed that it was necessary to exterminate millions of people for the greater good of the Aryan race. Such atrocities might be distasteful, yet they had to be done. Himmler was, in fact, greatly concerned that the acts of genocide his SS men were committing might coarsen and brutalize them and he warned them that they must do their duty despite any misgivings, but they must remain decent men. He envisaged his SS as a noble order of knights charged with an unpleasant, but utterly necessary duty. It was this impulse to serve his country, a virtue good in itself, that caused Himmler to commit his acts of greatest evil.

This illustrates a truism that the greatest crimes in history are not committed by bad or indecent people, but by decent people with indecent ideas in their heads, though I might hesitate to call Himmler decent. Still, he didn’t see himself as a a bad man.  Something similar might be said about his master, Adolf Hitler. Hitler was also not a decent person. Hitler really did believe the Jews to be a threat to Germany. If you discovered that a group of people were systematically undermining America, causing us to lose wars and controlling the American economy with the intention to enrich themselves and enslave every American, wouldn’t you think it necessary to exterminate such a dastardly group of people. At the very least, you might want them out of the country. Hitler’s desire to exterminate the Jews had a basic motive to save his people that might be considered good in itself.

If Hitler had only been interested in acquiring power, he would have done a good deal less damage to Germany and the world. He would still have been a vicious tyrant, but he wouldn’t have killed six millions Jews. He might have gone to war to expand German influence in Europe, but he would not have sought to enslave the Poles and the Russians. It was where Hitler sincerely believe that he was going good that he did his greatest evil. Perhaps something similar could be said about the other monsters who have destroyed the lives of millions in the countries they ruled. Joseph Stalin was a cruel, paranoid tyrant, but because he sincerely believed in Marxism he killed millions of Russian and Ukrainian peasants to force them into collective farms. Much the same might be said of rulers like Mao or Pol Pot.

Evil has no power in itself. It is always parasitic on good. It is not possible to commit great acts of evil unless one has the ability to commit great acts of good. Hitler had talents in oratory and practical politics that he could have used to become Germany’s greatest statesman. Himmler’s flair for bureaucratic organization could have uplift the lives of millions instead of destroying them. Lucifer was the greatest archangel until he became Satan. Evil is always more effective when it comes disguised as good. People will do terrible things in the name of their god or country or the general welfare that they wouldn’t even consider doing for selfish reasons. Perhaps this is the lesson that we must not forget. The trouble with the Nazis wasn’t that they were bad people, even though many were very bad indeed, but that even good people with bad ideas can become very, very bad.

There was a depressing number of neo-Nazi/anti-Semitic articles that turned up here. It is so easy to forget.

Kill Your Television

April 13, 2015

That is a radical cure for the nation’s ills proposed by Ace of Spades.

I feel so hopeless about the political situation I’ve begun looking for Hail Mary solutions.

When a problem seems impossible so solve, Donald Rumsfeld said,expand it.

We all know what the expanded version of the problem is: The problem is that we live in, as Andrew Breitbart called it, a “Matrix” of leftist assumptions and propaganda, all being delivered to us 24/7 by a wireless intravenous drip system called television.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I’ve been thinking it’s time to actually do something.

Just an idea, but I would like to start thinking seriously about delivering a truly grievous wound to the Political-Entertainment Complex.

I’m thinking about, firstly, stopping watching almost TV entirely and shedding cable stations. (Some cut the cable entirely.)

I guess that I have already taken the first step since I do not currently have cable and haven’t for some years. It has never seemed to be worth the expense since we never watched most of the channels that the cable companies bundled together. Cable or satellite television might have been more tempting if we had been able to choose and pay for just the channels we a truly wanted to watch, but somehow that was never an option.

I watched a lot of television when I was growing up. I must have spent three or four hours watching whatever came on in the afternoon after I got home from school. There was also Saturday morning cartoons, (do they still have that?), and  the prime time evening shows. I would also watch movies late into the night. When we got our first VCR, (I actually lived in the primitive times before television shows could be recorded.), I would watch movies and record favorite episodes of shows. All through high school and college, I was a TV addict. I did do other things. I have always liked to read. A lot of time television was the background noise while I was engaging in other activities.

I do not watch much television anymore. I do not like watching television and I detest even the use of TV as background noise. There are one or two shows I like to watch and I don’t mind watching something on DVD, but even then I tend to begrudge the time I could be spending doing something else, like reading. What is the cause of this change in lifestyle? Ace of Spades has the answer

One problem — for me; maybe your own mileage varies — is that TV makes it very easy to waste your life. It’s a kind of death-before-death. We dream seven hours a night; do we have to also sit before a dreaming box and watch other people’s dreams another three hours a day?

The other problem, of course, is that the Media is, as Andrew Breitbart always says, the Matrix, poisoning our minds with stupid, lazy, obese thinking, and they do so via the most effective means of transmitting stupidity, venality, and moral emptiness: The television.

And we will live in the Matrix until we destroy the Matrix.

So my idea is to start, as a movement, boycotting tv almost entirely, picking up, get this, new skills and hobbies and interests to fill the time we would otherwise be spending in front of the Radioactive Drug of the television screen.

It is not just that so much of what is on television is pernicious. There are a lot of shows that are just plain awful. I do not object to the excess of sex and violence so much as how mindless and stupid so many of them far, not to mention that the vast majority of writers, producers, and actor see life through a left wing lens and so the shows they make cannot help but reflect their biases. It is relatively easy to detect factual and logical errors and bias in written words. It is far more difficult to do so with a brain anesthetized by flicking images on a screen and a vapid story. But, the real problem that I have with television is that it is a passive activity. You do not have to contribute anything. You just have to sit and take it all in.

What made me decide to curtail my watching of television was that one evening I realized that I had spent the last three hours watching television and could not remember the details of a single program I had watched. I had a vision of myself sitting slack jawed and immobile for hours on end and decided that I was wasting my life. I did not simply stop watching television. In fact, I came to no such conscious decision. I just gradually began to develop a distaste for the experience of watching television. The fact that the programs have been steadily declining in quality has helped to increase this distaste. It is rather sad to watch older shows from the golden age of TV and realize how far this form of entertainment has declined.

Actually killing your television is extreme and it might seem to go to far to cut out television altogether, yet I am sure that everyone of us, except the Amish, could do with cutting back an hour or two. Just watch the shows you really, really want to watch and turn it off all the rest of the time. At the very least, don’t pay for it. You wouldn’t pay someone for the privilege of pumping toxic waste directly into your living room, why pay for cable or satellite TV?

Let Them Eat Cake

April 13, 2015

To start with, Marie Antoinette never actually said it. The phrase is actually found in Jean Jacque Rousseau‘s autobiography, Confessions where at one point he claims that “a great princess” upon learning that the peasants had no bread made the famous statement. Rousseau couldn’t have been speaking of Marie Antoinette, however, because his Confessions, although not published until after his death, was completed by 1769 when Marie Antoinette was still a girl living in Vienna. Which great princess, if any, Rousseau was actually referring to is unknown and since Rousseau adhered to the”fake but accurate” school of historiography so beloved by progressives it is possible that he simply made the whole thing up. In any case, the statement was actually out of character for Marie Antoinette. Despite the caricature of the callous, out of touch aristocrat created by the French radicals, Marie Antoinette was aware of the plight of the French poor and gave generously to charity. She was extravagant in her spending and could be somewhat clueless about what political advisers would call today the “optics” of the royal administration.

 

Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, the late...

She didn’t say it  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Even if she did say it, Marie Antoinette didn’t really say, “let them eat cake”. That is poor translation of the actual statement in French, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche“. La brioche is not really cake but a kind of  bread made with eggs and butter to give it a light texture and rich flavor. Brioche was more expensive than the plain flour and water bread that the French poor subsisted upon, so perhaps a more exact translation might be, “if they don’t have the plain bread, let them eat the fancy pastries”. Somehow, that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

 

Not cake

Not cake

 

 

 

 

 

The meaning behind the words let them eat brioche may not be quite what it is generally assumed to be. It generally is taken to refer to a ruler or government callously unconcerned about the poor, but the pre-revolutionary French monarchs were greatly concerned about the welfare of the French people over which they ruled. As I said, the French poor depended on cheap bread to survive and the French government tightly regulated the supply of grain and flour to ensure that they had a steady supply of bread. There were strict regulations and inspections to ensure that bakers did not adulterate their bread to save money on flour. The price of the cheapest bread was set by the government to be affordable to the poor. Since bakers might be tempted to produce only a limited supply of the cheapest bread, and concentrate on more expensive and profitable pastries like brioche, French law required that if a baker ran out of the cheap bread, he was obliged to sell his more expensive wares at the set price for cheap bread. So, if Marie Antoinette had said let them eat cake, what she meant was that if there was a shortage of the cheap bread that was the staple of the poor, they should the have more expensive bread made available to them.

 

This system worked well enough in times of plenty, provided that the government set the price of the cheapest bread at a level that ensured that bakers could make a profit. If there was a bad harvest, however, the price of grain and thus of flour would increase. Since the price of bread was set and could not be changed, bakers could find themselves selling bread at a loss. The bakers were supposed to be compensated for their losses when good harvests return,  but they had no way of knowing when that might be. Under the circumstances, they might well decide to not to bother making any bread at all, leading to worse food shortages.

 

Now, a free market advocate might suggest that the French government ought to have ended its price controls on grain and bread and let the free market determine the cost and supply of bread. Over the long term, the equilibrium between supply and demand would ensure a stable supply of bread at a reasonable price. In fact, that was exactly what was happening in the early years of the reign of Louis XVI. Influenced by the writings of the French school of economics known as the Physiocrats, who advocated free trade and free market economics, and by Louis’s  minister Turgot, the French government had been slowly dismantling the system of price controls and strict regulation of bread in the early 1770’s. Unfortunately, this was also a period of bad harvests which drove the price of grain and then bread to a level beyond the reach of many of the poor. Given time, the market would have righted itself but that was small comfort to the poor who found themselves unable to feed their families. Rioting broke out all over France in 1775, leading to what has been called the Flour War, a sort of pre-revolution. At first the rioters attacked grain merchants who they suspected of hoarding grain, but it wasn’t long before they were fighting with Royal officials. Both the traditional view of the King as protector of his subjects and the free market economics endorsed by Turgot were discredited in the chaos and Turgot was obliged to resign. King Louis XVI  restored the price controls on bread and organized relief for the areas most afflicted by hunger. By the summer of 1775 the Flour War was over, but in hindsight this the beginning of the end of the French ancien régime.

 

Let them eat cake, then, is not really so much the rallying cry of an uncaring and callous elite as it is for a regime that enacts well-intentioned reforms to help everyone but because the unintended consequences of such reforms are not carefully considered they end up causing more harm than good. This is a lesson many contemporary Louis XVIs and Marie Antoinettes  would do well to learn.

 

 

 

Pigs Are Flying

April 11, 2015

Look out the window and check if there are any pigs flying by, because for once I agree with the loons at Watchdog.net, not that I am about to sign any petition of theirs.

Dear David Hoffman,

There are now several states where you can’t receive certain welfare benefits without firstpassing a drug test.The rhetoric fueling these new laws demonizes poor people by portraying them as drug addicts seeking to take advantage of the system.

But new research shows that welfare applicants fail drug tests at rates lower than the national average. In Tennessee, for example, only u37 out of 16,000 applicants failed drug tests. That’s less than one percent, while the national drug use rate is 9.4 percent.

States have collectively spent nearly $1 million––and are set to spend millions more––on pointless attempts to prevent drug users from receiving public support.

So why are legislators in twelve other states now trying to pass similar laws?

Tell state legislators not to require drug testing for welfare applicants!

PETITION TO STATE LEGISLATORS IN CONNECTICUT, HAWAII, IOWA, KENTUCKY, MINNESOTA, MISSISSIPPI, MONTANA, NEW YORK, OREGON, SOUTH CAROLINA, TEXAS, AND WEST VIRGINIA: Drug testing welfare applicants does nothing more than waste taxpayer money and demonize the poor! Don’t vote for legislation that would mandate drug testing for welfare applicants or recipients!

Click here to sign — it just takes a second.

Thanks,
— The folks at Watchdog.net

I agree that testing welfare applicants for drug use is mostly a waste of money, no matter how many such applicants are actually abusing drugs. If the intent is to save money, it is not clear that denying applicants benefits if they fail a drug test will save enough to make large scale testing worthwhile. Unless those who are discovered to be drug abusers are directed into some sort of drug rehab program, it is not likely that denying them benefits will help them all that much.

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I am not sure that the motivation behind the push to require drug testing for welfare applicants is really a desire to demonize or punish the poor. That idea seems to be based on a caricature of conservatives as misers who hate the poor. There are some conservatives who do indeed believe that people are poor because of their own personal failures, but I think that most conservatives genuinely want to help the poor as much as liberals profess to. Where conservatives and liberals disagree is, for the most part, on how best to help the poor.

Most liberals seem to believe that people are poor because our economic and social system makes them poor. The whole system is designed to benefit the 1% at the expense of the 99% and the super rich place barriers to prevent the poor from improving their lot. For minorities there is the added burden of racism or sexism or some other kind of ism that makes people helpless victims who need government action to get ahead. There is a lot of truth to this concept. If you are born poor, you will not have many of the same opportunities to get ahead as someone born into a wealthy family. You may not be able to get as good an education or take advantage of the same connections as someone else might. Liberals believe that this is unfair and unequal and the government should be involved in making sure everyone has the same sorts of opportunities.

The problem with this viewpoint is that it is simply not possible to give everyone the exact same opportunities. Some people are going to be luckier than others. A person born with a physical or mental disability is going to be disadvantaged as is someone born to abusive or irresponsible parents. People also have different skills and personality traits. A person inclined to be lazy or to make foolish choices is not going to have the same chance to get ahead as someone more industrious or shrewd. And then, how much government intervention do we really want? Does anyone really want the sort of totalitarian government that might be necessary to ensure that no one is left out.

Conservatives, for their part, tend to emphasize the role of personal choices in determining success or failure. If one chooses not to make the best of whatever opportunities come his way, engages in drug abuse, has children out of wedlock or before being able to afford them, than one is likely to remain poor, especially if one has the attitude that success is impossible because the whole system is stacked against him. Conservatives, then, tend to believe that the best way to help the poor is to help them to help themselves. They believe that the policies that liberals espouse have the effect of shielding people from the consequences of their own bad decisions and thus prevent them from learning the lessons that might help them to make better decisions. Conservatives do recognize that circumstances give some people advantages over others, but like to point out that many individuals succeed in spite of disadvantageous beginnings and believe that the best thing for government to do is not to hold such individuals back in an effort to make everyone achieve equal outcomes. So, both liberals and conservatives can accuse the other side of lacking compassion with good reason, as far as they are concerned.

I think, then, that the rationale  for requiring welfare applicants to take drug tests is that conservatives are reluctant to enable bad behavior by subsidizing it through government payments or prefer not to help people who show no signs of wanting to help themselves.

Whatever the reasons for  requiring drug tests for welfare recipients, whether good or bad, the simple fact is that such requirements do not seem to be worth the cost. As this is the case, the drug tests make for bad policy it should be discontinued.

Rand Paul for President

April 8, 2015

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has officially announced the opening of his campaign to be the next President of the United States. As CNN reports,

For Rand Paul, it’s all led to this moment.

Since riding the tea party wave into the Senate in 2010, Paul has carefully built a brand of mainstream libertarianism — dogged advocacy of civil liberties combined with an anti-interventionist foreign policy and general support for family values — that he bets will create a coalition of younger voters and traditional Republicans to usher him into the White House.

The test of that theory began Tuesday when the Kentucky senator made official what has been clear for years: He’s running for president.

“Today I announce with God’s help, with the help of liberty lovers everywhere, that I’m putting myself forward as a candidate for president of the United States of America,” Paul said at a rally in Louisville.

Paul immediately hit the campaign trail for a four-day swing through New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada — the states that traditionally vote first in the primaries and caucuses.

In his speech, he called for reforming Washington by pushing for term limits and a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. He argued that both parties are to blame for the rising debt, saying it doubled under a Republican administration and tripled under Obama.

“Government should be restrained and freedom should be maximized,” he said.

In general, I like Rand Paul. He seems to be more clever than most of the  leading Republicans and he is willing to  move beyond the comfort zone of the GOP and reach out to people who haven’t generally been very responsive to overtures from Republicans and he is willing to take unorthodox positions. His mainstream libertarianism is likely to be appealing to the large number of Americans who simply want the government to leave them alone without seeming overly dogmatic or extreme. He seems to be having a somewhat antagonistic relationship with the mainstream media, in that he is not allowing the reporters who have interviewed him to corner him or put words in his mouth. Perhaps Rand Paul understand, as few Republican politicians seem to, that the media is the enemy and will never give any Republican candidate a fair chance. All in all, Rand Paul seems to be an excellent candidate for president.

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I have some reservations, though. Paul doesn’t have much experience in politics, just one term as the junior Senator from Kentucky. The last time we elected a one-term junior Senator, it didn’t work out too well. A more serious objection to a Rand Paul candidacy is the fact that his father, Ron Paul, is a lunatic and I am afraid that the nut doesn’t far fall from the oak tree. My most serious concern with Ron Paul is his extreme isolationism. There are a lot of people, including Rand Paul, who have been labeled as isolationist because they have expressed the position that the United States need not get involved in every conflict in the world and should exercise more discretion in intervening in foreign affairs, particularly in matters that do not affect our interests. This is a perfectly reasonable position to take. Ron Paul, however, seems to be of the opinion that the United States should not be involved in foreign affairs at all. We should mind our own business and in return the world will leave us alone. This is a dangerously naive position to take. For one thing, America is simply too big and powerful to mind its own business. Everything we do, even not doing anything, affects everyone in the world. A small country like Switzerland can keep to itself. The US does not have that option. Also, our present period of relative peace and prosperity depends very much on American leadership and power. If America falters, things could get very bad, very quickly. President Obama’s reluctance to assert American leadership has already caused much vexation among our allies and in the world generally. A truly isolationist administration would be a disaster.

Rand Paul seems to be more reasonable about foreign policy than his father and it may be that he will find a middle ground between extreme isolationism and excessive interventionism. It may also be that his father’s extreme positions will prevent his election or even nomination as the Republican candidate. It remains to be seen. The election of 2016 is still a long way off and it is probably premature to make any predictions or make any decisions about the candidates.

Some Thoughts About the Recent Controversy in Indiana

April 6, 2015

There has already been a lot written about the controversy engendered by the recent passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act here in Indiana and I don’t suppose I have much to say that hasn’t already been said. I am sorry to see my state become a front in the never ending Cultural War and I especially resent the slanders that the progressives have made about Indiana’s bigotry and backwardness. Still the experience has been edifying since the people on the left have once again demonstrated how mendacious, intolerant, ignorant, bullying, and just plain mean they are. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to their antics, but maybe those who have imagined that they could get by by minding their own business will learn better. There are a few random observations I would like to make about the whole situation. Maybe I am not the only person who has noticed these things.

I wonder if the people who have been comparing the RFRA to the Jim Crow laws of the Old South are really aware that Jim Crow did not permit racist business owners to discriminate against Blacks, they required them to discriminate regardless of what they might want. Now, of course, most White businessmen in the Old South were fairly racist and didn’t have much of a problem with segregation, but they didn’t necessarily want to discriminate against Blacks if such discrimination cost them. Owners of public transportation such as railroads didn’t particularly want the added cost of separate accommodations for Whites and Blacks. Owners of hotels and rental property found it burdensome to maintain separate facilities for Blacks and Whites.

What do you suppose would have happened if a business owner decided that due to his religious convictions it was wrong to discriminate against Blacks? Aside from from facing the full force of the law which required discrimination, it is likely that he would have lost most of his White customers. They would have boycotted him. Perhaps there would have been a campaign of intimidation led by the Ku Klux Klan to force him to comply with the local mores or close his business. Now, which side in this debate is using boycotts, intimidation, and ultimately the law to force compliance?

Am I the only one who finds the whole scenario of the gay couple walking into a bakery, florist, or wedding planner’s office, etc, asking them to provide for their “wedding” only to be refused on religious grounds and then suing the business into compliance just a little suspicious? I suspect that the majority of such businesses would have no scruples about taking their money and performing any desired service. Many wouldn’t want to be involved in any controversy. How is it then, that we keep seeing religious business owners getting into trouble? Are Christian owned businesses deliberately being targeted?  What would be the purpose of such a campaign, to provide object lessons for anyone who might not want to go along with the latest PC rules? Should I be fitted for a tin foil hat?

I would like to propose a thought experiment. Let us say there is a preacher, who we will call “Brother Bob”, who has routinely preached against homosexuality in a not very nice way. In fact, let’s say he was only a step above the Westburo Baptist Church. Now, suppose the congregation of Brother Bob’s church wanted to honor him for twenty years of service by throwing a party for him. To make the arrangements for this celebration, they go to a local caterer which happens to be owned by gay man named Jim, who finds Brother Bob’s preaching to be deeply offensive and hurtful. Should Jim be required to cater a party in Brother Bob’s honor even though it will make him feel uncomfortable?

I think that the majority of the tolerant progressives who have opposed the RFRA would say that Jim should not be forced to served Brother Bob since Brother Bob is a bigot and a hater and thus has no rights. They probably wouldn’t state their position in precisely those words, but that would be their position. The small minority who are actually able to think these things through and have some notion of adopting a consistent ideology might say that Jim should not be able to discriminate against Brother Bob regardless of his personal feelings. But why should Jim be forced to provide a service he doesn’t want to? Why should a baker be forced to bake a cake for a gay “wedding” if he doesn’t want to? Why is it so controversial to just let people mind their own business and live and let live?

The people opposed to laws like the RFRA say that they are not, in any way, opposed to religious freedom, just to bigotry. They graciously allow everyone to have their own opinion about religion provided that opinion is kept privately in the home or the church. Any attempt to live by the principles of one’s religion is only tolerated so long as the actions are in accord with progressive values. If the actions are not in accord with their values then they are bigoted and should not be permitted. Isn’t this a little like the old Soviet constitution which granted all sorts of civil rights to Soviet citizens but only so long as the use of those rights were in accord with socialism?

I wonder where all of this is going. I have to say that the hatred and disinformation directed at my state and some of the people who have only given honest answers to reporters is a little discouraging. I really don’t want to live in a country where I have to watch what I say for fear of losing my livelihood, or worse.

Mandatory Voting

March 29, 2015

Not too long ago, President Barack Obama proposed that voting be made mandatory. I cannot see why making people who are disengaged and uninformed about politics vote would lead to any improvement in American politics. I suspect that Mr. Obama is counting on  those disengaged and uninformed people to deliver more votes to the Democrats and more support for the sort of policies he supports. In fact, if this is his intention, he may be disappointed. As this article in the Washington Post suggests,universal compulsory voting may not make much of a difference in the balance of power between the parties.

But perhaps I am being too cynical about Mr. Obama’s motives. Mandatory voting would lead to increased voter turnout which surely would be good for democracy, wouldn’t it. Low voter turnout in the United States has been something of a scandal in recent decades. Voter turnout has generally been around 60% in Presidential elections and 40% in midterm elections. This low turnout seems to indicate a loss of faith in the political process among Americans. If we had a higher voter turnout, our democracy would be more robust, right?

I am not so sure about any of this. Personally, I believe that the problem with American politics is not that too few people are voting, but too many. That is to say, too many of the people who do go out and vote are among the disengaged and uninformed. I think our politics would be improved by putting limits on the number of people eligible to vote.

To start with, I think we really need to raise the voting age to thirty. More than twenty-five centuries ago Aristotle argued that young men should not be involved in politics because they lack experience and are carried away by their passions. I imagine that Aristotle would think we were insane to allow men as young as eighteen, not to mention women of any age, to vote in national elections. Very few people under the age of thirty, and all too many over that age, have the experience and maturity necessary to make wise decisions about their country’s future. Young people are often the most enthusiastic supporters of dictators and demagogues.

There is the argument that if one is old enough to fight for their country, they are old enough to vote. I don’t think that is a particularly good argument. The skills and experiences necessary to serve in the military are not the same as those necessary to make responsible decisions about the country, and what of the great majority of young people who do not serve their country? Still, it might be fairly argued that young people who have served in the military are likely to be more mature and responsible then their peers and perhaps the right to vote should be extended to veterans of any age.

Which brings us to the idea proposed by Robert Heinlein in his science fiction book Starship Troopers; that only veterans be permitted to vote and hold office. This idea has often been criticized as Fascist or militaristic, which only demonstrates the ignorance of the critics. In the world Heinlein describes everybody is eligible for government service in some capacity, it need not be strictly military, and it is matched with the applicant’s abilities. The service is not a sinecure, real and demanding work is involved, even it if only amounts to peeling potatoes in KP, and not many complete their term. The idea is that only those who have demonstrated a willingness to place the needs of the community above their own desires should have the right to vote. Non-veterans cannot vote but have all the rights that any citizen in a twentieth century democracy would have, and Heinlein hints that the Federation government is somewhat more libertarian than our democratic governments since the voters aren’t continually voting benefits for themselves.

I think this idea has some merit, although I can see some flaws.  There probably would be a more informed and engaged electorate and if voting were seen as a right to be earned through service rather than just something handed out to anyone who reaches a certain age, it would be more valued and taken more seriously. On the other hand. if the franchise wee restricted to a small minority, it is difficult to see why the people with the vote wouldn’t be tempted to vote themselves all kinds of privileges at the expense of non-voters.

Not too long ago one of my children was going through the process of getting her driver’s license. It occurred to me that we put effort into teaching prospective drivers the various traffic regulations and require them to take tests to show that they can operate a motor vehicle before granting them a license to drive. This is held to be necessary and good because of the dangers to the driver and others if the driver lacks the ability to drive safely. Yet, he give almost no preparation and do not test the ability of a prospective voter to make important choices about the future of the country. Surely putting the future of the nation in the hands of incompetent and unprepared voters is a far more serious matter than the relatively few people affected by an incompetent and unprepared driver. We ought to have voter ed classes in every high school which should cover the basics of what used to be called civics. When a voter reaches the voting age, he should be required to take a test in order to receive a voter’s license which should be renewed at regular intervals, just like a driver’s license. If an applicant fails the test or if the license is not renewed, he may not vote in the next election, but he can take the test again after the election.  Again, this will make voting something to strive for, rather than something simply handed out and those people who do apply for a license and pass the test will take their duty as a voter more seriously. Having renewable voter’s licenses provided at no cost to the successful applicant will also help to cut down on voter fraud.

But, maybe instead of limiting the number of people eligible to vote, we should weigh the vote in favor of the more responsible elements of society. In his short story, “The Curious Republic of Gondour“, Mark Twain explained that the constitution of the Republic gives every citizen the inalienable right to a vote. Unfortunately this meant that the scum of the Republic had the same amount of political influence as the intelligent and successful, which was leading to the ruin of the country. The leaders of Gondour decided that they could not take away any citizen’s vote, but there was no reason why everyone should have just one vote. They permitted people to have additional votes based on wealth and education. The votes based on education were more prestigious than the ones based on wealth because a voter could lose money but not education. This might not be a bad idea and I think it could be arranged without a constitutional amendment.

Of course, none of these schemes are likely to be put into effect or seriously considered. We could at least try to do a better job educating voters about our system of government and to approach the issues with reasoned consideration, but I am afraid our political leaders prefer dumb and excited voters. Part of what the TEA Party has been doing has been to educate people about the constitution and look at all the hostility that engendered.

 

 

History Denial

March 24, 2015

A little while ago there was a minor controversy when former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani stated that he did not believe that President Barack Obama loves this country. I do not know the president personally and I cannot tell whether he loves America or not. Perhaps he does, in his own way. I think that it would be fair, however, to state that the good people at Watchdog.net do not love America. How could they, when they view American history as nothing more than a sordid tale of oppression and genocide? That is what they want our children to learn in schools and they deeply resent any attempt to set the record straight about this country.

Dear David Hoffman,

A bill in the Florida Senate would make a right-wing revisionist historical documentary required viewing for the state’s 8th and 11th graders.

“America: Imagine The World Without Her” argues that Native American genocide didn’t happen, and that the descendents of slaves are better off as a consequence of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The film claims that America’s indigenous population declined due to disease, not genocide. Nowhere does the film mention the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the incarceration of Native children in religious boarding schools, or the forced sterilization of Native women.

The documentary also claims that, because lots of countries throughout history have had some form of slavery, America’s brutal slave economy wasn’t that big of a deal.

Tell Florida Senators that racist, revisionist history has no place in public schools!

PETITION TO FLORIDA SENATORS: The film mandated by SB 96 has no academic merit and instead offers an inaccurate, racist account of American history. Vote down SB 96!

Click here to sign — it just takes a second.

Thanks,
— The folks at Watchdog.net

The documentary in question is Dinesh D’Souza’s America: Imagine the World without Her. I have never seen the documentary but I do not believe that it is a whitewash of American history. Rather, it seems to argue that despite all of its flaws, the United States of America has generally been a force for good and justice in the world; a concept truly hateful to the left. I believe that Dinesh D’Souza also rebuts the leftwing distortions and lies which are all too often taught in our public schools. As it happens,what the people at watchdog.net consider to be racist, inaccurate, revisionist history  is actually the truth, not that truth has ever mattered very much to people on the left.

First, the great majority of the Native Americans who died during and after the European conquest did indeed die of disease. The European conquest of the New World would not have been possible if large numbers of Indians had not died of the diseases the Europeans brought to the Americas. We read of conquistadors like Cortes and Pizarro conquering empires of millions of inhabitants with only a few hundred Spaniards and attribute this to the superior technology of the the Europeans. The conquistadors did have guns and horses, but they would have been quickly crushed by the Aztecs and Incas, had not their empires been fatally weakened by epidemics and internal dissent. The Spanish conquerors could generally count on the tribes subjugated by the Aztecs and Incas to provide them with help to overthrow their masters. It seldom occurred to the people of Mexico and Peru that they were simply exchanging one master for another. In North America, the English settlers at Jamestown and Plymouth Rock would not have survived had not the natives in the region obligingly died of disease, leaving cleared fields for the settlers to take over.

It was never actually the policy of any of the colonizing  powers to exterminate the Native Americans. Something close to 90% of the Native population of Spanish America died in the century following the Spanish conquest. Mistreatment by the conquerors no doubt accounted for much of this loss of population, yet the Spanish were surely not foolish enough to want to kill off their labor force. The English and later the Americans were not interested in enslaving the Indians but in taking over their land for settlement. Yet, while there were a good many Americans who believed that the only good Indian was a dead Indian, this was not an official policy of the United States government. I do not wish to minimize the injustices and suffering we have inflicted on the Native Americans, but this was not a deliberate attempt at genocide as the Nazi destruction of European Jewry or the Soviet starvation of the Ukrainians were. Neither were the Indians helpless victims. They fought as well as they could for their land and way of life and might have succeeded in fending off the European invaders if their numbers had not been decimated or if they had managed to unite in a federation against their common enemy.

Next, if the people at Watchdog.net have any questions about whether the descendants of the Africans brought to America as slaves are better off, they should take an extended tour of Africa. The trans-Atlantic slave trade was truly one of the greatest crimes against humanity on record, yet the African-American of today has good reason to be thankful for the sufferings of his ancestors. Historically, the descendants of slaves have been freer and have enjoyed a standard of living far higher, not only than those of their brothers who were left behind in Africa, but also of the lower classes in almost every part of the world, even under segregation and Jim Crow. I do not wish to justify either slavery or the discrimination faced by African Americans. The treatment of Black Americans has all too often been terribly unjust. I do want to put matters in perspective. Even in a country as racist as the United States has been, many Blacks were better off than peasants in China, India, or even parts of Europe.

I do not, and I am sure that Mr. D’Souza does not, intend to present a false, whitewashed view of American history. I freely acknowledge that there have been times that we have not lived up to our high ideals. Nevertheless, I still believe that the United States of America is the greatest country in the world, not least because we do acknowledge and try to correct our mistakes. I believe that the Western civilization, of which America is a part, is the highest and noblest civilization on this planet. Slavery has been a part of the human experience since the beginning of history. It is only in the West that anyone challenged the existence of slavery. No one in Africa or Asia spoke out against it. Genocide and wars of aggression have existed for centuries.  America and the West have done terrible crimes, but at least we have come to realize that they were crimes and have sought to put an end to them.

It is too bad that the people on the left feel the need to deny historical facts to justify their pathological hatred of their own country. There is nothing we can do about it, except try to keep them away from our children.

Goggle Gatekeeper

March 20, 2015

The internet is truly a wonderful invention, for which Al Gore doesn’t get nearly enough credit for creating. Thanks to the internet anyone can research any topic and acquire information in a matter of minutes that would have taken hours or even days before, if at all.  Best of all, one can bypass the traditional gatekeepers of information such as the mainstream media. There is the problem of the quality of the information gathered by search engines such as Google. Since the results are generally ranked by popularity, websites promoting crazy conspiracy theories and medical quackery get the same attention as sober scientific journals. It requires a certain amount of judgement to sift through the results of any web search to get accurate information.

According to some reports, Google is getting ready to do the sifting for us. The researchers at Google are trying to develop a search algorithm that will rank pages according to facts in their database. Webpages will get a truth score based on how closely the claims in that page correspond to the facts in Google’s database. They will then be ranked according to how truthful or accurate they are, at least according to Google.

It should not come as much of a surprise that progressives are gleeful about the possibility of putting a new gatekeeper over the Internet. Reality and truth have a liberal bias, as they say, and fact-checking by the right sort of people can make sure people with ideas contrary to liberal truths are able able to spread their misinformation. I read an article in Salon that is positively ecstatic about putting “anti-science advocates” in their place.

Google could launch an effort to keep trolls and bad information at bay, with a program that would rank websites according to veracity, and sort results according to those rankings. Currently, the search engine ranks pages according to popularity, which means that pages containing unsubstantiated celebrity gossip or conspiracy theories, for example, show up very high.

Google has recently implemented a kind of Knowledge-Based Truth score lite with its medical search results. Now, doctors and real medical experts vet search results about health conditions, meaning anti-vaxx propaganda will not appear in the top results for a “measles” search, for instance.

Even though the former program is just in the research stage, some anti-science advocates are upset about the potential development, likely because their websites will become buried under content that is, well, true.

“I worry about this issue greatly,” said Anthony Watts, founder of climate denying website “Watts Up With That,” in an interview with FoxNews.com. “My site gets a significant portion of its daily traffic from Google… It is a very slippery and dangerous slope because there’s no arguing with a machine.”

One need not have read John Stuart Mill to understand why this is a bad idea, though it might help. You only need to ask a simple question, what if Anthony Watts is right?What if global warming is not a real threat and measures to prevent it will only waste billions of dollars and make a lot of people poorer? Well, we wouldn’t know until too late because Google might place his blog at the bottom of the rankings because they believe him to be wrong. A gatekeeper in charge of sifting good information from bad will not eliminate the problem of bad information on the Internet. It will only ensure that bad information preferred by the gatekeeper will go unchallenged. This idea that the common people cannot decide for themselves what is correct and incorrect has been the pretext for autocrats, despots, and theocrats, throughout history to justify controlling the information possessed by the common people by censorship, propaganda, or other methods. The despots and autocrats have never liked to be shown that they were wrong and their contemporary admirers are no better. If Google ever manages to make this truth ranking system to work, it will inevitably reflect what the designers of the new search algorithm believe to be the truth whether right or wrong. Truths that they do not like, perhaps like global warming is a fraud, will be buried.

Messy as it is, we must have faith that in the free marketplace of ideas the truth will ultimately prevail over falsehood. There is no other way to get at the truth except by allowing all sides to have their say. I predict that if Google adopts this new search method, Google will be a great deal less useful as a search engine and perhaps people will turn elsewhere to find things on the Internet.

Meccania: The Super-State

March 16, 2015

Before George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel of life in the totalitarian country of Oceania, there was a similar book written by, Owen Gregory titled Meccania the Super-State published in 1918. Gregory, like Orwell, was concerned about the growth of authoritarian governments in Europe with the consequent loss of freedom during and after the First World War. While Orwell took the contemporary rule of Stalin as his model for Big Brother’s tyranny, Gregory projected the authoritarianism and militarism of Prussia and Germany to what he saw as a logical extreme. By doing, Gregory was able to predict, with astonishing accuracy, many of the features of the twentieth century totalitarian state, which Orwell could observe.

Meccania

Meccania is set in the year 1970 and is a first person account of the visit of a Chinese man, Ming Yuen-hway, to Meccania, a thinly disguised Germany. After visiting Luniland (Britain) and Francaria (France), Ming decides to make a trip to Meccania to see if the stories about the country are true. His difficulties in getting into Meccania and travelling about the country would be familiar to anyone who has tried to visit Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. It is not easy to arrange to get into Meccania and once inside, Ming is accompanied by conductors. He is not permitted to speak to Meccanians without permission and must follow a prearranged tour. He learns that he will not be permitted to take his diary out of the country, especially since much of it is written in Chinese.

In Meccania, Ming discovers a country in which everything and everyone are precisely and efficiently organized. The people are divided into seven classes, from unskilled labor, to skilled labor, artisans, professionals, businessmen, to the military and noble classes at the top. No one is free in Meccania. Everyone eats the food, wears the clothing, works the job, and even attends plays and concerts prescribed for him by the state. There is no private life; the state even requires its subjects, and foreign visitors like Ming, to fill out diaries account for their location and activities throughout the day. No one reads for enjoyment. Every book and children’s toy is educational.

This system began to be put into place by the great Prince Bludiron (Bismark) in an attempt to counter the influence of Spotts (Marx) among the working class. After Meccania’s defeat in World War I, it appeared that all of Bludiron’s work would be dismantled and Meccania would become democratic. Fortunately, Prince Mechow came into power and refined and extended Bludiron’s policies until Meccania became the Superstate. The Meccanians profess to believe that this system is superior to all others and look forward to the day when the whole world is ruled by a superstate.

Owen Gregory displayed a good deal of prescience in this book, at least in so far as the way in which totalitarian states attempt to impress foreigners. There is much that Ming is not allowed to see, but he is a perceptive observer and is able to deduce much that the Meccanians don’t want him to know. Gregory’s predictions are not perfect, however, though when he errs it is usually in underestimating the viciousness of such regimes. He wrote before the Holocaust or the Gulag, so perhaps that is expected. Dissidents in Meccania are not shot or sent to concentration camps. Instead, Meccanian psychiatrists claim to have discovered a mental illness, “chronic tendency to dissent”. Dissenters are placed into mental hospitals until they recover (recant). This is, in itself a remarkable forecast of Soviet psychiatric methods, but Gregory is apparently unable to imagine that a superstate dedicated to efficiency would be so irrational as to seek to eliminate sections of its own population for political reasons.
This Meccanian efficiency is Gregory’s greatest blind spot. He, through Ming, laments the loss of freedom of the Meccanian people and fears that other states might be forced to adopt Meccanian methods in order to compete with Meccania’s military and economic power. If the adoption of a totalitarian superstate really resulted in an increase of industrial and military efficiency, such that the standard of living of even the poorest was improved, then it might be worth the bargain. As it is, the results of command economies, such as the Soviet Union show that a superstate would be anything but efficient. No planners, however sophisticated can easily anticipate the needs of a modern economy and no citizen, however docile, will work as hard doing what the state requires as he would doing what he wants.

Overall, Meccania is a surprisingly enjoyable book to read, better than most dystopias, including 1984. It is a more pleasant book, since the main character is a visitor to the dystopian state not a subject trapped in it. It might is still a timely warning. Communism, Fascism, and other totalitarian systems may have been discredited, except on American college campuses, but the desire to create a super state, for our own good, is still very much in evidence among the do-gooders, the nanny statists, the Bloombergs, and they still bear watching.


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