Stand Up for Rights, but Also for Decency

Ok, I may piss some people off here, but here goes.

First let me say that it is, and should be, illegal to kill people for exercising free speech. Or to throw them in jail. Or to fine them. That’s pretty much what freedom of speech is. Any time you are tempted to say I’m saying something different than this, please refer back to this and revisit your assessment.  Remember that one of the marks of intelligence is the ability to hold two conflicting concepts in your mind without your head exploding.

Catholic League’s Bill Donohue wrote a piece titled “Muslims are right to be angry” and in it suggested that Charlie Hebro editor Stephane Charbonnier “didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death”.

First (and here’s where people will get pissed at me) … he’s right. Wherever else I may disagree with Donohue, he’s right on this. I saw some of the cartoons. Decent people shouldn’t have published several of those. They were at least as bad “P*ss Christ”.  As much as I agree that Islam is the common denominator in the overwhelming majority of world terrorism and there is probably a cause-effect relationship here – there are nonetheless at least tens of millions of decent people on the planet who profess to be Muslims whether the Islamist hardliners agree or not.

Second, (Donohue is wrong on this) I have no doubt that Stephane Charbonnier, at the moment of his death, understood exactly the role he played in his own tragic death.

Did it take balls to publish the cartoons? Absolutely. Taking balls to do it doesn’t mean it’s cool, though.  Should he have been killed for it? Absolutely not.

Did he do anything wrong?

Well if by wrong you mean “against the law”, obviously — no. But what Donohue was saying is actually something we need to talk about more in this country in the wider context of what are our cultural standards (which are not the same as legal standards). In other words, was there a violation of standards of decency for which we can legitimately criticize them? Sure there are. Though maybe we should wait until the bodies are cold, at least.

There are things that are wrong that are not against the law.  That is a necessary fact in a free society.  That’s because we don’t all agree on everything that is right or wrong.  But we do form a general consensus on some things, and we make laws accordingly, presumably subject to Constitutional constraints.

Charlie Hebro has a proud reputation for pretty much eschewing any decency at all toward any group. To the extent that they don’t appear to avoid offending any one group, in a backhanded way, is certainly more commendable than playing favorites. But I wouldn’t hold the magazine up as any example of how I want people to view Western Civilization. They certainly don’t represent me or my views, and if I don’t lodge my criticism (also my free speech right, and perhaps duty in cases like this), I’m saying “I’m cool with it”. I’m not.  I find that general brand of satire low and disgusting.

Should he have avoided publishing the more offensive cartoons in order to avoid being killed?  No.  He should have avoided it because it was in extremely poor taste.

As I recall, the point of publishing cartoons depicting Allah was in response to the Sharia prohibition against representing Allah in any graphic form. Defiance of this demand would have been served by any graphic depicting Allah from sitting there being quiet to wielding a sword or even depicting him engaging in something consistent with Islam but inconsistent with well accepted standards of Western civilization.

Several of the cartoons went well beyond any of this.

Now … had the magazine stuck to the less outrageous cartoons, would the editors and cartoonists be alive today? Maybe, maybe not. But regardless, if you really wanted to underscore how ridiculous that particular Islamic law/belief is – it would have done a much better job.

So a TV host who I like and respect, but who I think ultimately got Donohue wrong — asked Donohue, “where do you draw the line”?

The answer depends on the context. Since everyone’s lines are somewhat different, we don’t draw a legal line. If we do draw a legal line, it establishes a precedent by which people can use the coercive force of government to suppress ideas it doesn’t like by declaring them obscene.

On the other hand, Donohue’s counterpoint was missed by my TV host friend — and he didn’t seem to be able to articulate it quite well enough to cut through the fog of duality (what should be allowed by government and what we think decent people should or shouldn’t do). They are two different things. It’s really the whole point of the entire First Amendment.

The answer, if you’re looking for one rooted in Christianity, is The Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

“Well they have no respect for our sensibilities!”

That’s not a valid excuse to abandon our standards of decency. If you don’t want P*ss Christ, don’t do An*al Allah. It’s not edgy or cool (I’m sure that Charlie Hebro had no issues with P*ss Christ, either, but if you did, you should also have a problem with An*l Allah). Now of course we defend your RIGHT to publish what you want to – which means we won’t use the coercive force of government to admonish you for it. But it doesn’t put you above criticism from the rest of us, and we are perfectly free to apply whatever (legal) social pressure we like to marginalize you if we don’t like it.

No, you should not be legally required to self-censor. Yes, you should self-censor according to your standards of decency, and you should be prepared to take your verbal and social lumps if they aren’t up to the standards of your community.

Were Christians right to be outraged over P*ss Christ? Absolutely. Are Muslims right to be outraged over An*l Allah? Of course. And for the same reasons.

Would Christians be justified in killing over it? No. Are Muslims justified in killing over it? No there, as well.

That being said, it is perfectly legitimate to criticize religions. Well-known atheist Richard Dawkins put it very succinctly a couple of days ago:

“No, all religions are NOT equally violent. Some have never been violent, some gave it up centuries ago. One religion conspicuously didn’t.”

That’s the way to do it. An*l Allah is not. As my wife would say, it’s rude, crude, and socially unacceptable.

And much as I’m not generally a fan of Bill Maher, we do agree on this:

“Condemning attack is not enuf: unless U strongly endorse the right of anyone to make fun of any religion/prophet, U r not a moderate Muslim”

But endorsing your right to do something and criticizing what you did are not mutually exclusive.

Socialism vs Christian Charity (or any other kind for that matter)

“Forced charity isn’t.” - me

This actually comes up a lot.  Somebody picks out a philosophical quote meant to apply on a macro scale and then uses the unaddressed exceptions to pick it and its larger argument apart.

Ran across a post where someone took issue with one of a quote from Dr. Thomas Sowell:

“No society ever thrived because it had a large and growing class of parasites living off of those who produce” – Dr. Thomas Sowell

Which this person posted with this as [the beginning of his] commentary:

For me the tone of this message is very much a Eugenics one??….One fundamental question…Just who should we consider to be these parasitic elements within society??..The impoverished??…The disabled???…the handicapped??….the elderly??….And for the sake of argument…What solution or remedy dose our dear Mr. Sowell, offer to address the issue at hand I wonder?/…perhaps he favors the re-implementing of the old concept..The final solution???…I ask…How can a society claim to be a free and just one, and advocate the cause of man kind….If in such a society  the value and worth of its citizens are determined solely based upon their monetary worth??….Rather then  the sacred principle that all life rich or poor, disabled or elderly etc. is unquestionably sacred and precious??….

None of which was intended, I am certain (I’ve read a lot of Sowell) by Dr. Sowell.  It’s just a simple statement of fact.  And nowhere in it does Dr. Sowell say anything about the disabled, the elderly, or the “poor”.  Because he’s not really talking about them here.  *(actually Dr. Sowell talks a lot about the poor in his works and points out, using actual data, that most of the poor are only poor temporarily.  This is not to say that there are not some people who are incapable of making their own way – but the fact is, that is a small percentage of the poor)

I pointed this out, along with encouraging him to pick up and read one of Dr. Sowell’s books from start to finish so that his questions might be answered — and they’re not the answers presumed by this guy’s leading questions.

Here’s the kicker… I don’t think this guy is a leftist.  He is apparently a staunch right-to-lifer.  And maybe he’s struggling with these questions and being led astray by idiots like the guy at Young Turks who had the very same take on Sowell’s quote.  He took the quote to mean that anybody who wasn’t in the 1% was a parasite (which … I mean, where does one find that in the quote?  He’s putting words into Sowell’s mouth).

So with that in mind, and the fact that he does seem to be concerned as we should all be about the less fortunate – those who truly cannot pull their own weight, and the fact that he was conflating Sowell’s worldview (based on one single sentence) with (and I kid you not) Bernard Shaw’s and Karl Marx’s worldviews (Sowell would spit his coffee out all over his computer screen), I set about trying to address his followup question:

Only if I may ask one question??…How would you defy a Socialist??..Or should I ask..How would you recognise if a individual is a Socialist or not??…Just curious.

Ahem ….

A socialist endorses something that I don’t believe Christ ever endorsed. Yes, he endorsed caring for those in need, but he never endorsed taking something from someone else to give to the poor. Charity happens when one gives freely of himself to another — not when some gives freely of someone else to another. It is incumbent on us as individuals, voluntarily — whether we do it individually or by forming voluntary groups to pool resources.

In fact, I have no problem with a group of people getting together voluntarily and creating a socialist community, or even a full-blown communist one – as long as nobody is forced to join or coerced into staying.

Of course, when this is done, all the problems of socialism’s incompatibility with human nature come out. When you get what you need without having to lift a finger even though you are perfectly capable of contributing to the community, your incentive to contribute is diminished. Now perhaps some extremely noble people will actually work harder to contribute more, but the more they contribute, the easier it makes it on those who don’t contribute. Eventually you end up with a group of people carrying a vastly disproportionate burden of productivity in such an environment. Unless they’re exceedingly altruistic, they will eventually resent those who are taking it easy and living a life of relative leisure, while those on the net receiving end develop a sense of entitlement — of being owed something they have done nothing to earn. And due to those expectations and the fact that everybody wants a better life — the expectation is that they are also owed that better life and they will likewise resent the ones carrying the bulk of the water.

Now – it is true, and Dr. Sowell would be at the front of the line to agree, that we as human beings have obligations to our fellow man, starting at the family level — our first line of defense, and working up through extended family, community, and on up. Here’s the deal.

Charity begins at home – and the wider the separation in relationship between the givers of charity and the recipients, the less prevalent it should be. The higher up you go in societal structure, the more you should be focusing your efforts on those who have fallen through the cracks at the lower levels. I could argue that in a free society, government has ZERO role in this.

Even if it does, the formula should be the same. The higher up you go, the more narrowly focused the program should be.

This is for a couple of reasons, and one of them is to avoid encouraging the mechanism I described above, by which you have an institutionalized force that rewards sloth and punishes the industrious. The other is that the closer the giver is to the recipient, the better position the giver is in to decide whether the recipient is gaming the system or is actually deserving or in need due to circumstances beyond their control.

Churches, and the accompanying religious — traditionally had a great role in this. Our system was designed for a moral and religious people, as John Adams observed. As America abandons God, it is attempting to create a central government to replace Him.

And it will lead to no good end.


Ok, he’s a trolling leftist:

With all do respect sir…Do you honestly believe for one moment that Socialism is taking from the wealthy and giving it to the poor sir?

‘Nother update:

Dude is completely off his rocker.  In his view, socialism isn’t wealth redistribution.  Because WallStreetNewWorldOrderBankingSystemFundedtheBolsheviks and …. yeah, he completely lost me at that point.


I saw a security video a few weeks ago of a man in a Walmart looking at BB guns.  He picked it up, looked at it, and apparently — as I have done with many items in a store — walked around with it in his hand for several minutes probably still debating in his mind whether to buy it or not.  He returned to the aisle where he picked it up, probably still thinking about it.

In the meantime, somebody apparently called the police and reported that a man was walking around Walmart with a gun, and apparently embellished by saying he was pointing it at people … I say embellished because nowhere on the security tape did it ever show him pointing it at anyone.

While he was standing in the aisle still considering the purchase, police came in the store (this is all on video camera) and, unprovoked, shot the man dead.

This was obviously wrong, and fortunately it was caught on camera so there is no question that it was an unjustified shooting.

I told you that story to tell you this one.

Back in August, according to eyewitness statements that were supported by forensic evidence that matched the description of the event from the officer involved — a young man went into a store, took some things that weren’t his to take, and shoved a smaller man — the store owner or manager — aside when he tried to stop him.

The police were called.  An officer who was on a call in the area responding to a medical emergency involving a child who couldn’t breath, after leaving that scene and hearing the call on the radio came across to young men fitting the description walking down the middle of a street.  He pulled alongside them, probably partially to further verify that these were the suspects — and told them to get out of the street.

The young man who had taken the merchandise and assaulted the owner/manager apparently did not take kindly to being told what to do, and a struggle ensued with the officer still inside the car.  The young man tried to take the officer’s gun.

Presumably, it wasn’t to check it for safety or admire it and give it back.

In the struggle, the gun was fired, inside the vehicle, grazing the young man’s thumb.

The suspect retreated and was ordered to stop.  Eventually he did stop, turn around, and began to charge the officer from whom he had just tried to take a gun … again, probably not to take it to his friends for show-and-tell.

The young man was a large man, physically capable of taking most normal sized men, including the officer.  He had shown a willingness to steal, assault, and if he had a weapon — which he showed a willingness to obtain by force — probably assault with a deadly weapon.  He stole, assaulted a citizen, assaulted a cop, tried to take his weapon, resisted arrest, and was coming back for more, with a vengeance.

So far in this story, who has done anything wrong?

Put yourself in that officer’s shoes.  In a few seconds, a strong, large, angry young man who had just tried to take his gun would be on him and would likely try to take it again, and not, presumably, use it to play a friendly game of spin the bottle gun in the middle of the street.

The officer fired several rounds.  The young man stopped.  He began charging again.  The officer fired some more.   The young man fell, mortally wounded.

Now we are supposed to use this incident to change things for the better, so this never happens again.

Only we are not allowed to talk about the things that would actually make things better.  Like what kinds of moral lessons are taught to kids by what is known and celebrated as “black” culture?  As if culture has a race.  As if race determines culture.  And as if all cultures are equal.

They are not.

Multi-culturalism is a lie.  It is a useful lie for those who want to divide and conquer.  It is a useful lie to those addicted to hits off the crack-pipe of false righteous rage.  It is a useful lie for those who don’t want to take responsibility for the direction of their own lives, but rather to blame others for their position in life.

America was once heralded as a melting pot, which absorbed parts of the cultures of its immigrants over time, but still had an overarching cohesive culture.  If that’s what we mean by multi-culturalism, I’m on board.  But it’s not what the pushers of Multi-Culturalism™ are talking about.  They are talking about multiple disparate cultures within a defined geographical area.  Without an overarching culture, that cannot be a nation.  It is a recipe for implosion.

Enter the race-baiters and community organizers — the first is a subset of the second — who have political agendas — to stir up anger by whatever means necessary.  Repeating stories that support their narratives as fact.  Attacking anyone who doesn’t agree as racist.  Then this attracts the usual suspects.  The anarchists, the communists (who should be mortally opposed in theory, but they do have the common goal of destroying our current system of law so they more often than not appear shoulder-to-shoulder at these things).

Last night after the decision was announced, after the riot started — I saw two young men interviewed.  Both of them talked about other incidents.  Both repeated the “hands in the air” story that the evidence refutes.   One repeated the “shot in the back” story (“…. shooting the whole time”) that the evidence refutes.

They weren’t there.  They heard these stories repeated in the media and believed them because it supports their worldview that white cops are out to get black men because they’re black.  Whic may happen in certain cases — and it is wrong.

But is that what happened here?  This time?  Doesn’t seem to matter to them.  This was to be representative justice for all the times it is the case.  Which is no justice at all.  It is not justice for Michael Brown.  Michael Brown did just about everything he could to ensure he would be shot. It is a tragedy that he did so, but he did. It is not justice for Officer Wilson and his family.  He would likely be dead, and dead because he was doing his job — part of which is finding and arresting people who commit crimes.  Like theft.  Like assault.  Like vandalism, looting, arson.

Justice is prosecuting the police that shot the guy with the B.B. gun in Walmart, and not prosecuting the guy who tragically killed someone in self-defense.

Another commentator kept interjecting that 1 in 3 black men go to jail.  Which may very well be true.  But it’s not because they’re black.  It’s because young black men commit crimes at much higher rates than any other demographic. That is what needs to be stopped.

The way to stop it is not to have more lenient police.  If anything, that would further encourage it.

The way to stop it is for “black culture” to be re-defined.  To once again embrace morals as it did well into the 1960’s. To take pride in the right things — not now big a thug you can be or how many ho’s you can abuse.  To take pride in being fair, and honest, and working hard. To learn what the system is and why it is good, like Frederick Douglas did.  To stop looking at themselves as victims, even when they are victimized.  To take control over the parts of their lives they can take control over. To do the things it takes to overcome the unfair stereotypes that have more and more become self-fulfilling prophecies.

I can hear it now.  “Thank you for ‘Whitesplaining™’ that.”  

Well … you’re welcomed, first off.  But secondly, that’s just another way of saying “Shut Up.”  “I don’t want to hear it.

Well there’s your problem right there.  If an opinion can be invalidated based upon race, then I guess we really do have a long way to go.  If we do have a long way to go, it’s likely because we’re moving in the wrong direction.  Because we aren’t addressing the root problems.

And it isn’t poverty.  There are poor people all over the world who don’t assault and steal and kill each other in tragic numbers.  There are poor people in Ferguson who don’t.  There are poor black people in Ferguson who don’t.  No, it’s not poverty.

It’s morality.

Religious Liberty

This is going to be long. But it has to be. It’s not something that fits on a bumper sticker, and it is very important to get this straight.

I realize I risk being called a racist and a homophobe … but … ho-hum. By now I’m about numb to baseless accusations hurled thoughtlessly to avoid serious discussion.  They don’t know me.  Nor do they care if they are wrong.

Morgan points out that we’re all tired of arguing about gay people and we should be talking about other things instead, and I understand what he’s saying. But the reason we’re arguing over them is some of them (not all) and their advocates are pushing into areas that severely threaten religious freedom. When American culture gains a foothold in foreign countries, the Left wails about “hegemony”. “America” pushing her beliefs and culture on people who don’t want it.  But they apparently have no compunction over doing it here.

Certainly there are other, larger problems our country currently faces – but this one actually has something to do with who we are.

Because it’s not really about gay people.  It’s about religious liberty.

I’ve been reading the flame wars between people on both sides of the issue, and I’ve noticed that in general, we’re arguing about the wrong things.

People concerned with religious freedom are arguing what the Bible says and what it means (which even Christians have many disagreements about) with atheists and agnostics who don’t care (except to use Old Testament passages to beat Christians over the head with). And the pro-prosecution side calls up images of Jim Crow laws and the Negro Motorist Green Book, and lecturing Christians on what they “really” believe. I even read one person arguing that religious liberty ends at the Church door!  (Isn’t that pretty much what the Soviet Union said?)

So What’s This All About?

At this point, it’s pretty clear that a top-down state re-definition of “marriage” is coming. I believe this is wrong — because marriage doesn’t come from the state. But that ship has sailed. So today the fight is over religious liberty — specifically, the right to practice one’s religion without interference from the state.

The First Amendment states, among other things:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

That’s pretty clear. It’s even more clear when you realize that the first Colonists came over to secure religious freedom. There were state religions in Europe – that is certain Christian Churches had unelected official positions in government, and if you happened not to belong to that denomination, you could be required to support it or subject to rules made because of denomination’s official position. There was actually state-sponsored persecution of people of certain denominations because of their beliefs and practices. They came here to get away from that.

Today, there are at least four or five cases in different states where vendors have declined to provide their services for events which contradicted their religious beliefs. They were subsequently sued and lost for not providing equal accommodation to same-sex couples that they provide for heterosexual couples. They cite civil rights laws that compel businesses not to discriminate based on race or gender. The argument is that sexual orientation is in the same category as race or gender.

Civil Rights

Inevitably, when we find ourselves in the odd position of having to argue for religious freedom in a nation that has its roots deep in it and is based on liberty — the plight of blacks in the South gets brought up as an illustration why we can’t allow businesses to discriminate because of religious belief. It is the first civil right protected under the Bill of Rights.

It is said that the religious liberty argument was used to justify many white businesses not serving black would-be patrons. That argument was dismissed in the 1960’s, and therefore it is argued that such protests should be likewise dismissed today against participating in a same-sex wedding.

What we’re overlooking, here, is that the argument was dismissed because the protest was found to be lacking. Jim Crow laws and sitting blacks in the back of the bus and segregating drinking fountains and lunch counters were clearly more about spite and hate than anything else. Few, if any real religious convictions lay behind it. It does not follow that the same is true for same-sex marriages.

There is this logic “short circuit” that afflicts too many people when it comes to reasoning, and it’s been introduced mainly by those who seek to manipulate us by stopping us from thinking very deeply, or sometimes at all, about certain things. An example is the States Rights argument.  Slave states used the States Rights argument to argue that they had a right to keep their own slavery laws – that the Constitution didn’t give the Federal Government the authority to abolish slavery within their borders. They lost that argument. And today, hucksters have implanted the idea is that States Rights is an argument for slavery, and any use of the argument is clearly racist and should be dismissed.

But Wisconsin used the States Rights argument to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act, as they refused to deport runaway slaves back to their owners in slave states.  They were in violation of Federal Law in doing so.  But nothing could be more anti-slavery and non-racist than this act which used the same argument.  Few would say that Wisconsin was wrong.  And yet if you say “states’ rights” you’ll hear “racist!” before the last “s” is out of your mouth.

Regardless of what you think of it, it is absolutely no secret that Christianity and Islam, among other religions, have long-standing widespread beliefs that homosexuality is wrong. When a Christian declines to involve herself in an event she considers immoral, it’s no stretch at all that she’s not making it up, no matter what other Christians may think of it.

Jim Crow and the Plight of Southern Blacks

There is no disputing that the horrors blacks went through, especially in the south – were terrible and inexcusable. Quite a bit of the problem was fallout from a known birth defect our nation inherited from the European colonialism that spawned her. Our founders were well aware of the contradictions between a nation founded on Man’s inalienable rights and the slavery that existed long before and certainly at the time of the founding. Our founders included abolitionists, some of whom were actually slave holders themselves, born into it — and southern states whose economies were heavily based on it needed to be brought into the union in order to be strong enough to win the War of Independence. Still, it is clear in our founding documents that the desire was there in the 1780’s to end the practice, and while some effort was put into weakening the slave states’ positions, some of the compromises made it messy and it took 72 years and a bloody civil war to finally end it.

The scars are still with us today, but they are most likely better than they would have been had anti-discrimination laws Republicans had long sought had not been enacted in the 1960’s.

But just as the imperfect compromise in the beginning, the solution was also imperfect. There probably was no perfect solution. It essentially created a protected class, and in addition, infringed on our basic right to free association, and created the concept of a “public accommodation” — which was relatively well-defined but has basically been interpreted in later years by many as any business that is open to the public.

Laws are often imperfect and more often than not have unintended consequences. Though many of its cultural intentions were fulfilled, unintentional cultural fallout has created a class dependent on government aid and the political carpetbaggers who have taken advantage of this have fostered a culture of entitlement, resentment, and separatism. Several modern black leaders cite this as having much more to do with what is holding most blacks back today than actual racial discrimination. The left often argues that the Constitution is outdated. But they’ll never consider that the Civil Rights Act might be outdated or at least in need of some refinement.

But I Thought We Were Talking About Religious Liberty

Indeed, we are. We are because the Civil Rights Act is being used to argue against religious liberty, and to prosecute those who try to exercise it. That should raise some big red flags. And it does, in people who are serious about religious liberty.

The Civil Rights Act was an extreme move that used restriction of liberty to address an extreme problem.

Here’s the kinds of things blacks faced:

Racist laws, discriminatory social codes and segregated commercial facilities made road journeys a minefield of constant uncertainty and risk. The difficulties of travel for black Americans were such that, as Lester B. Granger of the National Urban League puts it, “so far as travel is concerned, Negroes are America’s last pioneers.” Businesses across the United States refused to serve African-Americans. Black travelers often had to carry buckets or portable toilets in the trunks of their cars because they were usually barred from bathrooms and rest areas in service stations and roadside stops. Diners and restaurants also rejected blacks, and even travel essentials such as gasoline could be unavailable because of discrimination at gas stations. To avoid such problems on long trips, African-Americans often packed meals and even containers of gasoline in their cars.The civil rights leader John Lewis has recalled how his family prepared for a trip in 1951:

There would be no restaurant for us to stop at until we were well out of the South, so we took our restaurant right in the car with us… Stopping for gas and to use the bathroom took careful planning. Uncle Otis had made this trip before, and he knew which places along the way offered “colored” bathrooms and which were better just to pass on by. Our map was marked and our route was planned that way, by the distances between service stations where it would be safe for us to stop.”

Finding accommodation was one of the greatest challenges faced by black travelers. Not only did many hotels, motels and boarding houses refuse to serve black customers, but thousands of towns across America declared themselves “sundown towns” which all non-whites had to leave by sunset.

If you’re going to force people to violate their consciences, you’d better at least demonstrate a compelling need — like on the scale of the one above.  What extreme hardship is placed on gays by protecting the religious liberty of a Christian or Muslim when they’re asked to engage in something they find to be morally wrong? Where are there laws that literally prohibit straights from serving gays? Where are gays being run out of shops, told to stand at lunch counters, run to the backs of buses simply because they are gay? Gays have many, many options for accommodation. The situation isn’t even close to the same. And subsequently, extreme measures that trample people’s right to practice their religion in their everyday lives are not needed, and shouldn’t be used. If current law makes it necessary to trample religious liberty, then the law needs to be modified.

Slavishness to bad precedence is being used today to trump one of our most sacred founding principles.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

The “Public Accommodation” clause in the 1964 Civil Rights Act spelled out the following:

  • hotels
  • motels
  • restaurants
  • movie theaters
  • stadiums
  • concert halls.

Now it’s being argued that any business “serving the public” is a “public accommodation”, so the Christian photographer and the Muslim Barber as one of the people I recently argued with are just “out of luck”. Because as a condition of their business license, they can’t discriminate.  The argument is “you chose serve the public”. Check your religious liberty at your front door.  If you photograph nude women, you have to photograph nude men. If you photograph heterosexual unions, you have to photograph homosexual unions.  If you cut mens’ hair, you must cut womens’ hair.

But here’s the rub. People don’t go into business to serve the public.  They go into business to make a living, in pursuit of happiness – as the term is properly understood. If you are required by law to get a business license to open a business, and that license requires that you, at times, must violate your religious beliefs, then it is a law that “prohibits the free exercise thereof”.

That says Unconstitutional to me.  If who we are is rooted in liberty, something needs to change.

Hail Caesar

Drew M. has a good post over at Ace of Spades that sums up a lot of my feelings regarding the establishment GOP and the Tea Party.  A few further thoughts:

Here’s a necessary word: Caesarism. I never thought I’d praise a article — and, of course, the author is as tediously liberal as they come — but even stopped clocks are right twice a day.*  The key concept is that the forms and rituals of, and even a nostalgic respect for, representative government are maintained while all real power is consolidated in the hands of Caesar and his toadies.  Rome had a Senate down to the very end, and they were still meeting and voting on stuff even while the Visigoths were rampaging through the streets.  During the Principate, of course, the fiction of constitutional rule was much more carefully maintained: Augustus wasn’t actually an emperor… he just had all the powers of one, which the Senate insisted on granting him until the present crisis was resolved.

I don’t think we need any more reminders of the fundamental lawlessness of the Obama administration, and the utter fecklessness of Congress, especially the so-called “opposition.”  What hasn’t been sufficiently emphasized is the nature of sham democracy.

Drew M. points out that the GOP routinely aids and abets Obama and the Democrats while beating their chests about conservative principles.  They talk up a budget fight… but only after preemptively caving.

“We’re never gonna default. The Speaker and I made that clear,” [McConnell] said.

Which raises a seemingly obvious question that I’ve never seen satisfactorily answered: Why?

Most people write it off as “just politics.”  Others, like GOP lickspittle Charles Cooke (the target of Drew M.’s righteous reaming), play it off as hard-nosed realism.  They’re paid to pretend to believe that guys like McConnell are fiscal hawks who are skillfully playing a bad hand, when of course the reality is quite the opposite.

They’re faking.  That’s their function.  Just as Caesar reluctantly allows the Senate to talk him into accepting all the powers and honors and titles of an emperor, Caesar allows the people to vent their frustrations by supporting the Opposition Party.  We’re just not supposed to notice that the Opposition does Caesar’s bidding at every turn.

Which brings me to the Tea Party.  The Opposition’s opposition, if you will.  Here, too, the plebs are allowed to grumble, in order to maintain the facade of popular participation.  Grassroots activism!!  Citizen activism!!!  Except that the Tea Party isn’t doing that either.

Strategic Fundraising, a St. Paul, Minnesota-based company that specializes in fundraising, was paid $1,028,148.96 for “List Rental.” Groups looking to raise money or get a message out to a growing number of people often rent lists of home addresses or email addresses to send out their materials.

Integram, a printing and mailing company based in Dulles, Virginia, was paid $892,127.54 for those services.

In the meantime,

it is not yet decided how much the group will spend on independent expenditures. “We’re still determining the balance between how much we actually will do with endorsements versus how much we will do with voter education, ” [spokesman Jenny Beth Martin] said.

The reason for starting an independent expenditure group, she explained, was not about being able to make independent expenditures in races, but because “we felt the ramifications of the IRS targeting so severely,” Martin said, and they felt having this type of group would allow them to “more freely exercise our First Amendment rights.”

So they plan on “educating” voters… to vote for nobody in particular.
Note also that the establishment GOP spends far more time fighting the Tea Party than they do fighting the Democrats.  A successful party –like, say, the Democrats — co-opts the fringes and folds them into the coalition.  Cruise by some liberal blogs.  Do you see any criticism of Abortion Barbie?  Any calls for the Democrats to embrace moderation and run a less polarizing candidate in an attempt to steal a victory on the enemy’s turf?
When you’re done with that, look up the ten most awful, obnoxious statements you can find about “Caribou Barbie.”  It’s about 500 to 1 that a few of them were made by so-called conservatives.
Then go look at the behavior of the candidates the “Tea Party” manages to elect.  Ted Cruz is a favorite, what with the filibustering of this and that.  Which he’s free to do, because he knows he’s going to lose anyway and he’s not up for reelection.  Sham democracy requires oppositional gestures, and he’s well paid to be the fall guy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if people start talking up Ted Cruz for president… at which point he’ll discover his inner Marco Rubio.
Just to be clear:  I’m not saying that Barack Obama is Caesar, much less that he’s pulling the GOP’s strings from behind a curtain.  The political class itself is Caesar.  The original Caesar only became supreme through the active collusion of the patricians.  They didn’t like the rough-and-tumble of representative government any more than the warlords did, but they were unwilling to endure the privations of a return to straight aristocracy, which would have started a plebeian rebellion.  Nor was there much real support for a return to the old Republic, as evidenced by the fate of the “Senatorial” army in the subsequent civil war — if it were even possible, it would require surrendering the fruits of empire, which most were unwilling to do.
Hence, Caesarism:  An empire without an emperor, a dictatorship without a dictator.
And the Pax Romana was good, or good enough, for the people who could do anything about it.  The sham of opposition was preferable to the civil war real opposition would necessarily entail… especially when there were bread and circuses to help the plebs while away the time, and offices and honors and orgies at seaside villas for the patrician “political” caste.
We have about three regular readers here, all of whom are no doubt limbering up their typing fingers to accuse me of cheering for doom or revolution or treason or whatever.  Go ahead if that’ll make you feel better.  But like the disclaimer says:  All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the management.  I could be wrong.  I desperately hope I’m wrong.  But history suggests otherwise.  When they start burning Oswald Spengler in effigy, you’ll know I’m right.
Hail Caesar.




*Doubtless this knucklehead thinks that Caesarism will only come to America after the reich-wing raciss troglodytes vote out Saint Barack and elect President Palin.  But, again: stopped clocks.

We’re Not Anarchists

A discussion that came out of the topic of the recent West Virginia chemical spill brought up the EPA and Capitalism.   I think that the left has an extremely warped view of what capitalism is, and probably a way too large chunk of people on the right have never really thought about it and can’t properly describe it, either.

Yes, it’s a horse I tend to beat a lot, and I’ll probably beat it until after it’s dead.  If we ever get that far.

What people don’t get is that “Capitalism” is a term used to describe a free market (I think Marx actually coined it — or if not, he was one of the first to use it). It’s not really a designed system like state-run economies. It’s an economy run by people working it out among themselves. It’s a description of something that occurs in nature. More of a label, really, than a description. But any attempt to define this economic process which falls naturally out of human nature either describes it well, or it doesn’t. It doesn’t change what is.

In contrast, there are state-run economies. In theory, there are no “poor” in the state-run imaginary utopian economic systems (invariably based on some flavor of Marxism). In theory. But that’s never the case. Capitalists don’t claim that the free market system will end poverty. It does, however, provide pathways out of it. And in such an economy, everybody gets richer over time. Which is why the statists had to invent the GINI (envy) index. In a free market economy, there’s a rising tide. In a centrally run economy, the tide is constantly going out.

Now, I suppose there are a few people that believe there should be no laws that regulate behavior in this this type of economy. The relative anarchists. Those people are few and far between, even in the circles most of us here run in. The kinds of regulation that are needed are laws against fraud, coersion, theft, and property damages. Our watershed (and air, and land) are rightly a public good because it’s naturally occurring, and there’s no way to separate what you did to the water on your land from the water that other people eventually drink, and we all need it. It affects everything. So yes, we need laws that address this and an enforcement mechanism. I haven’t run into anyone in our group or at any Tea Party type gathering that believes otherwise.

A proper free market economy needs this kind of regulation. And regulations and penalties should be proportional to the potential damage. So something like this would rank high on the list, whereas forbidding a farmer to use a portion of his land because a large puddle occasionally develops in a depression on his land and the EPA comes in and declares it a “wetland” … well that’s clearly an overstep, and would never pass a vote of the people or their representatives.

I actually don’t have a problem with having agencies such as an EPA — however, they should exist only to oversee and help enforce laws duly passed by Congress and signed by the President — they should have no authority to effectively make law themselves. This is where we’ve gone wrong with these agencies.

But, Corporations!

TeddyRooseveltAgain, on one of those political e-posters on Facebook (right)

The idea behind this quote sounds great.  I get it.  But things like this are seldom as simple as they sound.

As an example, here at the University back in the late 1990’s, the registrar’s office decided that as a recruiting tool, it would offer an email address to every student. the idea, and it’s not a bad one. It sounds simple, but it’s not really that simple.

Simple, right?

What do you mean by “student”?

Turns out the answer to that question wasn’t as easy as it sounded. Everybody THOUGHT they knew what “student” meant and that it would be super easy to implement. But when people that other people thought were “students” weren’t getting their email addresses … we had to dig deeper. When do you start being a student? Are you a student during the summer between spring and fall semester if you are not taking summer classes? Are you a student during the intersessions? How do we know you’re really coming back in the fall? Things like that. Different people had different answers, and all of them thought THEY were right. (And then there’s the question … does the information we need once we made a decision exist in the data?)

Here, everybody assumes that a corporation is a big behemouth money-making capitalistic monster that exists solely to suck the life out of … well, you know how they are portrayed in the movies.

But there are all kinds of corporations, really. Corporations really amount to a tax status and limits liability with respect to losses for a particular organization. Lots and lots of corporations are not-for-profit and/or are set up specifically for promoting certain causes.

I suspect it’s that last category that is really against disallowing corporate contributions to campaigns (though the big commercial ones probably like to keep their options open as well). And most of them act as a collecting point for smaller contributions which they then use to contribute – helping the average citizen “put your money where your mouth is”, so to speak. Or they’ll actually go out and solicit money from a big commercial corporation. So which corporations will be allowed, and which wouldn’t?

People would just find ways around it anyway — like set up NPO’s for certain causes, fund the NPO’s (and perhaps write off the “contributions”) and then the NPO would contribute. For every well-meaning rule out there, there are loopholes, and if none exist, they will develop.

But … back to the real problem … the corrupting influence of large amounts of money, or streams of revenue to be siphoned from) … and how to minimize their impact on the electoral process (and wouldn’t it be nice if we could limit their impact on the lobbying/legislative process as well?)

What to do?

We COULD limit the contribution TO individuals. No commercial corporations, no NPO’s. Just one name, one contribution to one candidate per race, and no contributions to candidtates that do not represent your district. You must be a citizen to contribute. And we’ll limit it to $100*(GDP/”2013 GDP”) per one and only one real bona-fide human being, per campaign as a way to tie it loosely to the value of a buck in the future.

I could get behind something like that. But then, of course, how do you prove it or keep track of it? It’d be as verifiable as voter rolls or websites that accept credit cards from your maid in Dubai. And if you try to limit it to citizens you’ll likely be accused of being a racist anyway.

Citizens United did not overturn the Tillman Act (signed by TR 1907) which is what I suspect this e-poster is subtly criticizing. CU was not about contributing directly to campaigns, but was rather centered on what kinds of films or ads corporations could make and release near elections as limited by McCain Feingold. Basically, what happened is CU challenged “Fahrenheit 9/11″ as a giant political ad to defeat Bush in the 2004 election cycle, and the court ruled that that film was not political speech because it was a “commercial” film (despite the fact that Moore specifically stated that’s why he made it). So Citizens United started cranking out politically motivated films and releasing them commercially, and they got challenged on a Hillary film they made for 2008.

The court decided to be consistent. Whether it was good or bad in the first place is up for debate.

Ultimately, the question of free speech is dicier in these instances than critics would like us to believe. If a company wants to make a movie, and that movie is in any way supportive or critcal of a movement or a party or a candidate … limiting the legality of doing that does, in fact, limit freedom of expression. A bit less so if they are only limited from airing them within 30 or 60 days of an election, though I can see people getting into what constitutes support or criticism. I think the courts have stuck to not mentioning a candidate by name in the past. You have to draw a line somewhere. But Farenheit 9/11 did mention a candidate by name and the court let it slide. The Hillary movie got locked up in court until after the election. You could argue that it’s corporate speech, but your average citizen doesn’t have the resources to make and release commercial movies, and it’s hard to argue that movies and ads aren’t expresssion.

In the end, the best protection from the corrupting influence of money is an educated public … and by educated I don’t mean just passing K-12 … I mean knowing the founding principles and the logic behind them and keeping abreast of what’s going on in the country and the world and applying them. I think that’s about the best we can do.

Smellin’ the Weimar: “Third Parties Don’t Work in Our System”

[This started out as a reply to Robert Mitchell Jr. (whose comments I really appreciate for keeping me on my toes), but as it expanded I thought it belonged up here].

One big objection to my “Weimar America” idea is the two-party system.  We’ve never gone in for the continental parliamentary nonsense that lets fringe whackadoodle parties sneak a member or two into our governing bodies.  This prevents the rise of a fascist party in America.

There are three assumptions here that need to be examined.  The first is that one party or the other won’t simply become fascist.  I actually have a harder time arguing for this point, because I think it has more or less already happened.  To both parties.  Fascism, you’ll recall, is state socialism.  It’s a split-the-difference “third way” between, on the one hand, syndicalism and / or the vanguard of the proletariat and, on the other, the primitive laissez-faire capitalism that characterized the pre-WWI United States and was responsible, in the minds of almost all educated people, for the Depression.  It tries to harness the productive power of big business to socially beneficial ends.

"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." -- Benito Mussolini

“Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” — Benito Mussolini

If that doesn’t sound familiar, ask President Obama, or, as I sometimes like to call him, the CEO of General Motors.  Or ask any lefty — they’ll happily tell you all about the GOP’s precise position in Big Business’s pocket.  Watch out for flying spittle.

In fact, this seems to be at least part of the problem.  Much as I hate to agree with Il Duce, the F-word seems to exclude everything but torchlight parades and concentration camps in most people’s minds.  But it’s crucial to remember that fascism was, and is, an economic system.  The fascist wants to restructure the people’s relationship to the means of production as radically as any Marxist.  The only real difference between a fuhrer and a vanguard of the proletariat is that the vanguard pretends he’s just a way station on the road to the classless society.  At least give Hitler and Mussolini points for honesty — they’re at the top by design.

Here in Weimar America, both parties have accepted that they’re just stewards of the welfare state.  Mitt Romney was actually sold to conservative voters as a better manager of a smaller, more efficient version of Obamacare.  This, we were told, was federalism in action.  I think another f-word is much more appropriate.

Nor are such ideological takeovers unprecedented.  Mr. Mitchell himself cites one — the communist takeover of the Democratic Party.  I’m not sure I’d go so far as that — though come to think of it, I am basically arguing that both parties have become fascist — but it’s certainly true that the old “Scoop Jackson Democrats” (or whatever) were driven out in a cloud of bong smoke sometime in the mid-Sixties.  As the “progressive” Republicans were driven out by old money back in the 1910s.  And the “Barnburner” Democrats by the slave power conspiracy in the 1840s.  And so forth.  Parties undergo wide ideological swings pretty frequently, complete with purges.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the anti-fascists were the ones driven out of one party or the other, and forced to go it alone in the electoral wilderness.

Which leads to the second assumption that needs probing.  Third parties actually do have a pretty successful track record in American politics.  The Republicans, for instance, were one of many fringe reform parties in the 1850s.  They were successful because they articulated an ideology that many Americans instinctively subscribed to, but which no other party embodied.

Poll after poll, study after study shows widespread public dissatisfaction with Obamacare, with open borders, with endless neo-colonial wars, with cultural libertinism, with political correctness, with the whole degrees-and-debt shebang.  And yet neither party plays to these voters — who might actually be the majority of all voters in the country.  And when a movement arises that seems to articulate these values, both parties attack it.

Why would they do that, if the party system actually represented the will of the people?

The Republican Party arose under exactly those conditions.  Though they kept it out of their discourse as much as possible — and spoke only in euphemisms when forced to discuss it — the Democrats in the 1850s were obviously the pro-slavery party.  The Whigs were the feckless opposition, characterized almost entirely by their lack of character.  Sound familiar?

Moreover, third parties have been quite successful at the local and state level.  (Hell, at the national level, too — ask Bill Clinton what he thinks about Ross Perot, for instance).  The few liberals who know anything about history like to throw the Know-Nothing Party around as an example of the Republicans’ irredeemably racist origins.  They don’t often cite the rampant turn of the century success of the Socialist Party and its incorporation into the modern Democratic Party (though as with all things liberal, it’s impossible to tell whether ignorance or malice is the better explanation for that).  In Europe, yes, these not-so-minor parties would send delegates to the national assembly.  Here they worm their way into major parties.  Read Eugene V. Debs’s 1912 campaign platform off a teleprompter and you’ve got your basic Barack Obama speech.

All it takes is a few electoral successes at the lower levels for a party to either get co-opted into a larger party, or to become the larger party.  That’s how we’ll get to American fascism.

The third assumption, again articulated best by Mr. Mitchell, is that the present prosperity will continue.  He writes

But, alas, even the most vile Dark Lord starts to feel a little kind when he’s had a good meal, a nice brandy, and some good music, and that’s death to the fever needed to bring about the Revolution.

I would agree with this if we weren’t a zillion bajillion dollars in the hole already, before the inevitable 404Care crash.  The ancien regime always feels this way, even while the torches and pitchforks are just over the hill.  All prosperity must be purchased.  What are we going to buy it with?  We’re broke.  Those things that can’t continue indefinitely, won’t.  The shock of the Depression enabled Hitler.  And Tojo.  And Mussolini.  And Mao.  And Chiang Kai-Shek.  Britain and France avoided it because of America.  America avoided it because of…..

…. think carefully before you answer, because here’s the followup:  Does it still exist, here in this year of our Lord 2013?

I say no.  But I sure hope I’m wrong.

Liberalism: The Personality Substitute

Liberalism, we often say, is a substitute religion.  But I think it’s even more pathetic than that.  I think liberalism is really a substitute personality.

All the usual caveats apply — I’m not a psychiatrist, and I don’t play one on tv.  But confronted with something like this, what else can I conclude?

The link is an Ace of Spades takedown of some movie critic over at Salon.  It’s hilarious, but frightening.  I can’t really describe what Andrew O’Hehir is doing with those reviews.  It’s ludicrous, yes — the “rich, lambent color” of Secretariat does NOT come from a cross burning just off-screen — but it’s a very studied, mannered hysteria, as if he took every lazy conservative cliche about leftwingers with the vapors and turned it way past eleven.  It’s so exaggerated that even Roger Ebert, no mean discoverer of right wing subtext his own self, called it “bizarre.”

I don’t think there’s really a word for it, but there needs to be one, because this kind of thing happens a lot.  What O’Hehir is doing, basically, is dumbing down gradspeak.

I used to read Salon until I moved to a college town, where every day is a letter to the editor. You find this kind of thing everywhere in my burg.  Whatever happens to some microscopic group in some far-off place you’ve never heard of is the worst atrocity since Auschwitz…until an even smaller, further group comes along.  The obscure doctrinal differences between the Judaean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judaea are not only real, but occasion massive witch hunts and loyalty oath campaigns.  Books with titles like Intertextuality: Debates and Contexts are not only written, but assigned in classrooms (yeah, that’s a real book, pulled at random from a google search on feminist publications).

In this world, the idea that a gooey feel-good movie like Secretariat not so secretly “encodes racism,” as the phrase is, is not only NOT bizarre — it’s commonplace.

If you look hard enough, you can actually see the cross.

If you look hard enough, you can actually see the cross.

In academia, at least, this kind of thing is understandable, and for the basest of capitalistic motives.  Journals only publish original research, so unless you’re in the sciences, expanding the scope of the political is your only hope of reaching print.  Thus the road to tenure takes only left turns, and these people have developed an entire huge, convoluted, specialist lingo to fool the hoi polloi…

…and to hide from themselves the knowledge, so deadly to professorial self-esteem, that everything they say has been said before, and better.  That their views, expressed in plain language, “cover the spectrum from boringly unoriginal to sand-poundingly stupid.”  That axe-grinding and pseudo-radicalism make up the sum total of their well-compensated but grossly hypocritical careers (a tenured professor pulls down $110,488 per year to preach socialism at scholarship kids).

It’s all an elaborate ego defense.  Only the extreme insularity of the ivory tower — and the unconscious knowledge that they’re all in on the same scam — keeps academics from noticing that they all have basically the same opinions and attitudes, likes and dislikes… about everything.  Oh, sure, the post-structuralist Marxist feminist has deep and longstanding grievances against the post-structuralist feminist Marxist, but to normal people there’s not enough room between ‘em to let even a particle of daylight through.

That’s why faculty politics are so legendarily nasty.  There’s even a name for it: Sayre’s Law.  But…. what about non-academics?  What about those who fancy themselves intellectuals — who have, in fact, constructed an entire self-concept around it — but who don’t have PhD’s to back it up?

Professors, at least, have their work.  Say what you will about the mind-boggling pettiness and triviality of most humanities “research” — I’ll be right there with you, and oh do I have stories — but a PhD is a real thing, requiring a substantial investment of time and energy.  When you’re done, you may be the world’s expert on the most obscure, pettifogging subject imaginable, but — you’re the world’s expert.  And since all professors teach, you can force at least one class a semester to care.

This gives you something to talk about at cocktail parties.

The Andrew O’Hehirs of the world, by contrast, have none of that.  He’s got a job — movie critic — that requires no training or credentials.  The only external quality control it has is the market, and the market, as even the densest leftards know, is fickle.  To keep his job, he’s got to be either a pander or a corporate shill.  Unless your authorial voice is very strong — unless you are your own brand, Roger Ebert-style — it’s bound to dawn on you that there’s a pretty low ceiling in your line of work, and that a younger, cheaper guy can be had at any time (I’d cheerfully do movie reviews, even for Salon, if they’d throw me $100 per flick plus the cost of the ticket.  If you’re reading this, managing editor…. call me).

And since most people derive most of their life experience from their work….

For people like O’Hehir, politics — being obnoxious about politics — is a fill-in for being interesting.  He wants to be seen as an intelligent, informed, engaged (and engaging!) fellow, but his work doesn’t bear that out.  His deepest thoughts are right there on the page, for the thousands (ok, hundreds) of people who read Salon, and they’re… movie reviews.  It’s hard to be interesting in a movie review, and nearly impossible to be creative or original.  Try it sometime.  Can you explain why, say The Godfather was great or Sharknado sucked, without lapsing into cliches within the first four sentences?  It’s the same with any pop aesthetics, which is why sportswriters are obnoxious about politics too.  Yeah, I saw Nolan Ryan pitch.  He was great.  Why do I need George Will to tell me that?  Nobody settles a bar argument about baseball by invoking George Will, just as nobody — judging from the box office — stays away from Secretariat because Andrew O’Hehir says it’s raaaaaaacist.

I see this a lot on the internet.  It’s one of the reasons I only check one or two political blogs, and why I never read the comments anymore.  People want to be taken seriously as thinkers, as interesting people with varied life experiences which have given them a unique perspective.  But, as it turns out, most people really aren’t all that interesting.  And that’s a good thing.  Have you ever truly been friends with an authentically interesting person?  I bet you haven’t, and I haven’t either.  Truly interesting people don’t have friends, because they’re off exploring the Amazon or doing whatever it is they do to make them so interesting.  I’m friends with people not because they’re unique and mysterious, but because they’re good people.

And they’re good people, I posit, because they don’t have so much of their psyches tied up in being deep and interesting.  They spend their emotional and mental energy just getting on with life.  Their personalities express in their likes and dislikes, their work, their kids, all of which are pretty much just the same as everybody else’s.

It’s only Our Betters who need such constant reassurance that they are cool, they’re interesting, they matter.  And if they don’t have the achievements or experience to bear that out, well…. being “that radical progressive guy” is certainly better than being “that Andrew O’Hehir dude down the hall,” right?


Cylar’s Memorial Day Message

It’s Memorial Day, and we’re hearing the familiar reminders to “remember the fallen” and “honor the troops” today and all of that. It is often accompanied by pictures of Arlington National Cemetery, plain white headstones with flags next to them, and the like. Some mentions also make it a point to suggest you should financially support organizations designed to maintain memorials, or to help living veterans and their families.

Before anyone objects, let me say that this is not a bad thing. We need to remember fallen warriors, including those who didn’t count on dying that day. (The Navy guys who were asleep in their bunks aboard the USS Arizona during the Pearl Harbor attack, for example.) A lot of servicemen (and yes, women) died horrible and painful deaths in defense of our freedom. Some were wounded in combat and later died of their injuries. It was not always quick and easy for them. I will not elaborate on the many creative ways that enemies of our country have found to kill members of our military over the years.

While many of these service members were probably thinking about survival, their comrades-in-arms, or some combat objective at the time of death (as opposed to high American ideals of freedom, democracy, liberty, self-determination, etc) it can nonetheless be stated that all of them were lost in service to our country in one capacity or another…even those whose missions we never even heard about. I’m going to take it one step further and state that I think we should honor the memory of those who may have been engaged in morally questionable military activity at the time of death.

For example, everyone agrees that D-Day was the right thing to do; the My Lai massacre…not so much. But even those who were participating in such an atrocity still deserve to have their memory honored. As American citizens, we’re still obligated to honor even those who fought in campaigns and conflicts we don’t necessarily support.

I’ll try to get to my point. My only objection to the Memorial Day observances (the parades, the familiar Facebook posts, the blurbs to “remember the fallen” heard throughout the day on various media outlets) is that I think most of them don’t go far enough. I think, along with the reminders to remember the fallen, we need an additional message for the living:

Do not let their sacrifice be in vain.

What do I mean? Okay, did anyone see ‘Saving Private Ryan’? Reference the part near the end of the film, where Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) has been mortally wounded on the bridge, he’s speaking to Private Ryan (Matt Damon), and he says, “Earn this!” It was his last sentence, before succumbing to the injuries he’d just sustained in combat. Private Ryan, of course, survives the war and goes on to lead a long life. At the end of the film, he’s shown visiting Captain Miller’s grave…and he asks his wife to tell him he’s been a good husband, a good father over the years.

I don’t know if that scene actually happened or if it was the creation of some Hollywood screenwriter, but I think there is some wisdom in Captain Miller’s message. “Earn this!” His statement to Private Ryan was simple – don’t let my sacrifice, my death on this bridge, my dying at the hands of the German army we’re fighting – don’t let that be in vain. He was telling the private to lead a worthwhile life after the war, one which would be worthy of the sacrifice of brave men who fought and died. At least that’s what *I* got out of that scene.

What does that mean to us today – not letting the sacrifice of fallen warriors be in vain? I think it means not only to exercise the freedoms they bought and secured for us, but also to be vigilant against anyone who’d try to take them. “Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel,” warned Patrick Henry. Yeah, the “give me liberty or give me death” guy.

Our Founding Fathers made it abundantly clear that those who hold political power are mere men – corruptible, not to be trusted, ever seeking to impose tyranny on the rest of us. They made it clear, through their writings in various publications of the time (The Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution itself, personal letters, and others) that if our country is to remain free – or to have honest government – then the people themselves must be the ones to guarantee that. It means that one of the responsibilities of being an American citizen, is to hold one’s leaders accountable. It means demanding honest and transparent government that respects our rights.

Ben Franklin, for instance, on exiting the Constitutional Convention, was asked what sort of government he and his colleagues had designed, and he is reported to have said, “A republic, if you can keep it.” He meant that it was up to future generations to maintain what had been fought for during the Revolutionary War. It is also said that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” which has been variously attributed. Regardless of who said that, I think there’s a real nugget of truth there.

We simply don’t have the luxury of turning a blind eye to what’s happening to our country, trusting that our leaders know best, or telling ourselves that it’s all going to work out. History has counseled us that those who seek to aggrandize more power unto themselves always have nefarious reasons for doing so. Look no further than Hitler’s Germany for a rather strong example of what happens when people assume that their leaders have the peoples’ best interests at heart. The Russian Revolution of 1917 (which installed Lenin and his communist Bolsheviks in power) is another. Tyranny and destruction always follow such men.

This makes the president’s recent speech at Ohio State all the more disgusting:

Still, you’ll hear voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works; or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule is just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.


A lot of people these days talk about rights of citizenship, but no discussion of rights is complete without a corresponding discussion of responsibilities.They go together. It’s two sides of the same coin.

The president’s foolish speech at Ohio State is exactly the sort of thing our Founders were warning us about. Imploring us to reject “voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems” is an example of what to watch out for. On the contrary, this just the sort of rhetoric that engaged citizens need to reject. It should be dismissed by those American citizens who are cognizant of their responsibilities to fallen warriors, as well as to themselves and their posterity.

(Understand that I’m not quoting this in order to pick on Obama or other liberals – not today anyway. He simply happens to be the guy in power at the moment.)

I wrote on Facebook today that one way of not letting our military’s sacrifices be in vain, is to pay attention to what your government is doing and to hold your government leaders accountable. This means they should be hearing from us on a regular basis. It means we should be paying close attention and not relying on the media or political pundits to interpret events for us. It means we have a responsibility as American citizens to let our elected and appointed leaders know that they answer to us – that we made them, and we can break them…figuratively and politically speaking. It means that we can and will use our First Amendment rights on the Internet, at gathering places, in forums, at the ballot box, and in court to assert our will.

This is particularly important here in America, because of why our military members went to their deaths on land, sea, and air over the last couple of centuries. There’s a very important distinction to be made between our fallen service members, and those who fought for our enemies, for many other nations/states/empires of history, or for those who fight in the militaries of many foreign countries today.

What distinction is that? Freedom. Our military’s fallen were lost in defense of freedom. I don’t mean to suggest that your average GI at Bunker Hill, Shiloh, Somme, Guadalcanal, Inchon, Khe Sanh, Desert Storm, or Fallujah spent a lot of time thinking about our country’s ideals so much as simply staying alive, watching each other’s backs and getting the job done. I also don’t mean to suggest that whoever the enemy du jour happened to be necessarily thought of themselves as the bad guys (though most certainly were). I do, however, mean to suggest that pretty much all of them were ostensibly deployed in some capacity meant to assure that our nation and its ideals would continue to exist.

If any of those fallen warriors came back to life today, I’d like to be able to look them in the eye and tell them that we hadn’t squandered what they’d bequeathed us. They didn’t bleed just so we can sit on the couch today and watch our leaders give away the store.

Though very little military conflict actually took place on American soil during the 20th and 21st centuries, every time our military was sent overseas it was ostensibly done so in order to protect our interests, and to make sure that no rival power would be able to get into a position to threaten those ideals. Nobody in America wanted to see the British redcoats, the Nazis, the imperial Japanese, the Soviet communists / their allies, Al Queda, or anyone else in a position to assert a real threat to the continued survival of this country, its citizens, or to our way of life.

I happen to think this is important because the American experiment is a unique one in human history. Never before was a country founded from the very beginning on the concept of self-government. Though other countries have been run democratically to one extent or another, never before was a nation set upon a foundation that the people, and not their rulers, are sovereign. Every other republic throughout history to that point had placed limits upon the sovereignty of the people.

Today, there are dozens of countries in which attempting to “petition the government for a redress of grievances” (that’s from the First Amendment in our Constitution) is all it takes to get oneself and one’s entire family thrown into prison or worse. How well do you think letter-writing campaigns by citizens are tolerated today in North Korea, Iran, Cuba, or a long list of other places? How well do you think it was tolerated by Soviet Russia or by the Roman Empire for that matter? Do you think politicians in those places listened to the people and realized they’d better clean up their act…or were goon squads sent out to deal with “troublemakers” and other sources of dissent?

And I don’t think we here in America are immune to our country going down the same path. We are in trouble if we’re more concerned about “American Idol,” keeping up with the Kardashians, and this year’s Super Bowl…than we are with holding our leaders accountable and making sure that they know we aren’t going to tolerate any funny business. It means letting them know – frequently – that we’re happy to vote them out of office and/or use the power of the judiciary to hold them in check. This is absolutely critical to maintaining the rule of law, as opposed to the arbitrary rule of men.

This is not a partisan plea. This transcends Republican or Democratic politics. This has nothing to do with party. While there happens to be a Democrat-controlled administration in the White House at the moment, it’s just as important to be vigilant when the other side is in power…regardless of how you voted in the last election. In fact, it may be even more important when “your guys” are in, since they may be more apt to listen to you if they think they run the risk of losing your support for acting unwisely, illegally, unethically, or irresponsibly. Don’t tell yourself even for a minute that Congress, the President, the governor, the state Legislature, the mayor, the City Council, or the County Board of Supervisors don’t care what you think. If there’s one thing that politicians of every stripe and every level understand, it’s votes.

I assure you that if enough people get exercised about something, action will be taken, by the highest levels of American government. If the Benghazi, IRS, or Fast N Furious scandals were being taken seriously by voters of all stripes (instead of dismissed as a partisan witch hunt), we’d be getting some real answers about what went on in these cases, instead of stonewalling and “I can’t remember, I don’t recall” from the people who may have been involved.

If the Democrats in Congress – and their constituents back home – were demanding a real response from the Obama Administration, we’d get one. But that’s just it – the people who elected these politicians need to be leading the way. Ultimate blame for corruption, incompetence, or malfeasance in government rests with the people, who are sovereign. It’s been said that the American people may not necessarily get the government they deserve, but they will definitely get the worst one they’ll tolerate.

If one good thing came out of the Watergate scandal nearly forty years ago, it should be this: The American people will forgive incompetence and even dishonesty…but they have no patience for a cover-up.

I don’t mean to get off on a lot of finger-pointing; those were merely handy examples because they are current events as of this writing. Everything I’ve said here is also true of developments at the state or local level. I personally vote in every election, of course, and also contact my state Legislative officials from time to time to let them know what I think of their positions on my pet issues. I probably should be doing even more, but as everyone knows, there are only so many hours in the day, with a full time job and a family to attend to. Nonetheless, I consider it my responsibility as an American citizen to let my leaders know that I’m watching them, that I have a voice, and that I’m not afraid to use it. So should you.

I also am happy to let them assume that I speak for thousands of other citizens who couldn’t be bothered to pick up the phone or write a letter that day, but who nonetheless do vote…and who are paying attention to what’s being done with their tax dollars and with the power we’ve entrusted to them as public servants.

These people who serve in government (remember that word) work for us. Not the other way around. We pay their salary and they answer to us, even if they are from some Congressional or Legislative district other than the one we live in. We the people are their boss, and as US citizens, we have a very serious obligation to our fallen warriors to insist on honest and efficient government.

Earn this. Honor the fallen, this Memorial Day and every day. Do not let their sacrifices be in vain.