Looking carefully at that which is unseen.

Monthly Archives: July 2011

Thinking about: Wishes

There is an old and oh-so-true adage which goes, “Be careful what you wish for you may get it.”

I am not clear on why the Left is spending so much time whining about the corporate bailouts that are occurring for banks and investment companies as a result of the collapse of the latest economic bubble. We have been told repeatedly, for years, that all risk should be removed from social and economic life, that the world should be turned into a giant soft fuzzy ball, and that it was the responsibility of the State to spend any amount of money necessary to protect the sheeple from any possibility of risk.

Stocks and bonds are – well, were – investments, and investments carry risk. The State, with its various subsidies and bailouts, is only carrying out its Left-approved duty to de-riskify the world for everybody. TARP is nothing more than the banning of BB guns, writ large. The Left wished for a risk-free world. The public-coffer-plundering banksters and oligarchs of the Right were only too happy to hop on board that particular gravy train … said train having left poor lonely “Individual Responsibility” standing at the station, unloved, unwanted, and not ever being given a chance to work.

The post opened with one old adage. Let’s close with another: “Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” Maybe the Left might want to rethink it’s ineffable support for risk free living for everyone at the expense of the public purse.

Thinking about: Sheeple

The term “sheeple,” in popular use in certain quarters, is an amalgam of “sheep” and “people,” and is used to describe the blind and herd-like nature that the majority have in following others, whether guided or not. I recall reading somewhere that the word is offensive, but given that those being offended by it are sheeple – or shepleherds,* who do not wish their relationship with the sheeple described with any degree of accuracy (it can stampede the herd, ya know) – I’m not terribly concerned.

One of the reason that the sheeples get offended is the inherent suggestion in the term that they are unwilling at best, or unable at worst, to think for themselves. Shepleherds know better, of course, and count on that very inability or unwillingness of the sheeples as part of their wealth and power extraction process. Science apparently agrees with me – quelle surprise – and in this described report we find the money quote being, ““In general, people do not like to have an unpopular opinion and are always seeking to try locally to come to consensus.” In other words, “thinking like the rest of the herd does.” This desire for herdthink is a decidedly useful tool for the shepleherds and its use is in view all the time – watch any shepleherd describing an unorthodox idea as “crazy” or “outlandish” or “never been done before,” rather than addressing the merits of the idea itself and you’re seeing sheeple herding at work.

Yet it is often the outlandish and unorthodox ideas that are the correct ones, despite herdthink to the contrary. Humans were meant to fly, disease is caused by germs (sorry ’bout that insanity thing, Dr. Simmelweis), and that the purpose of government is to secure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – not to herd and shear and occasionally turn sheeples into mutton curry for the benefit of others.

So in addition to the Quibbles and Bits and Thinking about categories, I figure I’ll add a new one: Outside the Herd, dedicated to outlandish ideas that nevertheless would seem deserve a good airing. I hope that the four of you who read this will enjoy.

*one who herds sheeple. the parasite classes. duh.

Thinking about: Super Congress

I do not understand the fuss over the idea of a “Super Congress” that will propose legislation. How is it any different from any other group that proposes legislation, or even any individual who proposes legislation? The problem is not the source, it’s that legislation is still being proposed! To paraphrase PJ O’Rourke, “We’ve had over two centuries of legislation. Isn’t it done yet? Can’t we stick a fork in it and call it good?”

Alvie gets the rest of it right, though, when he points out that others only have as much power over us as we’re willing to cede to them. There is always the choice to disobey. Granted, that choice may have undesirable consequences, but all too often you hear from people that they have “no choice.” What they really mean is that they do not like the choices they have and, indeed, choices sometimes suck. A mugger who says, “Gimme yer wallet” is a situation where disobedience may result in injury or death, whether in the alley or in the courts afterward (which is a topic for a different day), and it’s generally cheaper to comply than to reply, “Come and get it.”

But when he says, “Gimme your daughter,” well, then those choices of obedience or resistance take on a whole different flavor, don’t they? Though I’m told that there are more than a few on the Left who’d cheerfully offer up their wives, their daughters, and even their own selves rather than resist a demand from someone like that.

Back to the original point, though, this is a prime example of “who gives a rat’s patoot?” The real decision is whether individuals, cities, counties, and states are going to continue to obey Leviathan and his minions.

My guess is “yes,” because they’ll feel (not think) that they have no choice. They’re wrong, but they’ll never realize it, because it’s as alien to them as resistance would be to a Leftist.

Ranting about: Revolvers

Revolver frames and the grips (I guess they’re “stocks” now) that cover them, more precisely.

The question is – just WTF were the designers of the Ruger Redhawk frame thinking? I’ve tried five different grips – including factory stock – on the bloody thing and can not find a single one that doesn’t feel like I’m grabbing a 2×4, with all the shooting comfort that implies.

Apparently if I want something in a 4″ barreled .44 Magnum revolver, it’s going to have to be a Smith & Wesson (since the old Colt Anacondas are not going to make the price curve, Dan Wessons are too hard to find, Super Redhawks need gunsmithing to hit the 4″ mark, and I’m leery of other brands) revolver if I want to have anything that can be shot with reasonable comfort.

Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll have the chance, some day, to meet whoever the engineer was who thought that the grip shape of the Ruger Redhawk was a winner … and shake his gorilla-like hand.

Whatcha gonna do, patrol leader?

Never had the joy of going off to the US Army Ranger School, but I worked and trained with a lot of guys who had been there. I have no idea what the current training program, standards, and methods are, but a common remark by trainers who’d been there, when evaluating your performance during a tactical scenario, was some form of “Whatcha gonna do about it, patrol leader?”

Another version of the comment can be found in this clip:

The prompting for this question on my part is this bit, where we are told that Marcus Stephen, the president of Nauru, wrote in a piece in the New York Times, “The security council should join the general assembly in recognising climate change as a threat to international peace and security. It is a threat as great as nuclear proliferation or global terrorism.”

Since not a lot seems to have been done about nuclear proliferation, other than the Haves attempting to deny technology to the Have Nots (with not much success), that leaves the equating of the threat of global warming with that of global terrorism.

This brings the question to the front – just what is the President of Nauru proposing as a solution? The American Way™ would involve bombing the living crap out of any offender, along with anyone who happened to be nearby at the time. Or simply anybody living in an area where offenders live. Or are reported to live. Or share the same time zone. The UN Way™ is more likely to be passage of ineffectual resolutions, unless the interests of one of the Important Industrial Nations is at stake. So one can only wonder which of those two methods President Stephen is proposing as a solution to the issue of global warming.

It takes a village…

With typical Liberal misappropriation of ideas, Hillary Clinton once famously voiced the idea that, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Of course, La Clinton wanted the adage to stand for the proposition that it gave her and her ilk free rein to impose whatever State controls she wanted on the rearing of children, on the grounds that America was somehow just a huge nation-sized village and that she was the Queen Mommy To All.

In reality, the concept does not translate well above the village level – i.e. above the level of the small town made up of tightly connected families sharing common beliefs and values. What sociologists call an “organic” community. Village education is, no surprise, geared toward incorporating that child into his village and consists not just of things learned in classrooms (if any) but also of the entire village culture.

Modern American Industrial Schooling will simply never accomplish that. But then, MAIS was never intended to accomplish the creation of educated and culturally competent villagers – the purpose of MAIS is to condition children to fit into industrial urban society. Sit in rows, be quiet, do what they’re told, move to the sound of the bell, all intended to create a stock of quasi-brain-dead organic robots barely competent enough to turn a wrench at a factory for eight hours a day. Total submission to authority, or else … think about it: What could be more degrading than to have to ask someone for permission every time you want a drink or to use the rest room?

Further indications of assembly-line education: Promotion by level, not by actual competence – if you’ve pretty much mastered English but really need extra time in math, tough, you get one English class and one math class per grade level, regardless. The same courses regardless of ability, rather than based on need. Treating children as though they were interchangeable widgets, all learning alike, rather than the individuals they are. Factory quality education – is it any surprise that the results are exactly what you’d expect of any mass-produced product, versus what would be built with custom construction?

Thinking about: Money

We’ll get back to The Libertarian@War sometime soon, but a recent Mises article by John Chamberlain, A Short History of US Credit Defaults started me back to thinking on one of my favorite issues – money. The article makes for interesting reading in its own right, in view of the current budget nail-biter going on in D.C., with Mr. Chamberlain identifying at least previous defaults by the US government: The Continental-Currency Default, The Default on Continental Domestic Loans, The Greenback Default of 1862, The Liberty Bond Default of 1934, and The Momentary Default of 1979. Go ahead and give it a quick read, I’ll wait.

Okay, everybody back? Good.

Back on track, let’s ask the question, “What is money?” I am not going to indulge in the logical fallacy of appealing to authority by quoting someone else’s definition … for purposes of this conversation, money is “any material used as a convenient store of a person’s wealth that enables him to work around the difficulties imposed by a barter economy, if that material is generally accepted.” In other words, it needs to be something that a stranger will accept, even if at discount, in payment for goods or services. Trading ammunition with your buddies at the range is still barter, even if ammunition has, in the past, been used as money. Historically gold and silver are common as money, but things such as tobacco, whiskey, pretty seashells, and paper have been used. Money is something that keeps you from having to try and get change for your goat when you’re looking for a new pair of shoes.

How does this play into the default discussion above? Simple – I would contend that the State, when it controls the money supply always defaults on its debt in some way, shape, or form, defining “default” as a failure, neglect, or refusal to pay a debt. The only question is how that default occurs. Mr. Chamberlain covers some pretty drastic and catastrophic defaults in his article, ones that are well known. Latin America has demonstrated default, and threats thereof – and we can soon the PIIGS to follow suit. Even America, potentially, could go into catastrophic default.

But what about less-than-catastrophic-default? For instance, what else is inflation – the increasing amount of fiat currency compared to the growth of goods and services – but another form of default as the State, with its monopoly on the money presses, devalues its currency and thus uses the debased currency to pay down its debts to various parties that are owed money by the State. Every contract, even a “social contract,” has an understanding of “good faith,” and producing more money than is necessary or reasonable is a breach of that faith – a default on that contract – between the State and the people.

As an aside, the classic “gold contract” was a hedge against such defaults. Repayment on a contract was not set in dollar terms, but in terms of a certain weight of gold, either over time or in a lump sum. For example’s sake let us say it costs a 20th of an ounce of gold to produce a book, and Claire sells her book for a tenth of an ounce. If Wendy, by gold contract, buys Claire’s book, it doesn’t matter whether Wendy gives Claire a tenth of an ounce of gold, 3.4 1970 paper dollars or 159 2011 paper dollars. Claire gets the the same value.

Let us now suppose, however, that in a fit of unaccustomed sanity, some minion from the US government decides to buy Claire’s book. In 1970, he would pay 3.4 paper dollars for the book. But, unless Claire has kept up with inflation by changing the price of her book, by 2011 the minion could now purchase 46 of Claire’s books (and about 170 pages of a 47th), using the amount of dollars that a tenth of an ounce of gold would bring. The problem is that even if Claire is keeping up with inflation in pricing her book, she’s not likely to know just how quickly the minion has obtained access to extra dollars, and she will be behind the curve on replacing the books with new ones. Even worse is if she has to replace her stock on a gold contract.

It’s fairly obvious, then, that whoever obtains access to the paper dollars first, before finding out about the de facto default, is going to be in a better position to acquire goods and services than someone downstream.

Thinking about: The purpose of governments

Politicians, in addition to having any sense of shame or irony surgically removed, also generally have radical changes made to their eyes and frontal lobes in order to prevent them from comprehending plain English, in the event that that English clashes with their world view and ambitions. Take for example this simple bit from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

See? The purpose of government is to secure the rights of the people. That’s the purpose in a republic, anyway, but after a historical while republics seem to inevitably transform into something much more authoritarian, and the purpose of governments becomes a combination of aggrandizement of the oligarchs who inevitably assume the (ever growing) reins of power, and keeping the commoners in their place, subservient to the oligarchs.

Fear is a wonderful tool for control of the plebes, better and cheaper than bread and circuses. Nothing keeps boobus americanus subservient like a good scare, preferably of some terrible fate that awaits him if only the Nanny State (or the Daddy State) does not interpose itself.

Good oligarchs also like to keep the plebes quiet by using established institutions and procedures whenever possible. Again, the sheeple are more likely to look up from their contented grazing if the will of the oligarchs is being imposed by familiar means. This does not mean that a good crisis can’t be used to create, say, a Transportation Safety Administration out of whole cloth, but maintenance of that control and tension generally needs more mundane means, such as the courts.

The purpose of a court – and we’re looking at criminal courts, generally – is nothing more exciting than to determine guilt or innocence. This is handled by a fact finder, either a judge or a jury, hearing all of the presentation from both sides and arriving at a conclusion based on those presentations. Bear in mind that guilt or innocence is not necessarily the same as “what really happened.” It simply is a determination of whether the State has successfully proven that the event occurred and that criminal liability needs to attach to the defendant. Under the Declaration of Independence theory, William Blackstone’s adage of “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” applies perfectly. The purpose of governments is to protect the rights of that one innocent.

But allowing the arguably guilty to escape is not conducive the oligarchs because neither they, nor the sheeple they rule, ever see themselves as being the one innocent falsely convicted.* Therefore you end up with people like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who manages to roll both the fear card and the “oligarchy knows best” card into a single liberty-hating position with his different view on the purpose of courts. To his mind, courts apparently should be nothing more than a rubber stamp for the desires of the oligarchy. Doubtless he longs wistfully for the old Soviet show trials, where there was an outward appearance of legal procedure, but the results were actually a foregone conclusion.

Given the way that the sheeples are pounding their little hoofies over the Anthony case, I expect that Mr. McConnell will find plenty of support for his position – and the inevitable expansion thereof.

*which brings to mind the old joke: “A Conservative is a Liberal who’s been mugged. A Liberal is a Conservative who’s been indicted.”

Thinking about: Libertarians At War, Pt. 0

I know, I know, “How can you have a Part 0 when you’ve already done Part I?” Think of it as a prequel, if that helps. Notice also that this is a “Thinking about” column, not a “Quibbles and bits.”

Wendy McElroy’s recent Mises Institute article on libertarians and war opening salvo (going to have to keep the military metaphor going) prompted some cross-border fully-automatic quibbling. Rather than stay under the radar, I called Wendy’s attention to the quibble-krieg that was starting and was quickly reminded of why teasing writers – even friendly ones – is, as they say, “fraught with peril.” Friendly fire can be just as bad as the unfriendly kind, after all. As Private Murphy, the discoverer of Murphy’s Laws of War once put it, “Don’t worry about the bullet with your name on it, worry about the ones marked ‘to whom it may concern.'”

It was no surprise, therefore, to receive a decently sized comment from Wendy; I wouldn’t expect less from a writer of her “caliber.”

But before launching into the official Part II, it is necessary to answer a pre-existing question raised in Wendy’s comment, and that is “What would a libertarian war look like – why would libertarians even ever go to war?” The answer is simple, that it would be in self-defense. Setting aside for the moment the argument that a war has to be declared between two nation states, I like the premise of the starting position offered by Vernor Vinge’s The Ungoverned. It sets up, at least, a scenario of a nation-state invading a libertarian area which, quite frankly, is about the only form of libertarian war I can envision – a violation of the non-aggression principle by another group, said group being ipso facto non-libertarian as demonstrated by its aggression. Two truly libertarian groups simply could not be warring against each other, and security companies would be viewing war as bad for business since they’d be unlikely to obtain much in the way of new employees to replace those who were killed in action, nor would they have any taxing authority to buy all the Big Ticket Toys that make modern war so destructive.

However, unlike in The Ungoverned, a libertarian group is not likely to have a convenient deus ex machina nuke tucked away (against the interest of the neighbors) and is more likely to have nothing but small arms, such that you might afford individually. Small groups may well “go in together” on light artillery of some form, certainly security companies may have a bit of heavier weaponry around, but even that would be limited in scope and effect, not to mention a not terribly effective use of resources. Despite what you see in today’s modern military policing, tanks and heavy machine guns are not all that useful to chasing down burglars, nor are they necessary to provide night-time security to the local population. If they are necessary, the local population has other issues to be thinking about.

Much of the rest of Wendy’s analysis (up to the “couldn’t happen” conclusion) is on point. Targets, collateral damage, the free rider problem, delegations and agency, all of those are – within the limits of the short format – touched on and covered nicely. So what, then, becomes the strategy?

Well, let’s offer a hint of Part II: small units or individuals, armed with rifles and grenades, going mano y mano with tanks, helicopters, and rocket launchers. Certain suicide, you think? Only if you’re not reading the newspaper – which, as I understand it, many people aren’t these days.

Thinking about: Self-policing

I think that if I see one more stupid remark like this:

“I placed too much confidence in the ability of the private market participants to police themselves,” he testified. Donald Kohn, statist

I will track down the speaker and vomit all over his shiny black wingtip shoes.

Folks, let’s get this straight – people are not going to “police” themselves if there are no adverse consequences to their behavior. The coyote never dies as a result of chasing the roadrunner, he only suffers a brief and painful inconvenience, and so what does he have to lose in regard to his endless quest? Likewise, what does a Too Big To Fail bank have to lose when the dotgov is standing ready to bail it out with taxpayer money? If there were a risk of actual consequences, loss of wealth for bad business decisions and serious jail time for criminal fraud, then the banksters would have been far more careful in what they were doing. Or suffered the consequences.

Rather than whining about the private sector, Mr. Kohn needs to open up a dictionary and read up on “moral hazard.” But until he recognizes that he’s part of the problem, rather than the solution, it might be better for America if he spent his free time chasing roadrunners.