apocalypto

“If you can’t find a masterpieces amidst the blockbuster flotsam,” write the folks at BBC.com, in an uncredited feature, “you simply aren’t looking hard enough.”

Could they be right? Most of my friends are talking about the Golden Age of television, with its vast cosmos of options and platforms. But the BBC thinks that feature-length “film” storytelling is really pretty good:

Film-making today, whether massively expensive or made with tiny budgets, shot on celluloid or video, is thriving artistically as much as it ever has. But today you’ll find greater diversity in the kinds of films being made, if not in the people who are making them.

The BBC editors have concocted a list of the 100 best films from the last 16 years. I comment on their list below, despite this being the lowest form of blogging:

100. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
100. Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
100. Carlos (Olivier Assayas, 2010)

Well, that was a cheat. Three “hundredth place” films? That means this list is the Top 103. There is a sort of vexing innumeracy to modern journalism. (In any case, I have not seen any of these.) Read the rest of this entry »

RobertOwen

How much better for the world would it have been had Robert Owen’s original formulation of socialism been studied and debated in full, rather than overshadowed by the looming monstrosities of writers like Marx and Engels?

Consider the following selection from Owen (see below). There is much that is wrong, here. Much. But it is wrong in interesting ways — far more interesting than the pseudo-intellectualism of Marx’s idiotic inversion of Hegel, or his misguided, historically embarrassing wrong path on track of value. Further, Owen’s own success at making a profit while improving the living conditions for his workers was an interesting example of managerial entrepreneurship. Had he not distracted himself from  out-competing more callous businesses, and thereby spreading a new way of looking at hiring and firing help — and its great utility — he might have changed Britain for the better earlier on.

And killed state socialism in its crib. Read the rest of this entry »

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You should not always want “your guy” or “your gal” to win the U. S. Presidency. After all, the economy being what it is — Damoclean — things could go awry at any moment . . . go terribly wrong. And the American people would witlessly blame whoever held power at the time of the bust for the bust.

The Presidency these days seems like a game of musical chairs — except that it is the one who takes the seat who loses.

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I’ve Got the Cognitive Content Discontent — er, Blues

This year’s Democratic and Republican candidates for the presidency, duly selected in their respective party “conventions,” make quite a pair. Both are desperation moves, signs of the times. That is, they both indicate the intellectual senescence of the two major parties.

After two-hundred forty years of abusing the Constitution, the most corrupt candidate in recent memory (Hillary) vies with the most corrupting candidate (The Donald). America, land of the depraved and the home of the freaks.

Hillary is there because of . . . inertia. That is, because she wants to be there, because she’s a woman and a Democrat, and because the vaguely Left of Center in America sports neither wit nor conscience. Just a pathetic, untrustworthy bleeding heart — and a spleen of self-righteousness.

Donald is there because . . . none of the other candidates could be trusted to shake things up like the non-Left/anti-Establishment demands things to be shaken up. And because he pisses off and scares the Establishment.

And so the Democrats chose to empty their intellectual storehouse and shovel the last of their human capital into the rat-hole of the crony-capitalist corporate state while the Republicans (and interloping Reagan Dems and independents who stormed the open primaries) chose to throw a bomb into the open wound of America.

Pretty much the same holes, actually.

But we cannot quite blame the voters. Or party members.

Why? I mean, why not?

This is an easy one. They have been played for years by the “journalists” of the now-rapidly decaying mainstream media.

Hillary and Bill Clinton became nothing less than the darlings of said major media, and the Democracy — or its closest continuer from Jacksonian times — little more than the favored in-group of the major media (and academic) intelligentsia.

And because these things are so, journalists have been covering for this corrupt, deeply sick couple for years, preventing any sensible judgment on the part of rank-and-file Democrats. And the entertainment industry, especially in the illustrious personages of Comedy Network news satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, have poisoned public discourse by engaging in mostly vacuous (if occasionally trenchant) mockery. A very biased mockery. The American Left and Right now see each other as Evil and Stupid. And hardly anything more.

Meanwhile, the legitimate news media (so-called) pretends to be non-partisan. It’s a laugh. It’s a chuckle. It’s a snort of Coke through the nose. But these college-educated “journalists” aren’t idiots. They maintain plausible deniability by focusing relentlessly on the horse-race elements of elections.

This “horse race” fixation appears “fact-based” and not directly about issues (so offering up less occasion for revealing bias). It’s obviously “news,” if not often very important. And the relentless coverage has a barely hidden side-effect: it allows journalists to surreptitiously act as gate keepers of the election, by managing “winnability.” This has become the American version of the Mandate of Heaven, and the media is almost entirely responsible for this fixation, in the process even further narrowing the range of discourse in America.

The exact mechanism by which journalists act as gate keepers — precisely how endlessly asking candidates  “how can you win?” and “how much money have you raised?” emphasizes the gate keeper function — is a tad complex, and I won’t get into it here. But followers of the news biz understand the process without elaborate flow charts. In a rather underhanded manner, while pretending to be non-partisan and “unbiased,” journalists favor certain candidates (and parties) over others.

Yes, yes, I know — they basically fell for the manipulations of Trump. They didn’t protest much, other than verbally. They gave him the coverage he needed, and their expressed demurrals fed the Trump phenomenon anyway, playing into his hands. But the whole reality TV show of it also played into theirs, because they really did not want the Republicans to select a  candidate that Hillary Clinton might find difficult to beat in November 2016.

Trump, you see, was always “a story.” If something of a joke. The issues upon which the future of the republic rests? Those just get in the way of putting another corrupt Clinton into the White House.

Are journalists really this cynical?

Yes.

Well, almost. As in cult leaders and politicians and the very best salesmen, the real dishonesty starts with oneself.

But the putatively pure souls of folks in the major media are not something I care to deal with at length. These paragons are mostly lazy, mostly incurious people who merely desired an easy way to feel good about themselves using the realm of politics as the foundation  for their carefully nurtured self-righteousness.

Read about them in Mencken. They have only gotten worse since his time, after which the word biz was “professionalized” by collegiate credentialism.

So here we are

The hierarchies of the two major parties are utterly corrupt, having betrayed their constituencies repeatedly. And the American voters know it. Their standard-bearers this year are utterly corrupt. And the American voters know it. The major media is not only corrupt, but also on the way out, with newspapers dying fast and the “three blind mice” of ABC, CBS, and NBC becoming less and less relevant year by year.

And the voters are . . . ?

Well, if not wholly corrupt, at least desperate. Which may be why CNN is holding multiple Libertarian and Green Party “town halls” — an astounding break from past practice. The norm had been, after all, to marginalize and shut out those on the margin. Mock them, condescend, laugh at their “wacky” proposals, and move on.

Perhaps the folks at CNN have realized how fragile the post-World War II political equilibrium now is. Perhaps they understand, belatedly, that they are partly responsible for the current mess, and are looking for intellectual cover.

Or perhaps they are just flailing about for extra viewers. Even grifters and con artists have been known to try honesty and virtue on the ignominious way down. At least, you might say, as a play for pity.

Weld-Johnson

The moderates are coming!

The most droll irony of this election, however, has been brought to us by the Libertarian Party. The Libertarians sport the most radical platform in American politics, but of late have been nominating rather uncharacteristically non-radical candidates. Former Clinton scourge Rep. Bob Barr, for example. And former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.

Johnson was bequeathed the baton in 2012, and received more votes from American voters than had any other Libertarian in U.S. history. (Though, admittedly, the vote count was still disappointingly low, even under the percentage of the total vote that Ed Clark won in 1980.) This year he was once again elected to bear the Libertarian banner. And, immediately after receiving the honor, he begged the LP conventioneers to pair him up with his hero in governorship, former Massachusetts head honcho William Weld. After much anguish and in-fighting, the Libertarian conventioneers went in all the way. The two now often appear in front of interviewers and crowds together, P and VP for the LP ticket.

Much can be said about this dynamic duo, pro and con. I like the both of them — not as libertarians so much, but as moderate politicians with some common sense. Paul Jacob, the “This is Common Sense” citizens’ activist, dubs Johnson a “moderate libertarian” and Weld a “libertarian-leaning centrist.”* And Beltway libertarian/classical liberal Walter Olson explores the centrist element of these candidates at greater length:

In Europe liberal parties, often seen as the nearest analogue of libertarian, are often perceived in just this way as occupying centrist/middle positions between labor or revolutionary parties on the left and blood-and-soil or religious parties on the right. European liberal tendencies vary but often they’re secular, business oriented, pro-trade, modern, internationalist but not militarist, and interested in meliorist reform rather than street politics or national crusades. Sound familiar?

So on general principle we shouldn’t assume that if you squeeze the libertarians out of the GOP coalition, they’ll pop out on the far right. (Or far left.) They might pop out in the center instead, as Bill Weld clearly has and Gary Johnson shows signs of doing as well.

I think it is more fundamental than even this. Libertarianism, like classical liberalism, has never been a creature of the Left or the Right, not really. It has always provided a moderating principle.

Indeed, better than socialists and conservatives, the individualist liberals have consistently offered a more moderating, balancing principle for civilization. I have long looked at libertarian principles as refinements of practical, mediating mores that have been discovered in the course of civilization’s cycles of evolution and decline.

Liberty is a perennial principle for a reason, and more in line with the Aristotelian mean than other principles.

The “deal” of a civilized morality, as understood by individualists, is to balance the vast social cosmos of competing interests upon the Schelling Point of the non-initiation of force — of liberty —  thus providing the mid-point equilibrium for humanity in constant potential conflict. We settle on liberty as the first principle of justice the better to avoid and resolve conflict. And, consequently, it provides that most amazing platform for mutual advance: voluntary coöperation. This is classical liberalism at core, libertarianism in its quiddity.

Libertarianism is not an extremism. It is a centrism.

Even the most radical-seeming notion of modern libertarianism, the so-called “anarcho-capitalism” of Murray Rothbard and David D. Friedman — which is, by the way, mostly just a repackaging of Gustave de Molinari’s 19th century proposal of “competitive government,” and of Benjamin R. Tucker’s “plumb-line” anarchism, individualist anarchism sans crank economics — was once, back in the 1970s, designated “middle of the road” by one of its more sophisticated enthusiasts. (Or at least so goes my memory of the book, which is subtitled “A Right Wing Alternative,” after all. So, caveats.)

Libertarians may seem radical, even to themselves. But, at heart, the libertarian idea is not to scare everybody off with a complete remaking of society, but to moderate the rough edges of political governance with that non-radical idea of non-aggression.

So, in selecting two moderates, more “libertarianish” than strictly libertarian, this year’s Libertarians have given America a way out of the current debacle.

Graph it and go

In previous installments (such as my May 3 post, “Realignments”) of the Matter of 2016, I have suggested that the Trump phenomenon must be seen, in part, as a takeover of the GOP by authoritarian-leaning independents.

On the famed “Nolan Chart,” I mapped the realignment as follows, reading left graph to right graph:

GOPcomplexion

To make this clearer, let me (hastily) redraw this, distinguishing the Trump center (brown-orange) from the Johnson-Weld center (green):

NolanChart-newCENTERS

No matter where Trump really belongs on this familiar ideological map, the new people he has pulled in to support him come not from “the right” as such, but from the statist, authoritarian part of the population. The new center navigated by Johnson-Weld borders the libertarian sector, but it does remain moderate, neither very far left nor right.

Just like libertarians. And totalitarians. Neither left nor right, but extremes on the moderate axis.†

What if the Electoral College flunks out?

While Libertarians have offered a slate that can appeal to moderates, and thus shake up the political landscape, the sheer inertia of the two-party system almost guarantees the success of Clinton, if not Trump. Of course, a startling-to-the-masses revelation about one or both of the candidates — like, say, Clinton being very ill and not in her right mind, as many now speculate, or Trump revealing that his whole candidacy was a lark, a whimsical stunt — could place a lot of votes in Johnson’s tip jar.

And were Gary Johnson included in the presidential debates, he might so far outshine his competition that he could snatch victory away from Hillary to . . . well, could he really win a popular vote? It seems unlikely.‡

More likely, if Johnson-Weld capture a state like Utah (which in Rep. Mia Love’s district has them at 26 percent), and the Johnson and Stein campaigns take enough votes from the Democratic candidate, now in the lead, the Electoral College could offer up to Congress no majority winner.

At that point, it goes to the House to vote for the President, and to the Senate to vote for the VP. The Twelfth Amendment instructs the House to immediately, after the official presentation before Congress of a stalemate (majority-free) Electoral College vote, select a President from the Top Three, which would, one would think, include the R, D, and L party candidates. (Jill Stein seems a non-starter, as she will not be on all ballots.)

In that scenario, the next president of the United States might be the one most qualified by experience, and least disqualified by flagrant abuse of power and privilege. Yes, there is a possibility that the Republican majority House will make Gary Johnson the next Commander in Chief. The House is not in any way bound to select the plurality winner in either the popular vote or the Electoral selection.

House members would not hesitate at all, I think, were William Weld  on the top of the LP ticket. But reason might prevail, even in the case when Gary “I used to smoke pot regularly” Johnson is in play . . . and a moderate, rather than a Clinton or Trump wild card, might be selected.

In modern life, the best option is often the long shot.

 

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* Jacob also calls Hillary Clinton a spokesperson for “the neo-con left,” which is about a perfect characterization, I’d say.

† Alas, a better graphic demonstration of my moderating vision of liberty will have to wait for another day.

‡ Hillary having to step down before the election, leaving her weak flower running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, to take her place — that could throw everything into chaos. And Mrs. Clinton does have two looming issues: legal on many fronts, and medical. For all I know, she being the recipient of so much telepathic hatred, her head could explode on stage, Scanners style.

 

 

Hillary Clinton Takes Part In Ceremonial Swearing-In As Secretary Of State

On Fox last night, erstwhile ambassador John Bolton called FBI director James Comey a coward.

And that was my first thought, too.

But Comey concocted a script that served two purposes: it got him off the hook with his bosses, all party movers and shakers, while providing all the data we the outsiders need to make the obvious induction.

The investigation was rigged, we all knew it going in, and Comey spelled it out.

Of course, you have to be able to read, and hold more than one idea in your head at a time . . . that is, read a statement as ironic. But not ironic-funny, ironic-sinister.

Indeed, Comey’s official statement was such a thing of beauty that he should be commended.

And perhaps given some slack. Not a coward. Legitimately afraid.

When a hostage writes an official statement, one forgives him for the evasions and the strange perspectives. These are the tells. The classic evasion between “extremely careless” and the legally relevant term, “gross negligence,” is one; another is focus on an irrelevancy: the intent of Secretary of State Clinton to undermine security. (She intended to hide information, and, indeed, did; she intended to flout the rules, and did — but did she intend to commit or aid and abet treasonous breaches of security? Irrelevant to other prosecutions, but somehow relevant to hers.) All these and more (including admission that the investigation into that House of Corruption, the Clinton Foundation, remains ongoing) tell us what we need to know.

Comey is hostage to partisan Washington, as corrupt a place as any on the planet.I don’t know, exactly, what the establishment has against him. I do not know precisely what he is afraid of. But he is afraid of something, perhaps something so trivial as his future career and the esteem of his colleagues, most of whom are probably Democrats. (The Democracy is the Party of Government, after all.)

Clinton, Obama? These are people deeply in over their heads, desperately clinging to lie after lie to keep their party in power, and to keep the Leviathan of State on course, distributing goodies to the kept classes and insider cliques and cabals. It is amusing that the party of these insider governing classes calls itself “democratic.”

It isn’t.


Visual meme courtesy of ThisIsCommonSense.com.

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You may wish to play “the hero” in your “own life,” as Dickens put it, but it’s all too easy to step off the heroic stage to find yourself a melodrama’s bit player — or worse, the villain.

Or, in a comedy, the fool.

Take Louise Linton, the Scots actress whose previous work has been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding her memoirs, In Congo’s Shadow, released a few months ago. In her book she relates her 1999 “gap year” experiences, in which she traveled to Africa and got caught up in the Second Congolese War.

THe book has been billed as “the inspiring memoir of an intrepid teenager who abandoned her privileged life in Scotland” and “a tale of lost innocence and one daring young girl’s bittersweet journey to the heart of Africa.” But some readers, from Zambia and the UK, “have taken to social media to claim there are inaccuracies in her story,” relates The Scotsman.

And have accused her of sporting “a ‘white saviour complex.’”

And, basically, told lies, #LintonLies being the hashtag.

You can see what she has stumbled into, here. Even if she told the truth to the best of her ability, she has written herself a role that others don’t like very much.

Her very role as storyteller may have betrayed her. For instance, last year she garnered attention for her “idyllic childhood at Melville — which has now inspired her forthcoming untitled horror movie.” Used to telling stories that work better when she is the center of attention, it’s no surprise that she may have, in her memoirs, fudged the truth a bit for dramatic effect. A little pride, a little drama, a little padding. And a lot more Significance.

Welcome to the big world, Ms. Linton. It’s a comedy.

Even when you don’t plan it that way.

Prior to the Enlightenment, religious warfare in Europe was ongoing, bloody and costly, and the suppression of Jews, heretics and witches by religious authorities was mad and cruel, scuttling the progress that civilization was beginning widely to offer.

In the Enlightenment two things happened: Christians gave up (or began giving up) on coercion as integral to their faith, and intellectuals gave up (or began giving up) on faith as integral to their beliefs and modes of inquiry.

Islam, on the other hand, has never undergone a thoroughgoing Enlightenment. Muslims are still caught in an intellectual trap, that of coercion, or Force.

And, because of this, they cannot easily form free societies. And they find themselves prone to subjection by tyrants and worse — the chaos of seemingly random terrorist crime.

Now, it is not that the ugliness and gross immorality of the philosophy of persuasion-by-force are hidden from Muslims, for Muslims in and near their homelands are themselves the primary targets of jihadist terrorism. Medina itself was recently subject to jihadist attack. Instead, and despite the obviousness of Force as a trap, it is the case that they are stuck, that the trap is more secure for them than it was for Europeans: they know that violence was written into the main documents and early traditions of their religion, and from history they know that when religions come to revise their attitudes on coercion (that is, become civilized, in the modern, normative sense) a process of secularization quickly sets in, running in parallel to the taming of “religious enthusiasm” (as Hobbes termed the grave danger so neatly). Any pious Muslim knows — much more clearly than did the Protestants of the late Reformation — that a consistent opposition to the uncivilized trap of Force is a direct assault upon their Faith.

The stakes are higher, now, in no small part because coercion is more integral to early conceptions of Islam than it was to Christianity, which began (after all) under oppression, and confronted that oppression by hallowing martyrdom in nonviolent submission. Rather than, in Islam, “martyrdom” in combat. Further, we moderns (including modern Muslims) just know more about the sweep of history, today. So the costs of Enlightenment are a whole lot clearer now than in the past.

Maybe our hope is in the children, those under-educated, cult-prone robots of moralistic fervor who, today, fill the ranks of the hectoring SJW mobs. Maybe they, by their very ignorance and urgent hankerings to be “cool,” will tip the scales.

Could the trap that is Cool undo the trap that is Coercion?

Leading up to and immediately following Britain’s “Brexit” vote, I was scribbling incessantly on social media, trying to explain my position. But before I collect those thoughts for this blog — if I ever do — here are two columns by other writers (Paul Jacob & Dan Sanchez) whose appraisals are up my alley.


Hysteria, Assassination, and Big Government

The biggest political story of the month? Brexit.

The people of Great Britain will vote, this week, whether to remain in, or exit, the European Union. (Britain+exit=“Brexit,” you see.)

Establishment forces in Britain have engaged in hysterical, hyperbolic overkill, warning of grave disaster were Britain to leave the union. America’s President Barack Obama contributed to this, recently, when he warned that an independent Britain might find itself placed “at the back of the queue” in trade talks.

Tragically, things got more troubling last week when anti-Brexit, pro-union campaigner Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament and prominent Labour Party activist, was brutally slain last week in front of her local library. The man had just left a mental health facility, after requesting help.

At first, major media reported that the killer had shouted “Britain First,” an old patriotic motto as well as the name of a pro-Brexit political party, while shooting and stabbing her. Of the several eyewitnesses to have allegedly testified to this murderous shout, only one is sticking to the story . . . a member of the British Nationalist Party, which is antagonistic to Britain First. Other eyewitnesses deny the story.

Next, both sides promised to cease campaigning, out of good taste. Still, polls fluctuated, while remaining close.

Much of the furor has risen over immigration policy, especially fears about EU laxity towards Muslim refugees.Paul Jacob

But the bedrock issue is Big Government. The EU is not effectively controlled by citizens; indeed, membership representation is mostly show, a mockery of republican government.

That is why, if I were British, I’d vote to Brexit.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.


Printable PDF This commentary first appeared on Paul Jacob’s Common Sense site on June 21st. Reprinted with permission.

 


Brexit Wins: Why That’s Great News for Europe, Too

British voters have elected to leave the European Union in a national referendum. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage declared Friday Britain’s “independence day.” That is quite a statement given British history. A little over two and a quarter centuries ago, America had its own first Independence Day, and the British Empire was the super-state from which Americans declared independence.

Independence is not isolation.

History has come full circle; in a sense, today we are seeing the American Revolution in reverse. In many ways, the European Union is a lever of US global hegemony. By seceding from the EU in spite of threats from Washington, Britain is declaring partial independence from America.

It must be noted that independence is not isolation. This is the key distinction that is intentionally blurred by the “Better Together” rhetoric of the “Remain” camp. When they scaremonger about “leaving Europe,” it conjures images of Britain abandoning Western civilization. But “the West,” as in the US-led alliance of neo-colonial powers, is not the same thing as Western civilization. And the European Union is not the same thing as Europe. Exiting a mega-state in defiance of an imperium is not withdrawing from civilization. In fact, such an exit is propitious for civilization.

Small Is Beautiful

Political independence fosters economic interdependence.

Advocates of international unions and super-states claim that centralization promotes trade and peace: that customs unions break down trade barriers and international government prevents war. In reality, super-states encourage both protectionism and warfare. The bigger the trade bloc, the more it can cope with the economic isolation that comes with trade warfare. And the bigger the military bloc, the easier it is for bellicose countries to externalize the costs of their belligerence by dragging the rest of the bloc into its fights.

A small political unit cannot afford economic isolationism; it simply doesn’t have the domestic resources necessary. So for all of UKIP’s isolationist rhetoric, the practical result of UK independence from the European economic policy bloc would likely be freer trade and cross-border labor mobility (immigration). Political independence fosters economic interdependence. And economic interdependence increases the opportunity costs of war and the benefits of peace.

The Power of Exit

Super-states also facilitate international policy “harmonization.” What this means is that, within the super-state, the citizen has no escape from onerous laws, like the regulations that unceasingly pour out of the EU bureaucracy. Dan Sanchez

But with political decentralization, subjects can “vote with their feet” for less burdensome regimes. Under this threat of “exit,” governments are incentivized to liberalize in order to compete for taxpayer feet. Today’s referendum was a victory both for Brexit and the power of exit. That’s good news for European liberty.

During its Industrial Revolution, Britain was a beacon of domestic liberty and economic progress that stimulated liberal reform on the European continent. An independent Britain in the 21st century can play that role again. In doing so, Britain would help Europe outside the EU far more than it ever could on the inside. Brexit may be a death knell for the European Union, yet ultimately a saving grace for the European people.

Dan Sanchez

Dan Sanchez is the Digital Content Manager at FEE, developing educational and inspiring content for FEE.org, including articles and courses. His articles are collected at DanSanchez.me.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.


Here are two samples from my many squibs on social media:

 

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H. L. Mencken, America’s greatest writer of popular non-fiction c. 1910-1940 (George Santayana being the nation’s greatest producer of elitist non-fiction prose during that period), was never impressed with the broad run of journalism or politics. He scorned the usual manner of reform as “Uplift,” and denied that it did much actual lifting up.

Sketch of H. L. MenckenThis you can witness in this criticism of gun control, from the 1920’s. In “The Uplifters Try It Again” (Baltimore’s The Evening Sun, November 30, 1925), Mencken demonstrates his understanding of what law and its enforcement is, actually, rather than the fairy dust version promoted by his competition in the word biz. 

This essay is worth studying. Mencken takes something familiar to us even unto this day, and shines some light:

“Crime statistics,” it appears, “show that 90% of the murders that take place are committed by the use of the pistol, and every year there are hundreds of cases of accidental homicide because someone did not know that his revolver was loaded.” The new law — or is it to be a constitutional amendment? — will do away with all that. “It will not be easy,” of course, “to draw a law that will permit exceptions for public officers and bank guards”—to say nothing of Prohibition agents and other such legalized murderers. “But soon even these officials may get on without revolvers.”

As elsewhere, his contempt for the journalist-as-savior is obvious. Mencken considered most journalists messianic mountebanks — just as were most politicians. Actually, the passage under attack hailed from The Nation, a magazine he praises in the general. But in this essay he takes as an exception, for, as he sees it, it is a grand example of a lapse at The Nation:

Ever and anon, in the midst of its most eloquent and effective pleas for Liberty, its eye wanders weakly toward Law. At such moments the old lust to lift ’em up overcomes it, and it makes a brilliant and melodramatic ass of itself. Such a moment was upon it when it printed the paragraph that I have quoted. Into that paragraph — of not over 200 words — it packed as much maudlin and nonsensical blather, as much idiotic reasoning and banal moralizing, as Dr. Coolidge gets into a speech of two hours’ length.

It is obvious that Mencken had mastered the invective. (I quote only a few snippets, even from this one essay.) But what of his argument? He has one. “The new law,” he writes, would have but one “single and sole effect”:

to exaggerate enormously all of the evils it proposes to put down. It would not take pistols out of the hands of rogues and fools; it would simply take them out of the hands of honest men. The gunman today has great advantages everywhere. He has artillery in his pocket, and he may assume that, in the large cities, at least two-thirds of his prospective victims are unarmed. But if the Nation’s proposed law (or amendment) were passed and enforced, he could assume safely that all of them were unarmed.

Mencken was the chief critic of mere “good intentions” of his day. And he saw the problem everywhere, for there are what we now call “unintended consequences.”

The real victim of moral legislation is always the honest, law-abiding, well-meaning citizen — what the late William Graham Summer called the Forgotten Man. Prohibition makes it impossible for him to take a harmless drink, cheaply and in a decent manner. In the same way the Harrison Act puts heavy burdens upon the physician who has need of prescribing narcotic drugs for a patient, honestly and for good ends. But the drunkard still gets all the alcohol that he can hold, and the drug addict is still full of morphine and cocaine. By precisely the same route the Nation’s new law would deprive the reputable citizen of the arms he needs for protection, and hand them over to the rogues that he needs protection against.

This is a logical position. It is still controversial, however.

Recently, on Facebook, I linked to a graph on unbiasedAmerica.com:

massShootings

I framed the graphed information in this manner:

Perspective helps. Which is one reason I don’t think anyone, right or left, should be talking about chucking constitutional rights right after a still comparatively rare shooting.

A friend of mine, a journalist, responded:

Who’s talking about chucking the second amendment? That’s an invention of the NRA. All the serious suggestions I’ve seen are for things like waiting periods, background checks, linking databases, studies, gun safety equipment, and so on. It’s akin to someone in the 1970s saying, “What do you mean all cars must come with seat belts? Everyone! They’re trying to outlaw cars!”

Why is it OK to have traffic laws, food safety laws, zoning laws, rules for air traffic controllers, law enforcement officers, doctors, lawyers, and teachers, while gun ownership must be the one area where there can be no rules at all? There seems to be some kind of collective hypnosis on several areas in the U.S., but this one is the most baffling to me.

I reacted, briefly, in a number of ways, and friends and followers on Facebook leaped to respond, as well. First, about the Second Amendment:

Lots of people talk about getting rid of it. Most are a tad quiet right now, and cover their beliefs, because after Heller, it is “not serious” to go all the way.

We have plenty of gun rules right now, and most of them are not very effective. For obvious reasons.

And yet I do not think those obvious reasons are very obvious to my critic. He wanted to make the context regulation in general, of which he is an enthusiast, while I tried to steer the discussion back to the topic of crime stats and secular trends, especially now that gun crimes are going down, over the long run:

Much of quality regulation is security theater, and much of it was enacted not to improve quality but to reduce competition. There is an extensive economic literature on this subject.

I don’t believe everything the government tells me. Much of what it does, even in good intent, goes horribly wrong — see the War on Drugs, for example.

I went on, saying that “We have actual gun warfare in cities where they [guns] are illegal,” to which my friend responded with a correction:

There are no U.S. cities I know of where guns are illegal. Some do have strict restrictions, which is what I think you’re referring to. But those cities take those measures for a reason, precisely because they’re so violent. Study after study says Chicago, for example, would be even more violent without the restrictions, and that the guns used there come from other parts of the country with more laissez faire gun laws. Chicago can’t control its borders the way a country can.

My friend will not mention, apparently, that the violence in those cities is almost wholly a factor of African-American poverty and the War on Drugs. The idea that these unnamed “studies after studies” can accurately predict the counterfactual strikes me as absurd. There is a lot of evidence to the contrary, for example (again) the secular trends in America outside our hellhole inner city bastions of chaos and “welfare.” What is the trend? As guns increase in private hands, violence goes down. At the very least, all violence has gone down.

But more importantly, there is what gun controls actually do: prevent some people, who are law-abiding, from acquiring, owning, or carrying guns, while letting some others do so, because of special privilege or because they have special connections. Or because they go outside the law to obtain the weapons they want.

Recently in Britain, an MP was shot. Though there was a lot of hysterical political manipulating of the story, I saw not one example of a big deal being made of gun control. Why not? Oh, right: Britain already has gun control — a sweeping crackdown that did, in fact, take guns out of private hands — and yet the malefactor somehow had a gun.

Consider the tale of John Stossel, who tried to exercise his right of self-defense by personal armament — that is, get “permission” (which is something a person with rights does not need — in New York. He was insulted, sent through a Kafkaesque paperwork nightmare, given the runaround, made to cough up fees, and provide an essay why he needed to carry a sidearm.

The fact that he regularly got death threats from leftists was not enough. He was denied.

It is only the extremely well-connected who get such permits. In New York. Or Chicago. Which leaves only criminals and high mucky-mucks able to defend themselves. (People like Trump and Hillary.)

Why my friend does not see this — why he does not get that regulation such as he wants does not have the univocal effect that he supposes; why he does not recognize that regulations like this have been around for a long, long time, and have been ineffective; why he does not see them as inadvertently (?) racist and elitist at core, I do not know.

He is a journalist. A successful one. Respected. I expect such people to be skeptical at heart. But they are only selectively, as I challenged him:

If the government licensed journalists, regulated who could and could not blog, or require waiting time for background checks before writing about politics, I would hope you would have the sense to see how these regulations infringed on the First Amendment.

He did not respond to this challenge, other than say he was glad not to live in America any longer. Or recognize that the failures of one set of gun “controls,” when they lead to worse conditions (as they always do), only snooker the credulous into believing that more regulation is necessary. And thus laws multiply. And, as Tacitus and other ancients made clear, the more the laws, the more corrupt the state.

As John Stossel noted in his program devoted to idiotic regulation, after he failed to get a concealed carry permit, the system that “regulates” such activities was shown to be corrupt — cops even went to jail. A week after our Facebook exchange, this news story hit the wires:

Screenshot 2016-06-21 16.13.26

Yes, an outspoken and politically powerful California politician, well known for his anti-gun (I mean, “reasonable gun control”) advocacy, was caught in the underground gun-running business. Transporting the very kind of guns he said “shouldn’t exist.”

Talk about Bootleggers and Baptists! In Leland Yee, they were one and the same!

Just like in the War on Drugs, the War on Guns leads to more violence, more death of innocents, and a culture of corruption, in politics and policing.

I understand why not very bright common folk — Mencken’s “booboisie” — might think gun control would work. But why would a smart, skeptical journalist be so snookered? It stretches the credulity.

Oh, until you recall Mencken and his criticisms of his own industry, of the messiah complexes of too many journalists. Then it all makes sense, I guess.

If you have not read Mencken before, the essay discussed here is a good start. But there is a great wealth of writing by him available, and most of it is great. Try A Mencken Chrestomathy, or the Prejudices.

I wrote a foreword to an early book of his, available, I think, on iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon, as ebooks. It may not be the best place to start in the Menckenian oeuvre, but it surely provides a key to his life mission, and his character:

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America — that is, the United States — was such a good idea. Mention the name and we get teary-eyed. We think of a rule of law, “liberty and justice for all,” an honest republic, a democracy . . . all that.

us_1812And yet every patriotic American de facto lies about his or her country on nearly every occasion of praise; the government has gone through major revolutionary sea changes multiple times, each time perpetrated illegally, in some underhanded manner.

The Secessionist Federation (1776-1787) became a Constitutional Republic (1787-1860) by a peculiar sleight of hand: the new Constitution was adopted in a manner completely at odds with protocols of the existing Articles of Confederation.

Today we celebrate an interesting anniversary, the day the word “national” was stripped from the Constitutional document. On June 20, 1787, the anti-federalist forces (as they were illogically called) maneuvered to strip the last vestige of Hamiltonian nationalism from the document being written in Philadelphia. The word “nation” was removed. They thus turned the written language of the compact back towards confederacy. (Yes, the Federalists were nationalists and the “anti-Federalists” were federalists. Why the nomenclature confusion? Because this is politics, and politicians are liars.) And that federation idea is what was adopted by the states.

And yet, moves towards nationalism began almost immediately. Alexander Hamilton turned his back on multiple of his own arguments for a federal republic made in The Federalist Papers, just as soon as he settled in to his position as the republic’s first Secretary of the Treasury. Thomas Jefferson, for all his fascinating commitments to federalism prior to winning the presidency (he wrote the “treasonous” Kentucky Resolution), took his positions of power as excuses to make an “empire of liberty,” an ungainly idea that didn’t work out anywhere near as planned. Andrew Jackson, while with one hand destroying the Hamiltonian monstrosity, the Second National Bank, with the other perpetrated a genocidal land grab against the Cherokee and moved to promote a nationalist conception of the republic that Abraham Lincoln would later run with. I mean, start a war with.

Lincoln’s response to the secession of the vile Southern states was a grand example of nationalism, not federalism. The end of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction was a triumph of nationalism. And though the freeing of the slaves was a great moral good, it was done in a way that was becoming traditional in America: mostly at variance with constitutional law. The 14th Amendment upended the constitutional order, leaving us with political and moral conundrums with which we fight about even to this day. With Lincoln, the U. S. became a National Republic. Or, if you prefer, a Suppressionist Republic, for the suppression of dissent and self-government became the modus operandi of the new State.

Indeed, the United States ceased being that.

United. States.

By morphing into a national republic, the formerly sovereign states were subordinated to subsidiary positions, and the south, of course, was treated as a conquered province. By the letter of the law, all the Reconstructionist Amendments were illegal. But then, the Civil War suspended normal procedures.

It was no shock, then, to find, a mere 40 years later, a president of the U. S. utterly contemptuous of the Constitution, a frank advocate of both war and empire.

This president is, today, widely admired as one of the Greatest Presidents by most intellectuals, left and right. Obama is a huge fan; but the honored, remember — often known by his initials, TR — was a Republican.

In high school history books we were instructed to all but worship the man, when I was a kid. Why? For his trust busting and other anti-constitutional reforms. Yup, Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive, is much adored.

And his work, followed by Democrats Woodrow Wilson (a racist Constitution hater, and huge supporter of forced segregation and Jim Crow) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who “just happened” to set up a wartime concentration camp system, and whose economic policies were all over the map, but almost uniformly interventionist and unconstitutional), sealed a New Deal, one with so much bureaucracy and warfare interventionism that America’s judicial tradition entered a new phase: outright lying. We now live in a Post-Constitutional Imperial Nation State.

Oh, I know: it is not as bad as it sounds. Our hegemons always present a plausible-to-the-plebes rationale for killing brown people in other countries. And the American people who support this massive warfare/“welfare” state often do have something close to good intentions. But mostly what is played upon is fear: fear that if we don’t send our troops overseas, the world will go to hell.

Interestingly, Americans let this half-plausible theory ruin the nation with debt, taxation, regulation, and cronyism. America indeed might be an honest country if not always fighting, killing, torturing, bombing, and erecting “sanctions” against states that our side claims (with diminishing plausibility) to be worse than our own.

But a “free country”? Alexis de Tocqueville would laugh. He predicted the abuses democracy could make, turning government into tyranny. It seemed far-fetched and pessimistic in 1840. But now it seems like reportage.

America, a very good idea gone wrong. Very, very wrong.

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