Wednesday, January 4, 2012


I've haven't been paying attention with even almost interest to the goings on in Iowa. It's depressing - like watching the paste eaters from grade school stage a production of A Christmas Carol. You know every line, every scene, and how it's going to end. And even though the thing is so familiar you can recite it in your sleep, it is amazing how far below even your lowest expectations the show falls.

I have always felt guilty being so cynical about politics - always, in the silence of my heart, believed the goody-goody student council types who said, "If you want things to change, you can't just complain, you have to work to make it happen." Then I realized something - I'm right, and they are wrong. Reform is not really possible - history is, at its most basic level, a tale of things changing for the worse.

The reason isn't hard to fathom. There's three kinds of people: First, those who want to be someones pet - they want to be housed, fed, clothed, and protected from all evils - real and imagined. In return they promise to plow the fields, not run out of the yard, tug too hard on the leash, or make a fuss. The second kind are the ones who don't want to be kept as pets. Perhaps they are just ornery, and naturally do the opposite of what they're told, perhaps they feel no one has the right to make them do what they don't want to, or maybe they realize that politics is a zero sum game and every public good represents actual goods taken by threat of force from private individuals, that power exercised in the name of the government must be wrested from the hands of citizens, and every of advance of law must be matched by an equal retreat of freedom.

And then there is the third kind... the kind who wonder if zero sum game is on the same channel as Dancing With the Stars.

The first group has an entire political party dedicated to getting them what they want. In this time and place they're called the democrats, and they have been into keeping human beings as domestic animals from the beginning - you might call it the family business. But don't get hung up on names, there have always been those who were willing to sell their birthright for three hots and a cot, and there have always been those on the other side of the equation looking to accommodate them.

The great thing about this party is how easy it is to become a member - all you have to do is renounce your desire to be free, and promise to the best of your ability to get others to do the same. The better you are at convincing people to accept the yoke of servitude, the higher you go - sort of Cloward-Piven meets Amway. The hierarchy goes like this - on the top are the president and senior senators and congressmen, next come the sycophantic newspaper and television organisms, tame corporate CEO's, and labor leaders, followed by college professors, then public school teachers and other taxpayer funded worker bees. Finally, on the very bottom, are the organized community of mopes, dopes, mokes, druggies, rummies, lackwits, halfwits, dimwits, and nitwits who do the scutwork in return for any table scraps which might fall their way and a chance that the more enterprising of them can climb the ladder to higher levels.

There is also a political organization which tries to appeal to the third group - in the here and now, that organization is the republican party.

Oh wait, you thought the republicans would naturally try to appeal to the ornery and anti-social? Why?

That category of people isn't very large or well defined. If you are taking the time to read this, you probably fall, more or less, into that group - I would like to believe I do also, and I know regardless of meaningless polls where people self identify as democrats, liberals, conservatives, or republicans, those who want their elected representatives to use government to take wealth from others and give it to them, far outnumber those who want to be left the hell alone.

Along with being more numerous, that third group is more independent - in the same sense a toddler is independent. They weave around randomly, bump into things, fall on their butts, and finally end up in a corner picking their noses and drooling. Figuring out what they want is a hit or miss proposition. Which is why watching the republican party is so frustrating - every toy, game, and snack gets pulled out of the baby bag and waved around while candidates make cooing noises (Does diddums, want a binky, a woobie, an ethanol subsidy?), all in a desperate attempt to hold their attention until the second Tuesday in November.

And the party of treating people like infants must keep that attention focused; there is no room for error. That is because the party of keeping people as pets has massive built in advantages. Hell, the existence of public schools alone means virtually every person in the country gets ideologically sheep-dipped for thirteen years before being released into adulthood. Their constituency is designed to grow, and all they need for victory is to win is some plurality of the toddler cadre.

The republicans, on the other hand need every single one of the votes of people who get distracted by shiny objects; which means their platform, expressed in its simplest terms is, "Don't scare the baby."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Going to the Candidate's Debate

Welcome to the Mike-istan studios. Tonight, we have a debate between all of the men... umm, men and women... err individual things who will be running for president. Remember, come January 2013 one of these things will take the oath of office and be the most powerful thing on the planet, and incidentally, hold your fate in their appendage.

Only one question: As president, what will you do to return the United States to a constitutional republic with a limited government constrained by narrow, enumerated powers?

Barack Obama: You're kidding right?

Mitt Romney: Nothing.

Newt Gingrich: Drug testing! And lots of police everywhere and I'll arrest judges I don't like and no-knock raids and drug testing for everyone except me.

Ron Paul: Limited government is vital, unless it is controlled by the Jews, because they control everything. Did I mention Jews control my mind? And we don't have to worry about Muslims because they are controlled by Jews.

Michele Bachmann: I'm prettier than Sarah Palin, and my husband can cure the gay.

Rick Perry: I apparently have no idea why Texas is doing so well, and I'll do or not do the same things in Washington plus I've got more Jesus juice than Jesus.

Jon Huntsman: I'm a Mormon with no real principals and good hair - I'm Mitt Romney.

Moderator: Thank you for your time, and I feel sick.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Concord Bridge or Fort Sumter Part IV

Parts I, II, and III are here for those who wish to play along at home.

A while back, Kevin of Smallest Minority posted his thoughts on the future, and more or less concluded we are doomed and at this late date there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. His commenters split into roughly two camps - the optimistic pessimists who believe nothing is written in stone, and while tough times are coming, there is a solid plurality of citizens who will take a stand for freedom - and the pessimistic pessimists who think the collectivists have bored too deeply into the foundations of the culture and have left it ready to to collapse at the merest touch.

While both opinions have something to recommend them, they are both missing elements which leave us vulnerable to preparing for the wrong kind of trouble - and it is important we do prepare, and we do get it right.

It is vital to hold these conversations because no one person's predictions of the future are going to be completely right; they probably won't be even ten percent right, but as events unfold the parts which are correct will become evident and recognized, and hopefully just in time.

That is the other thing, if you are a genius and have predicted the future ten years out, bless your heart. But that's not me - my goal is not to outrun the future, it's to outrun the other guy.

To the pessimistic pessimists, I would offer the following warning: In our darkest moments we can envision every bad thing we see happening being taken to its logical, evil conclusion - all at once. But that's not how it works. History limps along in fits and starts because of how people are. Even the most diabolical plan is subject to the human element - and often fails because those carrying it out are venal, easily distracted by trivia, and sometimes, shockingly stupid. Hard history is on the way, but make sure you are not barricading the door against jack booted thugs who may not be coming at the expense of weather sealing the windows against a winter which definitely is.

And to the optimistic pessimists, all I can say is remember the fake but accurate Pauline Kael quote about not knowing anyone who voted for Nixon, and do not extrapolate the nature of the world from your own experience. You may be sitting comfortably on the right hand side of the bell curve. Your friends and children may have read Hayak, Burke, and Friedman, but educating people about the nature of society and culture, and then bringing them to an understanding of the need to defend the same is done one on one - it is work for and by individuals. Destroying culture and debasing society is being done on an industrialized basis in Hollywood, and virtually every public school and university, and is far easier to boot. The tearing down of things is always always less difficult than building them up.

I hope there is a path between giving too much credit to our enemies and giving too much credit to ourselves and I hope we are clear minded enough to find it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Friendly Fire

A lot of libertarian types have their boxers in a wad from watching the police clear the squatters from the various "occupy" camps - especially the whole pepper spray thing.

When amoral, power lusting, dirtwads like Mike Bloomberg and Antonio Villagarossa send the police to roust a bunch of whiny, collectivist, thumbsuckers who, when they grow up and have the power themselves, will gladly send those same cops to bust the heads of their current class enemies... well, it's kind of like Stalin sending the KGB to suppress the young pioneers.

Far as I can tell, it's blue on blue.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Saving The Strawmen From Further Beatings

Acairfearann thoughtfully provided the following in response to Part III of my Concord Bridge or Fort Sumter series:

Interesting, but I am not sure about the validity of the statement 'those who don't need to be ruled'. Obviously, there are many people who don't need government as a large bureaucracy. But, the phrase implies to me, and I may be misreading it in which case my apologies, that 'rule' is a negative which has no benefit to the individual. The problem with that is that any sort of cooperative, social action, which is the sort of action that allows the development of human society, requires the community to agree upon rules. And at some point your interpretation of the rule and your friend's interpretation is going to be different. Or for that matter the best way to build the bridge, best place to dig the well, the irrigation channel... And someone is going to have to decide, because constantly flipping a coin to make critical decisions creates an element of risk that tends to discourage activity in the long run.

'Rule' isn't just about negative punishments, it is also about agreed upon standards to create a society, be it neolithic Scotland or 21st century cities.

This is a tired argument and an old argument - I suspect one could find Plato using some form of it to justify the need for philosopher kings. It is an argument claiming the desire of people to be free ultimately leads to a dystopian chaos - Acairfearann has replaced Thunderdome with a coin toss, but the conclusion is the same - life becomes nasty, brutish, and short. It is an argument which cannot be refuted often enough or strongly enough.

What prompted my response however, were the examples of the kinds of rules Acairfearann fears would be lost in the inevitable anarchy. After over a quarter century in the field of civil engineering, I am familiar with regulations regarding bridges, ditches, and wells - both the rules themselves and the reasoning behind them, and Acairfearann's reasoning is exactly backwards - these standards are both the cause and result of people's desire to be free. The threat to the stability provided by these agreed upon standards comes not from those who do not need to be ruled, but from those who must rule.

Even the most cursory investigation of state, county, and local building, and development codes reveals some general themes:

First, those who administer and enforce them generally understand they are providing a service contracted by, and paid for by the citizens of their jurisdiction. When I call requesting information, whether from a local building inspector or county engineer, they call me back, send me copies of the records I request, or direct me to someone who can answer my questions. In short, they act as stakeholders who realize my work creates value, and thus, they also benefit from facilitating rather than hindering that work.

Secondly, local design and development codes represent hard earned knowledge. They are examples of “small e" empiricism and it is probably not too much of a stretch to say every item in the regulations represents a lesson learned from a flooded property, collapsed house, or a person sick, injured, or dead.

Additionally, the more local the authority, the less opportunity for rent seeking. There may be requirements for how far from the property line a house can be built, but nothing which says only Joe's Surveying Company has the magical measuring devices to tell if a building is conforming to code.

Further, the real consequences of violating the rules far outweigh the statutory consequences. If you construct your well too close to your septic system, you will be subject to fines, or the cost of moving one or the other. But these burdens are nothing compared to the impact on your health.

Finally, all of the above presume competence. The local officials and staff who administer the various agencies take for granted the people they deal with are capable of reading, understanding, and complying with the regulations. Plans are reviewed beforehand, and projects inspected afterwards on the assumption the work was performed in good faith and any problems can be discovered and fixed.

Acairfearann, the people responsible for enforcing the standards of the locality where you dwell consider you competent to arrange for building a home, excavating an irrigation channel, and for all I know, constructing a skyscraper, but do you know what you are not competent to do?

Buy light bulbs.

That is not my opinion - I'll bet you could manage it, and everyone in your town probably thinks so too, but the good people at the U.S. Department of Energy believe that given the choice of what kind of light bulbs to buy, you'll blow it, and they have the power to make you only buy what they approve.

Oh, and by federal statute, you are utterly incapable of deciding how much water your toilet should use when you flush it.

And, of course you do not have the faintest clue of what you should eat. Why, if left to your own devices you would shove any old thing into your mouth.

Actually, that last one is kind of interesting. Apparently California law enforcement, with the support of the Food and Drug Administration, raided a store which was selling people who wanted it, raw milk. It was originally reported to be a SWAT operation, but further reporting confirmed it was only a run of the mill; police kick the door in and arrest everyone inside, kind of raid. And I am also certain if someone in the store had twitched at the wrong time, they would have shot to death in an entirely different way than a SWAT team would have done it.

On the other hand, it does show there are people who, when they reach a certain level of authority, acquire a "do it my way, or I'll send men with guns to your house" attitude.

There is a
Gresham's Law of laws - bad laws drive out good. Once people who we do not know, cannot reason with, and who do not care whether we live or die, have taken over our lives and the decisions which used to be ours alone to make, we are loath to surrender the remaining scraps of freedom do anyone even if they be our neighbors and no matter the potential benefit.

Acairfearann, do not take counsel of your fears. Not needing to be ruled is not the same as not wanting rules and people's desire to be free enables rather than inhibits the development of stable prosperous societies. And know this: if you are reluctant to allow yourself and your neighbors to make what decisions you deem proper and necessary, there are people with guns who will gladly take that burden from you, but good luck getting it back once it has been surrendered.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Concord Bridge or Fort Sumter Part III

Part I of my attempt to bring some order to my thoughts about politics and human nature is here, and Part II is here.

At the end of Part II, commenter Fast Richard raised an interesting point:

A civil war would only incidentally involve conflict between the government and the citizens. The primary conflict would be between factions of the citizenry. You present arguments which are substantially similar to what I have heard recently from the leftists of the occupy mobs. I suspect that the desired final state of society might be different.

He sees a three-sided conflict: more or less right versus left, with the government standing by as spectator/referee.

First, I think all internal conflict is always between citizens. The Bonus Army were citizens, and so were the soldiers who drove them out of Washington. The same for the New York Police and the occupy Wall Street protestors, and for that matter, the people on both sides of the fence at Waco were citizens.

I think it is a mistake to think of government as an entity in itself. Better to think of it as simply the means by which one group of citizens accomplishes its ends.

That is why I like the terms "those who must rule", and those "who don't need to be ruled" - they clear away the ideological baggage and let us get down to cases.

Assuming you are not self-employed, you have a boss who tells you what to do and holds your paycheck over your head to make you do it. Tough though that circumstance may be, you can always quit, and then if your boss kicks in your door at three a.m. to make you finish that project you left undone, you can kick him right back out. No more paycheck; no more work.

That kind of relationship is anathema to those who must rule. Take Elizabeth Warren for example. I don't have any specific brief against her, she is interchangeable with thousands of other brilliant, hard working, accomplished, professors emeritus of something or other, chairs of the president's council of what all and whatnot, and judging from her speeches, someone with a pathological need to rule. She is better than you, smarter than you, and knows what you need to be made to do for your own good. And when her need to rule results in your door being kicked open at three a.m., it is not going to be Liz Warren coming in, it's going to be people who don't take no for an answer - good luck kicking them back out.

As far as mine and the occupy folk's arguments being substantially similar: At its core, mine is that those who must rule are running out of other people's money and are going to use every means of government to squeeze the rest of us for what they need. While the people of Zuccotti Park believe that those who must rule are running out of other people's money and should use every means of government to squeeze the rest of us for what they need. That one word makes a big difference.

I suppose you could say the beliefs of those who must rule and those who do not need to be ruled are substantially similar - the same way you and the guy pointing the gun at you and demanding your wallet have a lot in common - both of you participating in an armed robbery and all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


In the process of writing this post, I said to myself, "Damn Mike, those are some pretty strong words for a chubby guy in a recliner. Maybe you should tone is down some."

When my reason, such as it is, leads me to a conclusion, and that conclusion is disturbing, I turn around, walk back and try again. If my best attempts still lead me to the same conclusion no matter what direction I come at the problem from, I write it.

Besides, I thought, who except me is ever going to read this stuff? It is not like reactivating a dormant blog so I have someplace to put the things which have been bottled up inside me for the past two years is even going to create a ripple on the surface of the internet.

So, along comes Tam and links to my post - thank you Tam.

With the attention came comments from good and honorable people who felt I was selling them short. Since the commenters took pains to point out they were on the side of the angels, and since I would like to be counted on that side as well, I am obligated to respond as clearly and honestly as I know how.

One comment mentions Oathkeepers, and they were in the back of my mind as the exception to my conclusion that all but a small percentage of those who do the day-to-day work of governing long ago decided they serve not the republic, but whoever signs their paycheck. I cannot guess what role the Oathkeepers and those like them will play in the coming years. But simply saying out loud that they intend to honor the promise they made when they put on the uniform causes enemies of liberty to explode in rage, and thus self identify. That means they are doing good right here and now.

And, I hope the commenters are right and I am wrong. I hope I am just some internet blabbermouth, and when the time comes, the country's public servants, and not just those in uniform, will take a stand on the side of people they serve and not their paymasters. I can live with knowing I am just a loud mouthed jerk with a computer, because that will mean all sorts of other, darker consequences will not have come to pass.

But I don't think so. I think my conclusion still stands.

Read this article from the New York Times. There is enough in a few column inches to make any decent person ill. If the picture accompanying is no longer linked to the article, here is the caption:

Hundreds of off-duty officers gathered on Friday at the Bronx County Hall of Justice, backing 16 colleagues in a ticket-fixing case.

And, if you can no longer see it, the protesting police are carrying signs reading "Just Following Orders".

Just Following Orders?

Dear God.

Looking at the picture I can imagine I am seeing, fathers, husbands, little league coaches, and church goers. I know I am also seeing men who participated in the establishment of a feudal fiefdom.

I can think of no other term for it. The rulers of the city and their servants granted one another exemptions from the laws they enforced on the lower orders. You might call it privilege of rank, or benefit of clergy, but it is feudalism in its purest form. The police provided service for those above in return for their protection. Read closely and you see their anger is directed at those above who violated the oath of fealty - one of their own estate, a prosecutor, betrayed them.

Do you think they made their choice just that day? That the sight of their comrades being arrested turned them from honorable men to thugs in one moment? Nothing I know of history and human nature tells me that is how it works. Their choice was made in bits and pieces over time - theirs was a hand dealt years ago, and the day the picture was taken was merely the day they turned their cards over.

In New York, hundreds of police came out at the request of their union to protest what they believed to be a stab in the back by someone on their own side - if there were any who had second thoughts about the justness of their cause - I could not see them.

If a real crisis hits, and I believe it will - I believe we are heading for a convulsive time, and the mayor, police commissioner, and police chief need the support of the rank and file, do you think they will hesitate to reinstate old privileges in return for that support?

The question will not be who do you serve, it will be what is your price?

Not just in New York, but in bankrupt cities and states everywhere, the consequences of decades old decisions are going to be played out. And it won't be just the police who will be revealing the choices they made, every person who is paid from the public treasury will be laying their cards on the table.

Republics fail the same way people go bankrupt - slowly at first, then all at once. I do not pretend to know where we are on that continuum, but I know when those who must rule need to ensure the loyalty of those who carry out their will, a man in a black uniform with a deaths-head badge is a lot less effective than an accountant asking if you would like to keep your pension.