Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

United States Senator Chris Murphy (Team D. - Connecticut) is afraid. What, you ask, in a world wracked by terrorist attacks, unbalanced by a resurgent Russia, alternately frozen by polar vortices and simmered by global warming frightens Sen. Murphy? Of whom, you wonder, in a world populated with the likes of Donald Sterling, Abu Bakr al-Bahgdadi, and  Kanye West is Sen. Murphy afraid?



Well you might ask. Because the answer, if you happen to own a full-sized pistol manufactured in the past 80 years* or so, turns out to be . . . you.

I know this because The Hill reports that, after what we must assume was careful and objective analysis (i.e., asking a couple of anti-gun lobbyists what they thought), Sen. Murphy is throwing his support behind the push for a new federal law banning magazines that hold more than 10 rounds because, he says

. . . he has not met “a single hunter or a single person who hunts for sport” who needs more than 10 rounds [and] those who wanted high-capacity magazines were more interested in “arming against the government.”

Now, I'm not going to engage in a political assessment of the bill's chances for passage. (Which are, in the words of Dean Wormer, zero-point-zero.) Rather, let's address this notion that the reason folks want to own modern firearms is to take arms against the government.

Because, now that you mention it, Sen. Murphy . . .  um . . . yeah. Sorta. If you insist.

I've pointed out before that when it comes to the founding philosophy of this nation, there are some absolutely essential bits that get all too conveniently forgotten -- or intentionally ignored -- by the fellows who consider themselves to be in charge nowadays. Because a belief that men have God-given rights that other men cannot take is a fine and a true and a worthwhile thing. But what it isn't, in and of itself, is any sort of justification for even a punch in the nose, let alone bloody revolution against one's duly emplaced leaders. Not by a long shot. If you want to wage war against your own government -- precisely what the Founders did for eight and a half deadly years -- you're going to need something more. You're going to need to to keep reading:
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
That was the justification upon which Americans committed what most viewed as a grave sin and abolished their until-then-lawful government. And if it ever becomes necessary to do so again, the justification for such an awful event will be precisely the same.

The Founders knew that to be true. And, having just thrown off one tyrant, they did not imagine for a moment that there were no tyrants left.  Indeed, they recognized in themselves and in each other the human inclination to tyranny -- what Frederic Bastiat calls "A Fatal Tendency of Mankind" -- and they were determined to guard against it. That's why the Constitution creates three co-equal branches of government. And that is at least one reason why, when they set out the Bill of Rights, they put the Second Amendment second.




* I make a distinction here between revolvers and pistols, and I arbitrarily picked 80 years because that is the year John Moses Browning's second most-famous pistol made its appearance, seven years after his death, but incorporating important improvements he wanted to make to his more famous 1911. The Browning Hi Power -- or P35 for its first year of manufacture -- had a magazine capacity of 13 rounds in 9mm and set the trend, still followed today, for pistols to carry as many rounds as conveniently fit, given the grip size and caliber.



Sunday, February 8, 2015

Construction

Let's establish at the outset that I am no fan of Ted Cruz. I think he's a buffoon and, as a key player on Team R, instrumental in the most dangerous intramural scrimmage ever played. But it turns out I am even less of a fan of sanctimony and race-baiting and the tyranny of orthodoxy -- equally so the left-handed variety as the right.



Race, certainly, and even ethnicity are, to a large degree, just social constructs. If you tell 50 people in a room to stand up and arrange themselves from darkest to lightest, you'll get some pretty funny looks* but you also get to observe an interesting phenomenon: Reduce someone's literal place to the single signifier of his skin color, and the light begins to dawn about how much more complex the concept of race really is. Just as interesting -- especially in the United States -- is to ask someone about his ethnicity and listen to the second order algebraic equation that follows. 
There's nothing wrong with this, so long as you let people do it for themselves. Our own idea of our race and ethnicity helps us to fix ourselves in the great, centuries-long parade of human kind. It gives us a context and place from which to view the world. It gives a list of foods we really like. 
Now, I cannot speak in detail to the race or ethnicity of Amy Louise Bardach, who recently posited that Ted Cruz doesn't get to call himself Hispanic because of his politics. But Bardach doesn't sound** especially Latino, and neither -- if that happens to be a married name -- does Amy Louise.*** So I am left to wonder: Where does she get the nerve?
This kind of reductive, aggressive, third-party imposition of identity is beyond offensive. It is the worst variety of the Theory of Ubiquitous Polarity. It is just another stripe of telling people what they are allowed to believe and, in the hands of a powerful institution like The New York Times, or the federal government, or the Central Committee, or the Gestapo****, or any other tyrant, it's damned dangerous.

My wife is white (well, really this kind of amazing cafe con leche color) but clearly Latina. ("Latino" versus "Hispanic" is another discussion.) My boys are white (well, one's sort of tanish-white and the other is a little more beige) and medio-latino. I'm white (well, OK, sorta ruddy, blotchy, freckly white) and half Irish, half German (albeit I was raised in an entirely Czech family, and so identify there as well). None of that changes depending on how any of us vote, anymore than it does if one of my sons suddenly decided he didn't like beans and rice.***** And no editorial writer gets to tell us - or Ted Cruz, for that matter - otherwise.
Doubt me? Here's a simple exercise. Imagine a Wall Street Journal editorial positing that Barack Obama is not really black.

But maybe, before you try that thought experiment, you'd better put on a hard hat.



* I know because I have done exactly that, rather to make this very point to a classroom full of folks who were -- because of another social construct -- largely inclined to do as I asked.

** Como el único gringo en una familia de 150 cubanos, y como residente de 25 años de una de las ciudades más latino en los Estados Unidos, me siento que puedo hablar con experiencia, si no con la autoridad perfecta, sobre el tema. Pero cualquiera que sea mi conjeturo, yo soy de ninguna manera que sugieren que podría o debería imponer una etnia a la Sra Bardach, ni privarlo de su derecho a reclamar lo que uno - o los - ella afirma . De esa manera, somos muy diferentes.

*** And in any event, if it seems offensive to you that I'd speculate at all about her ethnicity, maybe go ahead and check your irony meter for full function.

**** What good is to have Godwin's Law if we cannot break it from time to time?

***** Consider it an argument ad absurdim.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Terrifying

Let’s be clear about one thing from the start. Hillary Clinton is not  running for President. Rather she is engaged in the simple exercise of capitalism, putting on a massive tour to flog her new bookSo don’t get the idea that her recent appearance at a CNN “Town Hall” was about running for President. I mean it. Do not get that idea. Do not dare even to hold that thought in your head. Because, as Ms. Clinton made clear when asked about her support for a new “assault weapon” ban, the mere holding of an idea in your head can be an act of terror.





 For example, if you happen not to support a new “assault weapon” ban, even if you keep your opposition to yourself, you are little better than those fellows who flew those planes into those buildings. (You still remember those fellows, right?) Ms. Clinton helpfully explained:

“I believe that we need a more thoughtful conversation, we cannot let a minority of people — and that’s what it is, it is a minority ofpeople — hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people.”

I submit that the enormity of that sentence is too great to absorb in just a single breath, so I’ll give you thirty seconds to take it in.


OK. Ready to go on?

Let’s break this sentence down from back to front. We learn that a “viewpoint” can terrorize – at least at the exact moment of this writing  – 159,133,793 people.* Not an action to vindicate a viewpoint. Not a violent or even peaceful demonstration in support of a viewpoint.  Not even the plain expression of the viewpoint. Rather, the mere holding of a viewpoint – well, at least of a viewpoint with which Ms. Clinton disagrees – is an act of terror.

Fortunately, however, Ms. Clinton offers hope that we might someday rest easy in our beds, unterrorized by viewpoints. Because as we work our way toward the front of the sentence, we learn that Ms. Clinton is determined that such viewpoints simply are not going to be permitted. We cannot, she declaims, let (read “allow” or “permit”) a minority of people hold  this terrible, terrifying point of view. In other words, some beliefs are too dangerous to be believed.**

From there, Ms. Clinton is a little short on detail. She fails to explain precisely how she plans to prohibit the holding of this viewpoint and, presumably, other viewpoints that ought not be held. And this determination to eliminate terrible viewpoints really does want some detail. After all, Medgar Evers – who, it would sadly turn out, had best reason to know – observed that “you can kill a man, but you cannot kill an idea.” Viewpoints, one supposes, are equally robust and thus their eradication seems likely to be equally messy.

But perhaps it is churlish of me to press Ms. Clinton for her plan – after all, it's not like she is running for President.





Because that would be terrifying



This assumes Clinton meant a majority of the people in the United States. If she meant that a viewpoint is capable of terrorizing the majority of ALL the people, then we’re talking somewhere north of three and a half billion trembling victims of a viewpoint.

** Pay close attention to the terms “majority” and “minority” in Ms. Clinton’s statement. She is here espousing an idea that actually is terrifying, a brand of tyranny called democracy, best characterized by events like one actually called the Great Terror

Friday, December 6, 2013

Long walk ended

I am sorry to have to inform you, but the world is a complex place, full of contradiction and nuance, populated by human beings who are the corporeal embodiment of that complexity



Those vilifying Nelson Mandela in these days following his death – and there are plenty of them – ignore certain essential facts about his later life, of which I will mention only a salient two: He more or less singlehandedly averted a national convulsion of bloodletting and racial war by embracing the notion that even those who participated in decades of brutal oppression ought to have a place and a voice in South Africa, and that even those who opposed that oppression ought to answer in truth for their own crimes. And – in the public act for which he ought to be most highly praised – having attained more or less complete power, and being positioned to keep and wield it so long as ever he wished, Mandela instead relinquished it – soon, peaceably and willingly. Compare that to nearly any other post-colonial revolutionary leader on that continent.

Those lionizing Mandela – and there are many more of them – do no better. He was in younger years a proponent of systemic violence, and when he was arrested his house was filled with tens of thousands of weapons designed to wield that violence in the most indiscriminate fashion. To ignore that is to ignore conduct that he himself later repudiated, not only in others, but in himself. And while he may not have chosen himself to become a dictator, he supported and embraced brutal dictators – quite literally so – along with leftist policies that almost no American of any political stripe would endorse upon close examination.

This duality – plurality, really – in a single man is the furthest thing from being unique. It is our essential nature. Whitman said it best: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Mandela the man contained just these multitudes. The evolving legacy of a post-apartheid South Africa is more complex still. (And, by all present indications, not headed toward a future Mandela would have wanted to see.) It is easier and more comfortable to feed our confirmation bias and assuage our cognitive dissonance by imagining that he or it was or is all one thing or all another. Easier, more comfortable, but false.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hold these truths

Everybody knows this part:

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.



Ah, but its the the next bit that makes the difference. It's the next bit that justified a bloody war that had already been raging for 14 months by the time it was written and would drag on for nearly eight and a half years. It's the next bit that sanctified the 50,000 American casualties -- a quarter of the rebels who took up arms. It's the next brilliant sentence by which a band of highly educated traitors justified their treason. And it's the next bit that tyrants and their willing subjects are so apt to forget:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Most folks today -- certainly nearly all the folks actually in the government -- somehow imagine that, having been true throughout human history, this stopped being true after the late 18th Century. Or they believe that the rules were magically changed on this continent, or don't apply in countries where people appear to vote, or have been superseded by technology. But some things -- like the rights God gives man -- do not change. Not ever. Not anywhere.

I really want to ask those smug, sanctimonious fellows, "just what part of 'alter or abolish' don't you understand?" King George and his ministers never imagined they could be altered or abolished, either, and look how that worked out for them. You cannot really be as arrogant as someone who thought his reign was ordained by God. Can you?

Alter or abolish. Shove that through your Prism. Feed that to your Carnivore. Crunch that in your algorithm.

As for you, as you celebrate Independence Day, I want to encourage you to post or tweet or email that third sentence of the Declaration of Independence. Maybe read it during a cellphone call -- an international call would be best. If you are travelling, perhaps you can share it with your companion while you wait in line at the TSA checkpoint.

Because let's face it: You can grill all the hot dogs, bake all the apple pie, light all the fireworks and wave all the flags you want to. But if you're not on somebody's watch list, you can hardly count yourself a patriot these days.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial


Down on the shop floor that Monday lunchtime, most of the company, including Dad’s three best friends, listened to the speech on the radio on the foreman’s desk. At 21, with a two-year business degree, Dad was the most junior of junior executives. So he and a dozen others upstairs listened in boss’s office. Later that same afternoon, Dad and his buddies were together in that office. They told the boss they’d be back again when it was over. 



The boss pulled a bottle from a drawer, shared glasses all around, and promised them their jobs would be waiting. Dad was grateful for the drink. Grateful, too, he told me once, that the boss – a crusty old Marine –  skipped his oft-told stories about the Marne and Belleau Wood. “If I had to listen to those stories that day,” Dad  said, “I’m not sure I’d have kept my nerve.”

By midday Wednesday the four friends were at the recruiting station. By early in the new year they were on a train headed south for basic. Dad had never been outside of Ohio, and rarely far from Cleveland. Biloxi seemed a world away, but it was warm, and Dad always liked the heat. Before long, though, he was headed a real world away. When we think of the war in the Pacific – those of us who think of it at all anymore – we mostly think of the Marines.  But the Army Air Force was there in numbers, too, and if they were spared abattoirs like Peleliu and Iwo Jima, where the Marines traded so many lives for coral rock and glory, that’s not to say the the Army Air Force was spared.

Dad’s troop ship stopped at Colon, Panama. He was one of hundreds of seasick young men in holds converted to barracks, waiting their turn to lock up through the Canal on the way to the South Pacific. Word came that a headquarters clerk at the major Canal Zone air base was down with appendicitis. (In fact it killed him.) Well, even the most junior of junior executives had a skill crucial to a mid-Twentieth Century army – he could type. Dad was pulled off the ship, and sent to France Field, where he would spend the war.

Calm, organized, steady, determined and unafraid of the menial or the unpleasant, by the end Dad was a First Sergeant and the post sergeant major – the highest ranking non-com. Forty years later, when I was a newsman covering the Air Force, I asked Dad how it was possible for a guy to go from boot to Top Kick in less than four years. “Robbie,” he explained, “the only thing we never ran out of was rank.”

The mission at France Field was simplicity itself: keep the Canal open; keep the ships moving. Planes from the field would hunt down and kill the German U-boat wolf packs and the lesser known, but larger, fleet of Italian subs that operated in the region throughout the war.  (Just because you've never heard of the Battle of the Caribbean, doesn't mean they didn't fight it.)

Dad would say that he spent the war filing paper, fighting off yellow fever, placating officers, disciplining drunken airmen, and playing a lot of softball. A quiet, contented man, Dad often said he had had an “easy war.” He meant that especially when compared to his three friends, who fought the war from inside B-17s over Europe. One of those guys spent years confined in, then escaping from, a series of increasingly brutal German POW camps. One of them rode his plane into a smoking hole in the Dutch countryside and never made it back to claim the job waiting for him, as promised, at W.S. Tyler Company.* If not for some poor guy’s infected appendix, Dad’s war would have been anything but easy. And who can say if three and half years in the Solomons and New Guinea and the Philippines would have sent home the man I was blessed to know as my father or, instead, someone less whole, less gentle.

Dad never regretted the way things happened, never felt deprived of some sort of martial adventure.** He knew he’d been blessed. “I did what I was called on to do,” is how he would put it. “That's war. I did my job; other guys were just called to give more.”

I didn't argue the point with him; never would have, never could have. But as I've grown, and especially in the 15 years since he’s been gone, I've come to understand that he was wrong.

I think of that skinny Cleveland kid, just a few years out of service as an altar boy, standing around the boss’s desk with a drink in his hand, silently praying the old Marine would forego his war stories, lest will and determination fail. I think of a kid for whom the Gulf Coast was far country, signing up to go wherever they sent him. I think of a kid who, as smart as he was with the accounts, could never have figured the value of the note he was signing, but who signed it anyway – and stood ready to pay whatever the tally man demanded.

And I think, Dad, that you couldn't have given more than that.



* Which isn't to suggest Dad was entirely immune to pride. “The bastards never shut us down, Robbie. They never did.”

** He did have at least one adventure he liked to describe: There was a fire at a remote observation post and Dad was sent to investigate. The Jeep could only go so far before he had to travel by small boat, then hike a day up a jungle mountain. (Faulty generator  not sabotage, as it turned out.) Typical of my Dad was his perspective on that story: “I got back in about three days. Got a shower and hot chow. I thought a lot about those guys in the Pacific who had to stay out in that jungle all the time.”


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Holding out for a hero


Let’s start with this: I love me some Charles Ramsey. The fellow is a master of the language, equally skilled in long- and short-form story-telling. In a media landscape where every sinkhole victim, scandal participant and “other woman” manages to secure a publicist and the legal services of the loathsome Gloria Allred by the time the evening news is aired, Ramsey – instantly and all by himself – oozes concentrated authenticity. I can only hope that McDonalds Corporation has noted Ramsey’s frequent and earnest product placements on its behalf and has dispatched a multi-million-dollar endorsement contract via corporate jet.



Not just that. I trust that Jimmy and David and Jay will put Ramsey up in the finest hotels when they fly him first class to come and speak to them. I pray the auto-tune guys are kind in their treatment. Ramsey has already “trended” and will soon deservedly become a “meme.” Indeed, there’s every likelihood that Ramsey is about to become, however briefly, a cultural icon. To all of this I say, “Good on you, Charles Ramsey.” As is demonstrated every time the Kardashians steal another hour of airtime, this nation could do a lot worse.

What may keep him in the limelight for more than the standard number of news cycles is the fact that this guy seems to have nearly perfect comedic timing, an unflinching regard for the truth, a perceptive understanding of the impact of race in American society, and a moral compass capable of finding North.* But for all that Charles Ramsey is, for all that the star-maker machinery of popular culture is about to make him, there’s one thing Charles Ramsey is not, one thing that neither the glittering Chryons under his image, nor the nattering news anchors** can make him.

Charles Ramsey is not a hero.

I trouble to point this out not because I oppose Ramsey’s fleeting or superficial glory, or merely out of general cussedness. No. I think the matter is far graver than that.

I’ve written before about narratives, about how no event is reported or discussed in its own context anymore. Instead, it is seized upon by commentators and politicians and other scoundrels to support whatever narrative that serves their ends. Any fact or event not capable of such manipulation – and few are the facts composed of sturdy enough stuff to hold their shape under such a hammering – is ignored. Any proponent of such information is similarly dismissed or, more usually, demonized.

So a fellow who did what Ramsey did is unrelentingly called a hero in service to a narrative that I have labeled the Unified Field Theory of Dependency. It is the notion that the average man or woman lacks the wherewithal to defend himself, or to save herself in an emergency, or to help those around them in similar circumstances. It is the insidious, statist contention that defense of life or the deterrence of evil are skills so esoteric and so generally unattainable that they belong only to an elite praetorian class. And – conveniently for would-be rulers of other men – since no one can manage these daunting tasks on his own, no one has need of the tools or liberty or autonomy with which to accomplish them.

Only in that narrative, only in the reductionist world of the lord and the peasant is the act of answering the door to a screaming woman and then dialing 911 heroic.

The UFToD is the narrative of a world view in which the state is entitled to a monopoly on violence and where a federal officer is the only one in the room “professional enough” to handle a simple firearm – even if he does manage to shoot himself in the process.*** That narrative is the tool of tyrants, because a people convinced of its truth need not be made to submit to oppression. They will willingly, even happily submit, since they have been made to believe not just that they are trading liberty for security, but that they haven't any other choice.



COOPER:  Has the FBI said anything about a reward or anything?  Because there was that - there was a reward for finding her.
RAMSEY:  I tell you what you do, give it to them.  Because if folks been following this case since last night, you been following me since last night, you know I got a job anyway.  Just went picked it up, paycheck.  What that address say?  That say?
COOPER:  I don't have my glasses.  I'm blind as a bat.
RAMSEY:  2203 Seymour [Ramsey’s address]. Where are them girls living?  Right next door to this paycheck.  So yes, take that reward and give it to - that little girl came out the house and she was crying.  
  
** Besides not being able to afford spectacle for Cooper, has CNN lost the lease on its studios? I have to ask, because its anchors seem to spend every minute of airtime standing outside these days. I get it – evidently having an a talking head stand on a street in the same city as, but five blocks away from, the police line demarcating the crime scene is supposed to convey to us the overwhelming sense verisimilitude and urgency. I just hope these poor “news” people are being supplied with comfy shoes, or maybe those cushy rubber mats restaurants have for their line chefs.

 *** I confess it: I will never get tired of watching that.