All We Really Need to Know . . .

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Kindergarten was a lot of fun, but I’m glad it’s over. Some people liked it so well they wish they’d never left. A few give every indication that they wish they could go back. I think a great many really need to.

In 1988, a Unitarian minister named Robert Fulghum published a bestselling book entitled All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I’ve only read excerpts from it, so I can’t be sure of the author’s intention. From the parts I’ve seen, my guess is that he agreed with me.

I used to think that growing up was, you know, some sort of goal; it was the state of being that was ultimately desired by most human beings. The only alternative I could envision, as a child, was dying before I got old enough to be an adult. That didn’t seem like a very attractive option.

But our government, in its infinite benevolence, offers us another one.

The dominating State doesn’t want us to be adults, because adults are independent and think for themselves. It wants us to remain forever little children. It doesn’t even mind that we might be oversized brats, because then it has a ready excuse to use whatever force may be necessary to control us. Because of this, it directs much of its efforts toward treating us like children. And when we’re persistently treated in this way, most of us are going to behave like children.

That, of course, gives the State an excuse to go on treating us like kids, and on and on it goes. None of us wants to think that we are anything less than adults. But we see all those other people out there carrying on like toddlers, so we easily become convinced that for the sake of us grownups, the government must be stern and parental with them, just to keep them in line.

The dominating State doesn’t want us to be adults, because adults are independent and think for themselves. It wants us to remain forever little children.

Libertarians annoy people, because we tend to remind them of the things they learned in kindergarten and then, evidently, forgot. Most people think they remember everything they learned in kindergarten. It’s all those other fools who need to be reminded. When libertarians remind them of the basics, they’re insulted. But they really ought to humor us. All those other poor fools need every reminder they can get.

Among the admonitions issued by the Rev. Fulghum, we must share everything, play fair, not hit people, clean up our own messes, and never take things that aren’t ours. There are more rules — 16 in all — but those are the ones that absolutely must be remembered if we are to have a harmonious society. If we don’t always flush, wash our hands before eating, consume warm cookies and cold milk, or take a nap every afternoon, we might be a little tired and somewhat unhygienic, but most people will never know. And putting things back where we found them, saying we’re sorry when we’ve hurt people, watching out for traffic, and holding hands and sticking together pretty much go along with the most important suggestions. The others — living balanced lives, being aware of wonder, remembering that we will all die, and just looking — we either figure out over the course of our years on this planet or suffer the consequences ourselves.

But libertarianism is an even simpler philosophy. It boils everything down to basic logical and moral principle. It can be gunked-up and expanded into all sorts of things, many of them complicated and some even crazy. Those who, for whatever reason, dislike the notion that others might enjoy the same degree of freedom they want for themselves seem to have an extra bone in their heads that blocks them from understanding libertarian ideas.

It especially irks “progressives” — civilized, evolved, peaceful, and nonviolent as they want to think they are — to be told that when they resort to government action against people they dislike, they are using violence. It isn’t being administered directly, because they aren’t going out and shooting them or personally threatening them with guns, so they don’t want to see the connection. When libertarians patiently explain that the State has guns, bombs, tanks, police dogs, and now drones, means of force that it uses with ever-increasing frequency even on its own citizens, they pretend that’s just a technicality. No doubt they even want to believe it.

They have fallen so totally in love with government intervention in every dispute that they are actually all about aggression. Instead of progressives, they could more accurately be called aggressives.

When I debate this with aggressives on political blogs, the argument always runs something like this: “They [whoever they are, though almost always conservatives] are bad people. So we must hit them.” It’s never articulated this plainly, but of course that always comes down to being what they’re saying.

That’s the reasoning of a 5-year-old — a 5-year-old who has either yet to enter kindergarten or flunked it. And when this is pointed out to them, however gently, they almost invariably resort to calling people names and using profanity. They may think this makes them look more grown up, but it makes them look like seriously delinquent 5-year-olds. In an era when their favorite means of settling disputes was more readily employed, they’d have been hauled out behind the woodshed and paddled.

“But-but-but,” goes the standard whine, “they do it, too!” Johnny’s mommy lets him, so why can’t I?

As for conservatives, they are frankly authoritarians. They groove on violence. They can’t understand why 5-year-olds aren’t still being hauled out behind the woodshed and paddled. Johnny’s mommy probably takes him to the playground with an Uzi on her shoulder. This is the attitude they want to emulate?

How can we withdraw from imperialistic military adventures in other countries if we see violence as the solution to absolutely every problem?

How much aggression can a progressive society tolerate? That is not a trivial question. If everybody in a society behaves like a kindergartener, is real progress possible? Can such a society even function on a basically civilized level?

Libertarians may be annoying, but they’re raising a concern it behooves any serious progressive to consider. How, for example, can we withdraw from imperialistic military adventures in other countries if we see violence as the solution to absolutely every problem? If all we have is a hammer, as the saying goes, will everything in the world, at home as well as abroad, not look like a nail? How we behave at home, toward one another, does in large part determine how we behave abroad.

And if we can muster no greater fellow-feeling for other people in our own country, how on earth are we to deal with those in faraway lands with genuine compassion? There’s also a lot to the saying that charity begins at home.

I may be horribly misguided, but I’ve always been under the impression that progressives wanted to be “the adults in the room,” as they often say. That they believed human beings needed to continue evolving from a more primitive and childish state to a higher consciousness. That they wanted to keep the torch of the Enlightenment lit and moving forward through the generations. Yet increasingly they carry on like the studio audience of Captain Kangaroo.

Their response to nearly every situation is, indeed, to use government force. Not as a last resort — as may occasionally be necessary, out of self-defense, when their adversaries insist on using force against them — but as the very first and only resort. Without even trying to, as one of their heroes, John Lennon, so famously sang, “Give Peace a Chance.”

Another holy word in the progressive vocabulary — ranking right up there alongside peace — is democracy. In which they claim to fervently believe, and for the sake of which they can apparently justify almost anything they do. But without the sort of mutual respect, willingness to listen, to share everything, play fair and not hit people we were supposed to have learned in kindergarten, democracy is impossible. As are peace, equality, justice, and everything else that self-professed progressives say they favor.

Our school years, even the later ones, often seem to have been meaningless. “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school,” sang Simon and Garfunkel, “it’s a wonder I can think at all.” But some of that stuff was, indeed, meaningful — and what we learned in kindergarten actually may have been some of the most important stuff of all. They gave it to us early not because it was OK if we forgot it, but because it would be most fundamental to our lives from that time on.

Do we know enough to read the writing on the wall? Will we awaken to the realization that only in a society where everyone’s rights and freedoms are respected can anyone’s be safe? If not, that moving finger’s message on the wall will spell not progress, but doom.

Any society that has degenerated into a gigantic, unruly kindergarten will eventually find itself deprived of freedom. The jackboots will step in to restore order. For the big-moneyed backers of big government — those who actually benefit from it, those whom it ensconces in power — this is undoubtedly the plan. I wonder when “progressives” are going to wake up and see that.

I know it will happen eventually. They’ll figure it out sooner or later. I only hope that later doesn’t turn into too late.




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The Babble about “Gun Violence”

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When I was driving to work the other day, the only thing on the radio was a discussion of the latest crazy-high-school-student shooting. Two “newscasters” with, apparently, no news to cast were babbling about how terrified parents “across the nation” must feel about learning that someone, somewhere had used a gun in one of America’s 100,000 public schools. Of course, the babblers didn’t make the common-sense observation that such terrified parents need to calm down, the better to notice what their own kids are doing and think about whether some of them might need some mental help.

The thing that struck me most was the lead babbler’s constantly repeated query, “Why are Americans so violent?” If this query prompts you to ask, “So violent, compared with whom?”, he had an answer. Compared with the Europeans. “When you talk to Europeans, they all wonder why Americans are so violent, when in Europe, they don’t have this violence at all.” Presumably, murdering hundreds of millions of your fellow Europeans, until the Americans come in and teach you better manners, doesn’t count as “violence.” Presumably, soccer riots don’t count as violence. Presumably, the Europeans’ until-1989 addiction to the institutionalized violence of communism doesn’t count as violence.

But there was another example. “I’ve talked to Pakistanis who ask why America is such a violent country.” Oh you have, have you? Isn’t Pakistan one of those countries that has trouble turning terrorists away? And the Pakistanis think we’re violent.

In fact, the murder rate in the United States (4.7 per 100,000 population) is very far beneath the world murder rate (6.9), beneath the murder rate of a number of countries in Europe, beneath the murder rate of dear old Pakistan (7.8), and beneath the murder rate of scores of other countries and “countries” — virtually none of which, so far as I know, are habitually or even occasionally criticized for their violent dispositions. But as usual, America loses the game of cultural comparison, the function of which is never to make any society look bad except ours.

Here is Wikipedia on the recent execution of the uncle of the current dictator of North Korea:

On 12 December 2013 state media announced he had been executed, claiming that "despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog, perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader for him." The 2700 word statement detailing the accusations also included other charges such as placing a granite monument carved with the supreme leader's words "in a shaded corner," "let[ting] the decadent capitalist lifestyle find its way to our society by distributing all sorts of pornographic pictures among his confidants," and "half-heartedly clapping, touching off towering resentment of our service personnel and people" when one of Kim Jong-Un's promotions was announced.

Reading this kind of thing, almost everybody laughs and says something equivalent to “there they go again.” That’s just how the North Koreans are, isn’t it? The high-class babblers then take to their computers to consider whether such events increase or decrease the possibility that North Korea will attack its neighbors with nuclear bombs, or simply continue starving its own people. There is no analysis of why the North Koreans are so violent, any more than there is any analysis of why the Pakistanis, the Mexicans (23.7 murder rate), the Hondurans (91.6), or any other people are violent — not to mention the South Africans (31.8), among whom even a man accused of helping to burn two other men to death with a necklace of burning tires can rise to the exalted position of fake sign-language interpreter at the funeral of the national hero. But there is always plenty of analysis of what is psychologically, socially, and spiritually wrong with “American exceptionalism,” the idea that the United States is in some way better than other countries. America is allowed to be exceptional in only one way — its amazing level of “violence.”




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Football? Why?

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Me? I like tennis, a much more gentle and gentlemanly sport than the current favorite, football. Knocking people down takes little skill. Pounding a “down the line” passing shot that just ticks the line takes super hand-eye coordination. Notice that in football the home team fans are encouraged to hoot and scream like the lynch mob in front of the jailhouse, to drown out the quarterback’s signals. Contrast that with the silent courtesy given to the server even if you’ve got 50 bucks riding on the match against him.

So — a brief note on college football. I used to be a fan. (And the origin of that word, by the way, is not “fanatic,” but “fancier.” People arefanciers of the University of Alabama.) I used to enjoy the game, although I never saw a defensive tackle turn to the ref, shed a tear, and mumble, “I held No. 33.” But I’ve seen McEnroe overrule the ump: “No, his ball was in.”

Then I realized that while to me football is entertainment, to students it’s a distraction and corruption. Colleges are institutions supposedly dedicated to the education and maturation of youth. I assume that’s the wellspring of their nonprofit status. But football, in its current form, downplays sportsmanship. It recruits — in most cases — large, fast, violent young men who specialize in using their large, fast, violent bodies to knock down and inflict serious injury on opponents. This is not exactly a lesson in sportsmanship or human relationships. Our colleges accept this anomaly in their mission because a stultified public allows it. And in many cases a gang of alumni — who evidently got a lousy education — sponsor it. The G-d of mammon — not learning — reigns. The lure of reinforced endowments and bulging bank accounts is irresistible. Who said that colleges’ nonprofit status carries over to sports and other athletic activities? A courtroom full of lawyers could debate that for a semester or two.

Coaches make millions — much of it from my taxpayer pocket. It should be an optional item on my tax form. And after all, it seems only fair that if the school makes a profit, I should get a proportionate refund.

But money is not the main issue. (Most schools lose money on their athletic programs.) It’s the disproportionate emphasis on sports, which might involve 1 to 2% of the student body, versus the rest, who are purchasing the school’s educational products. If I’m going to be a drunken spendthrift with institutional money (and remember, nobody spends your money like it’s their own), I’d rather pay two million to the head of the engineering department than two million to the football coach.

Which skill is more important? Creating a bridge, a new concept of combustion engines, a new source of energy — or whacking an anonymous opponent, which sounds a lot like modern warfare? And don’t think that the coach tears up and shouts at the defensive tackle who breaks the leg of an enemy quarterback, “Oh, dear, you broke his leg. His incompetent backup will have to finish the game. I so wanted to go against their first team.” Such lines are never spoken on the gridiron battlefield. Sportsmanship is a rare commodity. And winning, as misspoken by some coaches, isn’t everything. You learn from losing, too. And life is full of losing as well as winning.

I only scratch the surface. But you get the idea. Why are colleges in the entertainment business? Certainly not for the benefit of their primary customers. It’s as though the municipal fire department held courses in arson, on the side.




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One More Non-Tragedy

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Another crazy gunman opened fire at a movie theater this weekend, this time as a crowd of happy filmgoers exited the building. Police think the shooter was angry at his girlfriend, who worked at a restaurant next door. The incident took place Sunday night at the Mayan Palace Theaters in San Antonio.

Why isn't this tragic event hitting the national press? Because it didn't end tragically.

San Antonio is in Texas, where citizens can carry guns. An off-duty deputy saw the man, heard the shots, and took him down before he could kill anyone.

Fatalities when no one but the shooter has a gun: 28. Fatalities when a licensed bystander is carrying a gun: Zero. Even the shooter made it out alive.

Gun control is not the answer. Terrorists took down four jet planes without a single gun.




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Backwoods Wars, Front Page Problems

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Responding to the September 11 attacks on US embassies in Libya and Egypt, Fox News correspondent Ralph Peters made this controversial statement: “Obama’s appeasement policy . . . won’t work against these radical Islamists. With people like these, when they kill four of yours, you have to kill 400 of theirs.”

Peters’ outrageous, counterintuitive “defense plan” is more a cynical observation than a suggestion. It reminds me of a scene of hillbilly justice portrayed in Lawless, a movie set in 1930s Virginia, during the Prohibition era. As thugs from one group prepare to kill two bootleggers from another, one young victim cries out his name and where he is from. The leader of the attackers immediately releases the boys and punishes his own men for what they were about to do, explaining in disgust, “The last thing I need is a blood feud coming after me.” We kill two of theirs, they’ll kill 200 of ours. So we don’t kill their two.

The title Lawless obviously refers to the renegade behavior of the film’s moonshining protagonists, but it also refers to the corrupt police officers who look the other way while they get their share of both the hooch and the profits. More importantly, the title refers to the kind of violent thuggery that often erupts in the absence of sensible laws — laws that protect property rights, the freedom to choose, and the freedom to be left alone. Without a legal framework of basic rights enforced by judges, tyrants generally rise up to fill the void and enforce their own “laws.”

Lawlessis based on the true story of the Boudrant brothers, Howard (Jason Clarke), Forrest (Tom Hardy), and Jack (Shia LeBeouf), who operate a moonshine business in the hills of Virginia. Forrest is something of a legend in the area because he has survived so many life-threatening events: for example, injuries sustained during World War I, the Spanish flu that killed both Boudrant parents, and violent attacks by would-be robbers. In the film he is a complex character, fiercely protective of family and friends but with an indifference to pain and just a hint of sadism that makes him unpredictable and dangerous. He is a sympathetic foil for the antagonist in the story, Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), a fancy-dressed germaphobe with more than that hint of sadism; he’s cold, he’s mean, and he likes it. A big-city lawman from Chicago, Rakes is sent to Virginia to clean out the stills, but instead he demands a cut of the action from all the moonshiners in the area, using the local law officials to enforce his new regime. When the Boudrant brothers refuse to pay, a backwoods war breaks out.

Narrating the story is the youngest Boudrant brother, Jack, a gentle soul who eschews violence and would rather spend his time hanging out with his best friend Cricket (Dane DeHaan) and wooing his Mennonite girlfriend Bertha (Mia Wasikowska). But when his brothers are attacked, Jack defends the family’s honor. He takes over the business, despite the added risks involved in transporting the hooch past Rakes’ mob of outlaw lawmen. Because fewer moonshiners are willing to take that risk, Jack can demand higher prices. Like drug dealers today, he takes advantage of the profits created by the government ban and spends his newfound cash on fancy clothes and fancier cars. Predictably, his gentle character begins to harden.

Rakes is sent to Virginia to clean out the stills, but instead he demands a cut of the action from all the moonshiners in the area, using the local law officials to enforce his new regime.

The film has moments of bloody violence, including a scene reminiscent of the groundbreaking shootout that occurred midway through Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and pushed the limits of acceptability. But Lawless also has moments of sublime beauty, especially in the musical score, which is filled with folk music of the Virginia hills. Tom Hardy continues to stretch his acting muscles with another knockout performance as Forrest. Hardy first caught my attention in Inception (2010), then as the conflicted Ricki Tarr in last year’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. He even stood out as the lovestruck political assassin in the lightweight This Means War. I can’t wait to see what he does with the title role in the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road.

My favorite part of this film occurs during the epilogue. We all know that Prohibition finally ended, so I’m not giving away too much to let you know that life changes in Virginia when the law is repealed. Mason jars filled with colorless “white lightning” fade into Mason jars filled with colorful fruits and vegetables. It is reported that one character finds work in a cotton mill, while another turns the family property into a farm — a tobacco farm, ironically. “Choose your poison” indeed. Yes, they could have engaged in legal employment all along, but let’s face it: labor follows the profits. Who is going to work in a factory or a fast-food joint for minimum wage when black market profits are so much more lucrative? Governments can ban access to certain products and activities, but they can’t ban the demand for those products and activities. And when supply is artificially limited through government intrusion, prices and profits go up. It’s simple arithmetic.

Lawless is a timely reminder of the unintended consequences that inevitably arise when governments try to mandate social behavior. Do-gooders in the early 20th century deemed drunkenness socially unacceptable, and outlawed the sale of booze. Crime syndicates, corrupt police, and shooting sprees were the unintended results. Missing the point, do-gooders followed in the footsteps of Prohibition with the War on Drugs, and untold misery has resulted: violent drug cartels, corrupt police, countless men and women languishing in prisons, and more shooting sprees. This week, Mayor Bloomberg brought the war against individual choice to new lows when he banned the sale of large sodas in New York City. Large sodas! Doesn’t he have more important things to worry about in the face of burgeoning welfare rolls, massive unemployment, and the skyrocketing price of public transportation? What new market distortions and legal corruption will result from this ridiculous ban on large soft drinks?

As a film, Lawless may not prove to be a timeless classic. But its themes are certainly timeless and, unfortunately, timely.


Editor's Note: Review of "Lawless," directed by John Hillcoat. The Weinstein Company, 2012, 115 minutes.



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Race Doesn’t Exist

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The Trayvon Martin shooting has resulted in predictably absurd conclusions and ridiculous behavior. On first impression, the circus that gathered around the Sanford, Florida, site of the killing (featuring race-baiting clowns like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton) looks and sounds a lot of a scene from the satiric Tom Wolfe novel The Bonfire of the Vanities.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Jackson sputtered that “blacks are under attack,” adding that “targeting, arresting, convicting blacks and ultimately killing us is big business. . . . No justice, no peace.”

This cynical circus is so predictable because it’s based on a false premise. Not that the shooting didn’t take place; George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. The false premise is that the shooting was race-related.

It’s false because there’s no such thing as race.

What we call “race” is a social construct invented hundreds of years ago by slave traders and colonial powers. It’s been kept around because it suits lazy people and statist governments looking for cheap ways to categorize individuals.

It’s time that reasonable people abandon this slothful shortcut.

I make the argument about the falseness of race in detail in my book Libertarian Nation (if you have a Kindle, you can “borrow” the book from Amazon for free). Much as I hate to interfere with commerce that channels some money my way, here’s the gist of the argument.

The pigment of your skin and acidity of your hair don’t have much to do with your personal identity. And they don’t make you similar to or different from anyone else.

Race is a social construct. And an old one. The idea that people can be categorized into supposedly objective — or, more recently, “scientific” — groups has been around for as long as human civilization. It’s always been subject manipulation, usually by the state. And its categories are always shifting, usually according to the political needs of the people running the state.

The libertarian notion of a colorblind society is closer to reality than advocates of identity politics — racists and multiculturalists — like to admit.

So, contemporary notions of race are more . . . contemporary . . . than most people realize. Skin color wasn’t the controlling characteristic of race until the end of the 16th century; and then it had something to do with slavery and something to do with the birth of colonialism. The states that stood to profit from the import of cheap materials and slave labor began a 500-year campaign to convince the world that Africans with dark brown skin were a different class of humans than Europeans with lighter brown or pink skin. The Portuguese and Dutch were especially dedicated to the concept. They defined “race” to suit their needs; but popular culture seems to have forgotten their roles in promoting the fiction.

All people are a mix of genetic traits. This fact raises various questions — and the dread of both hardcore racists who lament “mongrelization” and race-obsessed multiculturalists (who, intellectual brothers of the racists, are heavily invested in the notion of distinct racial identities).

What’s the relationship between genes and race?

Most anthropologists and biologists agree that race is a fuzzy concept. By various estimates, 20 to 30% of the genes in the average “black” American come from light-skinned European stock. As Time magazine has noted: “science has no agreed-upon definition of ‘race’: however you slice up the population, the categories look pretty arbitrary.” And, in a similar vein, the Chicago Tribune reported:

In a 1998 “Statement on ‘Race’,” the American Anthropological Association concluded that ordinary notions of race have little value for biological research in part because of the relatively minor genetic differences among racial groups.

And, the anthropologists might have added, the broad genetic variation that exists within racial groups. In the New Statesman magazine, the often-quoted science writer Steven Rose pointed out:

. . . the idea that there is a genetically meaningful African “race” is nonsense. There is wide cultural and genetic diversity amongst African populations from south to north, from Ethiopians to Nigerians. There are, for example probably genetic as well as environmental reasons why Ethiopians make good marathon runners whereas Nigerians on the whole do not.

The normally statist British newspaper The Guardian has stumbled to the same conclusion:

Other scientists point out that our species is so young — Homo sapiens emerged from its African homeland only 100,000 years ago — that it simply has not had time to evolve any significant differences in intellectual capacity as its various groups of people have spread round the globe and settled in different regions. Only the most superficial differences — notably skin colour — separate the world’s different population groupings. Underneath that skin, people are remarkably alike.

So, the libertarian notion of a colorblind society (often dismissed by statists as an unrealistic ideal) is closer to reality than advocates of identity politics — racists and multiculturalists — like to admit.

These advocates have more influence over mainstream media and popular culture than they should. People like Jackson, Sharpton, and Derrick Bell have devoted their lives to a fiction. That must leave them with a hollow feeling, in their solitary moments or when they look themselves in the mirror.

Derrick Bell may have been the saddest of the bunch. He was intelligent enough and well-trained enough that he should have been able to see through the fiction. Instead, he spent his life popularizing Critical Race Theory — which is the intellectual rationalization of a false premise.

The critical document that stands in contradiction to the ultimately bankrupt rationalizations of the Critical Race Theorists and base manipulations of the race hustlers is Martin Luther King’s rightly immortal “I Have a Dream” speech. To the point:

In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. …We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. …Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. …I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

That speech drew its undeniable moral force, in part, from its recognition of the falseness of the concept of race. The triviality of the color of a person’s skin.

(Take a few minutes to read — or reread — that speech. Would any left-wing speaker today use the metaphor of a bounced check to criticize failed promise? It’s so…bourgeois.)

A side note: I’ve always thought there were two Kings, the libertarian defender of individual dignity who fought for fair treatment and delivered the August 1963 speech and the less-inspiring socialist who muddled through the last years of his life.

Compared to King’s image of free individuals treating one another with mutual respect, the current discussion of race is insect-like. The mainstream media tries to turn Trayvon Martin’s shooting into clicks and readers and ratings. The pathetic New York Times concocts the term “white Hispanic” to emphasize that Martin’s shooter was, er, something different from black.

Race is a dubious social construct that serves most effectively as a shortcut for lazy statists trying to put hard-to-manage individuals into easy-to-manage boxes.

Not everyone is so small. Former NAACP leader C.L. Bryant accused the likes of Jackson and Sharpton of “exploiting” the Martin shooting. “His family should be outraged at the fact that they’re using this child as the bait to inflame racial passions,” Bryant told The Daily Caller. He said that “race hustlers” were acting like “buzzards circling the carcass” of the teen.

Race doesn’t exist. Population ancestry influences the patterns of an individual’s genotypical and phenotypical traits (what people commonly think of as “racial” appearance and characteristics) but single variables — for example, skin color — do not. It may seem counterintuitive, but skin color is actually a poor indicator of race.

Race is a dubious social construct that serves most effectively as a shortcut for lazy statists trying to put hard-to-manage individuals into easy-to-manage boxes. No one who loves liberty should buy into the fiction.




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Breaching the Perimeter

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The Grays Harbor County Superior Court building in Montesano, Washington, has a stately profile that you can see from Highway 12 as you drive past. The vibe of the courthouse is low key. It wasn’t so very long ago that petitioners and respondents could represent themselves in civil disputes. As long as they showed respect for the proceedings, litigants could count on some help from the clerks and judges; and everyone would work to craft reasonable solutions to disagreements.

In recent years, the approach has become more formal. A growing number of methamphetamine-related drug cases has made the place more tense; and the growing role of state agencies in the affairs of troubled families has made the proceedings more bureaucratic. But the clerks are still friendly. And, if you’re not sure where you’re supposed to go to file paperwork or pay a fee, the person who shows you the way to the proper office might be one of the judges.

On the morning of Friday March 9, a man named Steven Kravetz was hanging around on the first floor of the courthouse. He was dressed “business casual,” in slacks and a blue button-down shirt; and he was carrying a briefcase, so some of the courthouse staff assumed he was there on business and went about theirs. Eventually, though, one of the judge’s secretaries thought the man was acting a little strangely and asked the county corrections officer working security that morning to find out why Kravetz was in the building.

If reports be true, and there’s no reason to doubt them, this is what happened next. The officer, a woman named Polly Davin, approached Kravetz and asked his name and whether he had business in courthouse. He gave her a false name and mumbled something about a hearing. Davin pressed for more details — and Kravetz lashed out, stabbing her repeatedly with a small knife he’d been hiding in one hand.

Kravetz lashed out, stabbing the officer repeatedly with a small knife he’d been hiding in one hand.

County Judge David Edwards, whose secretary had first noticed Kravetz, saw the scuffle from his office on one of the building’s upper floors. He rushed downstairs to Davin’s aid — separating her momentarily from Kravetz. This infuriated Kravetz, who stabbed Edwards several times in the neck and shoulder.

Davin drew her service weapon, a .45 semiautomatic pistol, and ordered Kravetz to stop. He didn’t. Having disabled the judge, Kravetz climbed back toward Davin and grabbed her pistol. He fired twice, hitting her once in the shoulder, and fled the building.

Courthouse staff responded quickly. Paramedics arrived in minutes to tend to Davin and Edwards and moved them to the country hospital a few miles away. Sheriff’s deputies and local police assembled to search the surrounding area for the shooter.

There were a few early missteps in the manhunt. At one point, the cops and deputies got a tip that Kravetz was hiding in a private home a few streets away from the courthouse. They surrounded the house, flooded it with teargas, and entered forcibly. It was empty.

Then, working from a report that included the false name Kravetz had given Davin, sheriff’s deputies in nearby Thurston County arrested a man named Michael Thomas. It quickly became evident that he had nothing to do with the shooting.

Back in Montesano, the cops ordered lockdowns of local public schools because someone had suggested that Kravetz might be a domestic terrorist, bent on attacking public buildings. Initial media reports on local radio and online picked up on this excitable theme, stating that “several people” had been shot and that the violence might have been politically motivated.

Rather than a method of last resort, courts have become the front line determining what the state can do and how it can do it. And they are overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, Kravetz had walked from the courthouse to a nearby lawyer’s office, where he asked to borrow a phone to call his mother — with whom he lived, about half an hour away in the suburbs of Olympia. While law enforcement agents were following SWAT procedures and ordering school lockdowns, the shooter’s mother came and picked him up in her late-model Ford Focus. She was unaware that her son had done anything wrong.

At the hospital, the news for Davin and Edwards was good. Their injuries were not life-threatening. The knife wounds weren’t deep and Davin’s bullet wound had gone “through and through” soft tissue near her shoulder. Both were examined, stitched up, and released by the early evening.

Local law enforcement eventually pieced together Kravetz’s real identity from the courthouse staff who’d seen him. Some remembered seeing him in the courthouse before. He had a history of minor run-ins with law — mostly related to his reputed bipolar disorder and a few episodes of petty violence against himself or his mother. During one hearing on his mental condition, Kravetz had submitted a 50-page “manifesto” that raved about the collapse of society and the inherent inferiority of women.

Friday evening, having muddled through the earlier miscues, the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s office posted a picture of Kravetz (who was 34 years old but looked and moved like a man at least a decade younger); they confirmed he was the main suspect in the attacks.

Kravetz’s mother saw the pictures the next morning and immediately contacted the authorities to cooperate. Her son was arrested without incident later Saturday.

In the wake of the attacks, several media outlets noted that Judge Edwards had previously warned the Grays Harbor County Commissioners that the courthouse lacked sufficient security systems to protect staff from the growing number of defendants, convicts, and other troublesome sorts being processed every day. He’d even filed a lawsuit — on behalf of himself and his two fellow judges — to force the county to reconsider state-mandated budget cuts that would deny the courthouse basic security.

In his lawsuit, Edwards had made the point that the court was stressed by the growing number of complex cases involving issues like drug distribution, domestic violence, heated custody battles, mental health disorders, etc. Specifically:

Within the past two years, two attorneys were physically assaulted in the Superior Court: A defendant charged one of the judges in a courtroom; a man came to the courthouse armed with a knife and asking for directions to the office of a judge; and there was inadequate security protection available when a judge received a death threat during a trial. . . . The Superior Court is the only superior court in Washington state with more than one judge that is totally without courtroom security.

The judge’s stab wounds and the deranged man who’d caused them would certainly underscore that argument. In the days after the incident, the County Commissioners agreed to move courtroom security to the top of its budget priorities list. They were said to be looking into metal detectors and closed-circuit video systems.

This story brings together two troubling trends in public policy, which conflict with each other — and will likely conflict with each other more intensely as this country’s finances grow weaker.

The first trend is the use of litigation as the ultimate tool of public policy. This trend serves as a kind of ideological parent to its subset, the criminalization of broad categories of private behavior. When the U.S. legal system was first developed, criminal cases were relatively rare things. Most legal actions were civil; and they were designed to serve as a formal process for resolving disputes that couldn’t be resolved informally by free citizens and their local . . . non-governmental . . . institutions.

This has changed. Rather than a method of last resort, courts have become the front line determining what the state can do and how it can do it. And they are overwhelmed.

Because our courts are, by design, the branch of government least responsive to the whims of the voter, feckless legislators and executives pass the buck to the judges. They pass laws and promulgate policies that are often imprecise, internally contradictory, and intentionally vague — all capped with the cynical qualification that “the courts can decide” the final outcomes.

In some of these cases, with no other father figure to rebel against, damaged people like Steven Kravetz lash out against officers of the court.

This pass-the-buck mentality trickles down to all levels of the statist bureaucracy. Faced with impossible or conflicting orders, some government agencies sue — literally, file lawsuits — for permission and instruction on how to proceed. This means job security for the armies of lawyers (specifically exempted from ethics rules against lying) employed by government agencies; but it’s bad news for everyone else.

Just as the Grays Harbor courts have become more bureaucratic and stressed, so has the entire American court system. Simply said, we count on courts to do too much: review (and, in some cases, finish writing) thousand-page laws; settle intensely personal family problems like domestic violence, divorce, and child custody; enforce poorly-conceived legal prohibitions against drug use and other behaviors; allocate dwindling resources among ambitious government agencies.

A side note: as a result of this overreliance, courts and judges become the main authority figure in the lives of some of our weakest citizens — the criminals, lunatics, and impaired ones who cannot fend for themselves and no longer have nongovernment institutions to look after them. In some of these cases, with no other father figure to rebel against, damaged people like Steven Kravetz lash out against officers of the court.

The second trend is the looming insolvency of the American government.

As I’ve noted above, one of the major responsibilities weak legislators and executives have ceded to the courts is allocating dwindling public-sector financial resources. As the federal government’s debt soars and the dollar loses value, the fight over scarce money inside the walls of the state will get fierce. Broke public-employee pension plans will sue to get money instead of underfunded welfare agencies . . . which will sue to get money instead of over-committed regulatory agencies.

Here, Judge Edwards’ suit against the County Commissioners over security resources for the courthouse is a harbinger.

Judges tend to be smarter than most government employees — they see the coming battles over government money. They know that they’re going to have to make hard and unpopular decisions. And what then? If nutters and irate divorcees are grievous security threats to the men in robes, what will we call hundreds of public-school teachers and government-employee unionists whose promise of gilded pensions has been reduced to a reality of threadbare 401(k)s? There aren’t enough metal detectors and CCTV systems in the world to secure against that threat.

Judge Edwards’ suit is also something like an M.C. Escher drawing. It’s an example of the very sort of action that will create more security risks courts in the future. Americans have lived by the sword of rampant litigation as our economy expanded; we may very well die by that sword as our economy contracts.

Edwards is a decent man (and I say that with some insight; he’s one of my neighbors) in an impossible situation. He tried to do the right thing when a deranged man attacked a courthouse staffer; and he’s trying to do the right thing by demanding additional resources to secure his courthouse.

When he grappled with Steven Kravetz, Edwards underestimated the violent capacity of a lone madman. As he fights the County Commissioners for more security budget, the judge may be underestimating the violent capacity of a growing line of angry litigants passing through the hard-won metal detectors.

Americans have lived by the sword of rampant litigation as our economy expanded; we may very well die by that sword as our economy contracts.

Security is a difficult thing to achieve and even more difficult to maintain. It’s situational — and can be lost when circumstances change even slightly; in times of social upheaval, it’s practically impossible. This is one reason that some experts argue security is most effectively established for individuals, not large groups or institutions.

Maybe judges should be armed in their courtrooms. As they were a hundred years ago, when the Grays Harbor County courthouse was built.




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Media, Heal Thyself

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In January the nation survived one of its periodic linguistic disasters — Jared Loughner’s alleged murder of six people and his attempted murder of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tuscon, Arizona.

I’m not calling this a linguistic disaster because I am unsympathetic about the suffering and death that Loughner caused. The death and suffering are real, and talking won’t do anything to help the victims or their friends. Only human concern, the concern shown by individuals for individuals, can possibly do that.

But death, even the death of many people at the same time, is not unusual. During January 2011, hundreds of thousands of people died in the United States. Innocent people were gunned down by criminals. Whole families died in traffic accidents. Lunatics killed many more people than Jared Loughner dreamed of killing. Logically, there was no reason for speeches to be made about the Loughner affair, for Congress to report itself so distressed that it could not do its work, for Fox News, of all things, to run 24-hour coverage of what quickly became the non-news from Tucson, or for anyone else to expend sentences and paragraphs speculating about what it all meant, or should mean, to the republic.

This is not a heartless statement; it is the simple truth.

A few years ago, a guy tried to mug me while I was walking toward a store in my neighborhood. I fought him off. I suppose he could have killed me. But there was a logic to his attack. He wanted my money. “Give me your money,” he said.

You have to respect that. Perhaps you might also want to think about possible means of reducing the number of robberies. But debating the meaning of Jared Loughner? Why?

Some of the commentary on Loughner’s deed resulted from honest concern about whether there is any means of identifying people like him before they can do grave damage. But most of the debate was patently dishonest. Anyone who tries to make a political cause out of Loughner’s behavior is acting worse, in a way, than he did — because he didn’t know what he was doing. The people who immediately exploited his deed to argue for more gun control and more speech control and more media control — they know what they’re doing, and for that reason they are more dangerous than a thousand Loughners.

If you think otherwise, you are under the influence of words, not things, because that is all that the crisis of January 2011 consisted of. It was a crisis of nothing but words, words used to magnify and distort a private, virtually random mental disturbance and turn it into a national and political catastrophe.

The people who immediately exploited his deed to argue for more gun control and more speech control and more media control — they know what they’re doing, and for that reason they are more dangerous than a thousand Loughners.

As you know, within minutes of this sad event, modern-liberal newspaper columnists, and nearly everyone on television was proclaiming it a national tragedy, a troubling indication of the American mentality, a probable indication of the malign influence of political polarization, an undoubted indication of Things that Should Worry Every American, a possible subject for legislation and presidential decree, and, above all, a hopeful occasion for national “healing.” The idea was that Americans are so “fragile” that they are easily “unsettled” and even “wounded” by such events as occurred in Tucson. This is a slander on the American people — a cheap and obvious slander — and a revelation of a shocking lack of perspective on the part of America’s political and media class.

Let’s consider some preceding events.

1. On July 11, 1804, Aaron Burr, Vice President of the United States and President of its Senate, fatally wounded the statesman Alexander Hamilton, in a duel fought over the question of whether Burr was “despicable.”

2. On Feb. 24, 1838, William Graves, a congressman from Kentucky, killed a congressman from Maine, Jonathan Cilley, in a duel prompted by accusations of bribery by the latter about the former. The House considered censuring the victor but never did so.

3. On May 22, 1856, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina, assisted by another representative from that state, Laurence Keitt, assaulted Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the floor of the Senate, beating him brutally. The House censured Keitt, and Brooks resigned from the House.

4. On March 1, 1954, Puerto Rican nationalists stood in the gallery of the House of Representatives and used automatic pistols on the 240 congressmen in the room below, hitting five of them.

5. On June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy, Senator from New York, was assassinated by a Palestinian who was annoyed by Kennedy’s support for Israel.

6. On Nov. 18, 1978, in the country of Guyana, Leo Ryan, a California member of the House of Representatives, was slain by followers of the “revolutionary communist” Jim Jones, whose purportedly religious activities the congressman had been investigating.

7. On Jan. 8, 2011, Congresswoman Giffords was wounded in an attempt on her life by Jared Loughner, a maniac who thought that his junior college was committing “genocide” on him.

Ask yourself:

Which of these events was of national importance? On the face of it, nos. 1, 4, and 5; and once you understand the context of no. 3, which was the run-up to the Civil War, that one too.

Now ask yourself:

Which of them was a crisis? Here the answer is equally obvious: only no. 5 is a possibility, and only if it is considered from the perspective of the Democratic Party, whose nomination Kennedy was seeking (but almost undoubtedly could not have achieved). The death of Hamilton was a severe misfortune for his party, but not a crisis. The Puerto Rican nationalists were an organized group with a political platform, but they weren’t important enough to create a crisis, even if they had killed all the congressmen they hit. The beating of Sumner was a disgusting symptom of sectional division, not the crisis of division itself.

Ask yourself a third question:

Which of these episodes demanded a “healing of the nation”? Only the beating of Sumner. That was the only one in which deep and truly national emotions were at stake. Compare the approaching Civil War with whatever political causes Jared Loughner might, according to the wildest imagination, possibly be regarded as representing, and you’ll see how ludicrous it is to talk about “healing” the nation from the “rifts” and "wounds" that such causes have purportedly produced. In other words, compare the crisis of the Civil War with the current “crisis of civility.” What a laugh.

On Jan. 17, a popular Southern Californian radio personality, John Kobylt of the “John and Ken Show,” agreed with me in part when he identified Loughner’s act as that of a mentally diseased person, of no political importance. That’s true. But John called the response to this act “mass hysteria,” and that’s not true. It wasn’t mass hysteria. It was media hysteria.

The idea was that Americans are so “fragile” that they are easily “unsettled” and even “wounded” by such events as occurred in Tucson. This is a slander on the American people.

A week after the shootings, I was getting a haircut in the large, middle-American barber shop where I always go for that ritual. One of the barbers has a loud voice, and he introduced the topic of “you know, that thing that happened over in Arizona.” At first, nobody seemed to recognize what he was talking about. Even when he explained what he meant, it elicited, unlike sports talk, no special interest. Even the guy who brought it up couldn’t remember exactly what had happened, or whether anybody had been killed. One customer asked whether there was some kind of congressman involved, but nobody was willing to pronounce on that point. I could have, and probably some of the other 20 guys in the place could have, too. But nobody bothered. Nobody felt impelled to Set the Record Straight. That’s how important the whole thing was to that middle-American crew.

Another datum. During the weeks since the Arizona incident occurred, no one has brought it up to me. No one. I’ve mentioned it to a few people, and they’ve responded in due course. But nobody except me has thought it important enough to start a conversation about. I’ve asked my friends whether any of their acquaintances have brought it up, either. “Oh no,” they say, as if they were considering the proposition that water might run uphill.

This was not what anybody would call a major national event — not for the American people, at any rate. It was a media event. It was an instance of media hysteria, of word hysteria.

It was also an instance of the lack of scale that appears to be built into the media’s approach to human life. A long time ago, the media threw away all measuring devices. During the 1970s, the nation was constantly told that Watergate was “the greatest crisis since the Civil War.” The deterioration of the economy that occurred during the same decade, and that seems today its most important event, received no such dramatic amplification. Today we are taught that our current economic distress is “the worst since the Great Depression.” Yes, it’s bad; and we will see something worse when the bills finally come due for the past decades of profligacy, but I doubt that what we are suffering today is worse than the economic weirdness that followed World War II, or the gas rationing, price controls, and stagflation of the 1970s.

It’s easy to lose your sense of scale when you’re pushing an ideology. You want to lose it, and suddenly, it’s gone! That goes for all those Watergate comments, for the cooked statistics about “homelessness” that were designed to make President Reagan look bad, for the constant blather about the dangers of “handguns,” for the scare tactics used to inspire “respect for the environment,” for the . . . . . But no, I could expand the list indefinitely, and so could you. But there’s something else going on, something that’s hard to explain except by reference to ignorance, stupidity, and the desire to punch up any story for which video is available.

Compare the approaching Civil War with whatever political causes Jared Loughner might possibly be regarded as representing, and you’ll see how ludicrous it is to talk about “healing” the nation.

Here’s what I mean. If they’re watching American TV on Mars right now, they think that fees in community colleges are $100,000 a year, because all they see is suffering students bewailing the fact that “fees keep going up.”Nobody tells them that the fees are practically zero, compared to other costs of living. In addition, the Martians probably believe that Americans do nothing but lose children, then try to relocate them — not realizing, because nobody ever mentions it, how unusual lost children, truly lost children, really are. And I’m sure the Martians believe that every year, America’s landmass is swept by gargantuan fires, because the news folk keep saying, “And in California right now, wildfires have consumed over 1000 acres, with no containment in sight.

Please. Doesn’t anyone have a hand calculator? The Southern California county in which I live contains 2,896,640 acres, the great majority of them uninhabited. In brush country, you can expect a fire on any given acre at least once every 30 years. And the fires always get contained. They don’t keep burning till they reach Cleveland. But even as I write these words, Fox News is showing me a grass fire, somewhere in these great United States, that is actually “burning two structures!” Oh really? In 2009, the last year for which comprehensive statistics are available, fire departments in the United States dealt with almost 400,000 home fires. The fires killed more than 2,500 people. Maybe good video wasn’t available on those.

During the past few days, I’ve watched a lot of cable coverage of the riots in Egypt. Frequently, the talking heads refer to the fact that, as they say, “the United States gives over one billion dollars in aid to Egypt!” The real figure is somewhat larger than that, but never mind. CNN and Fox News have radically different ideological outlooks; yet neither of them has any scale or measurement in its reporting. One or two billion dollars is nothing in the American scale of spending. The annual budget of the university where I teach is larger than that, and it's far from the largest university in the country, or even the state. My city plans to spend about $200 million building a new library. I don’t think it should, but that’s beside the point. If we sent the money to Egypt, it would increase America’s bribery to that country by roughly 10 percent.

Now, when was the last time you heard anything like that from the media?

By the way, CNN and Fox News have both placed heavy emphasis on the idea that you gotta understand the Egyptian revolutionaries, because the official unemployment rate in Egypt is as high as 9%! Tell me, what’s the official unemployment rate in the United States? On Feb. 4, it was reported to be 9%.




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