Thursday, July 20, 2017

Christian Ethics In Practice

     Now that I no longer solve other people’s problems for a living, I can allow my thought processes to prowl: to range hither and yon among the many stimuli available, carrying conceptual pollen from one to another, and then to watch, sometimes amusedly and at other times bemusedly, to see what hybrid might emerge. It’s about as close as a contemporary American can come to the job I’ve wanted most of my life: Vice President In Charge Of Thinking Good Thoughts. (Career-hunters be warned: there’s no money in it.)

     It’s been two years now since I retired from wage labor, yet I continue to be amazed at how an old movie, wedded to a seemingly unrelated article, can elicit new and potentially important ideas. But of course, the critical word in that sentence is seeming. The connection had to be there from the start; I just didn’t see it until I’d had some time to think.

     (Memo to me: Must write something about the terrible lack of time to think that afflicts so many Americans today. After thinking about it for a while, of course.)

     Yesterday’s essay coupled to the previous day’s tirade in a fascinating fashion. The “Preparations” piece is rather grim, while the “Shangri-la” piece has a great deal of hope in it. Yet they exhibit a fundamental concurrence. I said as much, obliquely, in the opening to the latter. It’s time to make the concurrence explicit.

     Superficially, the great shortcoming, in our nation and our world, is the lack of true Christian charity.

     When Lost Horizon’s Father Perreault says to Robert Conway that the world’s true hope is for “a way of life based on one simple rule: Be Kind,” he’s expressing the essence of Christian charity. Jesus of Nazareth stated it in a slightly different fashion: in the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and in the Second Great Commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Paul of Tarsus, in one of his few moments of complete lucidity, put it thus:

     Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if [there be] any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love [is] the fulfilling of the law. [Romans 13:8-10]

     The great challenge this presents us isn’t because Christian charity is complicated. Rather, it’s because we’re presented with so many seemingly compelling reasons to behave otherwise.

     “The State is based on threat.” – Illuminatus!

     Our world is hagridden by malevolences: agents of predation and violence. Some of them operate in the open: governments. There isn’t one government anywhere on Earth that doesn’t deserve to be destroyed, root and branch, and all its masters and its minions publicly condemned to sackcloth and ashes lifelong. Yes, that includes the 88,000-plus governments of these United States. Their evil cannot be offset by the trivial amounts of good they (accidentally and unintentionally) do.

     The primary aim of persons in government is the primary aim of “The High” as Orwell put it in 1984: “The aim of the High is to remain where they are.” Their master tactic is fear: specifically, engendering fear in their subjects:

  • Fear of other governments;
  • Fear of punishment for disobedience;
  • Inducing their subjects to fear one another.

     The pattern reaches all the way back to the origin of states. Franz Oppenheimer found that in marauding predator bands that got tired of marauding and settled down to mulct their fattest victims in perpetuity. (Cf. The State) Consider the behavior of Eli Wallach’s raiders in The Magnificent Seven dispassionately. How, apart from not remaining in a single place, do those bandits differ from government tax collectors?

     Perversely, other governments and private predators are what make the exactions of one’s government seem acceptable. The aggregate provides stability to the individual components. They who operate through fear serve as one another’s allies and justifications. They also deprive us of the resources – material and emotional – with which we might otherwise practice Christian charity.

     There’s evil in the world apart from that of governments. There always has been; there will be until Man is no more. The awareness of our vulnerability to that evil, and the sense that we must guard against it, deflects us from positive and constructive relations with others. Charity and distrust are mutually antagonistic – and distrust nearly always wins the contest between them.

     The critical significance of community is its role in damping our fear and distrust of one another. We build communities largely without realizing it. The essential mechanism is the gradual acceptance – nearly always subconscious – that those around us are worthy of our trust.

     He whom we trust is easy to love, in the sense of the Golden Rule. We accept that he’s benevolently inclined toward us, which makes us capable of reciprocal benevolence. A community will form on that basis and no other.

     Yet there are limits to the operation of community. A community of a few hundred souls is plausible; a community of several thousand strains credulity. How can anyone know that many persons well enough to trust in their benevolence? The concatenative assemblage of community – Smith trusts Jones, and Jones trusts Davis, so Smith, reposing faith in Jones’s judgment, trusts Davis – becomes tenuous and weak after three links. When we add significant differences in language and customs, it becomes effectively impossible. We’re aware of this subconsciously as well. Otherwise we wouldn’t be “on guard” when away from our homes. We certainly wouldn’t casually venture beyond them, trusting in the Omnipotent State for our protection.

     The safety Americans once felt when abroad arose from the awareness of the tyrants of other lands of the great power of the United States to take vengeance for offenses done to it. Isaac Asimov captured this in fictional form in The Foundation Trilogy:

     [The lieutenant] motioned curtly to his men, "Take him."
     Toran felt the clown tearing at his robe with a maddened grip.
     He raised his voice and kept it from shaking, "I'm sorry, lieutenant; this man is mine."
     The soldiers took the statement without blinking. One raised his whip casually, but the lieutenant's snapped order brought it down.
     His dark mightiness swung forward and planted his square body before Toran, "Who are you?"
     And the answer rang out, "A citizen of the Foundation."
     It worked-with the crowd, at any rate. The pent-up silence broke into an intense hum. The Mule's name might excite fear, but it was, after all, a new name and scarcely stuck as deeply in the vitals as the old one of the Foundation - that had destroyed the Empire - and the fear of which ruled a quadrant of the Galaxy with ruthless despotism.
     The lieutenant kept face. He said, "Are you aware of the identity of the man behind you?"
     "I have been told he's a runaway from the court of your leader, but my only sure knowledge is that he is a friend of mine. You'll need firm proof of his identity to take him."
     There were high-pitched sighs from the crowd, but the lieutenant let it pass. "Have you your papers of Foundation citizenship with you?"
     "At my ship."
     "You realize that your actions are illegal? I can have you shot."
     "Undoubtedly. But then you would have shot a Foundation citizen and it is quite likely that your body would be sent to the Foundation - quartered - as part compensation. It's been done by other warlords."
     The lieutenant wet his lips. The statement was true.

     That Americans abroad no longer feel quite that safe arises from seventy years of federal government indifference toward the mistreatment of its citizens by such tyrants. Otherwise, Kim Jong-un and the ayatollahs who rule Iran would not have dared to mistreat Americans who’d dared to venture into their domains. Yet those obscenities bear a powerful lesson about community and its limits.

     Fear nullifies the charitable impulse. How can we be kind – to do unto him as we’d have him do unto us – to someone against whom we must guard ourselves? The thing is plainly impossible; the “ought” is impotent in the face of the “is.” Yet having established that, we are not finished with the problem.

     If you’ve been wondering what “seemingly unrelated article” set me off on this course, the moment for “the big reveal” has arrived:

     Everyone who has tried them tells me threesomes are difficult. And anyone can imagine that threesomes with the government are the most difficult of all. Suddenly it’s no longer a matter of whose elbow is in whose eye, but a matter of whose legal rights are getting stripped, which way the courts lean, and who is likely to lose his parental privileges and, likely, his liberty or at the very least his wealth.

     Which is why I find it absurdly rich of CNN (All the News Fit to Fake) to wonder why American couples are having less sex than they were 20 years ago.

     The article disingenuously roots around for an answer (so to put it, to coin a phrase) and comes up with several. It’s not that they’re wrong – precisely – it’s more that they determinedly ignore what is at the back of those obvious causes of the – ah – dry spell enveloping Americans.

     Please read it all. Among the influences Sarah gradually articulates is how the anxiety under which we labor is made manifest within our marriages and similarly intimate relations.

     Anxiety is stress. All stresses other than the purely physical wear the guise of anxiety. Cicero wrote that “No power is strong enough if it labors under the weight of fear.” Whether he had it in mind or not, that includes the power of sexual desire and attraction.

     Anxiety enervates. It synergizes with our other labors to drain away our energies – and don’t kid yourself; sex requires energy. Indeed, all desires and other impulses to action require energy to be actuated. If you don’t have it, you won’t act, no matter how beautiful your spouse or alluring her new negligee and perfume. And that’s not the end of the story.

     The anxious man naturally wants to feel less anxious...less burdened. But what if he comes to see his beloved as a source of burdens rather than a helpmeet? What if as he contemplates her, the difficulty of pleasing her looms larger than her attractions? Hasn’t that been a principal aim of the gender-war feminists for forty years and more? And doesn’t it transform her from an object of desire to yet another source of anxiety and stress?

     Not only does that anxiety affect relationships already formed; it also keeps them from forming in the first place:

     [W]omen aren’t going out into what they’ve been told is a rape culture, and men, particularly men in college – the prime reproductive age – don’t have to deal with kangaroo courts and mattress girls should their partners decide that the sex wasn’t entirely to their satisfaction and thereby retroactively withdraw consent and claim they were raped. Do you blame them? When public officials and the cultural power structures spend so much time convincing both sexes the other is out to get them, we should thank our lucky stars some young people are still willing to risk sex, despite everything.

     More fear, less love and sex. Less love and sex, less children...and less Christian charity. Especially when we note the intimate connection between fear and hatred.

     I could go on. Perhaps I will, at a later date. But I believe the point has been made.

     For Christian charity to have a dominant role in life, that our homes and communities might less resemble bunkers and more resemble Shangri-la, life must be largely cleansed of fear. That will require that we do away with the things that make us fear. How that might be accomplished, I cannot say. Anyway, it’s time for Mass. Be well.

Minneapolis cheese-eating, surrender monkeys.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Strong, 2014.

H/t: World Net Daily.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Quickies: The Even-Homer-Nods Edition

     I just had an Ayn Rand quote thrown at me as a “refutation” of one of my more “controversial” convictions, and I find that I must deal with it.

     About some things, Ayn Rand was bull’s-eye accurate. About others, such as religion, she was wildly wrong. Then there are a few isolated subjects:

     "Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man's genetic lineage — the notion that a man's intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors." – Ayn Rand

     This is wildly off base. Racism –the conviction that the races differ in ways that can be significant in particular contexts – isn’t a mere prejudice. It’s a provably correct assessment of the distribution of important characteristics among men. Feel free to disagree, but be prepared to substantiate your contrary opinion. No, not for my sake; for your own, and for that of those you love.

     To be sure, there are both intelligent and unintelligent racists. The unintelligent racist refuses to recognize deviations from and exceptions to racial patterns. For him, race is everything; he recognizes no divergence from nor exceptions to a racial norm. While the intelligent racist makes certain “first approximation” assumptions about unknown individuals in visibly recognizable races, he stands ready to recognize the specific characteristics of specific individuals. Under conditions of anonymity, he relies upon racial norms unless and until he can acquire more specific information.

     Remember who said this:

     “I hate to admit it, but I have reached a stage in my life that if I am walking down a dark street late at night and I see that the person behind me is white, I subconsciously feel relieved.” – Jesse Jackson

     On this subject and no other, I am in perfect agreement with Jackson.

     Mind you, the characteristics of the races are not immutable. They can change over time. They probably will, given the ongoing redistribution of the races over the face of the globe. But the present is when we live, and surviving and flourishing in the present is the highest-priority job before us.

     If you have children – if you love your children – be sure to give them the talk before they’re old enough to acquire lovers or driver’s licenses. You owe it to them. And don’t act bashful or furtive when you do it.

Shangri-la And Where To Find It

     Rufus goes for his first oncology treatment today. In consequence, I’m both pressed for time and in a rather detached frame of mind. Please read what follows in that light. Consider it an expansion of this essay, but of a more personal sort.

     The night before last, I saw Lost Horizon for the very first time. It’s eighty years old and its wrinkles are unconcealed – to make the movie watchable, the restorers had to substitute still shots for several badly damaged segments – but the spirit of the movie is powerfully affecting, especially when placed in its historical context.

     If you haven’t seen it, a plane crash deposits a group of unsuspecting travelers, including a world-weary British diplomat, in a village hidden in the Himalayas called Shangri-la. The community is rich in everything but material wealth and strife. The travelers are at first stunned by the quasi-pastoral peace of the place, the contentment of the quietly industrious villagers, and the unconcern with the things that animate and trouble the world beyond the mountains. Over time, all but one of the group decide to make their stay permanent.

     The community, insofar as it’s “ruled” in any sense, is under the hand of a man called the High Lama. This proves to be an ancient Belgian priest, Father Perreault, who has labored to gather in Shangri-la as many as possible of the great cultural treasures of Mankind. He hopes that Shangri-la will prove to be a redoubt for what is best in Man – a survival bunker, if you will, for the best that has been thought, said, and done, to which the survivors of the wars to come will have ultimate recourse. Here is how he expresses his intent to protagonist Robert Conway:

     It came to me in a vision, long, long ago. I saw all the nations strengthening, not in wisdom, but in the vulgar passions and the will to destroy. I saw the machine power multiplying, until a single weaponed man might match a whole army. I foresaw a time when man, exalting in the technique of murder, would rage so hotly over the world, that every book, every treasure, would be doomed to destruction. This vision was so vivid and so moving, that I determined to gather together all things of beauty and of culture that I could, and preserve them here, against the doom toward which the world is rushing. Look at the world today. Is there anything more pitiful? What madness there is! What blindness! What unintelligent leadership! A scurrying mass of bewildered humanity, crashing headlong against each other, propelled by an orgy of greed and brutality. A time must come, my friend, when this orgy will spend itself. When brutality and the lust for power must perish by its own sword. Against that time, is why I avoided death, and am here. And why you were brought here. For when that day comes, the world must begin to look for a new life. And it is our hope that they may find it here. For here, we shall be with their books and their music, and a way of life based on one simple rule: Be Kind! When that day comes, it is our hope that the brotherly love of Shangri-La will spread throughout the world. Yes, my son; When the strong have devoured each other, the Christian ethic may at last be fulfilled and the meek shall inherit the earth.

     It’s a vision beautiful enough to compel tears from a statue.

     Many have yearned for a place like Shangri-la. Its appeal derives in part from its dreamlike, completely static nature. It doesn’t progress or regress; it simply is, enduring and ageless. That’s a required attribute for perfection. As I’ve said before, perfect really means finished, and that which is finished must not change.

     Shangri-la, as a human society of any size, is impossible. Men aren’t like that. The best of us yearn to advance, to achieve, to prosper, to build the better mousetrap. The worst of us – and don’t kid yourself; as long as there are human beings, there’ll be evil ones – whether from envy or power-lust, yearn to set us at one another’s throats.

     But that doesn’t make the essence of Shangri-la – the character that gives it its beauty – unattainable.

     The central figure of the film isn’t protagonist Robert Conway. It’s the High Lama a.k.a. Father Perreault, who has less screen time than any of the other named characters. Shangri-la is what it is because of him: because of his vision, his ethic, and his determination that it should prevail. The spirit of moderation and contentment that dominates Shangri-la is an extension of Father Perreault himself: a man who wants nothing but the good of all those gathered around him.

     As I wrote above, a human society of any size would contain at least a few “immoderate elements.” These would disturb whatever pattern of life the rest might choose to follow. Yet there are micro-societies which do attain – very nearly, at least – a Shangri-la-kind of serenity. I’ve known at least two such micro-societies. Their peace and harmony are evident to any who care to observe them. They’re disturbed only when their members must interact with the “world outside”...a necessity they strive to minimize.

     Where I’ve written “micro-societies,” I now invite my Gentle Readers to substitute a more familiar term.

     These final years of life are proving highly educational for me. They’ve put me ever more often in mind of something Sir Edward Grey, England’s Foreign Secretary during World War I, wrote in his biography: that happiness consists not merely in having what one wants, but equally so in not having what one does not want.

     The combination is essential. Much human misery arises from affliction by “what one does not want,” whether it’s ungratifying labor, fatigue, disease, disability, nuisances of various kinds, or what-have-you. All the riches of the world could not complete one’s happiness were he unable to expel what he does not want from his life.

     Many struggle to become satisfied with what they have. Some never manage it. But anyone can contrive to eject from his surroundings the things and influences that worry or upset him. (It might require turning off the television once and for all, but I know a few people who’ve managed that minor miracle.) The key is limiting one’s domain to that which is entirely within one’s control, and venturing out of it only when absolutely necessary.

     Yes, there’s a terminus approaching. Yes, it’s likely that it will be preceded by disease, pain, and fear. But I thank God each day for my blessings, and this one above the rest: that He has granted me an interval in which I could learn what it means to be contented. I can only wish that every man who ever lives will know such an interval before he passes on.

     Yes, and every dog, too.

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?"—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men."

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.

-- Leigh Hunt --

     May God bless and keep you all.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


     A great deal of one’s ability to feel secure – i.e., prepared for likely developments rather than threatened by them – depends upon the stability of one’s surroundings, both physically and conceptually. You can be the biggest, toughest, meanest SOB in all of Creation, armed to the teeth, ready, willing and able to fight a grizzly barehanded and utterly confident that you’d prevail, and you’ll still value the sense that things around you won’t change too swiftly or too radically. This is especially the case with persons who have loved ones to support, nurture, and protect.

     Conservatism in politics arises from the sense that things must not be permitted to change rapidly. The political conservative holds, with the two great Thomases (Aquinas and Jefferson), that stability in the law is valuable in and of itself. Even if some change in the law appears necessary or highly desirable, he’s loath to introduce it in a fashion likely to destabilize the settled arrangements of millions. He recognizes both the tendency of men to adapt to their surroundings and the stress and fatigue that rapid adaptation engenders. He’s probably experienced some of it himself.

     The Constitutional design embeds respect for those wisdoms. The bicameral legislature and the requirement for presidential approval of a new law were put in place to slow the rate of change. Even the most dramatic alteration to the legal landscape must pass all three gates. That makes it possible to see a change coming and ready oneself for the theory, at least.

     Changes in the social order aren’t nearly as well buffered. In recent decades there have been a huge number of truly radical alterations in our social customs. This especially concerns the poorly defined thing called tolerance and the efforts of various persons, institutions, and agencies of government to compel it. A considerable amount of linguistic legerdemain is involved, most of it originating from the political Left. The phenomenon reeks of the delusion that alterations in language can effect alterations in reality itself.

     It would be bad enough were the demands for mandatory “tolerance” to pertain to things that are genuinely tolerable. In fact, we’re being required to tolerate increasing amounts and degrees of the intolerable. The most recent demands for “tolerance” include open invasion, outright madness, and undisguised, rampant violence. It’s supremely difficult to prepare for a world in which such things reign.

     Early in the 1980s, Herman Kahn, one of the preeminent geniuses of the Twentieth Century, conducted an offhand survey, of persons in decision-making roles in government and the military, about whether nuclear weapons would be used in the foreseeable future. There emerged a strong consensus that they would be. Kahn proposed that that consensus alone was a sufficient reason to study nuclear weapons: what they can do, how they might be used, whether particular situations could justify their use, and what the consequences of various uses would be. As reasonable as Kahn’s statement was, nevertheless it evoked a hurricane of denunciation, some of it from normally sensible persons.

     The typical human mind creates barriers within itself to the consideration of developments it regards as “unthinkable.” (As a riposte to persons who were desperate to define Kahn’s studies as “unthinkable,” he titled one of his most important books Thinking About The Unthinkable.) Yet “unthinkable” has no meaning. Indeed, it’s a one-word contradiction in terms. Its de facto meaning is “I don’t want to think about it.” That response, of course, has no bearing on whether the “unthinkable” will actually occur.

     I’m not about to open a discussion about the use of nuclear weapons, the relevance of international arms-control negotiations and treaties, the quests of gangster-states such as Iran and North Korea for nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and whatnot. I do take an interest in those things – I have for a very long time – but most people shy away from them as “unthinkable.” My conjecture is that the prospect of a war, or a terrorist strike, that employs nukes horrifies them too greatly to engage their reason. They’d rather believe that it can’t happen...and therefore that it won’t.

     Americans have had that very reaction to other developments that have already taken place:

  • The nullification of the Constitutional order.
  • The rise of totalitarian rule by unelected bureaucrats.
  • The dismissal of the principles that once undergirded the law.
  • The emergence of delusions that afflict millions, especially among the young.
  • The invasion of the United States by persons openly hostile to its laws and norms.
  • Demands for the acceptance of deviances that threaten the basis of American society.
  • And of course, demands for legal privileges and “free stuff” by identity-politics groups.

     These things have already set the foundation of the nation quivering. Ordinary Americans, accustomed to the norms and arrangements of earlier times and desperate to believe that they’ll resume and continue, are being challenged to prepare for what might come next. So they narrow their focus; they concentrate grimly on only what’s immediately around them. It’s just one more way of saying that “it can’t happen here.”

     Persons in the preparationist community – “preppers,” for short – do as they do because they’re aware that “it can happen here” – that America is not divinely protected against disasters, especially disasters its people might bring upon themselves. The degree of dedication and the fraction of his resources any particular prepper puts to his preparations are determined principally by his estimate of the speed of transformation and the ugliness of what it portends. His physical arrangements might be impressive, but his mindset is the really important thing. He has taken responsibility for his own well-being and that of his loved ones. He may be wrong, but he’ll be prepared for his estimate of the (survivable) worst the future might bring.

"The world's in a bad way, my man,
And bound to be worse before it mends;
Better lie up in the mountain here
Four or five centuries,
While the stars go over the lonely ocean,"
The old father of wild pigs,
Plowing the fallow on Mal Paso Mountain.

[Robinson Jeffers]

     It’s impossible to be adequately prepared for everything. The only possible response to some developments is death. Yet the will to prepare, to brace for a foreseeable eventuality, is among the most valuable of human traits. It’s an essential component of the virtue of fortitude.

     My friend Remus has invested a large amount of his considerable intellect and energy in preparing, in a generalized fashion, for the terminus of our handbasket’s journey. He’s issued several maxims of great value to just about anyone. The one that comes to mind this fine July morning is quite brief:

Stay away from crowds.

     Another friend in Virginia, cognizant of the danger of crowds from his years in law enforcement, has built himself – quite literally; he built it himself — a mountain redoubt: a compound well stocked with all the necessities and defensible against anything short of a national army or an airborne assault. He and Remus might not have prepared for every possible eventuality, but they’ve surveyed the visible developments with open eyes, have assessed what they threaten as credible, and have braced themselves for what seems most likely to come. (Yes, they’re among the many who’ve exhorted me to move off Long Island.) They regard their preparations as the responsible things to do – the measures appropriate to the protection of whom and what they love.

     Disaster might not come. My friends’ preparations might prove unnecessary. (I certainly hope so.) Ultimately, that doesn’t matter. What’s most important is the demonstration of how responsible persons act when their worries begin to surge.

     Not enough Americans would consider them models.

     I don’t intend to beat this into the magma. What I want to emphasize is the great value of taking responsibility for your own well-being, and for the well-being of anyone who happens to be under your protection. That virtue has been badly weakened these last few decades. It’s been displaced by the belief that our Big Nanny in Washington, in concert with the lesser nannies in the state capitals, will make sure everything comes out all right.

     They won’t. More to the point, they can’t.
     What you foresee and fear is yours to deal with.
     Your neighbors might assist you; “your government” won’t.
     That’s the way things are, regardless of anyone’s contrary opinion.

     Plan accordingly. And do please stay away from crowds.

     UPDATE: To those who believe that “the police will keep order,” I offer this item of evidence to the contrary. Don’t imagine that the police in your district, if faced with the same sort of situation, would prove any more reliable.

Oh. That!

The Western attempt to free Jerusalem in the Middle Ages has been condemned as Christian imperialism, while the Muslim campaigns to colonize and Islamize the Byzantine Empire, North Africa, the Balkans, Egypt, the Middle East and most of Spain, to name but a few, are celebrated as a season of enlightenment.
"Qatar, Saudi Arabia to Islamize One of Europe's Greatest Cathedrals." By Giulio Meotti, Gatestone Institute, 7/18/17.

Hillary who?

From the Clinton Cash man:
Bill and Hillary Clinton received large sums of money directly and indirectly from Russian officials while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Bill Clinton was paid a cool $500,000 (well above his normal fee) for a speech in Moscow in 2010. Who footed the bill? An investment firm in Moscow called Renaissance Capital, which boasts deep ties to Russian intelligence.

* * * *

It seems strange that while some in Congress are eager to investigate the activities of General Mike Flynn and his contacts with Russia, they have no interest in looking into a transaction in which the Clinton Foundation received a staggering $145 million. It’s that kind of inconsistency that saps all credibility from those raising these issues.

Beyond the Clintons themselves, there is also the troubling case of one of their closest aides, John Podesta. . . .[1]

Recommended reading if you have a strong stomach.

[1] "Russia ties (guess who always got a free pass)." By Peter Schweizer, Fox News, 3/3/17.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Police State Nation

     America has become a police state. Private citizens -- whom the cops resolutely strive to deny the means to defend themselves -- are now in more danger from “the forces of order” than they are from non-badge-wearing criminals.

     I’ll stop saying so when someone finds an innocent explanation for events such as this:

     A woman was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer on Saturday after she called 911 to report a possible assault near her home just before midnight, authorities said.
     The woman was fatally struck near her home in Minneapolis’ Fulton neighborhood after two police officers responded to the 911 call at around 11:30 p.m., according to authorities.
     Officials have not released the woman’s identity, but ABC’s Minnesota affiliate KSTP identified her as a 40-year-old Australian native who had been living in the area with her fiancé. The two were planning to get married next month, according to KSTP.
     "My mom is dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I don't know," Damond’s stepson, Zach Damond, told KSTP on Sunday.
     The Minneapolis Police Department told ABC News on Sunday that both officers had been placed on paid administrative leave pending investigation.
     The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the incident along with the MPD, said that the officers’ body cameras and the squad camera were not on at the time of the shooting. Investigators are working to determine whether any video of the incident exists, the department said.

     That last paragraph is the real punch in the gut. Why were the cops’ body cameras not on? Why were they so quick to unholster their sidearms, let alone to fire them? Have American cops become that eager to kill and that confident that they’ll get away with it?

     As outrageous as this is, I don’t expect that the uniformed perpetrator(s) will face anything worse than a modest “administrative penalty.” If they apprehended a private criminal, some way will be found to lay the blame on him. And that upsets me more than the rest of this atrocity.

Scattered Observations And Thoughts

     As the recently popular saying goes, some days it’s just not worth chewing through the restraints. When the rest of the world has gone stark, staring mad, the safest place one can be is inside the asylum.

1. Cruelty.

     “Where is Alia?” [Jessica] asked.
     “Out doing what any good Fremen child should be doing in such times,” Paul said. “She’s killing enemy wounded and marking their bodies for the water-recovery teams.”
     “You must understand that she does this out of kindness,” he said. “Isn’t it odd how we misunderstand the hidden unity of kindness and cruelty?”

     [Frank Herbert, Dune]

     On the subject of the recent “transgender” phenomenon, Peter “Datechguy” Ingemi deposeth and sayeth:

     For a long time I figured the best thing was to ignore this stuff, after all who wants to get involved in this idiocy when we have real life to deal with....But I’m thinking lately that letting these folks off easy was a mistake, it was not wrong, but cruel and uncharitable both to the person in question, but to ourselves and society.

     By letting this stuff go on, particularly in a universities and in our media without challenge we have been like the man who when dealing with a spurious claim doesn’t bother to show up in court and is shocked when he loses because he’s presented no evidence to contradict his foe’s weak case.

     Suddenly instead of ignoring the guy with the cocked hat and his hand in his breast you find yourself first ostracized and then punished if you don’t shout Vive L’Empereur whenever he passes by.

     We’re already being punished because of the “transgender” craze. The following scene from Love in the Time of Cinema is a fictional depiction of something that actually happened to a friend of mine:

     “Tim’s employer’s Human Resources department was run by a gaggle of vicious women—real ones, not ‘trans’—who’d already succeeded in enacting weird ‘sexual harassment’ rules and rules about how to treat persons of differing sexual orientations. You could get fired for daring to defy the company naturally the company’s vicious women and vindictive homosexuals used the rules like a club to subjugate or flat get rid of anyone they pleased.
     “Well, these insane HR harpies needed new worlds to conquer, so they decided to make ‘trans tolerance’ their next campaign. But they didn’t mean ‘show tolerance for the deluded.’ They meant to make differing with a delusional person—calling a ‘trans’ person by his birth name, or referring to him as ‘he’ when he claimed to be a ‘she’—a hangin’ offense.
     “They rewrote the personnel policies for the company for the umpteenth time. Corporate management gave in without a fight. The new policies included mandatory ‘sensitivity training’ seminars for the entire company. Until Tim was herded into one, he had no idea what was coming.
     “He sat through about twenty minutes of their harangue before he couldn’t take any more of it. He felt someone had to take a stand against the lunacy. And Tim being...well, Tim, he wasn’t going to wait for someone else to do it. So he stood up.
     “He told them their nonsense had gone far enough. He said the ‘trans’ types are obviously detached from reality. That they need therapy to help them accept themselves as they are, not reinforcement for their delusions. That we should treat the mentally ill with compassion but that it’s wrong to cooperate in their lunacy. And he said he wouldn’t bow to any rule, from HR or anyone else, that compelled him to think or speak or act otherwise. And he walked out.
     “His supervisor fired him immediately after the seminar. He didn’t have anything against Tim. In fact, he agreed with him. He just didn’t want to tangle with HR.”

     Given that gender dysphoria is a mental disorder, and given further that most persons who “transition” become terribly unhappy and that many of them live abbreviated lives, which is better? To be “kind” to the deluded one by supporting his delusion, or to be “cruel” by insisting that he’s the sex he was born and should strive to accept it?

     Cruelty, like its kissin’ cousin kindness, is a badly misunderstood thing.

     It is not cruel to point out to a man that he’s about to boogie his way off a precipice. It is not cruel to interrupt his ecstasy – to “harsh his mellow” – to save his life. Indeed, it is not cruel to cold-cock him if no other measure will prevent his self-destruction, even temporarily. If none of those measures suffice and he destroys himself anyway, then in speaking of him to those he left behind, it is not cruel to describe him as a blind fool of little use except as a warning to others, no matter how greatly he was loved.

     While there’s no good to be had from a governmental intervention on this subject, there’s great harm being done by acceding to the demand for uncritical and open-ended acceptance of it. But the same could be said for several other mental disorders, such as the one that leads so many persons to mutilate and disfigure themselves.

2. Dethrone The Social And Cultural Dictators!

     In a brief preface to his reposting of a Pat Buchanan piece, Dr. John Ray issues a one-sentence summary of the engine that powers much current misery:

     So the challenge now is to get the Left out of their role of dictating what is right and acceptable.

     That is so perfectly accurate that I couldn’t better it with any amount of effort...and it covers quite a lot of ground.

3. Another One-Sentence Wonder.

     This time, it issues from one of the “guilty parties” in Washington:

     The other day Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania explained why Republicans are having such trouble with health care. Speaking at a town hall during the July 4 recess, Toomey said, "I didn't expect Donald Trump to win. I think most of my colleagues didn't. So we didn't expect to be in this situation." [Emphasis added by FWP]

     Exactly. As Matthew Continetti continues on to note, not only didn’t the GOP’s legislative contingents not expect Trump to win, the majority of them didn’t want him to win and exerted themselves – usually subtly – to prevent it.

     Other commentators have noted the Republican Party’s preference for being in the minority. As time passes, it begins to seem that what the GOP’s strategists are angling for is nothing but “a permanent place at the trough” for its established figures, such that they can enjoy all the perquisites of high office without having to shoulder any of its responsibilities. A guaranteed minority position would allow them to “clamor like champions,” yet have none of the burdens of performance and accountability that go with power.

     I didn’t vote for that. Did you, Gentle Reader?

4. A Point Well Made Yet Glossed Over.

     You’ve probably already seen the following snippet from David Brooks:

     Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

     There’s an important point in there, coupled to a bit of self-recognition and self-analysis that far too few commentators would indulge. Alan Jacobs was alert to it:

     You learn a lot about people by noting what trivial things they obsess over, and today’s David Brooks column is a perfect example. Let me be really clear about this: people are freaking out about The Sandwich Bar Anecdote for one major reason, which is that they know the rest of the column is dead-on accurate and they’d prefer not to think about what it tells us about our social order.

     Rod Dreher has a contribution:

     A few years ago, an older working-class woman had done a special favor for me, and I wanted to show her my gratitude. I took her out to a restaurant that wasn’t fancy, exactly, but it was a definite cut above Chili’s. To me, this was my way of showing her my gratitude: to take her to a place that was out of the ordinary. At the table, I was distressed to see her obviously struggling to enjoy herself. She appeared anxious and uncomfortable, and I couldn’t figure out why.

     Later, her daughter told me that as grateful as her mother was for the invitation, she was a nervous wreck at the restaurant. Her mom saw unfamiliar words on the menu, and felt stupid. And she thought everybody in the restaurant was surely looking at her, and seeing that she didn’t belong.

     I’ve been there myself. I have “low tastes.” I like what many in the upper reaches of the Punditocracy would call “plebeian pleasures.” I have a very hard time enjoying the places and things persons of that sort deem important indicators of education and class. On the occasions when they’ve been imposed on me, my greatest desire was to escape...even though I could have given any of my “benefactors” cards and spades in any contest of intellect or erudition.

     It seems we’re back to cruelty and kindness again, but in reverse.

5. Rufus.

     Rufus the Newfus’s diagnosis has depressed the entirety of the Fortress of Crankitude. (Yes, that includes the cats.) He begins chemotherapy on Wednesday. We’re all nervous about it, but we’re grateful for the many emails of sympathy and support.

     Meanwhile, though, we “has a sad.” It will take some time to pass. Please bear with us.

     Until later.

Putin and the assassination claim.

But there is no evidence, none at all, that Putin was ever involved in the decease of any journalist.
"As Anti-Trump / Anti-Russia Campaign Fails - Yascha Mounk Feeds New Lies." By b, Moon of Alabama, 7/16/17.

A disturbing take on "modernization."

However, it seems that "modernization" is spreading, winning our region.

That thought came to me the other night as I watched some two hours of several video footages from Syria and Iraq in a special showing in a London TV studio.

I saw a "modernized" Middle East with armies marching across scorched plains, soldiers and mercenaries cursing in a dozen different languages, the choir of cannons and the choreography of armored cars and tanks. I saw refugees and displaced-person camps, barbed wires, watch-towers, loudspeakers spreading the latest version of truth. There were minefields and grieving mothers, naked children, and victims of gas attacks and chemical weapons. The skies were dotted with warplanes dropping more bombs on Syria and Iraq than on Germany during the Second World War.

Yes, and there was a frame which showed the shattered body of a child alongside his teddy-bear toy, a Western-style image of tragedy. Meanwhile, we in exile light candles and observe a minute of silence in the public squares of Paris, London or New York. Even our grief has been Westernized.

A landscape of ruins, reminding one of Berlin, Warsaw or Leningrad in 1945 -- in other words very modern, very Western. This looked like Europe in 1918 or 1945, only magnified many times over thanks to the superior power of destruction we now have.

"The Modernization of Middle East is a Sight to See." By Amir Taheri, Gatestone Institute, 7/16/17.

An apt reference to old but relevant events.

If America stumbles into a war with Russia that all our Cold War presidents avoided, the Russia baiters and Putin haters will be put in same circle of hell by history as the idiot war hawks of 1914 and the three blind men of Versailles in 1919.[1]
As I've said a few times, we can look back on events of 100 years ago or so and wonder what were they thinking. What was of such earth-shaking importance that such massive bloodletting had to take place and, worse, continue after it became clear that the defense was the strategy of decision? Why are memories so dim in the face of death tolls in the millions?

The answer may lie in my post immediately following this one (above). "Modernization" consist not in greater understanding of human affairs but only of the uses of technology to control citizens and fleece them by a host of sly legal innovations and usurpations.

The phenomena of the massive central state and the loss of citizen control over public affairs bedevil us at this very hour. Bagmen and ward heeler politicians walk the halls of the U.S. Congress and worthless men aspire to executive power. The Bible teaches that in the end times that "men shall be lovers of their own selves, . . . Without natural affection . . . ." (2 Timothy 3:2-3. KJV.) What is more central to understanding the Western immigration catastrophe than that very thing? Our leaders have no affection for their own kind. Their natural affection affection is reserved for the foreigner and the minority. An abomination, in truth, though, as befits the temper of the times, it's much celebrated.

Harbinger of the 20th century.

Consequently, is it any surprise that supposed leaders play at statecraft and recklessly pursue immoral, recondite, dishonest, and undisclosed ends? Who are these fools who decide who is worthy and who unworthy? Whose animating principle in matters relating to foreign policy is nothing more than "If you can, you should"?

Who are these morons who ignore a century of ghastly, mass slaughter and casually describe the head of a nuclear state as a thug, racist, and assassin?

[1] "Russia Baiters and Putin Haters." By Patrick J. Buchanan, Creators, 7/14/17.

H/t: Russia Insider.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Broken Patterns: A Sunday Rumination

     Imagine a “proto-scientist,” perhaps a Cro-Magnon, whose perceptions are reasonably keen but who hasn’t had much experience of diverse conditions. Let’s call him Smith. (Surprise, surprise.) Smith is inclined toward generalizations, and makes them with a certain naive ease. However, because his experiences have all been within a narrow range of environments, some of those generalizations are dubious.

     Smith has observed many cases of water flowing downhill. From those observations, he has concluded that water will always flow downhill. Eventually, one of his tribe-mates sustains a serious wound – those mastodons are getting uppity – and Smith sees that blood flows downhill as well. As water and blood are the only liquids whose behavior he’s observed, he’s inclined to believe that all liquid will always flow downhill. Moreover, he believes this to be an important conclusion. Therefore, he presses it on his tribal fellows as a case of a natural law.

     It’s hard to fault Smith for having reached his conclusion. His experience is narrowly circumscribed. The Cro-Magnons didn’t have any way to supercool helium, nor would they have any use for it if they had. But if time-traveler Jones, visiting from our era, were to bring Smith to the Twenty-First Century and show him liquid helium flowing uphill, the expansion of Smith’s experiences might shake him rather badly.

     Smith’s original generalization was both honest and, for the conditions he knew, accurate. It might even have been useful, if his tribe was also home to a proto-Thomas Crapper. But it was incomplete. Indeed, had Jones returned Smith to his own time, and had Smith spoken of the incredible impact of seeing a liquid flow uphill, his tribe could not be blamed for dismissing his testimony: “But you can’t do it now, can you?” Irreproducible phenomena are like that.

     One who is unwilling to accept the word of others will necessarily be limited to what he can observe personally. He’ll be inherently skeptical of testimony contrary to his own experience, even if it’s multiply confirmed. He might even reject material evidence of the event as spurious, for how many chains of evidence are truly proof against all objections? Police departments are known to have fabricated evidence, so why not persons of less weighty responsibilities?

     So it is with the hard-core atheist. I speak not of the militant atheist, for his is a different sort of mindset, but rather of him who has “fortified” his atheism, refining its defenses over the years such that no testimony nor evidence can be sufficient to sway him. His is a resistance that – for practical purposes – cannot be penetrated. His door is locked from within.

     That’s why faith is and must always be a personal matter. For any item of evidence or chain of reasoning about some miraculous event, there will always exist an alternative explanation that would do away with the requirement for supernatural intervention. Consider the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, Portugal in 1917 as an example:

     Estimates of the number of people present range from 30,000 and 40,000, by Avelino de Almeida writing for the Portuguese newspaper O Século, to 100,000, estimated by lawyer Dr. José Almeida Garrett, the son of a professor of natural sciences at the University of Coimbra.

     Various claims have been made as to what actually happened during the event. According to many witnesses, after a period of rain, the dark clouds broke and the sun appeared as an opaque, spinning disc in the sky. It was said to be significantly duller than normal, and to cast multicolored lights across the landscape, the people, and the surrounding clouds. The sun was then reported to have careened towards the earth before zig-zagging back to its normal position. Witnesses reported that their previously wet clothes became "suddenly and completely dry, as well as the wet and muddy ground that had been previously soaked because of the rain that had been falling." Not all witnesses reported seeing the sun "dance." Some people only saw the radiant colors, and others, including some believers, saw nothing at all. The only known picture of the sun taken during the event doesn't show anything unusual.

     Several alternative explanations for the events at Fatima have been advanced. None of them can be refuted, any more than the witnesses’ testimony can be refuted. He who wishes to believe will believe; he who refuses to believe will not. Irreproducible phenomena are like that.

     In the recent, highly impressive movie The Case for Christ, which chronicles Lee Strobel’s attempt to debunk the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth after His Crucifixion, a Christian Supporting Cast character at one point asks hardened atheist (and seasoned investigative reporter) Strobel “How much evidence is enough?” It’s an important question for two reasons:

  • The answer will vary from person to person and subject to subject;
  • For some persons and some subjects, the answer is that there cannot be enough.

     As “the Resurrection is Christianity” (C. S. Lewis), Strobel was desperate to refute the story of the Resurrection. He resorted to several alternative explanations of the testimony of the Gospels...and found that each one failed him. The consistency of the descriptions of the events with other kinds of knowledge ultimately persuaded him that the Resurrection occurred as the Gospels testified. Yet at the climax of the movie, when Strobel accepts the veracity of the evidence he’s amassed – “Okay God, You win.” – there’s a tear leaking down his face. It provides a tinge of sorrow that words alone could never capture.

     The sorrow came from having had the cherished, massively well defended belief of a lifetime shatter. The exaltation that came with the acceptance of faith was coupled to Strobel’s realization that he’d been unjustifiably, even cruelly dogmatic about his atheism, including toward his own wife. As a transformative event, I can’t think of one that would be more personal, more painful, or more effective.

     The Resurrection is perhaps the best documented event of classical history. The circumstantials in those documents accord well with what we know about the era, the Roman rule over Judea, and its use of crucifixion as a method of execution. Yet it can still be disputed by one determined to disbelieve it. He could maintain that all the accounts, and any collateral evidence of the event, are fabrications. He could postulate several plausible reasons for those fabrications. And his thesis cannot be disproved. Irreproducible phenomena are like that.

     The Resurrection was a unique event. At least, there hasn’t been another since then. Nor do I expect another. But it broke a pattern: the pattern that says that:

  1. All men must die;
  2. Death is the final life event;
  3. The dead do not return to life.

     Scant wonder that they who saw and accepted the resurrected Christ became believers. Scant wonder that they who accept His Resurrection still do so today. But let that not blind the believer to the power of the mind to explain away that which it refuses to accept. Rather, let it make us gentle toward those who are determined to disbelieve. Their doors aren’t just locked from within; they’re multiply barred and buttressed with huge masses of mental furniture. Even if we could batter them down by sheer force, they would be instantly rebuilt, with extreme resentment as an added barrier. All we can do is to behave as Christians should: at all places, and in all times, and toward all peoples.

     “At all times preach the Gospels. When necessary, use words.” – attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi

     May God bless and keep you all.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Environmentalists With The Masks Off

     There’s a near-perfect correlation between the espousing of environmentalist views and hostility toward Mankind. That hostility includes an aversion to human reproduction:

     Current anthropogenic climate change is the result of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere, which records the aggregation of billions of individual decisions. Here we consider a broad range of individual lifestyle choices and calculate their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries, based on 148 scenarios from 39 sources. We recommend four widely applicable high-impact (i.e. low emissions) actions with the potential to contribute to systemic change and substantially reduce annual personal emissions: having one fewer child (an average for developed countries of 58.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emission reductions per year), living car-free (2.4 tCO2e saved per year), avoiding airplane travel (1.6 tCO2e saved per roundtrip transatlantic flight) and eating a plant-based diet (0.8 tCO2e saved per year). -- “The climate mitigation gap”

     The summed emissions of a person’s descendants, weighted by their relatedness to him, may far exceed the lifetime emissions produced by the original parent. Under current conditions in the United States, for example, each child adds about 9441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female, which is 5.7 times her lifetime emissions. A person’s reproductive choices must be considered along with his day-today activities when assessing his ultimate impact on the global environment. -- “Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals”

     Based on per capita consumption — on an individual basis — there isn't much more growth in the amount we can consume, according to Bernstein's Neil Beveridge and team in a note on Friday....per capita consumption may not have more room to increase. -- Akin Oyedele

     “Having children is one of the worst things you can do for the planet. Have one less and conserve resources.” – Feminist writer Jill Filipovic

     The consistency is remarkable: Travel less! Consume less! Use expensive, unpleasant, garish lightbulbs! Have fewer children! All in the name of “reducing carbon.” Perhaps we could all stop exhaling for a few decades, as well. These folks would approve, I’m sure.

     Jim Geraghty thinks it’s left-wing narcissism:

     “I’m a childless adult, telling all of you people out there to stop having children.” “I’m a vegan, telling you that you have to stop eating meat.” “I’m an urbanite who doesn’t own a car, telling you that your automobile is destroying the planet and gas taxes should be higher to support the costs of mass transit.” The not-so-subtle subtext is, “why aren’t you more like me?”

     Perhaps that’s so in a few cases, but I can’t see it as applied to the great mass of the Left. The self-regard of the Leftist arises from his assumption of moral and intellectual superiority to the rest of us. If we all shared his views, there’d be no one to whom he could self-righteously compare himself. He needs us.

     The common factor – the hostility toward the normal lives of Americans and others of the First World – suggests a need to hate. That, too, is consistent with the Left’s assumption of greater intelligence and higher morals. Of course, were they to achieve the position of unlimited power they seek, their whole game would burn itself out shortly after their victory dance. But Leftists don’t think long term. Indeed, there’s some question as to whether they think at all.

     As data accumulates – particularly through Leftist self-disclosures – it becomes ever more definite that nothing really matters to them apart from their absolute emotional need to feel superior. That they should seek that sense of superiority by submerging themselves in hatred-suffused movements funded and directed from the top down by wealthy would-be dictators is nothing new. The history of socialist and communist movements is quite consistent that way.

     If any one aspect is more of a giveaway than the rest, it’s the Left’s hostility toward children:

     Well, let me just put a stop to this shit right now. You can give me gold-plated day care and an awesome public school right on the street corner and start paying me 15% more at work, and I still do not want a baby. I don’t particularly like babies. They are loud and smelly and, above all other things, demanding. No matter how much free day care you throw at women, babies are still time-sucking monsters with their constant neediness. No matter how flexible you make my work schedule, my entire life would be overturned by a baby. I like my life how it is, with my ability to do what I want when I want without having to arrange for a babysitter. I like being able to watch True Detective right now and not wait until baby is in bed. I like sex in any room of the house I please. I don’t want a baby. I’ve heard your pro-baby arguments. Glad those work for you, but they are unconvincing to me. Nothing will make me want a baby. -- Amanda Marcotte

     I don’t suppose it would do any good to tell Filipovic or Marcotte that they were babies, once. “Be glad your mother chose life” cuts no ice with those who hate Mankind...because the objects of their hatred include themselves.

     Feel free to suggest suicide to the next environmentalist that starts haranguing you. I do!

Pearls of expression.

For the neocons, it’s always 1938. The enemy is always the reincarnation of Hitler, and anyone who questions the wisdom of war is denounced as an “appeaser” in the fashion of Neville Chamberlain or Lindbergh. Yet no one ever examines and challenges the assumption behind this rhetorical trope, which is that war with the enemy of the moment – whether it be Saddam Hussein, the Iranian ayatollahs, or Vladimir Putin – is inevitable and imminent.[1]
And of immense benefit to the people in the war zone and to the people of [name of Western country].

[1] "Tucker Carlson, Neocon Slayer." By Justin Raimondo,, 7/14/17.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Soapy Sales

     Balph Eubank had joined the group around Dr. Pritchett, and was saying sullenly, “, you cannot expect people to understand the higher reaches of philosophy. Culture should be taken out of the hands of the dollar-chasers. We need a national subsidy for literature. It is disgraceful that artists are treated like peddlers and that art works have to be sold like soap.”
     “You mean, your complaint is that they don’t sell like soap?” asked Francisco d’Anconia.

     [Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged]

     This fine morning, Sarah Hoyt has an impassioned article at PJ Media about the offensive campaign by left-wing writers, critics, and publishers of fantasy and science fiction to denigrate – indeed, to delegitimize – older writers and older works in those genres that have remained popular. Here’s Sarah’s counterpunch – and she lands it right on the point of their collective chin:

     If the art is so great, how come no one is buying it? Besides the artist who is spending way too much time with absinthe and way too little time with quill and paper, or brushes and canvas, that is?

     Oh. I see. Because the general public is too stupid to appreciate the greatness of the artist. Because the artist is “ahead” of the public.

     The “artist ahead of the public” conceit has been used to rationalize just about every failure by a critically praised “artist,” regardless of his field, to make it big with the consuming public.

     The leftists’ sotto voce complaint, of course, is that despite their dominance of the heavily politicized Hugo and Nebula Awards, their books don’t sell. But why don’t they sell? They’re award winners, aren’t they? The “critics” praise them, while simultaneously casting aspersions on the “primitive forebears” of their genres. All the “best people” approve and applaud them. So why are their sales weak?

     Now, now, let’s not always see the same hands!

     I think it was Robert Ringer who said that all commercial activity of any sort requires salesmanship, and therefore, that proficiency in salesmanship is the sine qua non of commercial success. The sale of fiction is not an exception; it merely appears to be one because of the “gatekeeper” phenomenon.

     In the simplest terms, a “gatekeeper” is one who stands between the vendor and the purchaser, and who has a deciding role in determining whether the vendor’s product will reach the purchaser. In the pre-Internet era, commercial publishing houses were gatekeepers for fiction: unless the writer was willing to go to a subsidy house, he had no way to present his books to potential purchasers without the willing collaboration of a publishing house. As the publication of hard-copy fiction is a chancy business, there were never many publishing houses, and therefore not a lot of books were published each year.

     It’s possible to feel a certain sympathy for the editorial staffs of publishing houses – I call them, collectively, Pub World – while nevertheless feeling frustrated by their narrowness of vision and angered by their “progressive” impositions upon writers. Pub World editors appear to labor under the delusion that only left-wing obsessives purchase fiction, and therefore, that only fiction that expresses left-wing political sentiments should pass their scrutiny. Indeed, some writers who’ve succeeded in winning the acceptance of Pub World have subsequently lost their publishers’ favor by introducing a conservative motif in an otherwise politically indifferent story; consider Nick Cole’s travails in this regard as an archetype.

     Are there exceptions? Well, there’s Baen Books. I’ve been straining to think of another. I can’t come up with one.

     I must emphasize this strongly: A gatekeeper is not a censor. A censor has the power of the State at his back; the State’s armed agents will enforce his decisions about who may and who may not publish. However, a gatekeeper can accomplish much the same end as a censor...unless a route around him can be contrived.

     What the gatekeeper cannot do is compel readers to purchase the works the gatekeeper has offered them.

     The independent writers’ community – indies, for short – has experienced explosive growth these past few years. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and other electronic distribution outlets are ever more heavily populated by fiction that Pub World will not offer us. Granted that the overwhelming majority of indie novels and stories are pretty many cases, multidimensionally poor. Traditionally, Pub World’s gatekeepers prevented poorly conceived, poorly written, and poorly edited or proofread books from being offered for sale, though in these latter years that guarantee has expired. With indie fiction, there is no guarantee; the purchaser is on his own.

     With so many indies importuning the public, and with so much poorly conceived, poorly written, and poorly edited or proofread garbage among their offerings, “big successes” among them will be uncommon. However, the indies have some advantages over Pub World:

  • Low price;
  • Diversity of viewpoint;
  • The willingness to experiment.

     These don’t completely offset Pub World’s advantages of “the mark of quality” and its intimate relations with traditional retail outlets. However, as brick-and-mortar book retailing shrinks and ever more readers turn to eBooks, indies’ edges have helped them collectively to eclipse Pub World in aggregate sales.

     In short, indies are practicing better salesmanship than Pub World. They’re offering more readers something close to what those readers seek to purchase – again, collectively. And it’s sending Pub World and its favored writers into the Slough of Despond.

     Needless to say, I “have a dog in this fight,” being an indie writer myself. However, for analytical purposes I’ve tried to view the field disinterestedly. In doing so, what’s come to mind is the old marketers’ mantra:

Differentiate the product!

     Should Pub World’s offerings become even more homogenized, they would appeal to a more narrowly defined taste, and therefore to an ever narrower slice of the reading public. Readers hungry for something different would peel away from that pack. Indeed, this trend is already in progress. The indies are the beneficiaries.

     With apologies to Ayn Rand, the comparison to soap sales is inexact. Soap is more of a necessity than fiction, at least here in the United States. However, prosperity and a taste for novelty have had their effects on soap marketing just as they have on fiction. Note the explosive variegation in soaps, particularly shower soaps, these past two or three decades. It’s possible that the “old names,” such as Ivory and Dove, still outsell any particular varietal...but the varietals, collectively, outsell the “old names” by a considerable margin.

     From here, it would be all too easy to slip into a discussion of wine and the explosive recent expansion of New York’s wine industry, but the sun’s not yet over the yardarm here on eastern Long Island. Besides, I have a novel to finish.

Deranged neocons.

The net result of neocon led foreign policies have [sic] resulted in thousands of dead Americans, the entire middle east reduced to rubble, millions of civilians dead and/or displaced -- and they have the stones to call Putin evil.

Pray tell me, who has killed more people in the world over the past 30 years, America or Russia?[1]

If I recall correctly, both Max Boot and LTC Ralph ("The Unhinged") Peters, in a preceding appearance on Tucker Carlson's show, made a big deal about Putin's alleged assassination of a critical journalist(s). Yes. A yuuuge point against Putin (submitted as divine truth, of course). But Mr. Fly's question above is particularly damning in comparison to that penny ante point.

Yes, yes. Killing is not to be treated lightly but in a world where military deaths on the Eastern Front once reached 10,000 a day, and death tolls in both world wars were in the millions, let us not get hypocritically exercised over every sparrow that falls to the ground. The supposed Saudi and Qatari "allies" of the U.S. have financed and supplied the jihadi scum in Syria and Iraq. It doesn't seem to have caused the U.S. to think twice about continuing that "alliance" when ISIS literally burned a caged Jordanian pilot alive. Or beheaded a 10-year-old boy.

Boot and Peters, of course, do precisely that -- climb onto their hypocritical high horse. Vladimir the Terrible.

Jeebus could we get a sense of proportion and some integrity in our public debates?

[1] "Tucker Carlson Annihilates Neocon Errand Boy Max Boot on Russia." By The Real Fly, Russia Insider, 7/13/17.