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Dear Lovers of Liberty:

On June 18, the Liberty site went down, leading to our first extended downtime in a decade.

We apologize to you. We know this is an enormous disappointment. Our web host moved the site, without our approval, to a server with which it was incompatible, in the process deleting our old configurations and making it impossible to simply restore from backup.

Be assured: our online articles and print archives are all backed up and secure, and will be accessible as soon as the site is up again. We are working now to bring it online. In the meantime, as you can see below, we will be adding new content to this page.

Furthermore, we are in the midst of giving the site its first major redesign since 2010. The revamped site will feature enhanced search functionality across both our 23 years of print archive and our 10 years of online content, and also the return of some reader favorites from the print era. We’re looking forward to sharing it with you soon!

Again, we send you warm apologies for the outage. I hope you will enjoy the material below. And the mention of our 33-year archive leads me to say something else, on behalf of us all here at Liberty.

For 33 years you’ve been with us. You’ve supported us. You’ve argued with us. You’ve understood that liberty needs an independent voice. You’ve been part of Liberty — the most important part. Thank you — for the past, and for the future.

Yours in Liberty,

Drew Ferguson
Managing Editor

Note: You can send any comments to these pieces to our letters box, letters@libertyunbound.com, along with the name you wish to appear with the comment, and we will add them to the permanent pages for each article.

November 24, 2020

The Salazar Treatment

by S. H. Chambers

Chambers elderly cartoon

S. H. Chambers is a cartoonist whose books include Mock Hypocrisies,
Zeitgeist Kebab, and Entertaining Blasphemies.

November 20, 2020

What to Be Thankful For

by Elizabeth Weiss

This Thanksgiving I have much to be thankful for, but what I am most thankful for is the development of modern civilization.

In my area of study, anthropology, we often focus on the negatives of civilization while romanticizing the precivilized cultures. For example, Tomáš Trnvec and colleagues (2001), in their article “Civilization as a Threat to Human Health?”, list osteoporosis, arthritis, syphilis, salmonella, and lactose intolerance as diseases of civilization, although these diseases were present in pre-civilized peoples. Andrew Matthews (2020), in the review article “Anthropology and the Anthropocene: Criticisms, Experiments, and Collaborations,” claims that Atlantic modernity arose from slavery. And Jeff Lewis and Belinda Lewis (2017), in the article “The Myth of Declining Violence: Liberal Evolutionism and Violent Complexity,”argue that the modern world is far more violent than worlds of the past and state that those who think violence has declined do so to promote First World Nations.

There are also numerous studies that focus on the wretched consequences of the Agricultural Revolution. I am not one to deny that many of the health consequences of agriculture were initially bad. For instance, in skeletons found in parts of the New World where maize agriculture was adopted, anthropologists see evidence of an increase in iron deficiency and of infections such as tuberculosis and syphilis; see Clark Larsen’s (2018) review article “The Bioarchaeology of Health Crisis: Infectious Disease in the Past.” Also, higher parasite loads, such as hookworms, have been found in fossilized feces (a.k.a coprolites) of agricultural populations compared to pre-agricultural populations in pre-contact Tennessee (see George Perry’s 2014 article Parasites and Human Evolution”). It does seem that in North America, hunter-gatherers were healthier than the continent’s first farmers.

But if it was all bad, surely they would have gone back to hunting and gathering! Hunter-gatherers, too, faced health dilemmas of starvation, injury, and illnesses. For instance, in Californian hunter-gatherer sites, violence as evidenced in embedded obsidian arrowheads, cranial depressions, and broken noses were commonplace and perhaps an everyday occurrence; for a good example see Robert Jurmain et al.’s (2009) article “Paleoepidemiological Patterns of Interpersonal Aggression in a Prehistoric Central California Population from CA‐ALA‐329”). Currently, there is even the myth of living hunter-gatherers being healthier than those in modern societies. Yet even the research suggesting that hunter-gatherers are healthy cannot deny that their longevity does not match up to our own. For example, Michael Gurven and Hillard Kaplan’s (2007) article “Longevity among Hunter-Gatherers: A Cross-Cultural Examination” revealed that the lifespan mode, after adjusting for infant and child mortality, in hunter-gatherers in multiple places around the world is about 72 years of age, which is suggested to be close to the US population mode of 85 years of age! Agriculture set a path to overcome the constant need to worry about food by enabling food storage and providing a steadier food supply. This is not to say that agriculture was a perfect solution and starvation did not sometimes occur. For instance, at an agricultural site in Arizona called Grasshopper Pueblo, cranial depressions were found in a third of the skulls examined; this high level of violence seemed to correspond to a drought period (Kathryn Baustian et al.’s 2012 article “Battered and Abused: Analysis of Trauma at Grasshopper Pueblo [AD 1275–1400]”). Famously, the southwest agricultural sites of Colorado Anasazi illustrate evidence of cannibalism, such as sites in which every type of human bone was fragmented or had cutmarks on it. Although not conclusive, cannibalism among Native Americans in the southwest has been linked to drought conditions. Thus, it wasn’t perfect, but the step into the agricultural way of life makes us distinct from all other animals.

After agriculture, we were propelled to the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution too had some unfortunate consequences, such as the increase in rickets in Europe during the 1800s because of the intense air pollution and long inside working hours for children (see Simon Mays et al.’s, 2009, article “Growth and Vitamin D Deficiency in a Population from 19th Century Birmingham, England”). From 1700 to 1850, the technology, such as the invention of the horse-drawn seed drill by Jethro Tull and the triangular plough by Joseph Foljambe, doubled farmers’ output and enabled fewer people to work in food production, which in turn allowed for the growth of urbanization. Innovations also included: electricity to allow people to do serious work at night, cars that allowed longer-distance travel, and the telephone that helped communication with family and friends far away. Although the Industrial Revolution brought changes in the food industry to allow for far greater food productivity, which is sometimes seen as a second agricultural revolution, in North America moving away from agriculture was a slow process, and even as late as the 1920s, 30% of the US population lived on farms. Now, that figure is less than 2% of the population, and each farmer can feed 155 people, compared to a little over two dozen in 1965. The changes in technology, from farming technology to refrigeration to ready healthy meals, has changed our world for the better. People get less sick, there are strawberries year-round, and we spend far less time on chores than even a few decades ago.

My maternal grandmother, Gretel Leisegang, raised her dozen children, and in doing so spent her days handwashing clothes, preparing meals from scratch, and buying fresh foods each day (no refrigeration); this was the norm in Germany in the 1930s and through to the 1950s. These tasks now often take only minutes even in big families, setting the scene for a society in which women — to whom household chores usually fell — were able to pursue higher education and enter the workplace in increasing numbers, thus leading to a more equitable society. Modernity has brought us washing machines, fortified grains and dairy, and refrigeration! Because of the introduction of preservatives, food that would previously have spoiled can now be used. Yet ironically, “preservatives” are viewed as bad by many, despite the obvious fact that “preservative” means something that preserves — a good thing, surely? The lives of those in Industrialized Nations have been getting longer, despite the fact that obesity has become a problem.

Most importantly, perhaps, starvation is unheard of in the United States and many other industrial nations; so much so that hunger had to be redefined as “food insecurity,” which may just mean worrying about a shortage of food in the house with no actual changes in food intake. Even modern liberal news sources such as the New York Times cannot find a skinny family to feature in their American hunger stories. While engaging in the faculty-in-residence program at San José State University I found it hard to entice students to come to events featuring free pizza, because on-campus students were able to have any food they pleased, practically at any time. Our school foodbank is always filled with plenty of well-fed (or even overfed) students.

What has freedom from the constant search for food meant for us — and why am I thankful for this liberty?

Clearly, it has enabled us to appreciate nature for its beauty instead of its sheer utility. As I sit here on my porch, I look out at the various bunnies, which I have named Sir Hop-a-Lot, Count Cotton-Tail, Lord Leap-About, Queen Quickstep, and Earl All-Ears (who is actually a hare), and marvel at the intricacy of their evolutionary form: the softness of their fur, the alertness in their eyes, the veins running through their ears, the distinct white fur on their lower nostrils, and of course their cotton-tails. It gives me such pleasure to see them that I put out food aptly named Critter Crunch, although Sir Hop-a-Lot is particularly fond of unsalted matzos. I also have bird feeders that allow me the joys of watching cardinals, Gila woodpeckers, and a whole variety of finches. And one cannot forget the delightful sounds of squabbling quail and the sight of those birds running along with fancy feathers, like church ladies running late on a Sunday morning. Never do I view these animals with hungry eyes, and they seem to know it.

Only someone with easy access to food and an abundance of free time can glance over to this sort of wonder. The same wonder and love of nature inspired the development of national parks, which started in the US in the 1870s with Yellowstone National Park. In the US, the protected land contains over 85 million acres; these protected lands could not be used in this way if we didn’t have exceedingly productive farmlands and a well-fed society with people who have enough free time to visit the parks. The US National Parks had over 300 million visitors last year. But before the National Parks Service, naturalists studied the world of animals, bringing the wonder into people’s homes through illustrated books. John James Audubon (1785–1851) is perhaps the most famous of these. I recall reading in a biography of Audubon that he traveled throughout America to illustrate birds and would have to sell copies of his book by going from one wealthy individual to another; it was a tough way to make a living. Now, we can all enjoy the splendors of his work — because of mass printing, yet another product of capitalist industry.

Our desire to save animals, conserve lands, and take care of the sick and poor are all evidence of altruism. Altruism is plentiful because of modern civilization. Animal behavioral researchers looking to make the case for altruism in other species note that they cannot determine whether nonhuman animals behave altruistically by seeing whether they share food; the drive not to starve is so fierce that it overrides all other behavior. For an example in chimps, take a look at Shinya Yamamoto and Masayuki Tanaka’s 2009 article “How Did Altruism and Reciprocity Evolve in Humans?” This fierce drive not to starve was likely present in all early humans. The freedom of not worrying about our next meal enabled our altruistic behaviors — adoptions, donations, rescues, caring about the environment, on and on. Unfortunately, starvation is still a factor in the Third World. In these locations, bushmeat hunting of primates, destructive logging, and extreme corruption are more abundant than altruism. Venezuela’s crime rate has increased dramatically with the onset of communism, which has also led to nationwide hunger.

Without modern civilization, we could not have become environmentally conscious. The capitalist industrial nations, especially Japan, Canada, the US, and the countries of Western Europe, gave rise to the environmental movement. Native Americans, often said to have been the first environmentalists, and other indigenous people did not have the luxury of looking at nature through an aesthetic perspective rather than as a resource to be exploited. Native American hunting led to the extinction or near extinction of many animals, such as mammoths, giant sloths, and bison.

The modern world’s liberty from starvation enabled culture to blossom. We get the first cave art around 40,000 years ago, which coincides with Homo sapiens’ arrival in Europe; Homo sapiens were likely more effective hunters than Neanderthals. Neanderthal cannibalism occurred frequently. Neanderthals also faced serious injuries from close contact with large animals, whereas Homo sapiens were able to figure out that throwing tools was a good way to get food without being in harm’s way. (See Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser et al.’s (2018) article “Evidence for Close-Range Hunting by Last Interglacial Neanderthals.” However, recent research suggests that this may be too simple of a narrative; see Judith Beier et al.’s (2018) article “Similar Cranial Trauma Prevalence among Neanderthals and Upper Palaeolithic Modern Humans.”)

Written language did not arise until the birth of civilization. There is strong evidence that writing (and numerical systems) developed from tallying food surpluses that resulted from transitioning from hunting-and-gathering to agriculture. Writing was such a good idea that, like agriculture, it had (several points of origin: Mesopotamia, China, Egypt, and Mesoamerica. Writing allows us to tell stories of others, helps us understand the past and dream of a better future. It facilitates the sharing of knowledge, which is the foundation on which effective education and science are based. It is amazing to think that as late as 200 years ago most non-Western or Eastern peoples were still not writing. (See Willard Walker and James Sarbaugh’s 1993 article “The Early History of the Cherokee Syllabary”; Robert Dixon, 2002, Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development, Cambridge University Press; and Ali Abdi, 2009, chapter in Education, Decolonization, and Development, Brill.) Oral traditions are a poor substitute for written records. For instance, the gift of horses to Blackfoot Indians by Spanish Colonialists is well documented, but when ethnographer John Ewers (1955), The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture, Smithsonian Institute) asked elderly tribesmen in the 1940s, some knew nothing of this gift; others told stories of the horses being provided by spirits, such as Thunderbird; and some said that horses were a gift from God to their people. Not surprisingly, in less than 200 years a well-documented historical event had been erased from the tribe’s memory. Oral tradition is constantly changing and doesn’t allow us a true glimpse into the past.

As we move into next year, we may lament that so much of this year was out of whack because of COVID-19 or, if you like, the reaction to COVID-19. But we have so much to be thankful for in the modern world. Agriculture, industry, and technology have given us the freedom to live an enriched life, one in which we are be able to choose our own passions, be they nature observations, computer games, or anything in between. A life in which food for the body is plentiful, easily available and cheap, leads to a life in which food for the mind can be consumed every day, using leisure time only available to us because we’re not having to constantly seek food. We can only hope that the First World’s liberty is passed on to the rest of the world. To quote Vladimir Putin in regards to Greta Thunberg’s UN speech: “No one has explained to Greta that the modern world is complex and different and . . . people in Africa or in many Asian countries want to live at the same wealth level as in Sweden.” It is ironic that I end this article on liberty with a quote from Vladimir Putin. However, I think his perspective on wealth, modernity, and the environment is important — although it should be obvious. How thankful we should be for what we have, and how important it is for others to reach this same state of civilization.

Elizabeth Weiss is a professor of anthropology at San José State University. She is the author of Paleopathology in Perspective: Bone Health and Disease through Time (2014, Rowman & Littlefield); Reading the Bones: Activity, Biology, and Culture (2017, University of Florida Press); and Repatriation and Erasing the Past with coauthor James W. Springer (2020, University of Florida Press) (for both University of Florida Press books, get a 30% discount with the code UPF75 until the end of 2020).

November 5, 2020

Election 2020

by Bruce Ramsey

Here is a quick look at the November 2020 elections from a libertarian or classical liberal point of view.

I skip over the contest between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, which, as I write, is leaning Biden’s way but is not decided. Many other things have effectively been decided, though the results cited here are not official. A few could change; most of them won’t.

Libertarian Party. LP presidential nominee Jo Jorgensen’s 1.1% nationwide was a two-thirds drop from the record 3.28% by LP nominee Gary Johnson in 2016. Of course Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, was a professional politician, and Jorgensen was not. Jorgensen’s showing was better than that of any other LP candidacy in the past 48 years, including Johnson’s showing in 2012. She handily beat all of this year’s other minor-party nominees, for what that is worth.

The pattern of Libertarian presidential votes is much the same as in previous elections. Strongest were the “red” states near the Canadian border, led by Alaska, 2.6%, North Dakota, 2.6%, South Dakota, 2.6%, and Montana, 2.4%. Other northern-border states with above-average Jorgensen returns are Idaho, 1.8%; New Hampshire, 1.8%; Maine 1.7%; and Washington, 1.5%.

Jorgensen also did relatively better in a group of interior “red” states: Nebraska, 2.1%, Kansas, 2.1%, Utah, 2.1%; Indiana, 2.0%; Wyoming, 2.0; and Oklahoma, 1.5%. Her worst showings were in Mississippi, 0.6%, and in New Jersey and the District of Columbia, both 0.5%.

Voters decided a number of state ballot measures, some of them in ways libertarians should like. Here are some highlights:

Racial Preferences. In 1996, California was first in the nation to ban racial and gender preferences in state jobs, contracting, and education. Progressives have itched to roll that back ever since, and this year they gave it a try with Proposition 16. Voters turned thumbs-down on “affirmative action” with a 56% no vote — an important result in a state that is only 37% non-Latino white and that voted 65% for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. One reason is opposition from Asian Americans, now 15% of California’s population.

Guns. Not much this year on a cause the Democrats have mostly avoided. With a 51% vote, Montana approved LR-130, removing local governments’ authority to regulate firearms, including concealed carry.

Drugs. Marijuana legalization passed in four states, Arizona (Proposition 207, 60%), Montana (Initiative 190, 57%), New Jersey (Public Question 1, 67%) and South Dakota (Amendment A, 53%). “Heading into election day, 11 states had legalized marijuana for adults 21 and over, and 34 states had legalized medical marijuana,” writes the Marijuana Policy Project. “Now there are 15 legalization states and 36 medical marijuana states in the country.”

National marijuana legalization has a way to go, but the uphill climb is over.

Oregon, which passed medical marijuana in 1998 and general legalization in 2014, widened the scope of its laws on psychoactive substances. With 56% yes, voters passed Measure 109, sponsored by the Oregon Psilocybin Society, which legalizes the medical use of psilocybin mushrooms. Three US cities had already decriminalized psilocybin: Oakland and Santa Cruz, California, and Ann Arbor, Mich.

With 59% yes, Oregon voters also passed Measure 110, which would make possession of small amounts of illegal drugs (ecstasy, LSD, psilocybin, oxycodone, methadone, cocaine, heroin, and methampetamine) punishable with a $100 fine instead of criminal prosecution. The Drug Policy Alliance, backed by George Soros, spent some $4 million promoting Measure 110, with additional help from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the ACLU. Supporters of legalization far outspent supporters of prohibition, who argued that they needed criminal penalties to push users into treatment.

Privacy. Voters tend to support measures that safeguard their privacy. In California, they passed with a 56% yes vote Proposition 24, a measure to strengthen a law passed in 2018. The new law removes the ability of businesses to avoid penalties if they fix violations. It empowers consumers to order businesses not to share personal information and to correct inaccurate information. It forbids the collection of data from consumers under 13 without parental permission. It also creates the California Privacy Protection Agency to enforce the data-privacy law.Michigan voters approved Proposal 2, which requires a search warrant for police to get personal electronic data. The yes vote on this was 89%.

Abortion. On abortion, an issue that divides libertarians, Americans were similarly divided. Colorado voters rejected (59% no) Proposition 115, which would prohibit abortion after the 22nd week. Louisiana voters approved (62% yes) a constitutional amendment stating that there is no right to abortion or state-funded abortions in their constitution.

Labor. Voters don’t like measures that they think deny choice and opportunity. The big example of this was a California law signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, Democrat, treating drivers for Uber, etc., as ordinary employees for purposes of labor law rather than independent contractors. The app-based driver companies said that doing this would shut down their industry.The leading companies, Uber, DoorDash, Lyft, Instacart, and Postmates, together spent more than $200 million to support Proposition 22, which would repeal the state law and keep drivers as independent contractors. The California Labor Federation and several large unions — the Service Employees (SEIU), the Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and Teamsters — spent about a tenth of that amount defending the state law. Prop 22 passed with 58% of the vote, a result the Los Angeles Times called “a clear rebuke of criticisms leveled against the companies by liberal Democrats and organized labor.”

Free-market economists have long argued that minimum wage laws also deny choice and opportunity, but voters tend to think otherwise. When put on the ballot, minimum-wage measures usually win. This has now happened in Florida, where 60% of voters passed Amendment 2, increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.Similarly, Colorado voters passed (57% yes) Proposition 118, setting up a state program for 12-week paid family and medical leave, funded through a 50-50 payroll tax similar to Social Security and Medicare.

Property Rights. California voters rejected (60% no) Proposition 21, which would have expanded local governments’ powers to impose rent control on private housing. The measure’s sponsor, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation of Los Angeles, spend $40 million to promote it, but the California Business Roundtable and a group of real estate companies spent more than twice that amount to kill it. It died — yet another measure in left-leaning California that didn’t lean left.

Taxes. As usual, voters tended to reject tax increases on people like them but approve increases on people not like them. This is generally true of “blue” states as well as “red” ones.

In “blue” Colorado, they voted 57% yes on Proposition 116, which cut the state’s flat-rate income tax on all taxpayers from 4.63% to 4.55%. In “blue” Illinois, after each side spent more than $60 million on campaigns, voters rejected the Graduated Income Tax Amendment to replace the state’s flat-rate tax, voting 55% no. But in borderline-blue Arizona, they voted 53% yes on Proposition 208, which raised the state’s 4.5% income tax by 3.5 percentage points for a couple with income of $500,000 or more.

Deep-blue California had what the Los Angeles Times called “a historic political battle” over Proposition 15. This would have amended the famous Proposition 13, passed back in 1978, which limited property taxes. Proposition 15 would have kept the limit for owners of homes and farms, but not general commercial properties. Supporters, including the Service Employees, the California Federation of Teachers, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, spent $67 million to increase property taxes on business. Opponents, including the California Business Roundtable, California Business Properties Association, and California Taxpayers Association, spent $72 million. The opponents won, as Californica voted 52% “no.”

Smokers continue to be an easy target of tax raisers. In Oregon, which used to be a low-tax state for tobacco, voters passed Measure 108, increasing the tax on cigarettes from $1.33 a pack to $3.33. The measure imposes new taxes on inhalants and taxes cigars up to $1 each. Colorado voters approved Proposition EE, increasing the tax on cigarettes from 84 cents a pack to $2.64 by 2027, also creating a tax on e-cigarettes. The Oregon measure passed with a 66% vote; the Colorado measure, with 68%.

Elections. Election reforms tended to pass if they seemed fair and easy to understand. Two states, Florida and Colorado, changed constitutional language that “every citizen” had the right to vote to “only a citizen,” which opponents argued was anti-immigrant. In Florida, which has a very large Hispanic population, this was called Amendment 1; it needed 60% yes and got 79%. In Colorado, also with substantial numbers of Hispanic people, it was called Amendment 76; it needed 55% and got 63%.

California voters approved (59% yes) Proposition 17, which restores the right to vote to felons on parole. California voters nixed (55% no) Proposition 18, which would have allowed 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they would be 18 by the general election.

In Colorado, 52% of voters approved Proposition 117, which requires any new state enterprises with projected revenues of $100 million to be approved by a vote of the people.

Regarding the Electoral College, Colorado passed Proposition 113, 52% yes, joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The compact is an agreement among states to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. It would take effect when states with 270 electoral votes accept it. By adding its 9 electoral votes, Colorado increases the total to 205. The compact, which is an attempt to negate the Electoral College without a constitutional amendment, has not been ruled upon by the US Supreme Court.

Regarding state primary elections, 57% of Florida voters approved Amendment 3, which would set up a top-two primary like those of California and Washington. As a constitutional amendment, Amendment 3 required 60% approval and therefore failed.

Two more exotic election reforms failed. In Massachusetts, 54% of voters rejected Question 1, to use ranked-choice voting in state elections. And in Alaska, 57% rejected Ballot Measure 2, which would have created a top-four primary with ranked-choice voting.

Energy. In Nevada, 56% of voters backed Question 6, which would require electric utilities to get half their power from renewable sources, including solar, wind, and hydro, by 2030. This is the second approval for the 50% requirement, which needed to be passed twice to become part of the state constitution. I suspect this means Nevada utilities will have to buy a lot of out-of-state hydro. (Fine with me; I live in a state that sells it.)

Symbols. In Mississippi, 70% of voters approved Ballot Measure 3, which authorized a new state flag, which would have “In God We Trust” but not the Confederate battle flag. The Stars and Bars will be replaced by a white flower.

Bruce Ramsey is a retired Seattle newspaperman and author of Unsanctioned Voice: Garet Garrett, Journalist of the Old Right (Caxton, 2008) and The Panic of 1893: The Untold Story of Washington State’s first Depression (Caxton, 2018). His web page is bruceramsey.net.

November 2, 2020

Non-Election Horrors

by Stephen Cox

I’m writing this column well in advance of the election — which, from the linguistic or semantic point of view, I expect to resemble an explosion in a sewer. I can wait to comment on that. I also think that readers may appreciate a break from it. So, in advance of the dread electoral event, I’ll make some comments on verbal behavior that is regrettable, and wrong, and sometimes provocative of the expression, “People have been hanged for less!”, but looks more like chronic disease than a sudden collapse of all vital organs.

Here, then, are a few of the expressions I’ve been Watching, because they won’t go away.

Start with pandemic. The intended effect of this silly word is to cow people into silence. “In normal times we would enjoy assisting you in person. During the pandemic, however, we request you to visit our website and complete the form provided in the Relationships section . . .” But how is a pandemic different from a disease? From the flu, for instance? From the common cold, which can turn into pneumonia, which can kill old people? And how exactly does a “pandemic” keep someone on the other end of a phone connection from assisting you in person? What pandemic is supposed to do is keep you from objecting to any treatment that your betters mete out to you. The word for this is:

Unacceptable — although it’s too bad that unacceptable has become another word for “acceptable.” Just before Twitter let loose another wave of censorship, this was the headline in the New York Post:

Twitter CEO admits handling of blocked Post article was “unacceptable”

That word wasn’t the Post’s fault; it’s what the CEO had said. But he meant what unacceptable generally means: “Too bad, sucker. I’m not doing anything about it.”

Is it worse to mean nothing, or to get the meaning wrong? Let’s think about beg the question. This venerable phrase has a meaning, a useful meaning, but it isn’t “prompt the question” or “lead to the question.” The meaning is “make a mistake in logic or argument” — the mistake of presenting a thing that needs to be proven as a thing that’s already assumed.

Trump is a traitor who should be removed from office. —Oh, why do you think so? Do you think a traitor like him deserves to be president?

Or,

You have a right to free speech but not to be offensive. —Oh? Why? Obviously, you don’t have a right to attack someone’s, uh, religion.

It’s useful to have a label for such “arguments,” and begging the question is the traditional phrase. Never mind that this is a colorful though bad translation of the dead Latin petitio principii; it’s annoying that 90% of the time beg the question is used as a pseudo-learned substitute for “I want to talk about something else now.”

Watching Fox News a few years ago, I noticed that the on-air people, who had been addicted to the wrong usage of beg the question, had suddenly dropped it, saying instead “This prompts the question.” Some backstage person with better English than the talking heads was obviously trying to educate them. Then he or she must have left, because the bad usage came back — became, indeed, universal. Recently there seems to have been another personnel change, because right and wrong usages can both be heard. We’ll see which exterminates the other. I’m a pessimist; I’m betting on the wrong one.Many bad contemporary usages suggest that speakers, writers, and influencers are not reading books and are, therefore, in my opinion, not nearly as smart as they’re cracked up to be. We hear much, for example, about schemes for the “abolishment of police departments.” I would think that people who are concerned with race-related issues would be tempted, at some point, to read about the abolition movement, but they appear to have resisted that temptation. Either that, or they went looking for a book about the abolishment movement, and failed.

And what about headlines like this: “Battle Royale: Trump, Biden Clash . . .” (Fox, again, October 22)? Sorry, the word is royal, OK? It’s a common word, something that we’ve had around the house for a very long time. The phrase battle royal dates from the 18th century; the royale variant comes from a James Bond movie. Isle Royale is a fascinating place in Lake Superior, but even that is pronounced “Royal.” Again, don’t you read or listen?

A good gauge of the inverted relationship between number of words read and number of words written is the almost universal belief among current professional writers that infamous means something like “very famous.” Fox News — but it could have been any News — commented in this way about the revelation that C-SPAN pundit and purported political genius Steve Scully had falsely claimed that a partisan message on his Twitter account had been put there by hackers:

The situation conjures up memories of the infamous hacking claim made by MSNBC host Joy Reid, who once claimed hackers planted homophobic rhetoric on her pre-fame blog. The FBI was allegedly summonsed in the case, too, but never confirmed that she was a victim of hackers.

The authors of this account plainly didn’t think that Reid (and by the way, what talent agency does MSNBC employ to find its intellectual authorities?) was guilty of infamy. They said she was, but that’s not what they meant. They did appear to believe that her claim was famous (which it isn’t). So they might profit from reading the 5th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury . . .

Do they think you’re covered by the 5th Amendment only if your crime is very famous? But these may be writers, not readers. What reader of books would come up with the word summonsed?

Well, you say, why not summonsed (which is not at all rare these days)? The answer is, there’s already a perfectly good word for what you want to say, and it’s summoned. End of story. But wait! There’s another reason. Summoned has two consonant sounds at the end. The grotesque summonsed has three, and it isn’t a pretty combination: n-z-d. So why go there? Possibly because you’ve never heard the word summoned but you have, perhaps while following some sensational trial, heard the word summons, and you’ve never read very much, because reading is a bore, so you imagine that there’s a verb called summonsed. That’s one explanation. Another is that you believe that length or difficulty, but mainly length, enhances the effect of what you say.

More about rhetorical lengthening below. Right now, let’s confront that horrid piece of manipulation, best practices.

Who doesn’t want the best? But the phrase (and ordinarily the thing) is a concoction of those witches’ covens periodically attended by people whose daily occupation is to make our lives unbearable — the CYA attorneys, the Human Resources Hitlers, the ambitious men and women with degrees in administration, and, of course, the covid managers and mask enforcers. This folk owes no loyalty to anyone, including the businesses that employ them. What they care about is The Profession, with which they unite themselves like drones returning to the mother ship, in perpetual “conferences,” “seminars,” and “workshops.” This goes double for their likes in the academic world. Out of such professional collaborations come best practices, meaning “standards” by which “the profession” shall handle the various situations and people it encounters. By “people” I mean you and me, and by “encounters” I mean “controls.”

Especially important is the handling of disruptive situations, situations in which someone might actually complain about the way things are being run. Best practices are rules and regulations that determine how complainers are to be dealt with, whenever they confront a member of The Profession. “I’m sorry, Ms. Smith, our Code of Best Practices prevents us from commenting on questions of that kind.” Naturally, followers of this religion have to be trained in its mysteries and rituals, and there is never a shortage of professional people salivating over the idea of training everyone else, too. Barbara Bollier, a retired physician and Democratic nominee for the Senate from Kansas, recently made news in this way:

After offering praise for Australia’s gun-confiscation program, Bollier said a limited number of Australians were able to own guns “out in the Bush” but noted “there’s all these specific requirements and training.” She said she similarly supports training requirements for gun ownership in America.“Who thinks you can just go out and have a gun?” she said. “Seriously, you can’t drive a car without training, you can’t basically do anything without some kind of training.”

People whose libido warms to best practices appear also to be attracted to the idea of reimagining. As with best practices, there is the assumption that somebody — who is never you — already knows the outcome of whatever process of change is being imagined. Who will do the reimagining when we, for instance, “reimagine the police”? Presumably, it’s the people who are dumb enough to use that word. But who imagined the police to begin with? Nobody. Imagination is not an external drive that you attach to the social computer and voila! you start downloading your precious thoughts and feelings, which everybody else has to obey. Imagine, reimagine, whatever — these are college words. People in colleges imagine lots of things, including things that don’t exist or make no sense. The police were not imagined in this way. Neither was “the criminal justice system,” gas stations, baseball, or escargots. Reimagine is just another aggressive academic term — orientalism, mass incarceration, transphobia (phobia? who’s afraid of transsexuals?), community values, queering, postcolonialism — that have no referent in the outside world and no definition even in the academic world.

Reimagine has another disability. It’s a romantic word, suggestive of lying on banks of flowers like Ferdinand the Bull, watching the clouds and dreaming things that have never been dreamed before, but its application is by no means Shelleyan. The reimaginers are hard-bitten apparatchiks, whose agenda was laid out long, long ago, with no reimagining attached. Their purpose is to make you conform to a party platform, ordinarily one that will give them jobs.

If this be cynicism and reductionism, make the most of it.

Bad writers and speakers are not content with abusing the language; they are impelled to lengthen the abuse. They need to make everything long. They imagine that “long” means “heavy” (which is usually true), and “heavy” means “important” (which is far from true). This assumption is most evident in political discourse, in which no one ever dreams of establishing his intelligence by saying something briefly and clearly, or by omitting all the stuff that everyone in the audience except people addicted to daytime TV can recognize as mindless talking points. For elected representatives and unelected bureaucrats, length of time before a microphone is the ultimate proof of success. That’s how bright they are.

But we find this also in the media. If you can stand to listen to Sean Hannity, you will see the talent of lengthening exerted to its full extent. No one could possibly be better than he at saying the same thing over and over, like a priest who’s gotten stuck on one line in the liturgy. The Hannity show has “news,” and it has “important topics,” and it has “guests,” some of whom actually have something to say, if Hannity would let them talk, but in his version of the mass, none of that gets any more time than it takes to say “Amen.” Even his questions are orations. The fact that he has the largest audience in political TV shows how many people mistake this guff for church and don’t mind that it’s conducted in something that might as well be Latin.

Lengthening, as I’ve suggested above, also takes place on the level of the word or phrase. You can find your remote and turn Hannity off, but it’s harder to escape from the lengthenings that appear everywhere else. I’ll mention two examples.

The first is advocate for. In the past, and it was not so long ago, there were two perfectly good locutions. Advocate, a transitive verb, was used like this: “She advocated a decrease in taxes.” Advocate for, intransitive, meant something that a lawyer (a public advocate) did as a professional job: “She advocated for the defendant.” Today, both advocate as a noun meaning “professional spokesman” and advocate as a simple, unaided transitive verb are on their way to obsolescence, drowned out by advocate-plus-for as a term for every kind or argumentative discourse, especially discourse directed at abstract and meaningless ends, and by advocate as a word for people who specialize in that discourse. First there was “She advocated for a new school.” Soon this progressed to “She advocates for gender equality.” Rapidly it became “She is a lifelong equality advocate.” Thus, even the noun was filled with hot air — and why not, since the original meaning of advocate, not to mention equality, had disappeared into the memory hole? Ballots now identify John Smith as a “Public Advocate.” Meaning what? Meaning nothing except pomposity. And that was the purpose of the original, and illiterate, addition of for. It made advocate longer, and if something is longer, it’s more important.

My second example of lengthening is gifting and gifted, when used as replacements for give and gave. They are remarkable instances of the phenomenon. There was no reason whatever, no good reason, that is, to stop saying, “I gave the Claghorn Foundation a thousand dollars” and start saying, “I gifted the Claghorn Foundation with a thousand dollars,” or to replace “At Christmas, many people give to the animal shelter” with “At Christmas, many people are gifting,” etc. The difference is that the replacements are long, cumbersome, and self-important — and therefore the words of choice for self-important persons. The new set of expressions is so odd, so awkward, so obviously a stupid substitute for some of the most common terms in the English language, that its elements are seldom witnessed in informal speech. “What a nice book! Are you really gifting me with that book?” “Yes indeed! I’m gifting it to you.” No, thank God; you don’t hear that, not yet. The prevalent use of the past tense (gifted) is probably a solemnity import from a form of gifted that has a special use, the gifted that means “endowed by providence with special and advantageous talents,” as in a gifted child. Now, with the addition of a syllable and a preposition, you too can feel providential, whenever you think about how you did not give, but gifted, that waiter with a dollar extra.

Finally I want to notice the king of all mystifications, the monarch who manifests himself to us whenever providence and our needfulness directs him so to do: 404. As in 404 Not Found. As you know, it’s the message that appears whenever Google or Word or any of the other crappy platforms on which we base our lives proves itself incapable of finding something. No explanation. No desire to be helpful. No account, even, of what the magic 404 may mean.

I ask you, what was 403? Maybe that was more helpful.

Stephen Cox is editor of Liberty, and a professor of literature at the University of California San Diego.

October 27, 2020

The Thinking Person’s Guide to the Election

Every four years, Liberty offers a forum in which the claims of the Democratic, the Libertarian, and the Republican presidential nominees are presented, along with a case for not voting at all. It’s a testament to the continuing diversity of thought in the libertarian movement, as well as the difficulty and urgency of finding a place in contemporary politics where individual liberty can flourish.

Let us know your own thoughts at letters@libertyunbound.com. And enjoy!


* * *


The Argument for Biden

by Bruce Ramsey

Here is a libertarian’s case for Joe Biden.

Longtime readers of Liberty may recall that in 2008, I wrote “The Case for Obama.” Several complained, saying that I couldn’t be a libertarian, having endorsed such a left-wing guy. Well, I hadn’t endorsed Obama; I had presented the case for him, which is different. It is Liberty’s tradition to offer a case for all the major alternatives, and I was asked to write the one for Obama. In 2008 I voted for the Libertarian, Ron Paul.

This time I think I will vote for Biden, so abuse may be more justified. Pile it on — but let me explain first.

First is the question of why to vote at all. It’s not a question for most people, but libertarians are individualists, and many of them stop right there. They argue that your chance of changing the outcome is zero, so why bother? I accept the arithmetic. It is zero. In that sense, your vote doesn’t matter. (And why should it matter, in that sense? What qualifies you to pick the President of the United States?) But in the aggregate, votes do matter — because countries that choose their political leaders through honest public voting are qualitatively different from the countries that don’t. (See Hong Kong. Also Belarus.) An election is the comparison of heaps of sand — and you contribute only one grain to one heap.

Why do it? Maybe because you are a citizen and take it seriously. If not, fine. Don’t vote. (And why are you reading this?)

For those who do plan to vote: do you vote as if your vote could determine the immediate outcome? As if your vote could influence something other than that? Or do you put the “strategy” out of your mind and drop your grain of sand on the pile of the people closest to you?

For many of us, the third option means voting for the Libertarian.

My first vote was for a Libertarian, John Hospers, who was a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. In 1972 Hospers and his running mate, Tonie Nathan, were on the ballot in two states, one of which was my state. Neither was qualified for the job, in the sense of having had a high political office that prepared them for the presidency. And they had no chance to win. I didn’t care. I was 21; I could vote, and I wasn’t going to vote for Richard Nixon. Or George McGovern, either.

In my 20s I decided that the Libertarian Party was never going to elect its nominee president. Americans had been living under Republicans and Democrats since before the Civil War, and they were not going to change. For the rest of the 20th century, I voted for the Republicans because they professed to be the small-government party, though I was rarely impressed by their commitment. Then came George W. Bush running for reelection in 2004. Bush had gotten the country into the Iraq War. In fact, he had started the war, and under an argument that never made sense to me. I was not going to vote for Bush. I voted for the Libertarian, Michael Badnarik, even though he was a political nobody. I voted Libertarian again in 2008, not because I was hot for Representative Ron Paul — I thought his focus on gold and the Fed was off — but because John McCain was too favorable to war. In 2012 I considered voting for Mitt Romney, but the Libertarians nominated Gary Johnson. As the former governor of New Mexico, Johnson was the most qualified candidate the Libertarians had ever chosen. He didn’t have the “fire in the belly” that a winning candidate needs, but he was a sign that the party was getting serious. I voted for him.

In 2016 came Donald Trump. I was in the hospital recovering from an operation when The Donald rolled over the Sad Sacks and captured the Republican nomination for president. Staring at my hospital TV, I watched all the speeches and news conferences on CNN, over and over again, thinking, “There’s no way the Republicans are going to nominate that man for president.” And they did. Well, I voted for Gary Johnson again.

So that’s how I’ve voted. It hasn’t been only for candidates I thought could win. I’ve voted as if my grain of sand could influence events, but the events I had in mind were usually distant. I placed my grain of sand as encouragement — to promote certain ways of thinking and to discourage others.

For the race this year, the Libertarians might have run Representative Justin Amash. I would have voted for him in order to promote libertarian views in the Republican Party. I’d vote for Gary Johnson again, for the same reason. Even Bill Weld, who is not a libertarian, but is closer to it than Donald Trump. But the Libertarian Party gave up on nominating actual politicians and went back to its old practice of nominating plumb-line libertarians with zero experience of public office. There was a whole debating society of them vying for the honor of being on the ballot in 50 states. One of them was named Vermin Supreme. At least they nominated Jo Jorgensen and not him.

To consider the choice this year, I watched Reason’s three-way debate, posted on July 22, 2020. For Jorgensen they had Angela McArdle, chairwoman of the Los Angeles County Libertarians and author of The Communist Cookbook. For Trump they had Francis Menton, a retired attorney and blogger at ManhattanContrarian.com. For Biden they had Ilya Somin, professor of law at George Mason University and author of Democracy and Political Ignorance.

McArdle’s argument was that Jorgensen is a libertarian, and that libertarians should vote for her. On Somin’s thought that voters have afflicted themselves with “rational ignorance,” she said, “You combat rational ignorance with radical ideas.”

And I thought, “Not interested.”

Somin’s argument for Biden was that Trump is worse. On the domestic side, Trump has reinstated the federal asset forfeiture program that Obama had partly shut down, and has used eminent domain to take private property for his border wall. He has sent federal police to Portland in defiance of the local authorities. He supports qualified immunity for police. He supports the War on Drugs. He has used regulatory agencies to crack down on his opponents. And he has approved a flood of government spending that has run the federal deficit up by several more trillions.

Regarding foreign policy, Somin said, “Trump is deeply ignorant about the state of the world… He has engaged in dangerous saber rattling.” He has avoided a war, and that’s good, but if he did start one, he has made sure that the United States would have no allies. Regarding international trade, Trump has picked fights with China and the European Union and withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Somin is an immigrant from Russia, and he cares a lot about immigration. “Trump has made the U.S. more closed to immigration than at any time in our 200-year history,” he said.

“If Trump is reelected, you can expect the Republicans to continue to be a nationalist, big-government party,” he said. “If you want the Republican Party to move in a different direction, it needs to be a Republican Party that gets beaten.”

This is the argument that moved me. I would add also that Trump is bullying and coarse; he has the wrong temperament and background for the office; he doesn’t think before he opens his mouth; and he has degraded the office by supporting quack theories and quack medicine. He is an embarrassment to a civilized American. He never had any qualifications for the office. Barack Obama’s qualifications were short, but Trump had none. He has three and a half years’ experience now — and we have had three and a half years’ experience of him.

On behalf of Trump, Menton listed the bad things Biden might do: the “Green New Deal,” banning fracking, free college, racial reparations and a volcano of spending, taxes and debt. You can imagine Biden (or a president Kamala Harris) being worse than Trump. It is not difficult. But Somin replied, “Most of the really bad stuff the [Democratic] Party wants to do does have to get through Congress. A lot of it would be undermined by the judiciary.” In contrast, Somin said, “All of the harmful things I listed, Trump has done by executive power.”

To Somin, McArdle said, “Do you want to support the progressives taking over the Democratic Party?” Somin did not. People on the Right can get in a sweat about Biden ushering in socialism, just as 12 years ago they were in a sweat about Barack Obama ushering in socialism. (Some people sweat easily.) Biden is no socialist. He is a cork floating in the middle of the Democratic mainstream. As the party has moved left, he has moved with it, but he is not trying to push it that way. Bernie Sanders is the guy who honeymooned in Russia and went to Nicaragua to break bread with the Sandinistas. He’s the socialist. And he lost. In the Republican Party the big-government, nationalist wing won. They took over the party, they won the presidency, and they are asking for another four years.

Merton’s argument for Trump was that in America, only the two big parties matter. And what libertarians should do, he said, was “to join one of the two big coalitions, and work within one of those coalitions to move it in a libertarian direction.” He added, “Libertarians have no place in the Democratic Party.” He argued that they belong in the Republican coalition and will have more influence inside the tent than outside it.

Longtime readers of Liberty may recall an article of mine in December 2006 called, “Our Allies the Conservatives.” Essentially, I argued what Merton is arguing. I still like the argument. In the Republican Party there is no way libertarians are going to get everything they want. Accept that. But the party has to give you enough to earn your support. Your power is your willingness to leave. “If Republicans can get libertarian votes in the current state,” argued Somin, “there’s no incentive for them to change.”

For several elections now, that has been my argument for voting Libertarian. If you can’t stomach Biden, vote for Jorgensen. I can’t argue that you’re wrong. For myself, I’m tired of voting for Libertarians; I’m so disgusted with Trump I’ll even vote for Biden.

Not straight Democrat. One of the most tolerable governments of my adult life was the Clinton government in the 90s, which paired a moderate Democratic president and a Republican Congress. In 2020, I think, a Biden presidency and a Republican Senate would be the best possible outcome.

If Trump loses there will be a fight within the Republican Party. Libertarians will need to be part of it.

Bruce Ramsey is a retired Seattle newspaperman and author of Unsanctioned Voice: Garet Garrett, Journalist of the Old Right (Caxton, 2008) and The Panic of 1893: The Untold Story of Washington State’s first Depression (Caxton, 2018). His web page is bruceramsey.net.


* * *


The Argument for Jorgensen

by Andrew Horning

Most people say they vote “for the candidate, not the party.” But numbers don’t lie. Over 90% of us never vote for anybody who’s not a Democratic or Republican Party member at statewide or federal levels. Not ever.

There are still many of us who remember a time before primary elections, when ballot access and political party laws were a lot fairer, there were more options on the ballot, reelection rates were half what they are now, and political corruption wasn’t so comically obvious and tragically destructive.

But unless you were around for the previous civil war, none of us remembers a time when the two major parties didn’t hold such a two-headed monopoly on national politics. It’s high time to review what that lack of competition has wrought.

The left and right wings of authoritarianism each say the other is a catastrophe, and after the first “presidential” debate, it’s embarrassingly obvious they’re both correct. It’s not just adolescent name-calling. Over 230 years ago that innumerable American politicians, wonks and economists warned us of the dangers of paper money, central banks and their inherently dangerous and corrupting monetary alchemy. It’s going on a hundred years ago that Fiorello LaGuardia warned us about the need to police the police during the first prohibition against booze. General and President Eisenhower warned us almost 60 years ago about not only the military industrial complex, but also the danger of subsidized research, and “that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” Over 50 years ago we found that our CIA was funding student radicals; and over 40 years ago, the CIA was caught paying our news media to lie. In recent years we learned that our government lies about spying on everybody, and about the justification and feeble progress of our endless wars. If Russiagate teaches us anything, it’s that lies and subversion are Standard Operating Procedure at every level, and on both sides, of our bureaucratic state.

So today, militant groups such as Proud Boys and Antifa have risen up as proxy armies for the anticonstitutional two-headed monster of tribal fear and loathing we call the “Two Party System.” Yet we’re told that this election is too important to vote in any way except the way that got us so far off the rails.

I’m calling that BS. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. We the People have been fooled every election day for our whole lives. We have said too many things with our mouths that we’ve upended with our votes.

There is a candidate for president of the United States on the ballot in all 50 states who alone presents at least the option of addressing every particular of the aforementioned corruption. So I’m voting for Jo Jorgensen, nominee of the Libertarian Party.

I’m not doing that simply because voting for alternative candidates would bust through a corrupt facade and open our government to long overdue options. I’m doing it because Jorgensen represents a genuine compromise among combatants. The Democratic and Republican parties have for too long used the Bill of Rights as a tug-of-war rope instead of a unifying compromise. They each use their favorite freedoms to yank away the others’ rights. Their spasms of partisan spite have created amazing cognitive dissonance. Democrats want massive government, but not the police who enforce it. Republicans want guns to fight oppressive government . . . while they idolize and arm the militarized police and the global military they’d have to fight. Maybe you’ve seen the two opposing yard signs — “Had Enough? Vote Democratic!” “Had Enough? Vote Republican!”

Even a quick glance at the rate of government expansion in debt, spending, pages added to the federal code books, or any consideration of foreign entanglements, abuse, and corruption of power, shows that Democratic and Republican party administrations are almost indistinguishable.

Unfortunately, there is a tragic misunderstanding about the purpose of elections and the power of our votes. Elections are not for hiring politicians. For millennia and everywhere, politicians have been doing that just fine by themselves, whenever people let them. Our founders, even knowing that half of us are below average and most of the others are badly misinformed, bequeathed us, at great cost, the ability to freely and safely choose our own government. But they meant elections as a flush lever, not as a scrupulous hiring process, and certainly not as a poker chip in a game of odds.

|Forget the “wasted vote” canard. From any evidence or ideologically-based perspective, it’s Democratic and Republican voters who have a lot of explaining to do. It is they who’ve been throwing their votes away. The only sane vote now is against that whole corrupt, deceitful system, and for alternatives.

Fortunately, Jorgensen supports the entire constitutional rule of law design of equality under law, and government on a leash, as the best means to achieve peace, prosperity, and security by bringing liberty and justice for all (at long last). And remember, you can’t have your freedoms without letting others have theirs, too.

I understand that that we’re more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right ourselves by abolishing the forms to which we are accustomed. The opening of the Declaration of Independence says that. But as it also says, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same two parties, evinces a design to reduce us under absolute despotism, it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for our future security.

Our vote is the power of peaceful revolution.

God knows we need one of those right now.

Andy Horning’s day job is developing medical imaging technology. But he’s better known for decades of activism, campaigns for public office and equal ballot access, as an adjunct scholar for an Indiana policy thinktank, and as a former columnist for Indiana’s largest daily newspaper. His new book, The Truth about Excelsior, is a modern fable of liberty.


* * *


The Argument for Trump

by Wayland Hunter

For your consideration, here’s a selection of political headlines:

Preposterous? Yes. The likelihood of your ever seeing anything like those headlines is nonexistent. What you do see is the exact opposite.

And that’s the point. That’s sufficient argument to vote for Trump and against the Democrats.

But if you insist on more arguments, I’ll continue.

Obviously, Trump is an obnoxious braggart and boor. His business dealings are not beyond reproach. His manners, to people whom he doesn’t like (and they’re the only ones who count when it comes to manners), are sometimes shocking to observe.

Yet his organized political opponents are people whom libertarians — with good reason — hate and fear. When he talks about “the swamp,” when he denounces the mainstream media as purveyors of “fake news,” when he scorns Republican “moderates” as traitors, bores, and fools, he’s plainly right. And was about time somebody said it. It’s refreshing — and at this time, sadly, it’s also vital — for a president to pierce the veil of pomposity and privilege and to say the truth about the true evil of the political class.

The control group of that class is the Democratic Party and its billionaire backers. They are fanatical seekers of power who have chosen two egregious examples of their kind — Biden and Harris — to sell the boobs of America (that’s what they think we are) on what a poet called “spices for the few and fetters for the crew.” Biden and Harris are hack politicians carrying loads of angry entitlement that are heavy enough to crush any normal human being. But they are not normal human beings, and they are not the real players in this game. The real players are the Soros-Bezos-Disney-Silicon Valley class and the Pelosi-Schumer-Ocasio Cortez-Hillary Clinton-James Comey class.

These are people whose desire is always to control, never to liberate. Their idea of reducing violence by police is to increase control by social workers. Their idea of reparations is not to give black Americans money they can spend or invest but to swell the funding of government agencies allegedly ministering to the poor, and actually betraying them. Their idea of helping people of color is not to free them from stifling regulations but to lodge them safely in crime-ridden government housing and to raise the minimum wage so they can’t escape by getting jobs, meanwhile denying them charter schools and confining their kids to government slave barracks where they will be taught that they are victims of racism who can only survive by becoming vassals of the state.

Every aspect of progressive “liberalism” was proven wrong and destructive long ago. Yet it survives and flourishes. It is taught in the schools, arms itself in the streets, and barricades itself in the impenetrable fortresses of the deep state. Why? Because the Democratic Party and its wealthy backers fund it, culture it, and isolate it from criticism by means of mobs, media, cancel culture, and blank obstruction and obfuscation. Trump spoke out against it, and what did he get? A continuous and ever-escalating campaign of hate against him and a host of humble supporters. A superbly well-funded industry of judge shopping, in which platoons of lawyers go from court to court, getting judges to enjoin Trump’s actions for any light or laughable reason they can find. A conspiracy between Democratic leaders and the “intelligence community” (i.e., secret police) to prevent Trump from taking office, and then to drive him from office with charges that he checked into a Moscow hotel where he paid prostitutes to cavort with him while urinating on a bed once graced by Barack Obama.

This is what Trump’s opponents are like; these are the things they come up with. But they didn’t stop with that. They impeached Trump for the alleged crime of firing a corrupt FBI director. When that failed, they threatened to impeach him again, and now that he has been hospitalized for — let’s face it — the flu, they aspire to turn him out of office as medically or mentally incapacitated. Do you get it? If they can do these things to him, they can — and will — do worse to you.

When Trump appointed judges chosen by the standard of textual originalism that is generally favored by libertarians, his nominees were hysterically smeared by the Democrats and their media. Not content with this kind of indecency, they condoned and often encouraged campaigns of violence directed not just at Trump, his supporters, and his supposed supporters, but at black and brown people who had the misfortune to live or work in the proximity of black and white looters and vandals, united only by their hatred of “Trump and everything he stands for.”

This is what you vote for when you vote against Trump.

In case you’ve wondered, LOL! — Donald Trump is no libertarian. He loves government expenditures on “infrastructure.” He reduced some taxes but never tried to reform the tax structure. He is nearly oblivious to the enormous and constantly growing federal debt. His “stimulations” of the economy are the same childish stuff that earlier administrations played with, and very expensively (the Democrats angrily denounce him for not spending more). Unlike most libertarians, Trump is anti-abortion (though he has done no more than other Republicans to interfere with it). Unlike some libertarians, he wants to stop illegal immigration (though the apocalypse of deportations imagined by his opponents has never come close to happening, and the deal he offered to settle the DACA problem was refused by congressional Democrats). He likes the idea of protectionism but has done little to implement it, except with regard to China, and he concluded an excellent freer-trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. Like virtually all Democratic politicians, he wants to halt the trade in “hard drugs”; about marijuana — which is almost entirely an issue for the states — he appears uninterested. More important from a libertarian point of view, he constantly denounces foreign military involvements and attempts to reduce them. He is the most isolationist president in almost 100 years — and for this he is mercilessly censured by the Democratic leadership.

In every case in which Trump spent money, the Democrats attacked him for not spending more. In every case in which he lowered taxes, they attacked him — and yes, mercilessly again, because they are always merciless — for allegedly helping the rich and hurting the poor. In every case in which he ended or reduced government regulations — and here he has actually done a great deal to limit intrusive government — they have fought him determinedly in the media and the courts.

The Democrats have done us the favor of showing what is promised by a Democrat hegemony. In the economy, more regulations, more taxes and, of course, more debt. In education, a virtual end to charter schools, a government take-over of pre-schools, and a blanketing of curricula by socialist and “anti-racist” indoctrination. In the workplace, ever-present sexual and racial (actually sexist and racist) monitoring, with exclusive preferences and privileges for the fanatical and the cynical. On the streets, continued aid and toleration for roving or squatting mobs of cultural revolutionists, intent on intimidating people like you, whoever you are, and the chronic, deadly violence of the inner cities, exacerbated by the end of policing for “minor” crimes — such as the crimes against property that make life hell for aspiring blacks and Latinos — and the release without bail of people accused of major crimes. In civil liberties, the total indifference to rights that is routinely displayed by Democratic officials everywhere in alleged response to the coronavirus; and the swift abolition of gun rights by means of executive decrees and regulations imposed by “health” orgs of government, protected by Democratic judges. In government structure, a packed Supreme Court, new states devised to create a permanently Democratic Senate, and open borders designed to create insuperable Democratic majorities.

I submit that these are not favorable conditions for the growth or even the existence of liberty.

But if that’s what you want, be sure not to vote, or to throw a useless vote to the Libertarian Party, or to vote for Biden and Harris out of spite for something you don’t like about Trump. Trump has done many things that are important to the cause of liberty, but he’s not a libertarian, so this is your chance to ensure the victory of people who are fanatical opponents of anything like liberty as we define it.

If those are the people and the policies you want, you know how to get them.

If they’re not what you want, vote Republican.

To put this in another way: if you’re a libertarian, I urge you — I beg of you — when you vote, use the same kind of logic that you use in the normal emergencies of life. When your house is on fire, you call the fire department. You don’t hesitate to do so because they’re getting too much tax money, or their racial balance is not quite right, or some of the fire fighters are big, loud, obnoxious guys with retrograde views on sex. You don’t wait and hope that the fire will go away. You don’t promise yourself an invigorating few decades of life on the streets. And you certainly don’t decide to teach the fire department a lesson by calling on the arsonists to come back and light more fires.

By the way, if you cherish the fantastic delusion that when the Republican Party is defeated it will reform itself and become more libertarian, I’d advise you to print off a picture of Mitt Romney and tack it to your wall. That’s who’s going to be ruling the Republican Party if Trump loses. The defeat of Trump would be the vindication of every elitist, power-sucking, corner-office, “my people will get back to you,” “I feel your pain,” lord of the manor, “moderate,” sell-out, dumbass RINO in the country. The next Republican candidate for president would be — guess who? – Jeb Bush. Or his clone. They’re all clones, really, and what they bitterly resent — what all these people bitterly resent — is the fact that Trump is not.

Wayland Hunter is a Midwestern university professor.


* * *


The Argument for None of the Above

by Andrew Ferguson

In the timeless movie The Princess Bride, the villainous Vizzini, having kidnapped a princess on behalf of parties yet unknown, is confronted by the implacable dread pirate Roberts, who devises a battle of wits to determine who shall take the princess, and who shall die. Faced with two goblets, Vizzini attempts to puzzle out which of the two has been poisoned, and even contrives a ruse to pull victory out of evident defeat. But what he hasn’t guessed is that both chalices are poisoned and, ruses be damned, either one will kill him as well as the other.

So also with this election and libertarians. We are well familiar with treating such things in the framework of cost-benefit analysis, trying to ascertain which is the “lesser evil”—TANSTAAFL, after all, or for that matter, a free cup of wine. But how does the analysis shift when either choice assuredly leads to death?

Well, you might prefer to get it over with as quickly as possible, in which case by all means pull the lever for Donald Trump’s GOP. Contrary to much media reporting, Trump didn’t create most of the problems burning up our country, but he certainly has shown a knack for pouring gasoline over top of them. In part, this is because of his absurd waffling over policy: in terms of the COVID crisis alone, his inability to dictate any coherent national strategy for longer than a day or two has resulted in a lockdown economic crash without any of the benefits of actually locking down. But a rather larger part of it is his authoritarian longings, on display now for decades and hardly blunted by four years in charge of a global superpower. His most steadfast allies are not small businessmen, many of whom have been pushed into insolvency by his coronavirus policies, or farmers, who have required massive bailouts in the wake of his haphazard and calamitous trade wars, but rather the police, whom he has encouraged to commit ever more unhinged acts of violence against those they are meant to protect and serve. Their “thin blue line” siege mentality mirrors Trump’s own, who in gangland fashion regards loyalty to himself as the sole civic virtue. In his first term, Trump has succeeded in installing an attorney general as well as a whole slate of judges and justices who see their primary mission as upholding his executive privilege rather than any law of the land. A second term would give him the chance to complete the job and attain what he has seemingly sought for most of his life: the practical elimination of any legal check on his activities. As a man controlled by a selfishness that borders on solipsism, Trump lacks the intelligence or the work ethic to present a coherent dictatorial ethos, but that does not mean libertarianism would survive him, or the party he has remade in his image.

But turning to the other cup, we see the same death, just watered down and a bit slower to take action. Joe Biden is himself a sort of walking corpse, an empty void upon which has been projected the two most pernicious ruling philosophies of our era: neoconservatism and modern corporate liberalism. The former veep is presented as a throwback to a simpler, better time, as if his time in the Senate were anything other than a roll call of failed programs and interventions, or the Obama era somehow were not the age of corporate bailouts, deportations, drone bombings, and police shootings (these last in cities run almost unilaterally by Democrats). But now that he’s up against Trump, whose perhaps sole virtue is not starting a new foreign war—though he has poured unprecedented trillions into military budgets and boondoggles, with the near-unanimous approval of congressional Dems—Biden can count also on the support of almost the entire George W. Bush policy team, the so-called “Never Trumpers” who want nothing so much as new frontiers for our endless wars, be it Iran, or Ukraine, or Venezuela, or the hot new favorite Azerbaijan. There’s no space for libertarians here either: it’s as unfriendly to personal freedom as the entire government was immediately after 9/11, because it’s all the same people who were running it back then.

And besides, no matter who ends up winning the election (or, what is a different question, who ends up filling the term of office, given the general paranoia about vote counts and interference emanating from both sides), there looms beyond it the specter of the 2024 election, which already looks as if it will be contested by the heirs of these two inherently reactionary political strains, the Trumpified GOP and the uber-establishment never-Trump Dems, their only disagreements being the exact percentages by which military and police budgets will rise year upon year, and incessant squabbling over social issues that neither truly wants to win, lest their base think the job is done and withdraw funding. That is some stony ground on which to sow the seeds of freedom.

There is a temptation, faced with this situation, to take refuge in idealism, to try and keep alive a clearly moribund LP that has lost whatever cultural cachet it might have claimed in previous elections. If that is your choice, Godspeed! But it is a battle that has, for some distance into the future, already been lost: with the Dems abandoning their already-thin commitment to social liberalism, and the GOP casting aside even the pretense of economic liberalism, there is no real electoral home for libertarian ideas, no third cup from which to drink; the two parties have established such an existential play-acted quarrel between themselves as to eliminate any chance of a third-party presence outside of protest votes in states already thoroughly decided. Even if that’s your situation, I can’t see that it’s worth the hassle of whatever mail-in procedure your state allows, or the viral risk of going to stand in line in person—if you’re staring political death in the face, why add in the potential for actual physical death on top of it?

So if death surrounds on all sides, what should you do? Well, first of all, don’t waste a few hours of a perfectly fine Tuesday, or whatever other time you might have spent earlier, on something as poisonous as voting. Instead, make the choice that Vizzini couldn’t, because he had already locked himself into a series of events that ultimately required him to drink from one cup or another: opt out, leave the story entirely. There may yet be a part for libertarianism to play in US electoral politics, but it’s not in this election, nor likely in the next few after. But there’s a whole hell of a lot that needs doing by means other than ballots, and a lot of preparation that’s required if personal freedom is going to survive what’s to come.

Andrew Ferguson is managing editor of Liberty.

October 21, 2020

Immigrants

by Jacques Delacroix

They are a pretty young couple. He is a thin, blond Dutchman in his early thirties. Sahzmeen, his younger wife, is a honey-skinned beauty, and all curves. The day I met them, she was wearing a short, tight silky dress over a black pushup bra that was doing its job quite well indeed. She is Pakistani by way of Toronto. They have come to seek their fortune in California.

Martijn, the Dutchman, is working for a local software company. He is a language specialist in a generic sense, if there is such a thing. He began an advanced degree in Sanskrit, at Oxford. He did not finish because he could not “raise” the £35,000 ($50,000 then) required. He spent a couple of years in India studying Sanskrit with a guru. When I asked him why he had not sought admission to an American doctoral program that would have supported him, one way or another, as is the custom, he gave me an answer I did not quite understand. It was something about changing priorities and about the infernal American demand for scholarly publications. Martijn and Sahzmeen met at Oxford, where she completed an undergraduate degree. Or maybe not.

A Muslim by birth, Sahzmeen drinks wine with gusto, a sure sign of aristocratic upbringing. She speaks English perfectly and very fast. Martijn discusses wines with much competence. His parents own a winery and vineyard in the heart of Burgundy, where land prices rival the cost of San Francisco real estate. Sahzmeen does volunteer work for a peace group while she awaits her work visa. (I did not try to elucidate the visa issue.) They both like the money Martijn is making but they deplore Silicon Valley’s lack of talent for leisure. Martijn is longing for European six-week vacations and extended weekends. Once he has managed to dig a little den for himself in a corner of Silicon Valley, he is determined to establish a European lifestyle. Sahzmeen can’t hide her annoyance, nor does she try, at the lack of a national health system, like they have, up north, in Canada. She did not actually say so, but I am guessing she thinks it outrageous that there is no dole to support an educated married young woman while she awaits a visa. She should at least get some pocket money, she thinks. (Being a feminist, she resents having to depend on her husband.)

Martijn and Sahzmeen are both dripping with contempt for the American president. When she talks about him, Sahzmeen loses her good manners. She hates him as if she knew him. And his policies, and his vitality, and his folksy manner, and his simplicity. She and her husband have made their choice: they would rather hear a devious speech with impeccable grammar than straight talk with occasional lapses of syntax. If someone created a council of sophisticated cosmopolitans to depose the president, their names would be among the first on the list. You know that, beneath the surface, they are on a mission. Since fate and economic necessity, and the economic sluggishness of Canada and Europe, have deposited them on our shores, they might as well have a go at civilizing America. They will teach us to become more refined, more complex, more attuned to nuances.

Sahzmeen, born in the terrorist cesspool of Pakistan and reared in a country that pretends to defend an area the size of the US with armed forces of 55,000, would gladly advise the next administration on national defense. (The current administration is hopeless, of course.) Martijn would help her, naturally. It’s tempting to dismiss Holland as a charming old whore, except that weakness corrupts. Who can forget the (unionized) Dutch soldiers under UN command who turned over thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys to be slaughtered by Serbian butchers in Srebrenica? Martijn has an additional project in America; he would simply like to show Americans how to really live. He is from Amsterdam, where 17th century architectural jewels lining up the canals are occupied by prostitutes’ shops because there is no other economic use better able to pay the rent.

As Sahzmeen and Martijn explain to me their plan to improve America, they are interrupted by a loud noise outside. Jesús is using his leaf blower to clean the neighbor’s yard, although today is a holiday. Yard maintenance is his second or third job. During the week, Jesús works at a hardware and construction supplies business. He raised himself to the skilled position of door framer and installer. This is not a slim achievement, because the work requires precision and a visual sense of dimensions. Jesús left school in Mexico after the third grade. American non-metric measurements still give him trouble. (As they do me.) How he learned them at all is a mystery because he sure as hell does not read English. He can barely read Spanish.

Jesús’ wife works the night shift in a cannery. They raised their two children by taking turns so there would always be a parent at home. They recently adopted a third child, a little girl who is a distant relative. Jesús has many private customers who have told him they would gladly invest in any business he started. He does not say no, but he wants to keep his medical benefits as long as he has a child at home. He is doing fine, anyway. He and his wife own two houses. They used to have three but the county forced them to take down one that they rented, because it violated some code or other. He is a good friend of mine, so I offered him a loan to tie him over. He thanked me affectionately but declined. “We are prepared,” he said.

Jesús and his wife have plenty enough money to move back to Mexico and live there forever without lifting a finger. They are not even thinking about it. He loves this country. He wants his children to be 100% American; he wants American grandchildren. The family speaks Spanish at home and attends a Catholic church in Spanish. They eat Mexican food every day. (But so do my children and every other Anglo kid in California.) They listen to corridos and rancheras on the radio. Yet they are American to the core. This country made them, or they made themselves in this country. California is the best place to be Mexican, Jesús says. Besides, here you don’t have to choose one or the other.

Every one of Jesús’ customers gives Jesús a gift without knowing it. Everywhere he goes, he asks questions, in Spanish if possible, in English otherwise. In this fashion, he is quickly getting himself a first-rate political education. He never misses a chance to do someone a good turn. In a couple of years, when his first two children are out of the house for good, Jesús will work less and he will have time to run for local office. He laughs a lot; he has exquisite manners; he is a very good-looking man with smiling black eyes. Many women will vote for him just because of this, and some men also. All the men who know him, and many who have only heard of him, will also vote for him because he is a good and strong man, and a perfect American.

Martijn and Sahzmeen will most likely not have a chance to vote for Jesús. They will probably have floated back to Canada, or to Europe, where the gentle-born don’t have to work so hard. If, by some miracle, they are still here and have American citizenship, they will still not vote for Jesús: with his experience of the real world, the son of a bitch will probably come out a Republican!

Jacques Delacroix is a sociologist, a short-story writer, and a blogger (Facts Matter and Notes On Liberty) in Santa Cruz, California.

October 15, 2020

The Slant of Seattle

by Bruce Ramsey

Jenny Durkan is not going to be recalled as mayor of Seattle.

Most readers of this page probably never would have heard of my hometown’s mainline Democratic mayor if Seattle had not suffered protest, mayhem, and the establishment of a six-block “autonomous zone” in June. When Mayor Durkan declined to take back the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” — the CHAZ — by force, she was labeled a weakling and an appeaser by conservatives around the nation.

In the midst of that episode, I argued here that Durkan was playing it smart. The loudmouth lords of the CHAZ had presented her with a list of demands, such as retrying all African Americans under sentence for violent crimes and reducing the budget of the Seattle Police Department to zero. Their demands were all impossible. There was no way a Democratic mayor of a left-leaning city, or any mayor of any city, was going to meet them. And if she had followed President Trump’s plan and sent in the cops with nightsticks and tear gas, people would have blamed her for the inevitable broken heads. Instead, she described their occupation as a street festival — which we often have, here. She also called it “a peaceful expression of our community’s collective grief and their desire to build a better world.” Really this was a warning to the participants that they had better keep it peaceful.

But they didn’t. The cops were gone, and the guns came out. A business owner told the Seattle Times that at least three groups of informal security patrolled the CHAZ with handguns and rifles. “Some wore official-looking private security uniforms,” the café owner said. “Others wore casual clothes and lanyards identifying their affiliation with Black Lives Matter. A third group wore all black with no identifying labels and declined to name their group affiliation.” This latter group was antifa, and was the most troublesome.

Already in the protests elsewhere in the city, people had been hurt. A friend told me of a man she knew who went out on the street and got clubbed on the head with a baseball bat. In and around the CHAZ came four shootings. Two of the victims died — Lorenzo Anderson, 19, and Antonio Mays Jr., 14, both of them black. Mays had come all the way from San Diego to be part of the historic protest. The day after he was shot, Mayor Durkan sent in the cops, and the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone was no more.

Several businesses in the Zone filed a lawsuit against the city, demanding compensation for leaving them without protection for three weeks. Plaintiffs say they were “subject to violence, harassment, trespass and vandalism; denial of access to their property; loss of police protection and public services, including trash, medical and fire services; loss of business revenue, loss of the use of public streets, sidewalks and parks . . .”

The mother of Lorenzo Anderson filed a wrongful-death suit against the city, claiming that it had allowed a dangerous environment and that emergency workers had failed to render assistance to her son. Her son had bled out on the street for 20 minutes, with no help from any aid car. Volunteers drove him to the county hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

After municipal sovereignty was restored, several leftists filed papers to recall the mayor in a special election. Their accusation was that she had authorized police use of “chemical weapons” (tear gas) and that her decree of May 30 banning possession of rocks, bottles, pipes, and bats was “grossly overbroad.”

A Republican candidate for governor posed with the petition and urged his supporters to sign it for the opposite reason — that Durkan had allowed the lawless takeover of six blocks. The Republican didn’t care that the petition had been filed by the supporters of that takeover. As a conservative, he was “running against Seattle,” whose political players were all the same to him. He couldn’t have signed the petition anyway, because he doesn’t live here. I could have signed it, but I didn’t because recalling my liberal Democratic mayor would have been a victory for the Seattle Left, and I didn’t want them to have any victories.

All that is by the wayside now. Mayor Durkan — who served as United States Attorney here under President Obama — challenged the recall in court. Under Washington law, a recall requires a list of particulars. Under the law, the court is required to assume the particulars are true and decide whether they justify a recall. The Washington Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the things Durkan was accused of were either the responsibility of the chief of police, who had already resigned, or didn’t rise to the occasion. The Court killed the recall.

As a writer I’m sad about that, because a recall would have been spectacle. As a citizen, I am relieved.

I still may get my recall, though. Kshama Sawant, the lone Trotskyite on the Seattle City Council, is also the subject of a petition for recall. The bill of particulars against Sawant includes charges that she misused city funds for political purposes; that she delegated some of her duties to Socialist Alternative, her political organization; that during the coronavirus lockdown of City Hall, she opened it up to her supporters for a rally without permission; and that she held another rally outside Mayor Durkan’s house, the location of which is supposed to be kept secret because of her previous position as U.S. attorney.

And the court has allowed recall of Sawant to go forward. I can’t sign that petition because I’m not in Sawant’s district (which includes the CHAZ, or as they called it toward the end, the CHOP — “Capitol Hill Organized Protest”). Petitioners need about 10,000 signatures to put the recall on the ballot, which could happen early next year. It won’t make the November ballot. Here is how Sawant responded to the court ruling:

We should not be surprised that the courts would side with the racist police and system, rather than with this awakening movement. The ruling class is on the defensive. But they are empowering reaction. We saw how not only Trump, but a section of the mass media defended the murders in Kenosha. We see in Seattle how a section of the Democratic establishment, led up by Mayor Durkan, has gone to war against Black Lives Matter. And has joined this to the effort to try to drive out our socialist City Council office.

It is likely no accident that this recall petition is almost identical to Durkan’s statement calling for the Council to expel me. It is no accident that three of the charges in the recall petition are a direct attack on the black lives matter movement. It is no accident that billionaire Trump donor Martin Selig is supporting the recall effort. It is no accident that the recall effort is being represented in court by John McKay, a former U.S. Attorney under George W. Bush, a former corporate vice president, and I hear a close personal friend of someone you may know — Jenny Durkan. It is no accident that my sleazy corporate-backed opponent from last year, Egan Orion, is supporting this campaign. It is no accident the recall campaign is hiding the source of their $40,000 in funding, keeping it anonymous. And it is no accident that at the same time as this recall campaign is taking place, Bezos and Amazon executives are trying to punish working people for the Amazon Tax by attempting to move more jobs out of Seattle.

They are afraid — the ruling class and the right wing are afraid of us.*
This is Marxist rhetoric. It is not liberal, and is beyond even progressive. Just the other day Trump called California Senator Kamala Harris a “communist,” which was even more nutty than his attorney general calling Seattle an “anarchist jurisdiction.” But here and there, the c-word does fit.

I hope the recall campaign can get the signatures. I will keep Liberty’s readers informed.

* Of the people Sawant smears in her statement, Martin Selig was the developer of Seattle’s tallest building, the 76-story Columbia Center, back in the 1980s. John McKay, the former U.S. Attorney for Western Washington under Bush, was fired in 2006 because he was too independent. Egan Orion was Sawant’s opponent in the 2019 election. She accuses him of being “sleazy” because Amazon poured in a bunch of money to help him — but the money became the principal issue in the campaign, and it hurt him.

Bruce Ramsey is a retired Seattle newspaperman and author of Unsanctioned Voice: Garet Garrett, Journalist of the Old Right (Caxton, 2008) and The Panic of 1893: The Untold Story of Washington State’s first Depression (Caxton, 2018). His web page is bruceramsey.net.

October 7, 2020

OK, Go Ahead. Confute Yourself!

by Stephen Cox

One way to assess our culture is to ask yourself how many times you hear or read something and think, “I can’t believe somebody said that!” You don’t mean, “That’s so wonderful! That’s so brilliant!” You mean, “How can anybody say something that stupid?”

I believe you’ll agree with me that this question arises much more often now than it used to, and that it arises in much more obtrusive ways. Some of this stuff is so brutal, and brutally dumb, that you can’t avoid noticing it (which is, I suppose, the major purpose of the dummies who utter it). Yet it is eagerly welcomed by the dominant culture.

“WAP” is a hit song performed by a woman who calls herself Cardi B. According to Wikipedia, and I have no reason to doubt the information, “the song received critical acclaim and was praised for its sex positive messages.” We are also informed that the “artist” is considered one of the most important cultural figures since the Sumerians, or before: “Recognized by Forbes as one of the most influential female rappers of all time,” she “is known for her aggressive flow and candid lyrics, which have received widespread media coverage.”

What kind of a song is “WAP”? I am by no means opposed to pornography, and even if I were I would oppose any attempt to censor it. But I’m not going to make the common libertarian mistake of thinking that just because something shouldn’t be censored, there must be something good about it. “WAP” has nothing good about it. It’s filth, and it isn’t even coherent filth. It gives new meaning to the words “rave,” “shriek,” and “drool.” It isn’t erotic; it’s a vile travesty of eroticism. To say it demeans women is to choose the nicest verb one could possibly find. Yet the same politically correct culture that will cancel you for the slightest, even imaginary demeaning or neglect of a wide range of people made Cardi B the august political authority who achieved a very rare one-on-one interview with Democratic candidate and “good Catholic” Joe Biden. They liked each other a lot.

Candace Owens, the black conservative, said, “I would challenge Joe Biden to read the lyrics to her song aloud” (Tucker Carlson Tonight, September 8). I don’t think he’ll rise to the challenge, so if you want to read the lyrics, here they are.

By posing Biden next to Cardi B, his campaign intended to convey the message that he was not only so anti-sexist but so intelligent and sophisticated too! Clearly, that’s a self-confuting message. This year, such messages are coming thick and fast. Some of them, unlike anything having to do with Cardi B, are amusing.

A couple of exceptionally funny ones came up during the enormous political event of September 1 — "the defeat of a Kennedy.” Joseph Patrick (“Joe”) Kennedy III, a progressive “liberal,” was defeated by longtime progressive “liberal” Edward Markey in a primary race for the Senate. Markey’s qualification was 44 years in Congress. Kennedy’s qualification was being the son of a congressman who was the son of an attorney general who was the brother of a president who was the son of an ambassador to Great Britain. Regarding either candidate one might ask, Have you ever met people who came to your house and refused to leave?

Forced to choose between these two highly qualified job applicants, the voters chose the political hack over the petit prince. The only thing the 39-year-old boy had going for him was the Kennedy name. Only. Sole. Period. That’s it — unless you want to count seven years in Congress, which he obtained because, guess what? his name was Kennedy. You’d think that somebody who had nothing else to recommend him for political office would do what billions of other people do — seek some kind of job that would benefit the public enough to show a profit. Nah. Some of the Bushes tried that, but it wasn’t any fun, and they gave it up. Andrew Cuomo didn’t even try.

I was interested in Little Joe’s concession speech. He mentioned his opponent as “a good man,” and so much for that. The rest of it was prep for the next time Joe Boy runs for office — lots of stuff about standing up for the poor and downtrodden in various localities in Massachusetts, which he lugubriously named — as if Markey, and every other Democrat, hadn’t been saying the same kind of thing for the past 44 years, at least. Any sensible person would wonder why, if Joey has such a passion for the poor, he doesn’t change his political party. After all, Massachusetts is the most liberal-Democratic state in the union, and has been for many years, but according to the evidence proclaimed by Joe Himself, the party still hasn’t adequately addressed the issue of poverty. Is this not a direct confutation of the idea that Democratic candidates — including and especially himself — have a divine right to be elected?

I do not admire Pete Seeger, but I like a couplet in one of the songs he used to sing:

Our leaders are the finest men,
And we elect ’em again and again.

That was one of Pete’s guaranteed applause lines — although I’m sure that most of the applauders went right ahead and elected ’em yet again.

What entranced me most about Joe’s concession speech — one of the most breathlessly pompous and in-yo-face self-promoting speeches I have ever heard — was his account of his family. After ominously proclaiming that “this campaign, this coalition, will endure,” because of the “immeasurable” help of the little people who worked in it — yeah, you can’t even measure their help — he toasted his fellow Kennedys. He had “no words to express [his] gratitude” to his campaign munchkins, but he had lots of eloquence for Kennedys like him. “To my family,” he said. “The Kennedy family. Whose name was invoked far more often than I anticipated in this race . . . You all are my heroes. You are my role models. You are my example of what public service should be, and can be. . . . Thank you for teaching me everything I know.”

Well, that’s for sure. That’s everything he knows. Then why was he surprised that the name was mentioned so often? He must have been shocked every time he opened his mouth. But I guess that happens a lot to smart people like Mr. Kennedy.

Maybe it also happens to righteous people like Jussie Smollett. On September 9, the irrepressible actor, singer, and moral leader gave an interview in which he repeatedly stated his regret that his attorneys did not allow him to make statements about his legal case: “So it’s been beyond frustrating, and I think that I’m certainly not going rogue, and I’m still taking the advice of my attorneys and everything like that. I just don’t see, honestly, what staying quiet has done, where it’s gotten me.”

How would you like to be one of this guy’s lawyers?

Anyway, Smollett’s motive for stating that he was unable to make any statements was apparently his desire to insinuate that he had the evidence to vindicate himself but for some mysterious reason wasn’t being allowed to utter it. Yet he had no trouble saying a lot of other things, including this masterpiece of self-confutation:

“What happened in these last two years, it has humbled me in a way that nobody could possibly understand. . . . Out of all these jokers in this entire situation, I am the only human being who has not changed his story one time.”

Now, that’s humility for you. And Smollett demonstrated that he has every reason to be humble. Discussing the two African former friends who accuse him, very plausibly, indeed conclusively, of paying them to administer a phony assault so he could claim he was attacked by white racist homophobic Trump supporters who knew he would be roaming the empty streets of Chicago at 2 a.m. on one of the coldest days of the decade, seeking a Subway sandwich, and attacked him with some kind of liquid and a tiny “noose,” he said, quite correctly,

There would be no reason for me to do something like this. There would be no reason for me to do something foolish . . . and I do think that if you look at all of the things that were happening for me, and then for all of the opportunities and all of the money . . . whatever, that I have lost at this point, if in fact what they said was true, the smart thing to do would be to admit that. At least there would be a place to work back from. This is bulls--t. It’s bulls--t.

All true! But he knows that the bulls--t is his own. If he had any capacity for consecutive reasoning he would understand that he is accusing himself, with perfect clarity and truth, of being an enormous fool. Again, I wouldn’t want to be the lawyer defending him from himself.

It’s one thing to make self-confuting statements. It’s another to condemn everyone who might disagree with you. Jussie veered into that territory with his idea that he is the humble one, and nobody else is. Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. staked a bigger claim. He who can’t get his personal history straight — he who has variously estimated American deaths from the coronavirus at 120 and 200 million — he who gave up while trying to recite the most famous lines of the Declaration of Independence — decided to lecture history teachers about the lies they’ve been handing out.

He is qualified to teach! And they are not! Maybe this is why Cardi B likes him so much — he also knows how to rave and screech. On September 3 he went to Kenosha, Wisconsin (wearing his silly mask, which means he’s a good, good person and not a hapless conformist) and delivered his latest report as National Historiographer:

Biden . . . insisted that “people fear” anything that’s different before launching into a critique of the American education system.

“We gotta, for example, why in God’s name don’t we teach history in history classes?” he told the crowd through a mask. “A black man invented the light bulb, not a white guy named Edison. OK? There’s so much. Did anybody know?”

Nope, none of us peons knew anything. If we’d read a book on the subject, we might have known that an ingenious and intrepid researcher named Lewis Latimer, an African American, discovered an improvement on production methods for the filaments of the electric light and went on to work for Thomas Edison, who had previously invented the electric light. What we didn’t know was that ol’ Joe Biden had snaked out the true facts. And why, in God’s name, don’t people teach history in the way that a person who is always ridiculously wrong about history wants it to be taught?

Even Sean Hannity isn’t this bad — which is saying something.

And far be it from Biden to correct his error. Far be it from this great teacher to tell the wonderful story of American inventions during the first great age of capitalism, inspiring respect for the individual contributions — Latimer’s as well as Edison’s — that are the life of real history, and disdaining the stereotypes that demagogues use to get themselves elected. Well, there’s so much. Did anybody know?

Biden is the platonic form and reductio ad absurdum of the class that has exerted political power in America for the past two generations — dumb people, people whom one would never want to live or work with, hacks who are financed by the rich and elected by the poor, if they’re elected by anyone. The pretensions of the political-intellectual culture sponsored by this class have decayed in a peculiarly ugly and noisome way, but they were always self-confuting. It was always culture preening itself on its intelligence but betraying its lack of intellect with every choice of words. Those who profited from this culture — in the universities, the media, the churches, the institutes of art — adopted modern-liberal assumptions as their means of asserting themselves and condemning others. It was always Mene, mene, tekel upharsin: you are weighed in the balances, and found wanting (Daniel 5:25–27) — so long as you believed in such antique and discredited notions as economic and personal liberty. Yet the same folks accepted the gifts of capitalist culture, very gladly. Capitalist money meant that they could be employed, that they could be endowed, that they could be paid to preach whatever they wanted to preach, telling the majority of Americans how their money should be taken away and their ideas should be consigned to the dustbin of “history.”

I’ve been rereading Richard Hofstadter’s influential American Political Tradition (1948). Hofstadter was a much better historian than Biden. And he was a good writer — a much better writer than researcher or assessor of evidence, but still a person you can read with a hundred times more profit than a current academic historian. Hofstadter was one of a handful of historians who set the modern liberal tone. In his introduction to this book, he says of the capitalist system, “In material power and productivity the United States has been a flourishing success.” Yet two pages later he says of the capitalist cultural framework: “In a corporate and consolidated society [whatever that means] demanding international responsibility, cohesion, centralization, and planning, the traditional ground is shifting under our feet. It is imperative in a time of cultural crisis to gain fresh perspectives on the past.”

I see. Here is the list of demands. And you, Professor of History, Columbia University (supported by capitalist profits and limited-government protections from the threat of intellectual “cohesion, centralization, and planning”), are the one who will give us those fresh, though self-contradictory, perspectives. A mere 72 years later, they are still being delivered fresh to us daily by people who, like Mr. Biden and his chief puppeteer, the New York Times, are presumed to know history. But what’s that funny smell?

Stephen Cox is editor of Liberty, and a professor of literature at the University of California San Diego.

October 3, 2020

Resilience at the Movies

by Jo Ann Skousen

Humans are resilient, adaptive, and resourceful. When an obstacle is placed in our way, we remove it or circumvent it. When we lose something, we devise a substitute. When a door closes, we begin looking for a new opening.

We’ve seen examples of this innovation and resilience throughout the pandemic lockdown. Manufacturers adapted their factories to provide goods with heightened demand. Stores and restaurants installed plexiglass shields, established senior hours, and moved their services out to the sidewalk. Internet and streaming services boosted their bandwidth and expanded their volume.

When Gov. Steve Sisolak (D-NV) effectively shut FreedomFest down just ten days before the festival was to start, by outlawing gatherings over the magic number of 49 people (despite having hundreds of people gathering near each other in the casinos just outside the conference area and hundreds more protesting in the streets outside), we managers of FreedomFest were outraged.

We felt a deep regret for our speakers and sponsors who had prepared speeches and presentations, as well as for our attendees who had made travel arrangements and craved the interaction with other attendees at the festival. As lockdowns continue into their seventh month with no end in sight, we feel great concern about the twin freedoms of assembly and speech. Human lives and livelihoods are being irreparably damaged, at levels that far exceed the loss of life from the disease.

My greatest disappointment in my role as producer of the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival, which is an arm of FreedomFest, was for our filmmakers — the actors, directors, musicians, editors, producers, set designers, scriptwriters, costumers, and everyone else who contributes to the making of a film.

But humans are resilient, adaptive and resourceful. We don’t take "No" for an answer if we can create a "Yes."

For Anthem, that “Yes” came in the form of a phone call from David Evans, President of Salem Media Group, suggesting that we partner together in presenting Anthem online this year. There ensued a flurry of preparations as we adapted some more. And within a matter of three weeks, viewers were able to subscribe to the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival on the newly created SalemNow platform, watching all the festival films whenever they want, as often as they want, through October 15.

David Evans is another example of resilience, adaptivity, and resourcefulness. He owns over 100 radio stations across America. His radio hosts include Larry Elder, Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, and many other names familiar to the freedom movement. Evans observed that radio listenership was up during the pandemic, but advertising was down, as businesses that usually advertised on radio responded to falling or nonexistent demand for their products and events. Meanwhile, millions of Americans were staying home — and the resilient and resourceful Evans saw an opportunity to expand his business by adapting to new demand for digital media — movies, that is. He demonstrated the self-balancing power of the marketplace from which all of us can benefit.

As a result, the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival went forward. We still couldn’t bring our audience into a live theater where they could meet face-to-face with the directors, but we were able to create the ambience of a live festival by filming introductions and interviews with the directors that we attached to their film screenings. We were even able to tally the audience reaction for the coveted Audience Choice Award, through the online rating service, FilmDove. Resilience, adaptability, and resourcefulness saved the day, and the festival.

So who won? I’m happy to make that announcement!

Man in the Arena, a documentary of Roger Ailes’ 50-year career from campaign strategist to cable news mogul to fallen icon, won the Grand Prize. Accepting the award, first-time director Michael Barnes said, “One of the keys to understanding Roger Ailes is that he was a middle America guy who was a relentless champion of the underdog. Roger made it possible for underdogs to win. He excelled in leading long-shot campaigns against formidable foes, often in one-sided contests . . . You have to measure the good with the bad, the failures with the successes. And it puts meaning and context to the incredible life and Shakespearean downfall of an icon.”

Barnes and Michael Ozias, director of They Say It Can’t Be Done, shared the Audience choice award, which is determined by ratings of the viewers. They Say It Can’t Be Done highlights exciting innovations in medical technology, food production, and removal of pollution, and it won the prize for Best Documentary Feature.

Speed of Life, directed by Liz Mansashil, won the award for Best Narrative Feature. I love the way Manashil combined genres. It’s a science fiction that isn’t darkly dystopian, a romance that isn’t formulaic, a time travel that isn’t predictable, and a non-comedy with a good dose of laughter.

Anthem’s motto of “individuality, choice, and accountability” can be seen in the themes of all 31 films selected for screening this year. They include films about education, journalism, and government regulation; history and politics; love and sacrifice; and individuals overcoming obstacles through resourcefulness and self-reliance. Award winner Get Off, a short narrative by Iranian filmmaker Teymour Ghaderi, is a good example of that resourceful and resilient spirit. It follows a plucky teenaged girl as she dodges police to get her bicycle across town when her male friend is unable to provide the required escort.

I often feel like the mother to my festival. I don’t have favorites. But in this divisive and violent year, I especially appreciate the messages of How to Love Your Enemy: A Restorative Justice Story, which offers a rehabilitative approach to criminal justice reform, and What’s Your Number? by Sigal Erez, who took a symbol of violent oppression — the number tattooed on an arm — and turned it into an expression of hope — the numbering of our souls. I don’t think any other film so clearly expresses the intrinsic value of each individual and Anthem’s motto of individuality, choice, and accountability.

Did I mention this before? The festival can still be viewed on www.SalemNow.com through October 15.

Here is the complete list of winners:

Jo Ann Skousen teaches writing and literature at Mercy College and Sing Sing Correctional Facility, and is the founding director of the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival.

September 17, 2020

This Ain’t Science

by Stephen Cox

You don’t need to be a supporter of President Trump to view the endorsement of his opponent by one of the nation’s most prestigious scientific journals as an ominous event. Displaying something like the opposite of the objective, dispassionate scientific approach, an approach that backs its claims with evidence and courts rigorous counterarguments, Scientific American denounced Trump for everything except clogging the kitchen sink and instigating the Crimean War. The editors’ frantic screed accuses Trump not only of failing to combat the coronavirus, thus killing tens of thousands of people, but also of failing to finance alternative sources of energy, provide universal (cunningly called “comprehensive”) healthcare, stop “climate change,” and accomplish other progressive goals. Not only that! He prevents people from voting, and he neglects to increase the wages of childcare workers. By these and a plethora of other offenses Trump has unmistakably demonstrated his utter contempt for “evidence and science.”

Biden, by contrast, “has a record of following the data and being guided by science.” Evidence:

Biden wants to spend $2 trillion on an emissions-free power sector by 2035, build energy-efficient structures and vehicles, push solar and wind power, establish research agencies to develop safe nuclear power and carbon capture technologies, and more. The investment will produce two million jobs for U.S. workers, his campaign claims, and the climate plan will be partly paid by eliminating Trump’s corporate tax cuts. Historically disadvantaged communities in the U.S. will receive 40 percent of these energy and infrastructure benefits.

All very scientific. You can tell from the numbers — exactly 2035, exactly two million jobs, exactly two trillion dollars, exactly 40% of the, uh, benefits. Like the Great Gatsby, Biden has clearly been devoting at least two hours a day to the study of needed inventions.

When Trump acted, for better or worse, on the advice of scientific experts to shut down travel to and from China, Biden immediately and repeatedly denounced these measures as “hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering.” So did many of his Democratic political colleagues, some of whom insisted that their constituents join in mass celebrations of Chinese New Year and other notable events. Biden’s science consisted of little more than constant, repetitive, over-the-top attacks on Trump, against whom he happened to be running for public office. So far from showing a grasp of public health issues, Biden has yet to say a word about the governors, mainly Democratic, who shoved infected old people into nursing homes, where they and their associates died like flies. Trump offered safe beds on Navy hospital ships, but the beds were never used.

These are some of the counterarguments available to anyone who has a computer — counterarguments that anyone of scientific or even rational mentality would feel bound to answer. But not Scientific American. Instead, it accused Trump of the deadly sin of criticizing said governors. It went further. It blamed him for the tens of millions of job losses that followed, as the night the day, the governors’ lockdowns of their economies.

Scientific American’s mishmash of accusations is what one might expect from the president of the Young Dems club at the local high school — or from a group of people so isolated in their specialized professions, and so arrogant in their isolation, that they imagine they can simply voice their dogmas and prejudices and have it all pass for science. The editors’ manifesto is what the Marxists used to call “a class product.” It’s what such people spontaneously utter at a cocktail party attended by members of their caste, where ritualized opinions pass for truth.

Experts on the sex lives of termites and the behavior of quarks have, I suppose, no way of knowing that economists, sociologists, historians, political scientists, and yes, physical scientists, have actually studied the issues and demands that appear in the editors’ remarks, and have formed a more (shall we say) complicated view of them. There’s not a hint that anyone ever broke the editors’ self-contemplation by advising: “Hey, did you know — not far from your office, there’s a whole library full of books about these things! And by the way, what they’re saying doesn’t look particularly good for what you’re saying.”

As science, learned writing, and even as journalist rhetoric, Scientific American’s performance is shameful. It is also funny, if you like to see professors making fools of themselves. (And who doesn’t?) But the bad thing, the terrible thing, is that by diving into politics, a premier learned journal has removed itself from the list of trusted sources. By revealing its desperate partisanship, it has annihilated confidence in the objectivity, hence the truth and usefulness, of everything it publishes. Its articles may be ever so true, and ever so useful, but who can trust them now?

And please don’t tell me about peer review, which is one of the longest running academic jokes. Who selects the peers?

Stephen Cox is editor of Liberty, and a professor of literature at the University of California San Diego.

September 9, 2020

Repatriation, Religion, and Rights

by Elizabeth Weiss

It is early, just after dawn. A bioarchaeologist (an archaeologist specializing in studying the skeletal remains of those found in archaeological sites) wishes to start her research on a group of skeletal remains, but before she can take out her calipers, she is stopped. “No, you can’t handle those individuals,” she is told. When she asks why, the response is that only men can handle and study the remains of warriors!

At another site, archaeologists stop excavating where a line is drawn in the sand, although the other side holds far more intriguing relics. Beyond the line, they are told, they may cause spiritual disturbances, which will lead to danger. Thus they are impeded from further excavation.

A group of professors and curators sit around a conference table to start a meeting, but this meeting is different — it will start and end with a prayer that is in a language none of them understands, and the words will not be translated. Secrecy is important to those saying the prayer. But that’s OK, because these professors and curators are used to not understanding what is being said. When conducting research or curating remains, all matters relevant to these skeletal collections are discussed first with religious leaders and consultants, who insist on secrecy, in this same unknown language. The religious leaders or consultants will then relay only the information that they want the professors and curators to know.

A sigh of relief comes over two coauthors who have just finished a paper on their study of a skeletal collection. They are certain of publication, since they already have had the paper approved by religious leaders and no “inappropriate” hypotheses have been tested. Yet the paper needs further approval. They are reprimanded and told to exclude such insensitive words as “cranium” and “burial.”

Where are we? Is this anthropology as attempted in a theocracy, such as Iran or Tibet? No, we are in the USA and these are the effects of NAGPRA (the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act).

NAGPRA, a federal law that enables Native American tribes to prevent excavations and to rebury skeletal remains regardless of their affiliation to the tribe, was enacted in 1990. Anthropologists were crucial in providing support for NAGPRA and viewed it as a human rights law that helped to right the wrongs of the past. Anthropologists believed that NAGPRA would be good for the science and would result only in the loss of remains from culturally identified or affiliated collections, which consisted of about 10% of the collections. These are collections for which a reasonable link can be made to a federally recognized tribe.

In 2013, however, culturally unaffiliated remains and artifacts became available for reburial too. This change will likely result in all collections of Native American remains disappearing from museum and university shelves within 50 years (Gonzalez and Marek-Martinez 2015 SAA Archaeological Record). In general, anthropologists were against this move — but they should have seen it coming, since NAGPRA is not a human rights law but a religious law.

Native American religious leaders claimed victory when NAGPRA was passed, and it is easy to understand why: traditional religious leaders are required in the committees of NAGPRA, creation myths can be used to determine affiliation, each NAGPRA meeting starts and ends with an indigenous prayer, consultations revolve around demands to include blessings or other religious activities in archaeological work. For instance, Kurt Dongoske (1996 American Indian Quarterly) noted that while collaborating with the Hopi, he worked with priests and religious societies to ensure that the research was sensitive to their needs.

Some anthropologists acknowledge the importance of religion in NAGPRA and bemoan that science is too involved in NAGPRA-mandated procedures. For example, Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (2010 Anthropology News), lamented that the NAGPRA committees are too science-oriented and hoped that removing the affiliation requirement to repatriate or rebury remains would help solve this issue!

Others have argued that perhaps scientifically-oriented anthropologists and repatriation-oriented Native Americans can find common ground (e.g., Clifford 2004 Current Anthropology; Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Ferguson 2004 Journal of Social Archaeology). These anthropologists don’t seem to accept the fact that many religious adherents argue that research is harmful — it damages the spirits (Walker 2000 Biological Anthropology of the Human Skeleton). This is like arguing about evolution with a creationist; it is usually futile. Native Americans have even adopted the creationist catchphrase about evolution — “it’s just a theory” — to dismiss research published on migrations into the Americas (Weaver 1997 Wicazo Sa Review).

Other anthropologists go a step further and claim that collaboration can infuse our field with new perspectives when oral tradition and scientific evidence are placed on equal footing (e.g, Goldstein and Kintigh 1990 American Antiquity; Zimmerman 2000 Repatriation Reader: Who Owns American Indian Remains? , University of Nebraska Press). Oral tradition is basically code for creation myths and other religious stories, many of which are inherently racist. For example, one alternative theory promoted by multiple Native American religions is polygenesis, which means different biological origins for different people. Polygenesis was disproved by Charles Darwin over a hundred years ago. Polygenesis, of course, has often been used as a way to explain why one group of people is better than another group of people. It was promoted, for instance, by colonialists in the late 17th and early 18th centuries who, predictably, thought they were better than the people they encountered in their journeys.

Some readers may think that even if NAGPRA is a religiously supported law, this is so discipline-specific that it will not affect our ability to conduct scientific research in general. But NAGPRA is the legal ramification of a greater repatriation ideology, which must be stopped in order to protect scientific and academic freedom. Repatriation ideology consists of attempts to constrain research by giving control to people who place religion above science. Most essentially, according to repatriation activists, Native American elders’ narratives should be treated as truths and that scientific conclusions on the past should defer to religious views. Repatriation ideology has seeped into the study of genetics, as when official Havasupai leaders sued genetics researchers for using freely-given blood samples to study schizophrenia, inbreeding, and ancient human population migration. Repatriation ideology has led to censorship (e.g., Anyon et al. 1996 SAA Bulletin; Gonzalez 2015 SAA Archaeological Record). For example, an Arizona professor who wrote a book on Native American religion has been prevented from publishing her work because tribal leaders hired lawyers to block publication (Mihesuah 1993 American Indian Culture and Research Journal). And repatriation ideology has shaped which topics can be studied. Ferguson (1996 Annual Review of Anthropology) notes that to gain access to collections, anthropologists should avoid topics that Native Americans — or, more properly, their self-nominated representatives — may find offensive, such as religion, power, gender, and treatment of the dead!

In order to protect science, both the biological sciences and the social sciences, we need to reject the intrusion of the supernatural, including creation stories and other religious traditions, into any scientific research.

References

September 6, 2020

Politics Before Science

By S. H. Chambers

The death rate from COVID-19 is higher in the United States than in most other countries. On the network news, the usual explanation given for this is that President Trump has botched the federal government’s response to the pandemic. Recently, on the PBS Newshour, correspondent William Brangham added public television’s voice to the network chorus when he referred to the lower death rates outside the US, saying, “The fact is, those nations don't have better doctors. They don't have more effective medications. They simply mounted a more effective response.”

I enjoy the PBS Newshour. I watch it almost every night. And I take it as given that the president’s response to the pandemic has been hamhanded. But to blame Trump, even without naming him directly, for this difference in death rates is simply bad journalism.

There is a better reason.

I’ll explain that reason and how I first learned about it, then how it was subsequently validated by research. A short rant about shaping narratives will be followed by the transcript of an imagined meeting. As always, my aim is to amuse.

* * *

Back in April, I was reading in the New York Times about COVID-19 and BCG, the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccine, which is used to prevent tuberculosis. Over the past century, BCG has prevented as many deaths as the polio vaccine. Every year, more than 100 million children all over the world get the BCG shot. What caught my eye was this: “Countries that did not implement or had abandoned universal B.C.G. vaccination have had more coronavirus infections per capita and higher death rates.”

That is the kind of statement that cries out for googling.

First, I found the BCG Atlas, a site that summarizes BCG vaccination policies around the world. Then I went to Our World in Data, a site that tracks COVID-19 death rates by country. And then I made a little chart, since lost, of the BCG vaccination policies of European countries and their COVID-19 death rates. Below is a new version with data from August 20, 2020. On this one, the death rates are from Wikipedia.

On this chart, each European country has been put into one of three groups, “Current,” “Stopped,” and “Never.” “Current” lists the countries that vaccinate all their children with BCG. “Stopped” lists the countries that used to vaccinate all their children, but don’t now. The year each of those countries stopped is noted. “Never” lists the countries that have never mandated vaccinating children against tuberculosis.

BCG and COVID-19

Current Deaths per million
Albania 79
Belarus 65
Bosnia 151
Bulgaria 79
Croatia 36
Estonia 49
Georgia 4
Greece 22
Hungary 61
Ireland 340
Lithuania 27
Macedonia 265
Malta 21
Moldova 233
Poland 52
Portugal 167
Romania 147
Russia 112
Ukraine 51
Average 107
Stopped Year Deaths per million
Czech Republic 2010 38
Denmark 1986 112
Finland 2005 62
France 2007 451
Germany 1998 113
Netherlands 1979 380
Norway 2009 50
Slovakia 2012 6
Slovenia 2005 74
Spain 1965 581
Sweden 1986 578
Switzerland 1987 253
United Kingdom 2005 638
Average 257
Never Deaths per million
Andorra 696
Belgium 967
Iceland 30
Italy 561
Average 563

To summarize the chart, then: the average number of deaths per million from COVID-19 for countries in Europe that presently mandate vaccination with BCG is 107. The average for those that used to vaccinate, but stopped, is 257. The average for those that never mandated vaccination at all is 563.

One possible takeaway is that the COVID-19 death rate in the countries that currently vaccinate is less than a fifth of the death rate in the countries that never did.

So, where does the US fit in?

While most countries around the world try to vaccinate all their children with BCG, the United States of America does not now and never has. In the US, BCG is only given when testing indicates that it is necessary, which is very seldom. There just isn’t that much tuberculosis in the United States.

The number of deaths per million in the US from COVID-19 as of August 20, 2020, is 530, a lower rate than Italy’s and slightly below the average of the countries in Europe that have never vaccinated. About what you’d expect, all other things being equal.

Taken at face value, then, these numbers suggest that the higher COVID-19 death rate in the US is in large part due to the lack of a BCG vaccine mandate.

When I made the first chart, back in April, the results were similar, but I knew that it proved nothing. It wasn’t meant to. I’m not a statistician, much less a scientist. I was just following up on the Times article with some back-of-the-napkin stuff.

To test a hypothesis like this, much information must be gathered and analyzed: age, obesity, rates of diabetes and heart disease. Lots of data have to be harvested and crunched in elaborate ways. Wealth, health, education, population density, and other demographic variables have to be taken into account. Even variations in DNA and strains of vaccines may be relevant.

I also knew that correlation does not prove causation and that any conclusions drawn about BCG vaccination mandates and COVID-19 death rates would have to be based on a very strong relationship between the numbers.

I got all that, but the chart still piqued my interest.

Since early April, then, I have googled “BCG vaccine” and “COVID-19” with “mortality rate” and similar words probably 50 times. I have read many articles and research reports and squinted at scores of charts and graphs. The evidence confirming what my little chart suggested began to roll in, slowly at first, and then more rapidly.

For example, one of the earliest studies, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was “BCG vaccine protection from severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).” It was submitted by a group out of Maryland in early May and published on July 9, 2020. It concluded that while BCG vaccination could not be shown to actually cause fewer deaths from COVID-19, there was a significant correlation between the two. The null hypothesis was rejected. It also recommended using new BCG vaccination to help fight the pandemic only after clinical trials have proven it to be safe and effective.

Then, on July 11, 2020, the journal Vaccines published “Significantly improved COVID-19 outcomes in countries with higher TB vaccination coverage,” a study by a group from Ben Gurion University. After controlling for 23 variables in countries all over the world, they concluded that “the significantly strong correlation between the BCG vaccination and better outcomes for COVID-19 is shown across many countries, covering the majority of the world population.”

They also point to the importance of BCG-induced resistance to COVID-19 on overall contagion rates and, ultimately, on mortality rates, regardless of whether vaccination resulted in immunity for any given individual. While their research also suggests that resistance to COVID-19 created by BCG may fade after 15 years, it leaves no doubt that more childhood BCG vaccinations means fewer COVID-19 deaths.

On August 5, 2020, an American study titled “Mandated Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination predicts flattened curves for the spread of COVID-19” appeared in Science Advances. After elaborately crunching all the numbers then available, a complex analysis concluded that “the total number of COVID-19-related deaths in the United States as of 29 March 2020 would have been 468 — 19% of the actual figure (2467) — if the United States had instituted the mandatory BCG vaccination several decades earlier.”

On August 11, 2020, a Japanese study appeared in the Journal of Infection. “Impact of routine infant BCG vaccination in young generation on prevention of local COVID-19 spread in Japan” gathered together all the meticulous BCG vaccination and COVID-19 records in Japan, prefecture by prefecture. After crunching these numbers very hard, they reached their conclusion: “Our findings suggest that routine infant BCG vaccination coverage in young generation had a significant impact on prevention of local COVID-19 spread in Japan.”

The evidence is in. Countries that vaccinated children with BCG have many fewer deaths from COVID-19 than they would have had otherwise. Just how BCG accomplished this feat isn’t yet clear, but a consensus is emerging that the immune systems of the vaccinated children were primed to resist infection from this new version of the coronavirus at the same time, but in a slightly different way, than they were primed to resist tuberculosis bacteria. It seems that the children became resistant to COVID-19 rather than immune, making the aggregate effect on herd immunity an important part of today’s significantly reduced death toll in countries that vaccinated. However BCG accomplished it, many fewer people have died, as shown in study after study, in country after country.

I read other articles and research papers about BCG suppressing COVID-19 from Australia, Serbia, and Indonesia. I saw it on TV in India. It seemed to be common knowledge outside the US. An international internet squabble broke out about whether people who’d missed childhood vaccination should get a BCG shot now. Experimental trials were launched. There was even an online argument about whether people hospitalized with COVID-19 might benefit from BCG. There was a lot of global coverage, but that central conclusion about childhood vaccination decreasing the death rate that I first saw in the Times back in April never made it to the modern American equivalent of the front page. Not that I saw, anyway.

As the evidence mounted, I was hoping to hear about the connection between BCG and COVID-19 on the PBS Newshour. I thought the story that a BCG vaccination mandate would have saved the lives of tens of thousands of Americans might have been of interest to the American public. It was particularly surprising when the study projecting the 80% reduction in deaths was published and PBS didn’t pick up the story. Imagine the headline: “BCG vaccination would have reduced COVID-19 deaths in the US by 80%.” It would have been a big story, a Frontline episode, perhaps. But PBS was silent.

And then, on August 28, 2020, as I said at the start, on the PBS Newshour, I heard William Brangham say,

“I'd like to show you this graphic here that gives you a better measure of this. We are still losing more Americans to this virus than other nations. This is a coronavirus deaths [sic] per million in developed nations. That red line at the top, that is the US's rate. All those other little lines at the bottom on the right-hand side are other modern nations, very similar to us, Canada, Australia, the European Union, South Korea. You can see that red line is far above them. We are losing far more Americans than these other nations. And the fact is, those nations don't have better doctors. They don't have more effective medications. They simply mounted a more effective response. And on this chart, you can see the results. More of their citizens are still alive than ours.”

We’re almost to the rant.

But first, those “little lines at the bottom” should be sorted according to their BCG mandate history.

Canada is in the “stopped” category. Although it didn’t have a national mandate, as recently as the 1970s, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, and Quebec all had BCG vaccination programs. Quebec’s went on into the 90s.

Australia is a “stopped” country as well, having had a BCG mandate until the mid-80s.

The European Union is not a country, of course. As my chart shows, it is a collection of “current,” “stopped,” and “never” countries. By making it a single line on the graph, this important distinction is lost. More about that later. Perhaps it’s best to categorize it as “stopped.”

South Korea is a “current” country that vaccinates all of its children with the BCG vaccine.

In other words, the only “country” on the graphic that has never inoculated its children with the BCG vaccine is the US.

As an aside, that we are losing “far more Americans than these other nations” does not seem surprising, and I am still trying to coax meaning from the phrase “more of their citizens are alive than ours.”

We’re all teed up for the rant.

Much has been written about the dishonesty of Donald Trump. Much of it is true. For years now, I have admired the restraint shown by the PBS journalists as they respond to his sometimes stunning bullshit. They have been so civilized. The half-raised eyebrow, the suppressed guffaw, the polite interruption — they deserve medals for their gentile stoicism. Call it the Woodruff Award. More importantly, in the face of his relentless onslaught, they have sought not just to cling to decorum, but to keep up the appearance of honest journalism, of separating opinion from fact, emotion from reason, and wishful thinking from hard reality. It cannot have been easy.

In journalism, of course, there is a constant temptation to guide the narrative, to steer the conversation, to direct the flow of the news toward conclusions consistent with the beliefs of the news organization. This is natural, and occasionally succumbing to the temptation, if only unconsciously, is probably unavoidable. It is part of human nature and we are all human.

I know that PBS leans left. Everybody knows. It’s hardly a secret. But they’ve usually done their semi-progressive soft-shoe routine with style. They’ve taken the time to make a polemic sound like the reluctant outcome of unbiased, careful research. They’ve mastered the art of deniable slant. They’ve made a real effort to ape fairness, cherry-picking carefully crafted Pew Center facts to gently shape the narrative. Objectivity may be a chimera that can’t be captured, but PBS has tried to creep as close to the beast as they can without compromising their beliefs.

So.

As I watched William Brangham present his graphic, I was reminded of my first trip to Berkeley in the ’60s, when a street hustler tried to lure me into a quick game of three-card monte. Find the queen and win ten bucks. He even employed a shill.

Did Mr. Brangham know what he was doing when he called the European Union a country? Did he know that the United Kingdom, which is actually a country in Europe, and Sweden, Spain, Belgium, and Italy, which are actually countries in the EU, have higher COVID-19 death rates than the US, or that Greece, which is also a country in the EU, did its best to vaccinate all of its children and has only 22 COVID-19 deaths per million people, while Belgium, which never vaccinated its children at all, has 967 deaths per million? If he did know that the death rate in Belgium was 44 times higher than in Greece, did he really think that the difference was due to the fact that the feckless Belgians had not “mounted a more effective response” to the coronavirus than the prescient Greeks? Did Mr. Brangham know that the only “country” on the graphic he presented that has never mandated the vaccination of its children with the BCG vaccine at all is the United States? Did Mr. Brangham even know about the effect of BCG vaccination on COVID-19 mortality?

If he did know these things, and he used that graphic anyway, then I have a suggestion: stop playing three card monte with the truth, Mr. Brangham. I’ll tell you where the queen is. She’s in Brussels. Go con someone else.

It is so disappointing. This is the kind of coverage that the American people have come to expect from Jake Tapper, or maybe Chuck Todd, but not William Brangham.

Maybe I’m being too hasty, and too harsh. What if he didn’t know these things? It is possible that William Brangham, despite having covered the pandemic for months, has never heard of the BCG vaccine at all. He may have missed the article in the Times, and may not have been following the research into COVID-19. And he may know very little about Greece and Belgium, or geography itself, for that matter. He may actually believe that Europe is a country where Americans are dying from COVID-19. He may not know what he’s doing at all. If that’s the case, then I apologize. I had no idea.

There is, however, another possibility.

What if PBS has simply decided to drop the act?

* * *

The following is the transcript of a recording of what seems to be an editorial meeting. It was made in secret. Only this fragment survives. It was apparently made about ten weeks before the 2020 elections. At the time, the polls showed Trump far behind, by almost the same distance as in 2016. The voices on the tape are tense, quavering slightly with what may be fear.

VOICE ONE:

It’s like a bad dream. He can’t win again. He just can’t. We have to help. We have to do more. (Soft sobbing in the background.)

VOICE TWO:

But what else can we do? We’ve tried everything.

VOICE THREE:

We could say that the huge death toll from COVID-19 in the US is his fault. (A pause. A dry cough.)

VOICE TWO:

But that’s not true.

VOICE THREE:

They say it on the networks all the time. We don’t have to use his name.

VOICE TWO:

But our journalistic standards are higher than theirs. It would be wrong.

VOICE THREE:

What is more important right now, Judy, the truth or getting that man out of the White House? (Indistinct murmuring. Several voices.)

VOICE TWO:

(Sighs.) You’re right. We have a higher loyalty. But who would do it? It would ruin their reputation.

VOICE ONE:

I’ll do it.

VOICE TWO:

Oh, William, you’re sure? You’d probably have to go work for MSNBC.

VOICE ONE:

Yes, I’m sure. It would be worth it.

The tape ends here, in what is either a burst of static or applause.

* * *

I did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Neither did I vote for any of the other presidential candidates. I didn’t feel that I had been given much of a choice. There doesn’t seem to be much of a choice this time around, either. I hadn’t planned to vote this year. The evil of two lessers, if you see what I mean.

But when William Brangham takes off the nonpartisan gloves and puts on a pair of James Carville knuckle-dusters and transforms himself into an enforcer for the Democrats, we are no longer boxing by the Marquis of Queensbury rules. There are no more neutral corners. Not even feigned ones.

Mr. Brangham’s tactics may have backfired. By imitating Mr. Trump’s dishonesty, he has reduced the contrast between the two sides and, as a result, the President suddenly looks less objectionable. Mr. Brangham may have inadvertently nudged me toward Trump’s corner.

Heck of a job, William.

S. H. Chambers is a cartoonist whose books include Mock Hypocrisies, Zeitgeist Kebab, and Entertaining Blasphemies.

September 1, 2020

Kingdom of Clichés

by Stephen Cox

Hey, lady, you took the words right out of somebody’s mouth. Most likely Satan’s.

A spokeswoman for the New York City government (Bill de Blasio, mayor) commented on reports that businesses are fleeing the city because they can’t make enough money to survive under NYC’s draconian anti-COVID regime. She said:

In response to COVID-19, we’ve activated resources to stand up new supply lines and work with businesses to produce materials we never have before and provided our small businesses with aid and technical assistance. New York City businesses are strong, creative, innovative, resilient, and they are doubling down on building their future here.

Fox News, of all places, introduced this statement with the words, “New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio seems aware of the situation, having taken steps to try and help businesses recover.” Thank you, “rightwing” Fox, for declaring that the controversial leftwing mayor isn’t controversial at all. By the way, which rabbit hole did those steps arrive at? If Fox knows, it should tell us.

But we should remember that this is the news outlet that reported so informatively on a bear that went shopping in a supermarket at Lake Tahoe and snared a bag of Tostitos. The bear was filmed by a woman who “witnessed the sighting.” (Apparently she didn’t see the bear, just the sighting.) She “then took the video of the animal eating garbage [meaning the Tostitos?] from what appeared to be a safe distance.” The story does not explain why the bear was at a safe distance from the garbage. Maybe it was wearing a mask.

In short, Fox — and it’s not alone among media — is so deficient in editing that its news stories are beginning to look like those illiterate comments that appear at the end of the stories. Reporting on the arrest of a man for throwing an explosive device at the federal courthouse in Portland — an arrest that occurred because his grandmother stupidly identified a picture of him — Fox ran a headline calling him the “alleged ‘bomber.’” But this wasn’t good enough. In the article, his granny became “the alleged relative.”

The only news source able to cap this Fox performance was the other alleged relative, the accused. In a letter to the New York Post he showed how far alleged can be carried, once somebody gets a grip on it. His words are quoted in the Fox report:

“The device I’ve been accused of allegedly throwing was allegedly given to me by an unknown protestor with full face coverings,” [Gabriel] Agard-Berryhill wrote to the paper. “I was allegedly told that it was a strobe firework that wouldn’t damage the building or harm anyone around it.”

“Law enforcement has not contacted me for any alleged crime as of right now,” he claimed.

Any more of those allegations could send the guy to prison for life.

But let’s return from tales of bears and bombers to the defend-the-mayor statement that the NYC PR woman crafted with such glaring professionalism. Her thesis seems to be that the city’s businesspeople are so wonderful — so strong, creative, innovative, and resilient — that they can withstand even the city’s efforts to help them.

Certainly none of them is childish enough to swallow her gooey, tasteless compliment. More interesting is her description of what the government has done for business. This masterpiece of opacity can only be the work of seven devils, each working his tail off to create a Babylonian wall of clichés. “We’ve activated resources to stand up new supply lines and work with businesses to produce materials we never have before and provided our small businesses with aid and technical assistance.” I think this means, if it means anything, “We handed out face masks.”

But that’s just a suspicion I entertained while asking myself such questions as: What is an unactivated resource? Does stand up mean start? Then why not say start? So maybe it doesn’t mean start. Then what does it mean? When you work with a business, what do you actually do? What is your work? What do you mean by materials? When I think of that word, all that comes to mind is my kindergarten teacher saying, “Now children, please gather your materials, so we can start our coloring.” Did anybody ever describe what goes on in a grownup store or factory as the production of materials? But I guess materials come through supply lines, which to me suggests Napoleon’s trouble with maintaining them during his visit to Russia. Is this the intended image? Continuing the theme of foreignness, of the Other, is aid and technical assistance. Isn’t that what we give to backward countries? What store of intellectual or scientific skill or knowledge does the government of New York City possess, that it might bestow it on its technically impoverished small businesses? Finally, the age-old question: when politicians talk about small businesses, what exactly do they intend? Remember that they operate the largest businesses in the country, and compete at every point with the small ones.

The expressions I’m discussing originated in diverse environments — commerce, engineering, the military, international relations, kindergartens — but it is politics that makes them into clichés, deprives them of meaning, and propels them into the public consciousness. What else would you expect in a world in which government is always increasing, always overreaching, and therefore always occupying more space in consciousness itself? The prominent clichés of this year are especially numerous and especially deprived of meaning, milled by the heavy wheels of angry and despotic government.

Liberty Senior Editor Bruce Ramsey wrote in to mention his irritation with a number of these clichés. As always, he’s worth quoting.

I keep hearing people on TV saying that somebody needs to be "held accountable." But what does that mean, exactly? Punished? Nobody says that. Punishment is something that actually hurts, or at least causes inconvenience. Maybe "held accountable" means only talk. I don't know what it means . . .

And when somebody says, "there is no magic bullet," I think, when have I heard anyone say they DID have a magic bullet? I can't recall a single instance.

Another one that has annoyed me for years is "gospel," in the political sense. It is always negative, something ridiculous. Nobody describes his own belief as gospel.

Bruce also mentions the appalling fact that

when people say, "There's no magic bullet," they obviously think they've said something meaningful and clever. By referring to a thing that exists nowhere ("magic bullet"), they are implying that some people are dumb enough to believe in such things. It's similar to "gospel," [as when] the leftists accuse someone of believing in "the free-market gospel." They never refer to their own beliefs as "gospel." (I should think a Christian would find this use of "gospel" particularly annoying.)

Yes, I would think so too. But if Christians aren’t annoyed by the replacement of the King James Version of the gospel with some stumblebum paraphrase, and if they aren’t annoyed by the replacement of classic hymns with inane “praise music,” then nothing can possibly annoy them.

Except, perhaps, protests against such changes. I myself am capable of embracing change; I even go so far in advocating for change as to suggest that public figures and public institutions stop demanding change. In every instance, what they’re saying is that you should change, while they retain their smugness and arrogance and will to power. To see such ancient hierarchs as Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden inciting young people to work for change is as nauseating a spectacle as I can think of — with one exception. I have just discovered that there is something called The Trust, of which Henry, Duke of Sussex is president and which involves his wife Megan, Duchess of Sussex. Both of them are as dumb as rocks, but they have placed themselves at the head of an organization described as “a network of young changemakers across a global family of 54 countries, many stemming from the former British Empire.” Network, family, trust — huh? That these people, who without their unearned titles would be schlepping bags and cleaning hotel rooms somewhere in Sussex, are ganging up with young ninnies everywhere to get other people to change, apparently for the sake of change, says a lot about the way in which “change” operates as cover for Orders from the Top.

At worst (and among people with real power, it’s always the worst), the goal of professional changemakers is to mobilize the young and vague and send them out to attack the elders’ targets — which are ordinarily people like me and you, in short normal people, minding their own business. At best, the purpose is to look good while saying something entirely meaningless yet entirely self-serving. An ad for TV news in my town takes this approach to the virus scare:

The past few months have shown us that change is inevitable. . . . If we want to get through this, we all have to come together.

Ah! How delightful! Finally, news with heart! With real concern! And with a sermon to prove it! So I will reply in biblical terms, “Who made thee a judge over us?” Who gave you the wisdom to discern that change is inevitable and that therefore we have to start coming together with somebody? And that we all have to do it, for the sake of mere survival? By the way, how can I tell if I’m coming together? That’s a fair question. Another is, precisely how did the coronavirus show us, to our stupefaction, that change is inevitable? If a mob, as may very well happen, surrounds my car, drags me out of it, and stomps on my head, that would be change. If a state governor, as has happened, several times, confines corona-infested old people to nursing homes where they die like flies, that would also be change. Is the proper response, “Oh, this shows that change is inevitable”? If and when my doctor diagnoses me with a terminal illness, I hope, for his own sake, he does not say, “This just shows that change is inevitable.”

Speaking of death and change, I’m sure that all of us have lists of virus-speak expressions that we would like to kill off. Social distancing, bend the curve — relatively innocuous, but enough already! Not innocuous, ever, is that expression it’s the law! , which has become the blather of choice whenever the ruling classes try to impress their will on questioners. Wonder why you have to wear a mask and stand six feet away from everybody? Answer: because it’s the law! The usefulness of the expression comes from the fact that these commandments are not the law, don’t come anywhere near being the law, but if somebody accepts the idea that some of them may be law, you can add any number of others to the list — they’ll all have the same impressive status. So go ahead, just make it up. The other day I heard a politician bellowing “it’s the law!” at constituents who had the nerve to gather on a public beach. Get off the beach! It’s the law! We have really had too much of this.

A friend in Africa tells me that if she hears “the new normal” one more time, the perpetrator can expect retribution. No one, anywhere, has ever liked that expression, except public figures invited to predict the future. The future always turns out to be exactly what they want, which is always a world that people like them control. Never does the future include an extension of individual freedom, only extensions of state power. These are the same people who insist that we all adapt to change, the change obviously continuing to the point where they themselves are satisfied. It can then be decreed the new normal, and rigidly enforced.

But what galls me right now is something I often hear as parting words — in a store, on the phone, or in the canned messages texted to me after I object to a total stranger appropriating my phone to enlist me in a political cause. One such message read, “I am removing you from further texts from MoveOn immediately. Stay safe and be well.” I’m glad to get off the list, but what’s the assumption here? Rhetorical climaxes of this kind never used to happen, unless someone knew that your health or safety was in danger. Now the idea is that you must be in deadly danger, because everyone is, all the time, but you are too dumb to know it. So you must be told that you are, and told what to do about it, by any and every member of the army of virtue signalers and virtue enforcers who go forth daily to fulfill the orders of the political thought police. If you want to defund the police, start with them.

Stephen Cox is editor of Liberty, and a professor of literature at the University of California San Diego.

August 26, 2020

The Sociopaths Who Rule Society

by Stephen Cox

Definitions of mental illness or deficiency have always seemed to me as loony as the people they are supposed to help diagnose. But one such definition may be useful. Somewhere in college I learned that a sociopath is someone who has no empathy for other people and no feeling for any suffering he may inflict on them. This seems a fair description of the public officials to whom the coronavirus surrendered power over Americans’ lives.

If, for some urgent reason, a normal man or woman felt called upon to throw millions of people out of their jobs; deprive hundreds of millions of the ability to plan their work, their travel, and their daily lives, denying them even the ability to attend weddings and funerals and to practice their religion; and kill tens of thousands by shutting them in infected homes and preventing them from diagnostic care for life-threatening illnesses, wouldn’t that person be ravaged by the pain he was causing?

You may say, what kind of situation would ever demand such conduct? If you say that, you will be right. It’s almost unimaginable that anything short of a catastrophic war could necessitate the use of such powers. But grant it for the sake of argument. Suppose it happened, and you were the person who had to exercise those powers. Wouldn’t you show some distress at what you had to do? Wouldn’t you show some sympathy for the victims of your power? Wouldn’t you break down in tears? Wouldn’t you spend all day, every day, trying to repair the damage you had caused?

The answer, of course, is yes. Only a sociopath would do these things without compunction, empathy, or sympathy. But that is exactly what our public officials do.

I’m not talking about the significant minority who delayed cracking down on the public as long as they could, and then sought to reopen their domains to normal life as soon as possible, often while being hunted almost to extinction by outrage artists baying at their “weakness,” “selfishness,” and “politicization” of the “crisis.” They may not have been willing to voice all their doubts and regrets, but their hesitant and moderate actions usually indicated what was in their minds. Most public officials, however, leapt forward with schemes to imprison the populace, and they have loosened their grip only when forced to do so. It’s of these supposed idealists that I now write.

Think of one draconian governor, mayor, or health official who has broken down in tears. Think of one who has ever revealed a moral conflict. Think of one who has ever shown that he understood and actually felt the costs of the terrible things he says he was forced to do.

I can’t think of any. Can you? What we see instead is preening, politicking, microphone-grabbing, a constant delight in giving orders and a constant scorn for anyone who suggests that less stringent measures might succeed. A normal person would pursue every such possibility, anxious to shed the burden of hurting others. The officials in question never, ever do this. They are content, or in some cases positively thrilled, with things as they are. They wake up each morning happy to perform the next grim set of self-assigned duties.

There have been many nauseating displays of self-righteousness in American history, but this is something special. This is a blank indifference to suffering. It is true heartlessness, on a scale so great as to define the official class as the Heartless Class.

Of course, examples are not lacking of public officials who can walk through the cities they rule, view the miserable condition in which people live, and notice it only when they want to blame it on others. This is typical behavior in any ruling class. But when a person is directly causing enormous suffering, and he knows it and glories in his power to do it — that’s not normal in any class, except the one whose deeds we are witnessing now.

The famous chapter title in Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom is “Why the Worst Get on Top.”

Stephen Cox is editor of Liberty, and a professor of literature at the University of California San Diego.

August 20, 2020

Hong Kong, Bad to Worse

by Bruce Ramsey

On July 30, President Trump suggested that the November elections might be postponed. American progressives took him seriously, or pretended to, and the presidential tweet was followed by a spasm of public feather-ruffling. It was all for show. Postponing the elections was not going to happen — not in the United States. It did, however, happen in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, a place where the threats to liberty are much more immediate and drastic than in North America.

On the same day that Trump made his infamous tweet, Hong Kong Executive Carrie Lam announced that she was postponing legislative elections for one year. “The postponement is entirely made based on public safety reasons,” she said, citing the coronavirus. “There were no political considerations.”

On the contrary, the considerations were almost entirely political. Last year the former British colony was in a state of turmoil for months. In a territory of some seven million people, hundreds of thousands had swarmed into the streets, again and again, to protest a proposed extradition law that would subject them to trial in mainland China. In lower-level elections, “pro-democracy” candidates took control of 17 of 18 district councils. When she postponed the elections set for September 2020, Chief Executive Lam was obviously afraid that the opposition would make similar gains in Hong Kong’s high-level Legislative Council.

Lam is not subject to the voters herself. She is effectively appointed by China and is obliged to do what China says. Only half the seats in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council are elected by the Hong Kong people, the other half being selected by “functional constituencies” such as the district councils, the labor unions, and the chambers of commerce. The nondemocratic seats have been easier for friends of China to control, and at the moment they control 42 of the Council’s 70 seats. For that reason, a landslide vote for the pro-democracy candidates would not necessarily mean an opposition takeover — though it might. A strong vote for the pro-democracy parties would, however, cause China and Carrie Lam to lose face. It would also embolden the opposition. China doesn’t want any of that — hence the postponement.

A year ago, during the mass protests, I argued here that the protesters had no chance to win. I thought that China would send in the army. In the event, armed intervention wasn’t necessary. The coronavirus provided a public-health excuse to do what China’s leaders wanted to do all along, which was to crack down.

On June 30 of this year, China imposed a new national security law on Hong Kong. It has 66 articles. They impose a maximum sentence of life in prison for acts of secession, or acts that undermine the power or authority of the central government, or collude with foreign forces. The law allows China to set up a police force in Hong Kong, a police force that China controls, with the power to use wiretapping and electronic surveillance. This new authority will have the power to send suspects to be tried in China. China, not the Hong Kong courts, will have the power to interpret the national security law, which will be superior to the British-influenced law of Hong Kong.

“Effectively, they are imposing the People's Republic of China's criminal system onto the Hong Kong common law system, leaving them with complete discretion to decide who should fall into which system,” said Johannes Chan Man Mun, professor of law at the University of Hong Kong.

On July 28, the university fired one of Chan’s law school colleagues, Associate Professor Benny Tai, because of his open support of the protests.

On July 29, the day before Chief Executive Lam postponed the Legislative Council elections, she banned 12 pro-democracy candidates from running. The cited reasons were that they had advocated Hong Kong’s independence from China, they had opposed the extradition law, they had announced their intention of voting against the government in the Legislative Council, and they had solicited foreign interference in Hong Kong’s affairs.

On August 10, the Hong Kong government arrested several political opponents, including newspaper publisher Jimmy Lai. Lai had fled Communist China at age 12 and made his fortune in Hong Kong in the apparel industry. He became politically active in 1989 after China’s crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square. In 1990, when I was living in Hong Kong, I bought a T-shirt with the word “Freedom” in four languages from one of Jimmy Lai’s Giordano stores. He was an opponent of the Communists then, and he has continued to be an opponent. He sold the Giordano chain and founded the Apple Daily, which he built into Hong Kong’s most-read Chinese-language newspaper. It is not a newspaper friendly to the Chinese government.

Lai was released on bail, thanks to Hong Kong’s still-British legal system. But bringing criminal charges against newspaper publishers for their political statements is an ominous act. And Lai was duly chastened. Speaking to the opposition, he said, “We have to be more careful and creative in [our] resistance . . . We can't be as radical as before, especially young people, because the more radical [we are] the shorter lifespan we have in our fighting. We have to really use our brains and patience, because this is a long fight.”

It looks like a very long fight. If there is any chance of victory — and there is almost none in the short term — it will come with the political transformation of China. Many in the West expected that to happen by now, or at least begin to happen, and it hasn’t. It has in Taiwan, so it is not impossible. Change can come quickly, as it did in Russia in the 1980s. Or slowly. Right now it looks like slowly.

Bruce Ramsey is a retired Seattle newspaperman and author of Unsanctioned Voice: Garet Garrett, Journalist of the Old Right (Caxton, 2008) and The Panic of 1893: The Untold Story of Washington State’s first Depression (Caxton, 2018). His web page is bruceramsey.net.

August 13, 2020

The Sun Also Rises — But Not Solar Power

By Gary Jason

A recent article allows me to reflect on one of my favorite topics — so-called renewable energy — as well as think ahead to the upcoming election.

The article concerns the infamous Tonopah Solar Energy plant. In 2011, the Obama DOE (Department of Energy) gave a $737 million loan to Tonopah to finance the $1.1 billion Crescent Dunes Solar project in Nevada. The plant was funded between 2011 and 2013. But very soon it faced technical problems.

As noted in an earlier report, in 2014 the plant only generated 45% of the power California had contracted for, and in 2015 only 68%. By 2015 it was already obsolete, and an outage forced the plant to shut down from October 2016 to July 2017. Another outage hit in April of last year, shutting it down to this day.

Solar Reserve, the main developer of the Crescent Project, filed for bankruptcy in November of last year. Tonopah owes the DOE over $424 million and finally reached a settlement late last month: Tonopah will pay back $200 million to the taxpayers. This is a fraction of what Uncle Sugar loaned the company, but then creditors seldom get much back in a bankruptcy settlement.

I give credit to the Trump DOE for retrieving at least some of the money that the Obama administration squandered on the Tonopah fiasco. And I continue to blame Obama — as I did in countless articles at the time — for funding dubious “green energy” projects, many run by businesses owned by people who had connections to the Obama regime.

Here I will pass from reflection to prediction. I have tried to be fair with the Trump regime when possible, tried to be intellectually honest. I have written pieces pointing to some things that Trump has done that seemed good to me. But on the whole, his reign has been wretched. Yes, he appointed some conservative judges — which any other Republican would have done. And he did use his executive powers to cut some regulations, which the next Democrat president will reverse on the first day in office. He also cut taxes for some people — though raised them on others.

The Boss has governed as the narcissistic populist he appeared to be. That is, he is basically protectionist, anti-free-trade, anti-immigrant (really, often demagogically nativist), with a knack for alienating allies and accommodating enemies. (It took a plague that China inflicted upon us to arouse in him the level of antipathy he viscerally feels for Germany, Canada, and Mexico.) He has appointed a string of competent people only to ignore their advice and push them out. And his abysmal lack of coherent leadership is most apparent in his policy flip-flopping about COVID-19.

So I think Joe Biden will be the next president. Just let those words slip off your tongue: “President Biden!” Say it, savor it — what a soporific prospect. Now, the question is: how will he govern? I would suggest he will be like Obama on Quaaludes.

Since this is a reflection on energy policy, let me unpack that remark. Obama was your typical Green Progressive. He professed to want to end the use of fossil fuels (to stop global warming), and so — being as scientifically ignorant as most Green Progressives are — instead of taking the obvious route of nuclear power, he pushed solar and wind power. To this end he shoveled billions of dollars at dicey solar and wind energy projects, and exempted those projects from environmental regulations protecting wildlife. Wind and solar, it turns out, are massively lethal to birds, killing about half a million of them a year — including raptors, many them members of endangered species.

But Obama was clever in this instance. While he took no action to help the fracking revolution, he took none to stop it, either. It is not widely known, but oil production under Obama’s reign more than doubled. And to my amazement at the time, he did something I complemented him for doing. He signed a repeal of the stupid 50-year-old law prohibiting American oil companies from exporting domestically produced oil.

I suspect that Biden will play the same game when he is president. He will placate the scientific ignoramuses in the environmentalist movement by bashing fossil fuels and ignoring nuclear energy. And he will shovel massive amounts of taxpayer cash at wind and solar projects, probably with the same corrupt ties to his campaign. But I doubt he will shut down fracking, There are just too many jobs — especially union jobs — dependent on it. And there is just too much geopolitical power dependent on our energy independence — which is what fracking has given us.

Gary Jason is an academic philosopher and a senior editor of Liberty. His books are available through Amazon.

August 6, 2020

No Atlas — Just the Shrug

by Stephen Cox

At a press conference on July 9, Nancy Pelosi said something that made me think. How often does a politician make anyone do that? In my experience, not very often. So this event should be memorialized.

Here’s what she said. Someone (finally!) asked her a question about what she thought about all the statues that are being torn down “by mobs in the middle of the night.” At first she looked confused, or perhaps just surprised that anyone would ask such a question. Then she said:

People will do what they do.

And here are the thoughts that this remark inspired in me.

First I thought, here’s a person who, barely six months ago, was constantly reminding America that “no one is above the law.” In All About Eve (which I am constantly reminding everybody of — sorry!), the title character says, “I can’t believe my ears,” to which Addison DeWitt, the great theater critic, replies, “A dull cliché!” A little later he reproves her for telling “a stupid lie, easy to expose, not worthy of you.” Eve Harrington is presented as a very clever person, and the lie certainly wasn’t worthy of her intelligence. I’m not sure I’d say the same thing about Pelosi and her “no one is above the law.” It’s certainly a dull cliché, but hardly unworthy of her. And despite its dullness, she got everyone else in her party to recite that cliché, often (as by Kamala Harris) with oratorical solemnity befitting the most challenging pronouncement of philosophical principle. The cliché was voiced as if nobody knew it was a cliché — in fact, as if nobody had ever heard it before, and as if nobody knew that the allusion to “no one” applied solely to Donald Trump, then being impeached by Pelosi and friends.

This was no bravura display of genius. But to go from “no one is above the law” to “people will do what they do” — that’s amazing. The contradiction, of course, is flat, obvious, and damning. Trump was absolutely not, in no way! above the law, but now that Pelosi wants the votes of the BLM and Antifa crowd, what the hell? Go out and violate those laws! Just make sure you do it in public, and you curse Trump while you’re doing it.

That’s bad. And there’s worse. Though a cliché, and subject to critical examination about the meaning of at least one of its terms, “no one is above the law” actually means something. What does “people will do what they do” mean?

Literally, it means nothing. But here’s another thing I thought. Not all meaning resides in words — far from it. If Pelosi had been speaking as a sin-sick Calvinist, contemplating the evil nature of the human race, mournful tone and gesture would have imparted some significance to the otherwise vacant phrase. Yes, sadly, people do what people do! And by tone and gesture, she did impart significance to her words — not moral significance, but the rejection of it. Her tone conveyed a contemptuous lack of interest. Her whole body shrugged. She didn’t use the words, “So effing what?” but that meaning was clearly communicated.

A little torrent of thoughts followed that one through my brain. Thoughts such as these:

Pelosi’s performance was barely noticed. Even conservative media didn’t make very much of it. Perhaps that was an effect of the daily debasement of thought and language by every political person from the president to the demonstrator-on-the-beat. Now even the conservatives may be opining that “people will do what they do.”

Even a few years ago, however, a comment such as Pelosi’s would have ended the career of any politician holding an office that wasn’t in the safest district in the world — supposing that it could not be convincingly explained as having been misinterpreted, taken out of context, et cetera. (Pelosi does get sent to Congress by one of the safest districts in the world, but she doesn’t hold her speakership that way.) It would have been viewed, not so strangely, as an incitement to mob violence. Don’t tell me that change is good and the problem is my difficulty in adapting to change. A change that made politics even a little bit literate and just a little less than wholly destructive would be easy for me to adapt to. The change just noted is not that kind.

Another thing Pelosi said at her press conference was, “I’m not one of those people who is wedded to a, Oh, statue of somebody someplace is an important thing.” Once you’ve decoded that utterance, it may seem strange that she continues to wage a relentless campaign to rid the Capitol of all statues honoring “traitors,” i.e. one-time supporters of the Confederacy. She doesn’t shrug about them. For her, the Civil War is suddenly not yet over. But does that mean she appreciates, and in her own way honors, the importance of gesture, be it verbal or nonverbal, in word or in stone? Does that mean that when she shrugs she is doing the same thing as when she attacks — issuing signals that should be granted their proper semiotic weight, not merely dismissed, like her words, as empty or self-contradictory?

I think that’s true. There is a violent intensity about that Pelosi shrug. The nature of the intensity, however, is neither moral nor intellectual; it is always strictly and mindnumbingly political. I see the Republicans, who do their best not to object to acts of violence and vandalism, as shrugging in the same way. They intensely want to be returned to office, and that is the only thing they want. No other goals, no other values can be expressed or even intellectually entertained. It’s all politics, all the way down. The assumption is the same as that of the Marxist or “anarchist” revolutionaries, who hold that all evil in this world results from inequalities of political power, and that the way to remedy the situation is to give them power over everything.

What this means in practice is that nobody cares about such a nothing thing as a statue, or if he cares, he gets it wrong, because he sees nothing about it except politics, and his own kind of that.

I am distinctly not an admirer of Woodrow Wilson. It’s fair to say that I hate him. He was a racist of an especially disgusting kind, happy not just to segregate but to humiliate, and his actions in regard to the Great War and the so-called peace that succeeded it helped to destroy many millions of lives. But it will be a sad day for me as an Episcopalian when the so-called National Cathedral (really just the Episcopal cathedral in Washington, jumped-up into something “national”) blasts open his tomb and flings his corpse into the street. (It has already obliterated Robert E. Lee from its window commemorating large events in American history. Lee, by the way, was an Episcopalian.)

Why would I feel like that? I’ll tell you. Wilson wasn’t some government flunky who died a week ago, whose cronies demand that streets be named for. He is part of history, real history. Nobody has a fresh quarrel with Woodrow Wilson. For better or worse, he was a world-historical figure. His incorporation into the ecclesiastical architecture recognizes his historical importance. It gives the nave of the cathedral some interest, even if the interest is the derisory one of people like me. I don’t visit the cathedral to worship Wilson; I visit it, if I do, to worship God. I know the difference, and so does everybody else. To picture someone crying out in terror because he entered the church and beheld the tomb of Wilson — that’s what people supposedly feel when they confront the monuments of racists and imperialists and so forth. But nobody feels that way. Even little children don’t — even if you compose terrified and outraged letters and mail them out in the children’s names.

Wilson is a hard case for me, because most of the things for which he is memorialized are things I detest. But I don’t make the mistake of working myself into imagining that he’s memorialized for his racism. I know that’s not true. If anything, he’s memorialized for qualities that his newly generated critics — including the flunkies at Princeton who are busy erasing his formerly prestigious memory at that institution, of which he was once the self-righteous and divisive CEO — are themselves very pious about: internationalism, modern liberalism, custodial government.

Let’s move on to Thomas Jefferson, for whom I have some admiration. His statues are being removed. Why? Because he was a slaveholder, hence frightening to college students and other living beings. But that’s not why those statues were created. They were not created to honor a significant slaveholder, of whom there were many. They were created to honor, as his tomb records, the “author of the declaration of American independence, of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.” If you don’t know that, you don’t know enough to make any demands. That Declaration, by the way, was the favorite argument of the abolitionists, who used it with enormous effect. But several of the statues toppled by demonstrators happened to be those of abolitionists. Shrug. Who cares? People will do what they do.

Here’s the last thing, and very important to me. It isn’t morality, or history, or politics. It’s art.

I have a very well-developed contempt for Napoleon Bonaparte. (If you want to know why, read the summary of his career in Harold Nicolson’s magnificent The Congress of Vienna.)But the last thing I want is for his tomb in the Invalides to be blown up, and his ashes scattered to the winds. Why? Because not only is it fully involved in history, it’s also an impressive work of architecture. What do you want in its place? A supermarket? A Bureau de la Diversité, de l’Equité, et de l’Inclusivité?

You wouldn’t? Some people would — such people as the monstres intellectuels who insisted that Notre Dame be rebuilt in postmodern style, so as to dissociate it from the political sins of the past. Which would also mean dissociating it from history, from beauty, from its lordly place in its city, from its millions of cultural connections, bad and good — but mainly good, and each one interesting in its way. What could replace them? Nothing. But the thing that would try to replace them would be a work of politics, not a work of art.

Art. Remember that? Remember that Pelosi’s party always wants to provide more and more of it, by ever more generous funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and similar outfits? Meanwhile, the party condones and endorses the massive destruction of, yes, art. The statues that earned the shrug of the Speaker of the House are art, and often they are great art. The statue of Theodore Roosevelt (not an ideological friend of mine) that stands in front of the Museum of Natural History in New York — the statue that’s going to be removed, without regard to the fact that Roosevelt provided a lot of the museum’s collections — qualifies as great art. Other endangered statues are good art — and how much do we have of that? The crap the NEA funds? Please.

The statue of Andrew Jackson standing in the center of Lafayette Park, across from the White House, was virtually lost, set upon by a mob of screaming “protestors” who threw ropes about it to tear it down, when the president gave the order for an armed force to save it. This statue, dedicated in 1853, is said to have been the first bronze statue made in the United States, and the first equestrian statue, and the first equestrian statue in the world “made with the horse rearing on two legs with no additional support.” The sculptor had never seen an equestrian statue before, but his work was a distinguished engineering and artistic success.

Whether a statue is a good work of art or not, it has a peculiar dignity, and a peculiar pathos. The statue of a human being stands alone, night and day. You can observe it. You can ignore it. You can study its artistic qualities. You can walk around it in the deep night, fighting your fears — not about the statue, whomever the statue represents, but about poverty and neglect and lovelessness and the deaths of friends, and your own death. You can watch it age as you age. You can make love by it. You can tell people to meet you next to it, because everyone knows — or knew — that it will always be there. But when you see it destroyed by a cheering mob, you understand how vulnerable it is — vulnerable, like yourself. Really, anyone at any time could have defiled it or destroyed it, just as you or any other human being can be destroyed or defiled by someone who gets pleasure out of doing harm. That is scary. Nazis knew this, and made sure to destroy the statues and defile the graves of people they didn’t like. They vented their hate; they also impressed the populace with the fragility of its own existence. Fear has nothing to do with art, but it has a lot to do with political power.

It has been said of bears that human beings have always loved them and wanted to represent them in art, because, of all creatures, they look and act the most like human beings. To wantonly kill such an animal feels to most people like an assault on humanity. A statue is much more intimately related to us. To see the statue of, say, Hans Christian Heg — an abolitionist leader who died at the battle of Chickamauga, fighting to end slavery — pulled from the place where it gave a sense of human life to the dreary approach to the Wisconsin capitol, was to witness the execution of a human being by a mob that neither knew nor cared what it was doing. Afterwards, I’m sure, the executioners adjourned to their favorite coffee houses to savor their feat of political libido. The event was another monumental shrug at all values except the political — in this case, politics of an especially dumb and nasty kind.

It is now being said (by some) that the use of political criteria (otherwise known as community values) to censor speech and gesture, and their culmination in art, is totalitarian. And indeed it is, because abolishing speech you don’t like comes close to abolishing thought you don’t like. But there’s something else to be said.

The other statue destroyed by the gleeful mob at the Wisconsin capitol was that of a female figure dramatizing the state’s motto, “Forward.” The statue, which was the work of a woman sculptor — supposing that you care about women — has been described as “an allegory of devotion and progress.” But people who don’t understand the allegorical language of gesture wouldn’t need to puzzle out a meaning by looking at the sculpture itself. A sign on its base said “Forward.” Apparently the mob understood as little of such things as it understood of Hans Christian Heg. And the mob didn’t care. So this is more than totalitarianism. Even Stalin had respect for art, and a great deal of respect for symbolism. What we have now is barbarism without mask or pretense, reason or excuse.

Stephen Cox is editor of Liberty, and a professor of literature at the University of California San Diego.

July 30, 2020

The New Stories and the Old

by Bruce Ramsey

I don’t follow auto racing, so I’d never heard of Bubba Wallace, a black racecar driver who in June 2020 was told that what appeared to be a noose had been found in the garage stall assigned to him at the race track in Talladega, Alabama. I’ve had CNN on all through the coronavirus time, and they were going on and on about this hate crime of this noose.

American institutions, which are said to be “systemically racist,” took the noose seriously. The racing association issued a statement that “there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, Republican, said she was “shocked and appalled” by the “vile act.” The Trump administration’s Justice Department and FBI began an investigation.

They quickly found that the noose — which really was tied like a hangman’s noose — had been on the pull rope for the garage door since at least October 2019, when the garage was assigned to white drivers.

No hate crime, then.

I accept the argument that under certain circumstances putting up a noose can be a crime — for the same reason Justice Clarence Thomas accepted that a burning cross on a black family’s lawn can be a crime. A threat of violence is not protected speech. But here it wasn’t a threat. It was just a knot on a rope to pull down a garage door.

CNN reported the FBI’s finding. They didn’t argue with it, but they kept talking about it on national television as something that might have been a hate crime, and how serious that would be had it been one. There have been other stories like this, the import of which is that America is a racist country. A deeply racist country. A systemically racist country, meaning that white supremacy is baked into the cake and not merely an ornament on it. And the message this conveys is that nothing has changed.

Nobody actually says that nothing has changed, but essentially it means that. To the young this is deep wisdom. They style themselves “woke,” and I think, yeah, that’s about right. You just woke up. You just got here. I am nearly 70. I have been here a long time, and you are telling me that nothing in my country has changed during that time, or at least, nothing important enough for you to concede to me. But you weren’t here.

I am reminded of a passage from George Orwell: “One ought also to stick to one’s own world-view, even at the price of seeming old-fashioned: for that world-view springs out of experiences that the younger generation has not had, and to abandon it is to kill one’s intellectual roots.”

Growing up in suburban Seattle the 1960s, I never saw a “whites only” sign, though there were some color bars I didn’t know about. To take an example of a comparatively minor but very insulting practice: The Seattle Times ran wedding photos in the Sunday paper. Until the late 1960s, they never pictured African-American brides and grooms. I didn’t notice; I wasn’t looking at wedding pictures, and I wouldn’t have noticed anyway. I heard about the no-blacks picture policy after I retired from that newspaper. The features editor who changed the policy had died, and the publisher announced her death to a gathering of retirees. And of all the things she’d done in her career, he remembered her for her change in the picture policy back in the 1960s.

The world has changed. A lot.

When I was a kid in the 1960s, the message from adults was that racial prejudice was bad. Teachers in school said it. But almost everyone in my school was white. Just about everyone on TV was white. Except for Sidney Poitier, just about everyone in the movies was white. Some of the songs I liked on the radio were sung by black women (remember the Shirelles?), but the disc jockeys on my favorite top-40 station were all white men. I remember the first time I heard a white female DJ. It was a shock. I accepted it; there was no reason not to have a woman on the radio. But it also struck me that I had never questioned that all the DJs had been men.

Years later, I experienced something similar. I went to a US government office to help a person who was not white. The clerk took down my name and motioned us to sit in a waiting room that was full of people who were not white. After a minute, a government agent, who was white, called my name and we went up to the counter. Instant service! As we walked out the door, the person I had helped said, “That was fast! Next time I’ll know to bring you along.”

And I thought, “White privilege.”

On second thought, probably it was US citizen privilege. The office where it happened was the United States Consulate in Hong Kong, and the people in the waiting room were probably not citizens.

White privilege in Hong Kong was real enough, and it occasionally revealed itself. If my wife wanted some purchase returned to the store, it was my job to take it back, because I was white and she was Chinese, and if you wanted a refund it went much better if you were white. Another case: we had a Filipina maid. I commented once how amusing it was that on Sundays, a day off work for both of us, she would dress up and I would dress down. She replied, “But sir, if I don’t dress nicely, the people in the shops will think I don’t have money. You’re white; they know you have money.”

Those were eye-openers, but it was not in America.

I try to imagine what it was like in America for the generation before me. The difference between their experience and mine is at least as much as the difference between mine and the “woke” generation of today. Probably more. My parents lived in the South during the war, and my mother told me about segregation. At the bank, the men in line in front of her stepped aside so she could go first because she was a white lady — but she was a Northern white lady, and it felt wrong. When she wanted yellow cornmeal, she was told that was what the Negroes used, and she had to go to the Negro store for it. Earlier in the war, in the spring of 1942, she had gone to downtown Seattle to say goodbye to her Japanese house cleaner, who being put on a bus to an internment camp in Idaho. She told me she cried, but nobody dared object to the internment.

When I was growing up, all this was ancient history. She was telling me these stories because she had experienced them and I would not.

Step back to the years before the war. In my reading of historical newspapers, I recently came across a news story from July 1929, when my mother was still a teenager. America’s new First Lady, Lou Hoover, invited the wives of newly elected congressmen to the White House for tea. Among them was Jessie De Priest, the wife of the first black congressman elected in the 20th century, Oscar De Priest, Republican of Chicago. (There are 55 members of the Congressional Black Caucus today, all of them Democrats.) In 1929, the First Lady’s invitation of a “negress” caused an uproar among whites in the South. The Seattle Times printed a letter from a white woman defending her fellow Southerners. “The white race is often in an ominous minority in the far South,” the woman wrote. “We there need to be let alone, while we keep the negro in his proper place.”

In an adjacent editorial titled, “A Mistaken Attitude,” the Times’ editors gently disagreed. “While asking to be ‘let alone,’ the writer indicates reluctance to let others alone in their judgments,” they wrote.

None of that could happen today — not the objection, not the Southern woman’s argument, and not the namby-pamby reply. It wouldn’t have happened that way in the 1960s. The story is from another world.

Here is a news story from the Seattle Times of Sept. 22, 1929:

Spite Suspected as Negro’s Home Burns

Spitework was seen by the sheriff’s office yesterday in the unaccountable burning Thursday night at Auburndale, near Auburn, of the newly purchased little home of George W. Summers, Seattle negro.

He had invested a life’s savings in the little frame house near the highway, he told the sheriff, and to find his investment completely wiped out had been a shock. Prior to moving out into the valley he had been living at 1518 Yakima Ave., traveling to and from Auburndale during the day to build and make repairs on his house.

On finding the smoking ruins, he said, he visited his neighbors’ homes to learn the cause of the conflagration. Without a single exception, he reported, they refused to speak to him, shutting their doors in his face.

The sheriff’s office was investigating the blaze with the hope of establishing incendiarism and making arrests.

Written today, the story of the torching of George Summers’ house would have none of the condescension of the “little home” and the “little frame house.” It would be full of anger. It would have a photo of George Summers in front of his burned home, it would quote him and his family, if he had any. The story would be all over national TV for a week. Politicians would pontificate about it. There would be protest marches demanding justice for George Summers, and the neighbors who closed their doors would be called to account. Even in the 1960s a story like this would be front-page news locally, and there would have been protests of some kind. In 1929 the torching of this man’s house was a tiny story — three column-inches on page 7. And there was no followup story to pressure the sheriff’s deputies to do their jobs. I believe that had anyone been put on trial for burning down George Summers’ house, the Times would have covered it. And it didn’t.

Back then, when whites burned down a black man’s house, the local sheriff’s office satisfied the press by saying they were hoping for an arrest. Today, a car racing executive thinks a pull rope on a garage door may be a racial threat and it is a major story on national television. In advance of any investigation, the TV people assume it is a racial threat and pontificate about the sickness of “this country.” Down swoop the Justice Department and a phalanx of FBI agents.

That does not look like a racist system.

All the talk about the systemic racism of police focuses on police only. Take the recent killing of Rayshard Brooks, 27, in Atlanta. Yes, a policeman shot him in the back twice when he was running away. But Brooks, who had passed out in his car in a Wendy’s drive-through line, was drunk (blood alcohol of 0.108; legal threshold is 0.08). When he faced arrest for driving under the influence, he fought back. He had recently been in prison under a sentence for false imprisonment, battery, and cruelty to children, and was out on parole, and he knew an arrest would send him back to the pen. In his struggle, he grabbed the officer’s taser and made off with it. None of that justifies two deadly shots in the back, but it is nonetheless damn foolishness to fight an arrest and grab a policeman’s weapon.

The animosity between young black men and police has causes on both sides. Yes, black lives matter. So do people’s attitudes and behavior. It’s not a problem that can be solved by defunding the police and spending billions of dollars on social programs.

The Black Lives Matter movement has a simple, bumper-sticker message about law enforcement: the problem is white police mistreating and killing black men. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis ignited riot and protest all around the country because the story neatly fitted that idea, which people already had in their heads. They were primed for it. Their reaction was, “This again? Enough!” And yeah, enough. No one can justify a cop leaning his knee on a man’s neck — a non-struggling man’s neck — for nine minutes, until the man is dead. But this was not a typical event. In a country with more than 300 million people all doing their thing, atypical events happen. Real events are complicated, and not always what they seem. When a white cop kills a black man, it fits a stereotype. People label it racism before they know the details. Sometimes they are right. But there is also a general problem of police use of lethal force. Unarmed whites get killed by cops, too. Those stories don’t fit the idea that news editors have in their heads, so they are not national news.

Racial feeling exists in all races, and people who are the brunt of it notice it. The Seattle Times recently had a piece by a young writer who was not white, writing about her experience of racism in America. Much of it was her emotional reaction to police shootings in the news — in other words, of seeing it on television and feeling, “I can’t breathe.” But there was no knee on her neck. Her own experience was of the “microaggression” variety — things people said, mostly not intended to hurt, but reminding her that she was different from them.

She had a valid point: people need to think before they speak, and if they say race doesn’t matter, they should make it so. But people also need to keep in mind the distinction between inartful wording and deliberate nastiness, between being annoyed and having one’s house burned down. Intentions matter. Magnitude matters. Individual responsibility matters. Let’s not burn down the Wendy’s and destroy the jobs of the people, black or white, who work there because of what one policeman did in the parking lot.

Bruce Ramsey is a retired Seattle newspaperman and author of Unsanctioned Voice: Garet Garrett, Journalist of the Old Right (Caxton, 2008) and The Panic of 1893: The Untold Story of Washington State’s first Depression (Caxton, 2018). His web page is bruceramsey.net.

July 18, 2020

The End of the Affair

by Robert H. Miller

“How long are those boats?”

I’d spotted a gnomish character in my rearview mirror. He was standing behind my car in the parking lot of the YMCA gym. Two kayaks were strapped atop my car.

“Nineteen feet, one inch,” I responded. He stared dreamily at the sleek, beautiful boats — serious seagoing kayaks.

“What do you use them for?” A fair question in central Arizona.

I told Asher — as he’d introduced himself — that my wife Tina and I were training on the local lakes to go up to Ketchikan to paddle Behm Canal in Misty Fjords National Monument.

“Where is that?”

“In Alaska’s Panhandle. Ketchikan is where the so-called ‘bridge to nowhere’ was proposed. It’s on Revillagigedo Island. We plan on circumnavigating the island, a distance of about 150 miles. It’ll take about three weeks.”

Asher wanted to know more, so I encapsulated the details: “The kayaking would take about ten days. With a few preparation, rest, and sightseeing days, it would be a three-week trip — not counting getting up there and back on the Alaska Ferry.”

Asher’s rheumy eyes glistened with wonder. I told him we’d paddled the entire Inside Passage years ago, and that I’d written the only sea kayaking guidebook to the 1,500 miles of protected waterway. Behm Canal is one of many sinuous, braided channels through the archipelago that forms the Inside Passage. My lifelong project was to try to document all of the many channels for subsequent editions of my guide. At 70, this was likely my last essay.

“What does it take to do that?” Asher’s interest was bordering on dumbstruck reverence.

I kept it simple: “A kayak, a drysuit, basic kayaking and camping skills, stuff to camp out in constant rain — Ketchikan gets 156” of rainfall a year — and temperatures in the 50 to 60-degree range. Not to mention the fitness and determination to accomplish it, requiring constant, hard paddling for about six hours per day at a rate of three mph.”

Stats that would turn most people off . . . Instead, Asher’s eyes filled with wonder and inquiry. Perhaps out of modesty or not wishing to seem intemperate he hesitated to ask whether I thought him capable of accomplishing such a trip, but I could sense his disposition.

His leathery face bristling with stubble, he looked like a craggy, retired stevedore. I asked him how old he was. “Seventy-five,” he answered with a certain gleam in his eye that fished for a compliment or at least respectful acknowledgement. (Above the waist he looked like the Hulk.)

Asher smiled and asked if I did pullups. I answered that yes, as a rock climber, I made pullups part of my work-out routine. So he invited me into the gym for a pull-up contest.

Now I’m not in the least bit macho and avoid any sort of pissing contest, but in the spirit of things I decided to play along. However, instead of heading for the chinup bar, Asher beelined to a cable machine that duplicates the pull-up motion. Its adjustable weights ranged all the way up to 350 pounds, way beyond either of our body weights. To allow for greater-than-body-weight pull-downs, a padded bar atop the thighs could be adjusted to lock oneself in.

Asher pinned the 350-pound plate at the bottom and gave me a knowing glance. He sat down, grabbed the cable handles, locked his thighs under the padded bar, and psyched up to pull the 350 pounds. I counted how many repetitions he completed. He then got up and shot me a sideways grin that implied, “Your turn — equal that, youngster!”

A bit nervous attempting a machine I’d never used before, I disclaimed, “These aren’t real pull-ups,” and then sat down and grabbed the handles. To my surprise I was not only able to pull down the 350 pounds but also to equal Asher’s repetitions. I could have done more but, as I said, I’m not into pissing contests . . . and this was just his getting-to-know each other routine.

Afterward, we walked back to our cars together and, before parting, Asher popped the question: “How much would you charge to take me along on your trip? I have the time and the money.”

Whatever his age, this guy reeked of enthusiasm, was fit and strong . . . and had the time and the money. I asked about his background. When he said he was a “life coach,” I despaired of the turn this encounter had taken. To me, “life coach” suggests a devious combination of servility, condescension, and golddigger; the modern equivalent of a snake oil salesman; a flim-flam man who abets the incompetent to achieve mediocrity and overcharges for adult babysitting.

Asher sensed my skepticism. He elaborated that he helped victims of extreme trauma to regain their lives, specializing in physical recovery and therapy along with psychological coaching. I was reassured. Had he ever kayaked? Yes, he’d circumnavigated Espiritu Santo Island in the Sea of Cortes (he didn’t add that it was an introductory sea kayaking course led by a paid guide), and yes, he owned a kayak, a small toy boat for tooling around on lakes and streams.

It was at this point that my libertarianism got the best of me. “I wouldn’t charge you anything. I don’t want to be responsible for you. But (it’s a free country; you can go anywhere you want and I can’t stop you) you’re welcome to tag along (as an independent, separate entity joining up simply for conviviality, with no responsibility for each other).” Please note, dear reader, that the parenthetical remarks were hidden libertarian premises in my response to Asher. But I was overcome by this man’s infectious enthusiasm, a trait I’d spent years trying to instill in students and clients. There was no way I’d discourage him.

Asher’s eyes gleamed. He was ready to jump out of his skin with excitement. This was, to him, serious bucket list territory. In his mind, hooking up with me was hitting life’s jackpot. He immediately became target fixated.

With just a few weeks before launch, I told him he had to secure a sea-worthy kayak, buy a dry suit (no simple matter for either, since one becomes a second skin while the other locks to one’s hips, converting legs to something akin to a mermaid’s flukes), and read all the preliminary chapters in my guidebook for training, equipment, and necessary skills.

* * *

In the interim, Asher posed a puzzle. He lived in Dallas. He’d run into me by chance while visiting his grandkids in Prescott. After he returned home, his contact with me was sparse, something that worried me no end. Even though I bore no formal responsibility for him, I didn’t just want his passion to be rewarded not just with success; I wanted him to prevail in comfort. He posted no detailed questions about equipment, food, or anything else. He did, however, notify me that that he was paddling his little boat 49 miles a week for training, that he'd bought a dry suit and had located a 14’ kayak for rent in Ketchikan. I responded that he required a larger boat to carry two weeks’ worth of gear and food in an inclement environment.

poster

Asher flew to Ketchikan a few days early — to test his boat, dry-run pack it, and get a feel for southeast Alaska. Tina and I arrived later by the Alaska Ferry with our boats. On the day of departure we met at the Bar Harbor launch ramp. Asher had gotten there early and packed his boat. Watching us pack, he readjusted some of his load; then he revealed that he needed assistance with a couple of things. For one, he couldn’t don his one-piece dry suit by himself; and, his back and shoulders being so broad, muscle-bound, and stiff, he couldn’t snap his spray skirt on the cockpit behind his back by himself.

So much for separate, “independent” expeditions — Asher would be unable to do the trip by himself. I resigned myself to the fact that from then on Asher was our project. Besides his physical therapy training, he was trained in humanistic psychology (as I later found out), a discipline that prejudices its practitioner to interact with and intuit people in certain curious ways. One of these is “group dynamics,” which makes it inconceivable for someone trained in that way to conceive of an aggregation of folks, each of whom acts completely independently. For adepts in “group dynamics,” people in close proximity constitute “a group.” Therefore, he, Tina, and I were “a group,” and no intellectual gymnastics could change that.

June 6 dawned clear and windless. Each of our kayaks on the Bar Harbor boat ramp, fully loaded, weighed in at about 160 pounds. We helped each other launch. Three gigantic cruise ships were docked in Ketchikan harbor. Our first task was to swing clear of them, in case they attempted to reposition themselves. I told Asher to huddle close, which he mostly did, in spite of his tendency to outpace us.

Asher had an aggressive, competitive paddling style, twirling his paddle like a windmill in a gale — tough on the deltoids and a most inefficient motion to maintain continuously for six to eight hours. Focused furiously on his paddling and oblivious to any short-term target strategy, he soon lost track of our location and direction. Inevitably, he wandered off and got into trouble.

Alaska’s winter weather pattern hadn’t yet given up the ghost, a condition of which we were still unaware. Fierce southwest winds picked up in the early afternoon, creating two- to three-foot waves. Seeking the shelter of paddling close to shore, Asher instinctively headed there. But the waves were crashing against the talus blocks built up along Ketchikan’s suburb’s shore as a breakwater to prevent erosion. The waves ricocheted off chaotically, creating clapotis, a localized sea state resembling a punk hairdo. We yelled and screamed, to no avail. The belated realization that he was heading out of the mixing bowl and into the blender caused Asher to reverse course — almost too late. Long sea kayaks don’t turn on a dime. Only his incredible strength saved him.

Revillagigedo Island is incut by six or seven (depending on how one tallies them) fjords that must be crossed in order to circle the island. Carroll Inlet, the widest at two-miles, takes half an hour to cross when paddling with dispatch — something I had to gird my shoulders to do. My right shoulder was throbbing with pain from a previous injury. Asher, with his physical therapy training, assessed it and pronounced it fit for the crossing. Past Point Sykes, on the far side, we scoured the shore for a campsite.

The entire Inside Passage is challenging campsite territory. Banks are steep, rocky, or lined with cliffs. In other places the nearly impenetrable rain forest runs right down to the high tide line. With 15-foot tidal fluctuations what seem like attractive beaches at anything less than high tide can turn into an inundated wallow in the middle of the night. Otherwise, a place that might provide a suitable spot is either marshy or packed with drift logs stacked like giant Chinese pickup sticks.

Back in the 1970s, the National Park Service began kayak patrols in Misty Fjords. As a result of these excursions, it published a handout for kayakers locating the campsites the rangers used. The handout — in descriptive prose, not a dot on a map — indicated two possible spots past Point Sykes. In and out endless coves and around headlands we scoured the shore for the purported spots. No dice. Perhaps after nearly 50 years they’d eroded or been overgrown.

But then, around a bend, we spotted a gently sloping shingle beach in the distance and went for it. Two skiffs were parked on the cobbles. Above the high tide line a giant tarp covered a cleared area. Underneath, a welcoming campfire, log benches, and a rustic counter beckoned. Folks who looked like they didn’t belong out here — draped in dime-store, clear serape ponchos — engaged in frivolous banter. But one who did — big, bearded, and slickered — approached us and offered a hot cup of coffee. I asked if there was an out-of-way spot where we could pitch our tents.

The outfitter pointed to some tiny clearings outside the giant tarp’s protective covering. He explained that at 8 pm — still daylight at this latitude in June — they would all depart and we could make ourselves at home, but by 6 am they’d return and we had to clear out. We were camped in the outfitter’s fishing camp. His business consisted of taking cruise ship tourists out for a day of fishing in backwoods Alaska. We could help ourselves to the bin of bottled water on the counter.

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Tina helped Asher kit up his tent. He had never set it up and was clueless as to how to do it. Afterward he worked on my bad shoulder, which for the rest of the trip caused me no trouble. But Asher’s dinner was a minor cause for concern. While Tina and I cooked up a hot pot of noodles with a tin of bully beef and gravy mix, Asher opened a tinfoil pouch and ate its contents directly with a spoon. Perhaps he was so hungry, I thought, he decided not to set up his stove and heat his dinner, so Tina offered to warm it up on our stove. He declined, saying he hadn’t brought a stove or cooking pot, figuring it would take up space. It was the first indication that Asher had no inkling how the cold and wet could sap one’s strength and morale. But he did gratefully accept a hot cup of tea.

We launched before 6 AM as the new batch of cruise ship dudes arrived. We were headed for Alava cabin, a remote Forest Service building we’d rented for one night. It’s one of a series of backwoods rustic cabins and shelters peppered throughout Southeast that are available for rent and stocked with dry, split firewood. Again, the south winds freshened, creating white caps abeam — difficult, tiresome, and dangerous conditions — especially at Thorne Arm, the second inlet we had to cross.

Behm Canal, with Alava Bay ensconced at its entrance, promised more protected waters than the open Revillagigedo Channel we’d been paddling in. From Alava’s mouth we couldn’t see the cabin, and nearly despaired — it had been a very long day — until around one more incut bend the tiny structure appeared.

The 15-foot vertical tide fluctuations sometimes translated to as much as a one-mile horizontal distance from water’s edge to dependably dry, inland ground, depending on the coastal slope. Today, a quarter-mile carry sufficed. Landing and launching always required multiple gear and boat carries up to or down from camp, since a fully loaded kayak was too heavy to haul. After the schlepping, Asher volunteered to provide us all with potable water — water, I assumed, from the nearby stream — with the two-gallon gravity water purifier he’d brought. But he completed the task so quickly, I suspected something was wrong. It was. He’d filled the Katadyn bladder with salt water. I immediately emptied it, telling him that with salt water the ultra-fine-meshed filter would quickly clog and be useless, adding that it was designed to filter biological contaminants such as giardia, not desalinate sea water.

He had no idea . . .

After the two days of tough paddling we decided to lay over a day at the warm cabin and dry our wet togs. Outside, Behm Canal looked to be in full conditions; it channeled the south winds up its increasingly narrowing seaway. We’d find out later that the winter weather pattern was late in leaving. Still, mornings were relatively calm, allowing us to paddle in proximity and get to know each other better.

Asher was a curious combination of intelligence, ignorance (he wasn’t widely read and had only glanced at my guidebook), wisdom, forbearance, and complete impracticality. Having lived all his life in an urban environment, he was agog at his surroundings. Tides and currents were a complete mystery to him. He asked me to explain them, yet celestial phenomena were outside his ken. If there was a difficult or roundabout way of getting something done, he’d find it first. He said he’d lived his life through metaphors and marveled at our pragmatism and ability to problem solve. From now on, he averred, he was going to make a concerted effort to look at reality as it really was. We called him “the rebbe,” a nickname he found flattering and treasured.

Our first evening out of Alava we again struggled to find a suitable site for camp, a situation made worse by a deteriorating wind and sea state complete with breaking shore waves, mostly on rocks and logs. Finally one tiny protected cove with two flat spots just above that night’s projected high tide sealed the deal, while a short intermission from the incessant rain gave us ample time to set up our tents and fix dinner.

After Tina and I ate, she hurdled and slalomed over and around the giant beached logs to check on Asher. His tent was up and he was recording into his journal. The tent was only slightly bigger than a coffin. To save weight and number of poles, it was asymmetrical, with entry on one side — a design not given to intuitive assembly. Asher hadn’t bothered to read the instructions. A cursory glance indicated everything was fine. But when the night’s deluge began, his tent collapsed, no doubt aided by a pole he had incorrectly forced into the wrong grommet, a pole he subsequently broke, rendering the tent useless. His down bag — a no-no in wet environments — soaked and also collapsed.

But Asher didn’t tell us about his troubles. He soldiered on, thinking hardship on a camping trip was par for the course. His equanimity and good humor never wavered — even when the effects of cold and sleep deprivation began to take their toll. We first noticed subtle changes when the sparkle in his eyes turned tired, when he uncharacteristically stumbled, and when he lingered longer on his chores, and . . . though his paddling strength never wavered, he stopped racing ahead.

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Finally, at one camp where conditions required we set our tents in close proximity, Asher said that his tent didn’t work, adding that he needed a big fire to dry out his sleeping bag. I suggested he give starting a fire a go — no small feat in a rain forest — while Tina assessed his tent and I gathered firewood.

After many tries, I took over and showed him how to start a fire. Meanwhile Tina discovered a pole on his tent that was not only broken but also forced into the wrong sleeve. While he and Tina worked out the tent’s proper composition, I set up a trellis made of branches to hold his sleeping bag the right distance from the fire so it would dry without burning.

After much to-and-froing on the tent Tina figured out that a piece of the broken pole was missing, making her diagnosis much more difficult on such an eccentrically shaped tent. So she found a supple sapling with which to splint the broken pole with duct tape. Asher was very impressed with her ingenuity. By now he was accepting hot drinks from us regularly.

Lunch stops required vigilance, not just for bears but also for tidal fluctuations. Tides come in and go out about every 12.5 hours, so it takes about 6.25 hours for the water to rise or recede. In one hour — about the length of our lunch break — a fifteen-foot tide can wax or wane over two feet. Depending on the slope of the shore, the resulting distance to the water can be altered considerably. This fluctuation affects a beached boat. It can leave a 160 lb. boat high and dry — a pain to refloat; or, on a rising tide, float the boat away. So, during lunch, we had to constantly, incrementally reposition our boats up or down.

Launching on a receding tide called for some fine timing. With the boat partially beached for stability, the kayaker had to insert himself in the narrow and tight cockpit, lock himself in, attach the drum-tight sprayskirt, make sure everything was shipshape, ready his paddle, and have enough draft to knuckle himself and his boat off shore — all made a bit tougher with full dry suits, PFDs, and sometimes gloves. With Asher’s lack of experience and need for help attaching his sprayskirt, his timing was sometimes off and he’d have to get out and start the process all over again.

One day, during the period when he was particularly sluggish from cold and lack of sleep, his timing for launch after lunch was off. Try as he might, he couldn’t push himself into the water as it receded faster than he’d figured. To save time, Tina — being very quick and agile — told him to hold on. She popped out of her boat, ran to him, grabbed his bow, and attempted to help push him into the water.

She lifted and pushed, she huffed and she puffed, but she couldn’t budge 350 pounds of rebbe and kayak. She wasn’t one to give up easily. She tried again. On the third attempt Asher was afloat. But the price she paid was dear.

That evening we reached Manzanita Bay, about halfway around Revillagigedo Island, and well protected from the winds scouring Behm Canal. At almost anything but high tide, the whole bay shoals with sandbars, creating an over-one-mile distance from its entrance to the Forest Service lean-to shelter at its head. Luckily, we arrived at mid-tide — only a half-mile carry to camp. But Tina couldn’t manage it; her shoulder throbbed so. Asher and I lugged everything up.

On one of the long carries up to camp Asher said, “Robert, I want to thank you for letting me come along on this trip. It means a lot to me.”

He had come to appreciate, even admire, my straightforwardness — a quality essential in any wilderness outing, where artifice of any sort can be detrimental. After choosing my words carefully I told him that I did not “let him come along on this trip,” that my premise as to his participation was quite different, especially since he was a stranger to me; and essentially, that where he went and what he did was his business, something I not only couldn’t control but thought wrong to try to control. I couldn’t keep him from kayaking Misty Fjords National Monument and, in fact, didn’t want to quash his enthusiasm, especially since, on first impressions, he seemed to be capable of doing it.

My assumption — and I apologized to him for not being more explicit — was that he would mount his own, solo, expedition completely separate from ours and that if and when we met on the water, we would share in the conviviality without being explicitly dependent on one another.

Asher didn’t respond.

* * *

Tina had a miserable night. Her shoulder was so painful that by morning she couldn’t move her arm. Asher diagnosed it as a rotator cuff injury, one that would require immobilization followed by medical assessment — the rotator cuff being very delicate. There was no way she could paddle. She needed to be evacuated.

Emergency procedures out here are complex. Cellphones don’t work: there are no antennae. A marine radio, which we had, mostly works along line-of-sight only. An EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) sends out a continuous SOS with one’s location. The latter is monitored by the Coast Guard. We activated our EPIRB and sent out periodic marine radio SOSs in case a boat cruised by Manzanita Bay’s entrance. At 75 miles from Ketchikan, had I kayaked out for help, it would be nearly a week in arriving; additionally, I didn’t want to leave Tina in her condition.

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Within a few hours we got a response from a small ecotourist tour boat that had just anchored at the bay’s mouth. The tide was up and they meant to explore the bay. Instead, the captain sent a small Zodiac to pick one of us up and transport us to the mother ship so we could contact the Coast Guard via the boat’s satellite radio.

Second only to my concern for my wife’s injury, the prospect of the expense of a 150-mile evacuation — with 19-foot kayaks and all our gear — overwhelmed me. I couldn’t let her depart alone, and I couldn’t abandon our boats and gear. Asher reassured me, saying he would pay for everything. He recognized his partial responsibility for Tina’s injury.

Asher arranged for a float plane to fly in that afternoon. It could take all three of us and our gear, but not our boats — a detail we’d have to work out after our return to Ketchikan.

We hustled to pack our gear and lug it to the water’s edge. The tide was receding fast. Would the plane arrive while there was enough water to land, load, and take off?

Finally we heard a motor — then saw the plane. The pilot circled once, landed, opened his door, and yelled, “You have one minute before I have to take off!” We ran through the shallows, arms loaded to the hilt, multiple times…with barely enough depth left for the plane to taxi and take off.

* * *

Asher paid for half the airlift . . . and he arranged to have the outfitter who had rented him his kayak pick up our boats — a full-day affair for which he also paid. Tina was advised to wait until she got home for medical evaluation, because of Ketchikan’s questionable specialist health services. Her rotator cuff wasn’t torn, just badly strained, yet still required immobilization.

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By the time we caught the next Alaska Ferry back to Bellingham, the summer weather pattern had settled in, providing calm seas and gentle breezes for weeks on end. But had we continued up Behm Canal, we faced two days of granite cliff shores with only two ledges the Forest Service considered landable and campable. Considering the winter weather pattern, which was still holding, and the Forest Service’s undependable campsite locations, it would have been a dicey two days.

The lesson? Always question your libertarian premises . . .

Robert H. Miller is a builder, outdoor adventure guide, and author of Kayaking the Inside Passage: A Paddler's Guide from Olympia, Washington to Muir Glacier, Alaska, as well as the memoir Closing the Circle: A Memoir of Cuba, Exile, the Bay of Pigs and a Trans-Island Bike Journey, now available from Cognitio Books.

July 12, 2020

Putting Students First

by Dr. Douglas Young

What a blessing to teach college for over 33 years! Educating folks on government and politics is my life’s work, and for the past 21 of those years it has been a particular joy to teach students at the University of North Georgia, where there are so many fine professors, staff, and administrators.

But recent disturbing trends have harmed students across the country. Indeed, on too many campuses there is an obsession with homogenization, bureaucratization, research, and money.

As acclaimed University of Georgia Professor Emeritus Dr. Parker Young notes, “Any college worth its salt is a true free marketplace of ideas.” Yet there has been a huge increase in campuses with constipated “hate speech” codes or climates hostile to free inquiry. In the Orwellian guise of protecting “diversity,” too many higher education administrators restrict basic speech rights and, often invoking “social justice,” too many professors substitute their political bias for teaching many sides of issues. So what should be the freest places in America are often the least free. As the famously liberal Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black warned, “the freedoms of speech, press, petition, and assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment must be accorded to the ideas we hate, or sooner or later they will be denied to the ideas we cherish.”

Universities should provide an outstanding education and vibrant campus life that spur students to grow intellectually, emotionally, and morally. We should not just teach them propaganda but help young people to reason critically. They need to question everything — including their professors — and always think analytically for themselves.

Yet there is also far too much emphasis on uniform “assessment” at college. In ever more freshman and sophomore classes, administrators make professors give the same assignments and use the same “rubric” to grade papers, à la high school. So much for hiring the best teachers and trusting them to create their own class assignments and grading methods. But so many bureaucrats crave the very standardization that has so stifled innovation and achievement in K-12 schools.

Education should help students learn, mature, and achieve the most meaningful lives possible. Yet administrators tend more and more to see students as little more than dollar signs, numbers, and means to get their offices, departments, or schools more funding, recognition, and power. Indeed, many administrators don’t teach and know little and care less about good instruction and the need for schools to create a challenging, yet nurturing, environment for students navigating a vulnerable time in their lives. This is a time for all college and university workers to recall who pays our salaries.

Sadly, too often students get real world lessons in Machiavellian campus politics. In fact, US Secretary of State and Harvard University professor Henry Kissinger concluded that university politics were positively “vicious.” In short, when administrators or professors put personal professional interests ahead of our students, we undermine the very purpose of education.

Alas, the biggest lessons I learned as a graduate student at a large, “prestigious” (see: “publish-or-perish”) university were how not to teach and how never to treat people. Classmates and I got daily doses of just how cold and uncaring too many bureaucrats and faculty can be.

Such ethical concerns go unnoticed as ever more administrators push precisely this publish-or-perish model. When a professor knows he has to get published in X number of officially approved journals by Y date, he easily calculates that time spent with students detracts from researching and writing — and thereby keeping his job. A closed office door with its window papered over and the light on inside tells students to go away. While some professors are inspiring teachers and researchers, that combination is uncommon.

Too many universities covet the prestige of U.S. News & World Report rankings, fallible as these are, and the government funding that follows an emphasis on research. Again, students’ education is sacrificed on the altars of reputation and money.

The surge in online courses (now fully dominant in the corona environment) further compromises instruction. Posting lessons on a computer is a poor substitute for in-person lectures and real-time discussions. There’s also far more cheating with online tests. Yet many schools covet online classes to make more money; digitized students don’t need buildings. One day, a salary-free computer may “teach” 100 such classes.

Making everything worse are the outrageous costs of tuition and textbooks that have followed the huge increases in government grants and loans to students in recent decades. Colleges have responded by spiking costs ever more, causing far too many students to go deeply in debt.

I pray that every university will rededicate itself to providing the best instruction at a reasonable cost to the largest variety of students, and will cherish those students in a warm, welcoming environment that celebrates a true diversity of ideas and free inquiry. May students always come first, and may all educators be Good Samaritans who make a special effort to see that no student is lost by institutional neglect.

Dr. Douglas Young was reared a faculty brat in Athens, Georgia before becoming a full-time professional nerd himself in 1987. Since 1999 he has taught political science at the University of North Georgia-Gainesville, where he also advises the Politically Incorrect and Chess Clubs. His many essays and poems have appeared in a variety of publications, and his first novel should be published soon.

July 6, 2020

Aren’t You Just the Smartest Thing!

by Stephen Cox

“Here I’ve been talking to the most intelligent people in the world, and I never even noticed.”

That’s what Lieutenant Columbo said when he found that the murder he was investigating occurred among the members of a Mensa-like group, consisting of people whose “I.Q.” was in the “top 2%.” (In case you want to know, the Columbo episode in question is “The Bye Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case,” first broadcast on May 22, 1977. It’s one of Columbo’s best.)

I find myself bewildered in the same way, whenever I read or — God forbid — have to listen to this world’s most highly accredited smart people and amazing communicators.

Did you know that only one American president has been a Rhodes scholar, and he was that great intellectual William Jefferson Clinton? Clinton, whose popular nickname is “Slick Willie,” went to Oggsford, where the Rhodes folks sent him, but he didn’t manage to complete his degree. Now consider some of the other names on the Rhodes roll of genius: “Pete” Buttigieg, Susan Rice, Cory Booker, Bobby Jindal, Rachel Maddow, Ronan Farrow. In what sense are these people any brighter than the dude that runs the auto parts store? Or any more worthy of being listened to?

I’ll continue this theme in another way. One measure of your intelligence is the type of words you regard as intelligent. For her use of words — screaming rants against all adults — Greta Thunberg has been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year; she has been made Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Mons; she has been honored by Nature, one of the world’s top scientific journals, as one of the “ten people who mattered in science in 2019”; and she has become so popular among very smart, scientific people that a spider, a beetle, and a snail have been named for her. More ugly little creatures will surely follow.

All this because of words, words that have struck a chord among the brainy people of the world. And here is a sample of the words that Dr. (H.C.) Thunberg utters:

Today is Earth Day and that reminds us that the climate and environmental emergency is still ongoing and we need to tackle both the corona pandemic, this crisis, at the same time as we tackle climate and environmental emergency, because we need to be able to tackle two crises at once.

Her logic is daring: we need to tackle two crises at once, because we need to tackle two crises at once.

Celebrating the connection thus discovered between the two crises, the journalistic reporter of these remarks duly tried to describe what it was:

As the coronavirus has spread across the globe, killing nearly 180,000 people, infecting more than 2.59 million, and devastating the world's economy, climate and environmental activists have called for a global Green New Deal and just recovery that prioritizes a rapid transition to renewable energy and other efforts to reduce planet-heating emissions and pollution more broadly. Recent studies tying poor air quality to COVID-19 deaths have added weight to those demands.

Another daring leap! The virus kills because of “poor air quality,” and poor air quality results from nonrenewable energy. Solution: a global program not just to “devastat[e] the world’s economy” but to destroy it. That’s science for you — always something unexpected. But here’s another scientific discovery: in case you didn’t know it, what has devastated the world’s economy is “the coronavirus,” not the genius political leaders’ responses to it. It was the virus that sat down at its desk and issued decrees that shut down every business on your street. Of course, the virus did its deadly work because of internal combustion engines. If only your hairdresser hadn’t been using fossil fuels! Then she’d still have her job. But that’s just how dumb she was.

Speaking of scientific pronouncements, I want to go back to Nature’s certification of the genius of Greta Thunberg Thought. After all, where are geniuses to be found, if not at Nature? As Heinrich Heine said, “The tips of the mountains see each other.” The great journal of science was pleased to announce that Dr. Thunberg had “brought climate science to the fore as she channeled her generation’s rage.” The more you look at that statement, the stranger it gets. In what sense did a blabby, obnoxious, literally insufferable teenager bring science to any fore? Science, and “climate science” too, had been around for a good long time before Thunberg was injected into the game. And it’s mighty scientific, isn’t it, to say that she channeled (picture a ditch) the rage of her generation. She is certainly enraged, but what’s the evidence that her generation ever was? By the way, why is rage so honorable, from a scientific point of view?

The corona scare has taught us that many people who don’t have the sense God gave possums assert their supposed intelligence by trying to control other people, which is what Thunberg and other advocates of a Green New Deal, and evidently Nature magazine, in its role as demagogue, are doing — and that’s all they’re doing. People used to call this (rather loosely) leadership; but since leadership is sometimes felt to impose responsibilities, right now they’re calling it science.

The word implies no duties for people who invoke it, not even the duty to be curious about facts. I recently spent a dismal hour reading purportedly scientific news reports about a “spike” in corona cases in my county and state — reports that may, as local health scientists aver, licking their lips in anticipation of this happy outcome, result in a rollback of the region’s opening. Have you noticed how often science appears to be on the side of orders and controls, and how seldom on the side of freedom? And have you noticed that people who thrust themselves at microphones are almost always issuing orders or demanding controls? How else could they prove their superior knowledge and wisdom?

Non-scientist that I am, I suspected, as any moderately intelligent person would, that when you do more testing to see whether people are sick, you discover that more people are sick. They are sick, although they mostly didn’t notice it until some scientific people told their boss that they had to be tested, and now they’re part of the spike. My suspicions were confirmed when I discovered that the death rate was stable and, if you looked beyond the headlines, the deaths were still occurring mainly among old people who started off with some dangerous illness. But it took me an hour to find an article, published by, of all things, a local TV station, that mentioned the matter of tests. Someone even put it in the article’s title and in its teaser: “For the second day in a row, the new cases set a daily high, but accordingly, the number of COVID-19 tests reported Friday also reached a daily high.” Times are pretty tough, intellectually, when the mere reporting of simple facts bursts on you like a miracle.

I want to return to leadership. Sometimes actual leadership — bad or good, but actual — reveals itself in “small” ways, such as the ability to know where one’s sentences are going. No matter what guff they gave out, American leaders used to have that ability. No longer. I don’t need to instance the president; examples are omnipresent. Here’s one, taken almost at random from among less illustrious pretenders to leadership. It comes from a recent dispute between the Pennsylvania state legislature and the governor of Pennsylvania about whether the legislature can pass a resolution that ends the Democratic governor’s (childish and destructive) virus control measures. The Republican Senate majority leader argued that

People need to have the freedom to return to normalcy and decide for themselves the level of engagement with society that they are comfortable doing.

A Democratic state senator counterargued:

If [the resolution] passes, and whether you believe the governor has no input on it or the governor does something with or does nothing and let it become law, it doesn't impact the order that was executed by [Pennsylvania Health] Secretary Rachel Levine under her authority. That is where the closures come in. More importantly, the emergency declaration is not a precedent to her being able to make sure that she can do the order.

The Democrat had the more serious struggle with literacy. I dare you to figure out his first sentence, with all of its input and impact. But both the Democrat and the Republican have difficulty thinking of other verbs than do. Hence such strange feats of diction and syntax as doing a “level of engagement” (Republican) and “do the order” (Democratic). Not even Huey Long would have dreamed of doin’ words like that.

This, I suppose, is “political speech,” of the kind that the Supreme Court is always so concerned about, thinking that “political” is the “core” kind of speech defended by the First Amendment. OK, but do we have to put up with headlines like this?

Denver City Council meeting stormed by protesters demanding for the defunding of the police

Take that, American power structure! I’m demanding for the defunding!

And do we have to put up with Fox News reports about “protesters who have advocated against police brutality”?

To advocate means to speak in favor of something. The abuse of this term began when advocacy, like activism, started to be acclaimed as a profession. Advocate was then in all the smart communicators’ mouths, but unfortunately they, unlike smart people in the past, had never read a book, so how would they know what the word meant? They didn’t realize that “advocate” is what my grandmother, who never went to college, or even high school, but taught in a one-room school out in the fields, easily recognized as a transitive verb, meaning that it takes a direct object. In other words, you advocate something. Immersed in their first, really weird, experience with a word of more than two syllables (well, maybe one syllable), they cast around for a way to put this alluring word advocate in a sentence of their own, and they discovered advocate for. So now we don’t advocate sensible policing; we advocate for such things. If we’re still not clear on the concept, we advocate around them. It’s a small step from that to advocate against, which takes us even farther from the basic question: “Exactly what do you want?”

I work for a university, and I get institutional memos every day, informing me of discussions around something. If I were wondering whom to accuse for the illiteracy of the communicative classes, the overwhelming evidence of illiteracy among educators would tell me where to look. But to return to Huey Long. Were he alive today, he would have no trouble seeing how far the political class has fallen. He would have only to read the words of the mayor of Seattle, responding to a fatal shooting in the part of her city that she allowed to be taken and occupied by communists and “anarchists.”

One knew in advance that there was one response she would not consider. She would not dream of saying what every Democratic politician and servile “scholar” was intoning 24/7, just six months ago: “No one is above the law.” To learn what she did say, after much time expended in earnest thought, you can read the report of the Seattle Times:

Sunday evening, making her first public statement on the shooting, Mayor Jenny Durkan said “thousands of peaceful demonstrators gather almost daily” on Capitol Hill, but acknowledged “more dangerous conditions” at night. She said the city “will continue to make changes on Capitol Hill in partnership with Black-led community organizations, demonstrators, small businesses, residents, and trusted messengers who will center deescalation.”

How smart she must have thought she was as she crafted that epistle to the good citizens of Seattle.

It has all the marks of honing and polishing and careful attention to the best practices of public officials in this wonderful year. If these knights of the press release ever published a manual of rhetoric, it would contain the following advice, firmly grounded on Jenny Durkan’s little masterpiece:

First, just leap in and say the opposite of what is true. Maintain that it’s peaceful demonstrators who occupy an important part of your town — as peaceful as I would be if I camped on your doorstep with a gun, keeping police and firefighters and ambulances away, and keeping you away too if I felt like it, and whenever I got bored, spraypainting your walls with obscene slogans.

Second, logic-chop. The neighborhood is only dangerous at night, which is only a third of a summer’s day. (Remember: it takes but a fraction of one’s day to, for instance, murder someone. You see how unimportant the murder is in the grand scheme of things.) And the place isn’t really dangerous at night; it’s just more dangerous than it was during the day, which we’ve already established as peaceful and therefore not dangerous at all.

Third, say things that have no known meaning and create no communicable image that could be examined and criticized. “Messengers who will center deescalation” — what? When you deploy an impenetrable vocabulary as if you expected your victims to understand it, a large number of them will think, “Gee, it’s too bad I’m not as bright as she is! If I were, I’m sure I’d understand what she’s talking about.” The college “educated” won’t understand you either, but they’ll nod and agree, recognizing the language of their class, and they will defend you as violently as ordinary Catholics used to defend every syllable of the Latin Mass.

Fourth, be inclusive. Anyone with any sense will realize that no meaningful consultation can have occurred between the mayor and “small businesses,” “residents,” or even “demonstrators”; and it’s axiomatic that the first two were never involved in any partnership for change. None of them ever asked for anything like this to happen. But go ahead; pretend that they “continue” to be involved. Then anyone who speaks out against your actions will be giving a slap in the face to everyone you mentioned.

Smart, very smart.

They are all so smart.

Stephen Cox is editor of Liberty, and a professor of literature at the University of California San Diego.

July 1, 2020

Walking Instructions

by S. H. Chambers

Chambers woke cartoon

S. H. Chambers is a cartoonist whose books include Mock Hypocrisies,
Zeitgeist Kebab, and Entertaining Blasphemies.

June 28, 2020

Now I Have Real Power!

by Stephen Cox

“Silence Is Violence.”

The leftist slogan — which is now current but, like most slogans, has been around for a long, long time — brings joy to my heart.

I know, the Right has denounced its “totalitarian” assertion that people are guilty unless they’re busy proving their innocence. I also know that the slogan has a peculiar emptiness, sort of like that old favorite, “The People United Can Never Be Defeated.” Who are “the people”? Grad students in philosophy? Trump voters? Mechanics in Maine? The spouses of mechanics in Maine? Christian Scientists, perhaps? Or possibly the gentlemen who always write to complain when I disparage the Single Tax? But of course, you’re supposed to know what “the people” means, just as you’re supposed to know what “God’s church” is, and if you don’t . . . You’re not a people. You see what I mean. “People” may mean anything, so it comes down to meaning . . . nothing.

And “Silence Is Violence” is even emptier. Imagine that somebody takes the hint and loudly denounces Black Lives Matter. That means he’s a pacifist, right? Or is he a fascist? It’s a mystery.

These objections can be considered, but to dwell on them is to miss the vein. If silence is violence, then I have a ticket to avenge myself on innumerable entities that I detest so much that I can barely stand to speak of them. And not just a ticket to go there, but the reality of being there already. I didn’t know it, but I am already, in the privacy of my own home, ripping, shredding, demeaning, dishonoring (whatever word is right in a given instance) such things as:

I don’t like to talk about these things. I’m sorry I even mentioned them. But rest assured, there are many, many more that I didn’t mention.

And now I find, though I knew it not, that I have the power to ravage them! In fact — ha ha! — I am now ravaging them. Even as you read these words (as I hope you are, because Not Reading Is Violence), they are feeling my wrath!

But ask yourself: am I being silent about you?

Stephen Cox is editor of Liberty, and a professor of literature at the University of California San Diego.

June 25, 2020

Can Government Take What It Wants?

by Michael F. S. W.  Morrison

poster

Here in these United States, several years ago, some everyday, working-class people in Connecticut were told they had to give up their homes and move out because some rich developers, who were coincidentally friends (and financial supporters) of the local politicians, wanted the property.

The homeowners, backed by the admirable and heroic Institute for Justice, fought back. These are our homes, they said, and no one should have the right to just take them, no matter how much money they offer, if we don't want to leave. The case went to the US Supreme Court, and they lost, 5–4. This is the Kelo case, named for Susette Kelo, who fought against the local government’s taking of her home.

Unfortunately, one of the gravest of errors is part of the Constitution. It is called “eminent domain,” and it says governments may indeed take private property, but “for public use.” Not, it should be clear, so that rich developers can become richer — though the excuse given by the politicians is that more expensive properties will bring in higher revenues to the local government.

In the Kelo case, the land thus stolen by local government and intended to be “rehabilitated” to provide more money for that government to throw around, is, after all these years, still unoccupied, unused, and littered with trash.

The Castle, an Australian “comedy-drama” about a similar taking by government, was released in 1997. The Kelo decision was rendered in 2005. Seeing The Castle in 2020, I am dumbfounded by the similarities of the situations: very rich developers trying to use their connections to governments, and the governments’ component politicians, to grab homes from working-class people in order to get richer.

“You can't fight City Hall” is not an accepted truism to the protagonists of this movie or the real-life Kelo case. Naively, they did fight, believing that being in the right, believing that having justice on their side, would lead to victory.

The Castle is a wonderful film, filled with likable people, quirky though they might be. They are decent people. They are good people. They are loving people.

How good, decent, working-class people take on Leviathan can be serious and disturbing, as in Little Pink House, which is about the Kelo decision, or funny and inspiriting, as in The Castle.

I highly recommend The Castle, which can be rented on YouTube.

Review of “The Castle,” directed by Rob Sitch. Working Dog-Village Roadshow Entertainment, 1997, 75 minutes.

Michael F. S. W.  Morrison is a freelance editor and writer, resident in Cochise County, Arizona, and cofounder of the Free State West movement. His young readers’ book, The Calico Truck, is available through Amazon.