Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Next French Revolution?

Democracy minus the Rule of Law equals mob rule and the French Revolution of the 18th Century showed us in graphic detail what happens when the mob is allowed to rule. It would seem, from recent news reports, that the French are even more tradition oriented than most of us believed and might actually be interested in revisiting Robespierre's Terror, from a modern perspective. Out with the Rule of Law and in with whatever the mob deems appropriate at the moment, complete with backing from the Left and labor movements.
What am I talking about? I'm talking about a recent surge of kidnappings - dubbed "bossnappings" by a biased press that is apparently incapable of treating these instances with the seriousness they deserve - that have taken place in mostly foreign-owned businesses in France. Workers, angry about the recession and fears of layoffs, have taken to forcefully holding management captive, sometimes for only a few hours and sometimes - in at least one case - for as much as a day. French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a public statement about how such actions would not be tolerated, to which workers replied by capturing more employers. To date, the police have not interfered with any of these so-called "bossnappings". So much for "will not tolerate". And what of the Left? According to them, this is completely understandable.
Let me nail this down into a more finely-detailed picture. Sarkozy, being the hardnosed law and order kind of guy he is (laugh laugh ha ha), offered to meet with representatives of labor and discuss the issues at hand. The response he got was a classic. "I don't see why we should go and see him just so he can politely insult us, since he seems to think we are delinquents for having detained management for a few hours."
Check out that last phrase, "he seems to think we are delinquents for having detained management for a few hours." Newsflash: You are delinquents! You are kidnapping people and holding them hostage against their will. I don't think that qualifies for a Boy Scout award.
Supposedly this whole situation creates a dilemma for Sarkozy, in that he doesn't know which side to appease. I'm not entirely certain how criminal behavior causes a dilemma for a nation's president - I don't think this has yet reached a level to justify calling out the military so it should probably more accurately be a "dilemma" for the various local police forces. Business interests say that if this continues they will be forced to take their business out of France. Labor interests say the people are desperate and you have to be understanding. You can see the dilemma, can't you? Sarkozy has to choose between coddling criminals or protecting his nation's economy. That must be a real keep-you-up-late-at-night kind of decision.
Those few nations (and they have been very few) in history who have made democracy work for any extended period of time have done so only by having a firm set of rules within which the democracy must operate. So long as those rules are followed and certain natural excesses are kept in check then democracy can flourish and usually provide the safest form of government for human liberty and rights. Once those laws begin to be set aside, however, democracy will quickly begin to transform into its evil twin, mob rule. The tyranny of the mob will never protect liberty or rights and it is exactly where democracy goes when the rule of law is removed.
If you want to see a return of The Terror, Mr. Sarkozy, then by all means continue to sit on your hands and bemoan the desperate nature of your people. Do please warn us, however, if that is your goal so that we can make preparations to prevent the madness from spreading.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Priorities Gone to The Dogs

Try this on for size. This is an actual headline I saw yesterday. "Animal rescuers disappointed over 'first dog' choice". My first thought when I read the headline was, "Who cares?" After reading the article, the only change to my first thought was adding expletives that I will not reprint here. These people actually think it is a newsworthy matter that the Obamas went to a breeder for their dog rather than getting one from a rescue shelter.
This is a major problem with the modern issues movements. Some nutjobs have their one hotbutton issue that is usually irrelevant to the world at large and are genuinely confused and offended when no one else cares. Turn on the news some time. Maybe you'll see that there are more important concerns in the world than where someone acquired a dog. Seriously, what has happened to the human race and any sense of priorities?
I have a laundry list of reasons I am not a fan of Barack Obama. His choice in dogs has so low a priority, it can't even see the list. We have a deepening recession, out-of-control spending, ongoing terrorism concerns, pirates on the seven seas, a couple of wars, and various international and domestic crises that all require delicate attention. How does a choice of dog even rate on this scale?
Personally, I was baffled as to why the whole world was watching the White House for their dog selection in the first place. Okay, it's a cutesy human interest story that people don't have to cringe or worry about. I can see that. So why turn it into a cringe or worry fest? It doesn't make sense.
If you actually feel the need to make international news (this story was on the UK edition of Reuters), can you at least try to have something worth saying to the world?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"You Must Have A Better Plan" Syndrome

I said a couple weeks ago that I was going to return to that nasty notion going around which claims that you cannot say no to a plan unless you have a better plan of your own. I said I was going to come back to it, but I forgot, so now we are going to remedy that oversight. This shouldn't take long because the reality is something that most five-year-olds can recognize.
I know almost nothing about automotive engines. I can change the oil, change the tires - in a pinch - change the spark plugs ... You get the idea. If it's basic tune-up-type stuff I can probably handle it, but if my car needs something more than that, I call a mechanic. However, if my neighbor came to me and said he was going to design the next best eco-car by using gerbils on a treadmill, the fact that I couldn't do better would not prevent me from telling him that his idea was stupid.
That's an extreme example, I know, but it should make the point. Being able to formulate a plan and being able to determine the validity of a plan are not necessarily the same skill. Yes, being able to formulate a plan makes it easier to determine the validity of a plan, but it is not mandatory.
The same rules applies to our current economic mess. According to the Left, the Right is doing something inherently wrong by saying no to certain spending plans without having a better plan of their own. Because it takes more knowledge and skill to spot the stupidity of a budget than to write a comprehensive budget, right? Of course not! You cannot convince me that anyone seriously believes that. The situation here is not that anyone actually believes you cannot say no without having another option. The situation is, instead, one of distraction. If the Left harps on the "they don't have a better plan" idea then they don't have to actually consider the complaints or acknowledge the flaws in their own plan. Unfortunately, it is you and I who get to pay for that head-in-the-sand mentality.
When you are spending trillions of dollars of someone else's money and someone comes along and tells you that you're doing it wrong, I don't care if they have a better plan or not. You slow down long enough to examine their complaints and try to see if maybe they have a point. Trillions of dollars! Not your money! Stewardship and responsibility! Which one of these ideas says run full speed ahead and ignore anyone who claims there's a cliff in front of you?
Those of you on the Left who are catching this sickness from your party's leaders, shut up. It's your life and well-being on the line too. Please tell me that you are not so ideologically obsessed that you cannot see that. Since when was stopping to examine the facts a bad thing?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pirates Vs. Coast Guard

I spend so much time on this blog correcting faulty language usage that I sometimes think I should be paid as an online dictionary. The latest Somali pirate crisis gives me yet another opportunity to point out that words have meaning.
First of all, I want to say congratulations and thank you to everyone involved in rescuing Captain Phillips. Job well done!
Now, on to that pesky language problem again.
I've seen a number of people trying to justify the actions of these pirates, calling them the Coast Guard for a nation with no government and no other form of national self defense. The Somali people have a legitimate complaint in the way their waters have been illegally treated by many foreign parties and they have a right to defend their territory from such actions. Having a legitimate complaint, however, does not justify any and every possible action that one might take to remedy the complaint. A wrong action remains a wrong action. In fact, it can become an even worse action because it removes attention from the legitimate complaint and focuses it on the bad behavior.
The distinction here stems from the same childish, self-centered mentalities that are the cornerstone of most criminal behavior. "I want it so you are wrong to stop me from having it." Witness the pirate response, threatening retaliation against the American "aggression". Just making such a statement requires a willful dismissal of the fact that the Somali pirates initiated the aggression and the Americans only responded. Witness the number of people who are trying to claim that pirates are a coast guard, a claim they would never accept if the pirates' tactics were turned on them.
A coast guard defends a nation's water ways against illegal or hostile activities. A coast guard does not indiscriminately attack and kidnap innocent bystanders! When the Somali fishermen banded together to try to stop foreign ships from committing illegal activities in their waters, they were completely within their rights and in the right. At that point, they could easily be called a coast guard and even deserved credit and praise for taking it upon themselves to defend themselves. When they branched out to kidnapping for ransom, they stopped being right and stopped being in any way justified or justifiable.
Many of you know that I am a writer of fiction as well as blogs like this. After the events of 9-11, I was troubled by a lot of what was happening and a lot of what was being said, but I could not find a way to put my troubles into satisfying words. So I created a fictional character to put them into words for me. Many of you who read my fiction have expressed to me that he is my most-loved character, so there is no need to go into too much detail here. I bring it up only because one of the most troubling issues I felt a need to answer then applies perfectly to this situation as well:
"You’re slavers! You trade other people’s lives for your goals. Whatever wrongs were committed against you don’t even matter anymore; you’ve buried them so deeply under your own crimes. You’re everything evil that happens to good ideas when they’re carried by weak people. You’re weak because you let it make you the same monster you’re fighting. Or maybe you were already the monster and just needed an excuse."
As short as it is, I believe that is the only speech I have ever put into the mouth of one of my characters, but it was a speech that expressed my frustration with the debate as it stood and it is a speech that still expresses my frustration with the debate as it stands.
"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster." It is probably the best known and most used quote from Friedrich Nietzsche but I sincerely wish that more people who claim to fight monsters would pay attention to what it means. Monsters must be fought, but creating new monsters in the process helps no one.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Some Comments on Liberal and Libertarian

Anyone who spends any times here knows I spend lots of time reading on the internet and that I do so from a wide variety of sources. I do not pull my news from "conservative" sources or "liberal" sources" or blah blah blah. I read across the spectrum. If I find something of interest from a source I know has a definite slant or that I know others strongly believe has a definite slant, I will go find other sources to confirm the details (unless I'm commenting on the article itself and not on the news in the article, of course). I read sources with which I definitely do not agree because I believe in the maxim Know Thy Enemy. Because of this, I come across all kinds of goofiness and strange stuff.
Two things I've been seeing large doses of lately are misuse of or pointless arguments about the words "liberal" and "libertarian". Much of this comes from idiots who are just trying to make an ideological statement. Some, however, comes, from people who are trying to "prove" how educated they are by quoting classic French Libertarian philosophers (as though philosophies never change or a modern political movement would be 100% based in a single classic philosophy) or by pointing that that America's Founding Fathers were "liberal" (as though using the same label equals standing for the same things). Because I do believe that both of these are important words, allow me to take a few minutes to clear up some misconceptions.
We'll start with "liberal" because that, in this case, will be the easier one. For one thing, you'll rarely see me use the word. Unlike most commenters, I fully understand that it is a highly-charged word that has multiple meanings. Put simply, it potentially means so much that it practically means nothing. You cannot say "liberal" and have anyone actually understand you unless you also apply various other conditions to clearly present context. Yes, the Founding Fathers were quite liberal for their time (that accented phrase is quite important here) but that does not, in and of itself, mean that they would agree with or support someone who was liberal for another time. The term "liberal", in this usage, is entirely context dependent. Without a statement of when and where, it has no meaning and differing points of when and where can give it very different meanings. Yes, Classic Liberalism is the foundation of the concepts of equal and civil rights (going all the way back to the ancient Greeks) and yes the Left often (though far from always) gets a better scorecard in this area. Yes, it has been the modern Left who have spearheaded the civil rights and equal rights movements (and they do deserve praise for this), but it has also been the modern Left who have hijacked the civil and equal rights movements to turn them into an Animal Farm "some are more equal than others" agenda (and they deserve condemnation for this). In addition to this, Classical Liberalism has nothing to do with environmentalism, socialism, welfare, or any number of other ideas that define the modern Left. This is why you will rarely see me use the word "liberal" when speaking of the Left and this is why making comparisons between the modern Left and the Founding fathers - comparisons based solely on the fact that both can be called "liberal" - is just plain silly.
Libertarian is a bit more tricky because it is a loaded term with which few people are truly even familiar. I've seen people - including some of those smarties quoting French philosophers - who equate Libertarianism with anarchy. While this may or may not be true in that French philosophy class (I don't think it is, but I haven't studied enough French philosophy to say for certain - I can say that the French Libertarian philosophers I have studied certainly did not equate their philosophy with anarchy) it is adamantly not true in the modern political movement that calls itself Libertarian. It is a centerpiece of the political Libertarian platform that there is a legitimate role for limited government. While the stress there should be on "limited" (as in, as tiny as you can get away with), accepting a legitimate role for even a minuscule government is miles away from anarchy. In fact, it is worth noting that, when Libertarians and Anarchists have to make common cause with other political groups, you can almost depend on self-professed Libertarians lining up with the Right and self-professed Anarchists lining up with the Left. You do the math.
There are those who laugh at Libertarians saying such things as, "How can you believe government is too inefficient to handle welfare but is more efficient at warfare?" Well, you kind of missing the point. Government inefficiencies are not the reason for the belief in limited government. They are simply one point that even non-limited-government types can grasp and go along with. Government may or may not actually be more efficient at warfare (though governments as a whole have certainly had plenty of practice) but warfare is one of government's only legitimate roles. Those classical and neoclassical philosophers who espoused the ideals of liberty and equality upon which the Libertarian movement is based all taught and demonstrated that one of the only reasons that free people accept a government is defense of the people. Defending from threats both external (military) and internal (police) fits squarely within the Libertarian definition of limited government, not for reasons of efficiency or inefficiency, but because it is a legitimate function of government.
I had to laugh when I read one of those smarties who was equating Libertarian with anarchy ask another commenter, "Have you even read Ayn Rand?" First of all, Rand was not the founder of modern American Libertarianism. She was the founder of Objectivism. There is a big difference. While the two share many points in common (and some of the principles of Objectivism, as stated in Rand's novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, were the starting points of Libertarianism), the former is a political philosophy that seeks to define the limited and legitimate function of government while the latter is a moral and ethical philosophy that seeks to define proper behavior for all thinking people. You might notice a difference in goals there. However, in answer to the question (which wasn't asked of me, but I'll answer anyway), yes I have read the books, numerous times. Have you? Rand stated repeatedly that the military, the courts, and the police were the only legitimate functions of government. Not, apparently, an anarchist.
To use one of Ayn Rand's favorite phrases (it seems appropriate here), words have meaning. If you use them without knowing their meaning or use them incorrectly despite knowing their meaning then you are a fool who hurts not only your own cause but all other causes around you as well. There are many of things for the Left and Right to argue about but, since neither side seems very skilled with the use of a dictionary, I would suggest that labels not be one of them.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Some Important Gun Control Myths

I was reading yet another gun control article in the online edition of the New York Times this morning and, of course, I read through the comments section as well. It was rather disturbing. The amount of false information and just plain dumb ideas out there is staggering.
Full disclosure: I do not personally own a gun and never have. I have often considered getting one but I have a finite amount of money and there was always something else I would rather buy. However, I grew up around lots of guns, learned the shoot at a young age, and was taught a healthy respect for guns at around the same time I learned to walk. I have also worked in both the U.S. Army and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and I was armed (and trained) in both jobs. I have a large amount of gun experience from hunting, military, and law enforcement angles.
I am an avid supporter of the right to bear arms and there are a number of critical myths that must be discussed and dismissed if there is ever to be a rational answer to this constant argument.
MYTH: Probably the most pervasive myth on this subject is the idea that the 2nd amendment only pertains to people in the militia (which is currently translated as military and police, a translation that, itself, does not hold up to scrutinization). Even if we ignore proper grammar (please note the comma placement) or definitions of the time (look up the 17th century meaning of "regulated"), this myth does not hold for a simple reason: The same Congress that put the 2nd amendment before the states also passed a law that defined the word militia for legal purposes. That law stated that the militia was all citizens who were otherwise of a legal age and allowed to vote. Restricting gun ownership to members of the militia would not then be much of a restriction, would it?
MYTH: The second most pervasive myth in the gun control story is that gun control laws are even worth writing. The majority of gun-related crimes committed in America are already committed with illegal guns or by people who illegally possess guns. Existing laws do nothing to slow down criminals. New ones will not do any better.
MYTH: It is commonly believed that we have a high rate of gun-related crimes because we have a high number of guns. Allow me to direct your attention to Switzerland where there is a gun in almost every home and no corresponding high rate of gun crimes. Do the math.
MYTH: Countries with strict gun laws have lower violent crime rates. This is a simply ridiculous claim. Mexico and most of South America have extremely restrictive gun laws but they are riddled with violent gun issues. And no, most of those guns do not come from America. The ATF's own report on the subject states that only about 17%-19% of those guns are from here and most of those were stolen from legitimate shipments to military forces. If we look at places like Great Britain and Canada, they actually do have a lower gun crime rate, but they have equal or higher rates in other violent crimes and those rates have gone up since their gun laws became more restrictive. I fail to see how trading one set of violent crimes for another is really helping anyone.
MYTH: Hand guns have no purpose other than killing people. This one just makes me laugh. It only gets stated by people who know nothing about guns. Even if we discount such things as competitive target shooting and plain collecting (two points that, arguably at least, don't actually address the myth), you have obviously never been out in the country if you believe this statement. I'll give you a simple example. When I was growing up, we had a small ranch in the south Texas brush country. My dad was out walking the brush one day [I believe he had been hunting - at any rate, he had both his rifle (which was properly slung for walking) and his pistol (which was holstered on his hip)] when he came within a dangerous distance of stepping on a rattlesnake. There was no way, in the close reach and time allowed, that he could unsling his rifle and bring it to bear fast enough to keep from being bit. He could, however, draw and use his pistol in the time and space allowed. I am personally grateful to report that this is exactly what he did and, because of that pistol, the snake died and my dad did not. In response to one of the commenters on that article, this is exactly why you often see cowboys wearing sidearms when they are in the field. It has nothing to do with romanticized dreams of the Old West.
MYTH: One of my favorite myths from the gun control lobby comes from those who actually acknowledge the true intent of the 2nd amendment. The admit that the point was to have an armed citizenry to defend against government abuses but claim that the point is moot now that the government has such things as tanks, bombs, and fighter jets. I have a one-word answer to this claim: Afghanistan. Using almost nothing but infantry-style and homemade weapons of the type that virtually any fool could make with spare parts, this country has fended off not one but two superpowers armed with the most advanced modern military hardware. Modern technology means nothing if you cannot fit it where you are using it or if you are not willing to use it in a given location. Take a look at Ireland during the height of the NRA conflict. How many tanks or fighter jets did you see England deploying?
MYTH: The final myth I want to cover here is the most ironic and the most disgusting - the myth that you do not need to defend yourself because that is why we have police. My instinctive response to this myth is laughter. It's quickly followed, however, by the urge to cry and then by anger. This myth is ironic because it is usually being spewed by people who are, in every other case, anti-police. It is disgusting because it is antithetical to everything a free society is supposed to mean. Dependence does not promote freedom. You are, in fact, not free in the exact degree to which you are dependent. Furthermore, the courts have upheld numerous times that the police are not obligated to protect you. Not only are they not obligated to protect you, more often than not they can't. The most common job of the police is to investigate and apprehend after the fact. Brings to mind the old adage, I'd rather be judged by twelve than carried by eight. The only person directly responsible for your safety is you. Abdicate that responsibility at your peril.
I'll illustrate my disgust with this last myth (and a common flaw with the gun control mentality) with a quote from one of the commenters: "Liberty is the freedom to make the choice to let someone else (like the police) carry the guns to protect you." We'll ignore, for the moment, the Orwellian implications in this sentence and pretend it is a serious statement that deserves a serious answer. Freedom is indeed a choice, but the freedom to choose one thing must also include the freedom to not choose that thing. Without both sides of the choice, you don't actually have a choice, let alone freedom. The commenter defeats his own position by making it a choice.
This is, at its root, the biggest problem with the gun control lobby. They want everything to be one sided and they want to call that one side a choice and freedom. Gun control advocates maintain that, if gun control can save one, it's worth it. By that same token, however, if responsibly armed citizens can save one life, isn't that worth it? Since these two statements must be equally valid yet cancel each other out, there is obviously a problem here. Emotional hand-wringing is not going to help anyone. Many claim to want "reasonable" restrictions. If you want to be reasonable, throw out the myths. Then we can talk.