Friday, April 23, 2010

Why grieve over dead politicians?

Is there any reason to grieve more over the loss of a politician or group of politicians than the loss of a stranger or group of strangers? No, writes Jakub Bozydar Wisniewski; in fact, "there seems to be a reason to be particularly restrained in one’s grief, since the victims belonged to a profession that the libertarian worldview univocally condemns as parasitical and destructive."
[N]o matter how personally nice, warm and charming the deceased could have been (and on such occasions the state apparatus of propaganda will do everything it can to bombard everyone with endless testimonies to that effect), all their professional activities were ultimately based on a barbarous method of violent coercion.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Eat your spinach

That is the message, in essence, that Ron Paul is saying to the U.S. government and the American people, according to Justin Raimondo, and in a recent poll it has put him in a dead heat with a sitting president.
As I said in a recent issue of The American Conservative, however, I don’t think the prospects for a left-right alliance on the issue of war and peace are all that bright, to begin with because what used to be the left has essentially been absorbed into the Obama cult, and co-opted by power. In the end, all liberals really care about is getting their "fair share" of the spoils, for themselves and their supposed constituencies. So what if the price they have to pay is going along with mass murder in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan? We all have to die sometime.

I harp on Ron Paul for all sorts of reasons, but the one of most interest to my readers is the fact that he is by far the most successful antiwar politician in recent American history. Derided as being one of those dreaded "isolationists," and attacked even by some alleged "libertarians" precisely for that – and because he appeals to the common man – he not only insists on raising this issue, for him it is central to his analysis of what he calls the "Welfare-Warfare State," a phrase coined by the late Murray Rothbard. Dr. Paul’s diagnosis of a nation fast exhausting itself in an orgy of spending and militaristic adventurism has the stark ring of truth about it – an alarm bell ringing in the night.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

High court declares income tax unconstititional

This is true. It did - in 1895. Today, the Supreme Court wouldn't even listen to arguments opposing the income tax, and not because it's part of the Constitution. Government growth, to which both major parties are fully committed, requires government to squeeze every penny it can get from wherever it can get it. The Court understands that, and sees to it nothing interferes with government's revenue stream. As Thomas Paine wrote in Rights of Man, government "watches prosperity as its prey, and permits none to escape without tribute."

It wasn't always this way. For the first 70 years of our history, the country somehow got by without an income tax. Then Lincoln decided he would have a bloody war, and government's expenses grew astronomically. It turned to counterfeiting by issuing greenbacks, and it stretched its taxing powers. Congress approved an income tax in 1861, and the first deadline for filing returns was June 30, 1862. There was no collection agency then. The government's haul that year amounted to $0.00. Obviously, it would need credible threats to carry out the theft, since the unpopularity of Lincoln's war and the low level of egalitarian influence meant that no one voluntarily surrendered the money they had earned

On February 25, 1913 the "soak the rich" amendment - the Sixteenth -- became part of the U.S. Constitution. The income tax went from a "class tax to a mass tax" during World War II, with the passage of withholding - a temporary measure needed to fund Roosevelt's war. It's no coincidence that the bloodiest war in mankind's history - 50 to 70 million deaths, most of them civilians -- occurred when governments had their hands deep in their citizens' pockets, by means of the income tax and their central banks.

Withholding and monetary inflation are the twin pillars of government revenue, craftily designed to "fry" as much revenue as possible from U.S. citizens and dollar holders without igniting a rebellion.

Today, few people care about any of this one way or another. Of those who do care, most believe taxes should be more equitable, with loopholes closed, etc. Those opposing big government, or government at all, are marginalized as kooks or racist right-wingers. And that is government's greatest victory of all.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

2010 Census and the Post Office

I recently had a thank-you card returned by way of the U.S. Postal Service. The stamp I had affixed to the envelope featured the Liberty Bell, while in returning it to me the USPS canceled it with the message "2010 Census / Mail It Back."

My card came back because it was "not deliverable as addressed." What blunder did I commit? I had mailed the note to a one-building retirement home and specified the correct name, street address, city, state, and zip. But for the sub-address, I wrote "Apt. 321" instead of the correct "Apt. 231." The mail carrier could have delivered it with the information I specified. If I had left the apartment number off entirely, it likely would've been delivered.

I recalled that the 2010 census form contains more "blunders" than my little note card. It is clearly intrusive on privacy and goes well beyond the restrictions imposed by the Constitution, which, though highly elastic in today's world, still purports to be the highest law of the land.

With the Liberty Bell marred with the wavy lines of the cancellation message urging us to mail the 2010 census back, one is strongly tempted to comply, returning it the way it was received, unopened, as the USPS did to my little card. Their message also serves as a reminder that liberty itself had been canceled and our lives would forever be at the mercy of omnicompetent bureaucracies.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Source: Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Published: October 1961 Author: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

HARRISON BERGERON

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April, for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron’s fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.

It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn’t think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn’t think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel’s cheeks, but she’d forgotten for the moment what they were about.

On the television screen were ballerinas.

A buzzer sounded in George’s head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.
“That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did,” said Hazel.

“Huh?” said George.

“That dance—it was nice,” said Hazel.

“Yup,” said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren’t really very good—no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn’t be handicapped. But he didn’t get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts.

George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.

Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself, she had to ask George what the latest sound had been.

“Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer,” said George.

“I’d think it would be real interesting, hearing all the different sounds,” said Hazel a little envious. “All the things they think up.”

“Um,” said George.

“Only, if I was Handicapper General, you know what I would do?” said Hazel. Hazel, as a matter of fact, bore a strong resemblance to the Handicapper General, a woman named Diana Moon Glampers. “If I was Diana Moon Glampers,” said Hazel, “I’d have chimes on Sunday—just chimes. Kind of in honor of religion.”

“I could think, if it was just chimes,” said George.

“Well—maybe make ’em real loud,” said Hazel. “I think I’d make a good Handicapper General.”

“Good as anybody else,” said George.

“Who knows better’n I do what normal is?” said Hazel.

“Right,” said George. He began to think glimmeringly about his abnormal son who was now in jail, about Harrison, but a twenty-one-gun salute in his head stopped that.

“Boy!” said Hazel, “that was a doozy, wasn’t it?”

It was such a doozy that George was white and trembling, and tears stood on the rims of his red eyes. Two of of the eight ballerinas had collapsed to the studio floor, were holding their temples.

“All of a sudden you look so tired,” said Hazel. “Why don’t you stretch out on the sofa, so’s you can rest your handicap bag on the pillows, honeybunch.” She was referring to the forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a canvas bag, which was padlocked around George’s neck. “Go on and rest the bag for a little while,” she said. “I don’t care if you’re not equal to me for a while.”

George weighed the bag with his hands. “I don’t mind it,” he said. “I don’t notice it any more. It’s just a part of me.”

“You been so tired lately—kind of wore out,” said Hazel. “If there was just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them lead balls. Just a few.”

“Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out,” said George. “I don’t call that a bargain.”

“If you could just take a few out when you came home from work,” said Hazel. “I mean—you don’t compete with anybody around here. You just set around.”

“If I tried to get away with it,” said George, “then other people’d get away with it—and pretty soon we’d be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn’t like that, would you?”

“I’d hate it,” said Hazel.

“There you are,” said George. “The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?”

If Hazel hadn’t been able to come up with an answer to this question, George couldn’t have supplied one. A siren was going off in his head.

“Reckon it’d fall all apart,” said Hazel.

“What would?” said George blankly.

“Society,” said Hazel uncertainly. “Wasn’t that what you just said?”

“Who knows?” said George.

The television program was suddenly interrupted for a news bulletin. It wasn’t clear at first as to what the bulletin was about, since the announcer, like all announcers, had a serious speech impediment. For about half a minute, and in a state of high excitement, the announcer tried to say, “Ladies and Gentlemen—”

He finally gave up, handed the bulletin to a ballerina to read.

“That’s all right—” Hazel said of the announcer, “he tried. That’s the big thing. He tried to do the best he could with what God gave him. He should get a nice raise for trying so hard.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen—” said the ballerina, reading the bulletin. She must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous. And it was easy to see that she was the strongest and most graceful of all the dancers, for her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred pound men.

And she had to apologize at once for her voice, which was a very unfair voice for a woman to use. Her voice was a warm, luminous, timeless melody. “Excuse me—” she said, and she began again, making her voice absolutely uncompetitive.

“Harrison Bergeron, age fourteen,” she said in a grackle squawk, “has just escaped from jail, where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous.”

A police photograph of Harrison Bergeron was flashed on the screen-upside down, then sideways, upside down again, then right side up. The picture showed the full length of Harrison against a background calibrated in feet and inches. He was exactly seven feet tall.

The rest of Harrison’s appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody had ever born heavier handicaps. He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H-G men could think them up. Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides.

Scrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, a military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds.

And to offset his good looks, the H-G men required that he wear at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random.

“If you see this boy,” said the ballerina, “do not—I repeat, do not—try to reason with him.”

There was the shriek of a door being torn from its hinges.

Screams and barking cries of consternation came from the television set. The photograph of Harrison Bergeron on the screen jumped again and again, as though dancing to the tune of an earthquake.

George Bergeron correctly identified the earthquake, and well he might have—for many was the time his own home had danced to the same crashing tune. “My God—” said George, “that must be Harrison!”

The realization was blasted from his mind instantly by the sound of an automobile collision in his head.

When George could open his eyes again, the photograph of Harrison was gone. A living, breathing Harrison filled the screen.

Clanking, clownish, and huge, Harrison stood in the center of the studio. The knob of the uprooted studio door was still in his hand. Ballerinas, technicians, musicians, and announcers cowered on their knees before him, expecting to die.

“I am the Emperor!” cried Harrison. “Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!” He stamped his foot and the studio shook.

“Even as I stand here—” he bellowed, “crippled, hobbled, sickened—I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become!”

Harrison tore the straps of his handicap harness like wet tissue paper, tore straps guaranteed to support five thousand pounds.

Harrison’s scrap-iron handicaps crashed to the floor.

Harrison thrust his thumbs under the bar of the padlock that secured his head harness. The bar snapped like celery. Harrison smashed his headphones and spectacles against the wall.

He flung away his rubber-ball nose, revealed a man that would have awed Thor, the god of thunder.

“I shall now select my Empress!” he said, looking down on the cowering people. “Let the first woman who dares rise to her feet claim her mate and her throne!”

A moment passed, and then a ballerina arose, swaying like a willow.

Harrison plucked the mental handicap from her ear, snapped off her physical handicaps with marvelous delicacy. Last of all he removed her mask.

She was blindingly beautiful.

“Now—” said Harrison, taking her hand, “shall we show the people the meaning of the word dance? Music!” he commanded.

The musicians scrambled back into their chairs, and Harrison stripped them of their handicaps, too. “Play your best,” he told them, “and I’ll make you barons and dukes and earls.”

The music began. It was normal at first—cheap, silly, false. But Harrison snatched two musicians from their chairs, waved them like batons as he sang the music as he wanted it played. He slammed them back into their chairs.

The music began again and was much improved.

Harrison and his Empress merely listened to the music for a while—listened gravely, as though synchronizing their heartbeats with it.

They shifted their weights to their toes.

Harrison placed his big hands on the girl’s tiny waist, letting her sense the weightlessness that would soon be hers.

And then, in an explosion of joy and grace, into the air they sprang!

Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well. They reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun.

They leaped like deer on the moon.

The studio ceiling was thirty feet high, but each leap brought the dancers nearer to it.

It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling.

They kissed it.

And then, neutralizing gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time.

It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.

Diana Moon Glampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and told them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps back on.

It was then that the Bergerons’ television tube burned out.

Hazel turned to comment about the blackout to George. But George had gone out into the kitchen for a can of beer.

George came back in with the beer, paused while a handicap signal shook him up. And then he sat down again. “You been crying?” he said to Hazel.

“Yup,” she said.

“What about?” he said.

“I forget,” she said. “Something real sad on television.”

“What was it?” he said.

“It’s all kind of mixed up in my mind,” said Hazel.

“Forget sad things,” said George.

“I always do,” said Hazel.

“That’s my girl,” said George. He winced. There was the sound of a rivetting gun in his head.

“Gee—I could tell that one was a doozy,” said Hazel.

“You can say that again,” said George.

“Gee—” said Hazel, “I could tell that one was a doozy.”

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Once again, who killed JFK?

We may never know for sure, but there's a new study published that presents evidence that the home movies taken of the assassination - the Zapruder, Nix, and Muchmore films - were heavily edited to conceal Secret Service complicity in the crime. Read about it here.

Is war a grand adventure?

For awhile, it can be. For the lucky, it will be. For some, it will be worse than death. Fred Reed writes about it:
He grew up in the woods and rivers of the county, fishing and swimming and hunting under sprawling blue skies and driving his rattletrap car insanely and lying on the moss with his girl and watching the branches above groping the sky and marveling as the young do at the strangeness of life, and the war came in a far country. It doesn’t matter which. It was just a country.

His father, an angry man emitting the foul stench of patriotism, said his duty was to become a soldier and kill whoever it was in the far country, wherever it was. His father didn’t know or much care. It didn’t matter. Somebody would know. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. It would be a grand adventure, an uncle said.
Read the rest.

Friday, April 9, 2010

How to Defend Atheism

In 1976, author George H. Smith (no relation) delivered a speech in which he stated:
The American child who grows up to be a Baptist simply because his parents were Baptist and he never thought critically about those beliefs is not necessarily any more irrational than the Soviet child who grows up to be an atheist simply because his parents were atheist and because the state tells him to be an atheist. The fact that the Soviet child in this particular case may have the correct position is irrelevant. So it's not so much what one believes, or the content, as it is why one believes as one does. So it's no so much what one believes, or the content, as it is why one believes as one does. So the issue of reasonableness pertains to the concern for truth, concern for the correct methodology of reasoning. And just because a person espouses atheism is no guarantee -- believe me -- that person is necessarily reasonable.

This is why I never crusade for atheism per se outside of a wider framework. Atheism is significant, to be sure. But it's significance derives entirely from the fact that it represents the application of reason to a particular field, specifically the area of religious belief. Atheism, unless it is ingrained within this greater philosophical defense of reason, is practically useless. When, however, it is the consequence of the habit of reasonableness, then atheism stands in opposition to the wave of supernaturalism and mysticism we are currently experiencing. In other words, irrationalism in any form it may occur.

Now what this means is that atheism will not get very far simply by attacking religious belief. Rather, we have to defend reason, first and foremost, and then criticize religion within that framework. If you understand that most people adopt religion for psychological rather than intellectual reasons, you will understand why I think direct, frontal assaults on religion rarely, rarely persuade anyone to atheism. If, as atheists have been pointing out for many years, religion is an emotional and psychological crutch, then you don't get a person to stand on his own two feet simply by kicking out the crutch, if for no other reason that the person will hold onto it for dear life. Rather, you must first convince the person that the crutch is unnecessary and even harmful. And then, you can convince him that he's able to get along much better off without the crutch. So you don't have to kick it out; at this point, he will simply throw it away himself.
Read the complete transcript of this excellent speech here.

Obama issues death threats

In an essay that brings to mind the argumentative power of Frederic Bastiat, Robert Wenzel describes the multiple death threats he has received since passage of Obama's health care bill.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

WikiLeaks Video Shows Indiscriminate Slaying

SunShine Press (WikiLeaks) has released a video taken from an Apache helicopter gun-site showing "the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded. For further information please visit the special project website www.collateralmurder.com."

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Woody Allen's Tribute to Manhattan

Here is the opening sequence from Woody's 1979 movie, Manhattan. For the best experience, download and watch it on a big screen with good speakers.

video