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Freedom, Liberty, Responsibility

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One thing about consideration of the works of Robert Heinlein--it gets you thinking about freedom, liberty, and individual responsibility.  Heinlein was a passionate advocate of all three.

I'll have much to write about, I think, when I have a chance to put my thoughts together.

"The Social People"

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Eric at Classical Values writes:

. . . I will never forget as long as I live seeing an elderly Chinese man interviewed on a local San Francisco "man in the street" television program. He was asked his opinion about a controversial left-wing proposal to do some damn thing I've long forgotten, and he flatly refused to say what he thought. This didn't satisfy the questioner, who kept pressing him, and finally asked him outright why he was so reluctant to speak.

"Because I might get in trouble with people!" the man said.

This only led to further questioning, and at that point the reporter really wanted to know why he'd be in trouble, and with what people.

Finally, the old man allowed a slight twinkle in his eyes, and said,

"You know.... The social people!"

I do know. It's the social people. They are everywhere, and you really don't want to get in trouble with them. Not if you want to avoid being hassled at your job, go about unmolested, not get targeted or audited by bureaucrats, or scolded at the local church groups, PTA meetings, or (for the wealthier and snobbier) even humiliation at smug cocktail parties and country clubs.

The social people take note of deviations, and even silence at the wrong time. You can get on their shit list by saying that there are still glaciers in Alaska after returning from a trip there and seeing them.

The social people want endless government reaching everywhere. Anything that is good for government (meaning anything that generates the need for more government bureaucracy) is considered good -- regardless of whether it solves the underlying problems. In fact, if it aggravates the problem, so much the better, as aggravating the problems leads to cycles of government-grown, government-aggravated growth!

(IMO, a major push behind the immigration bill comes from bureaucrats and social workers who find the illegal status of the 12 million extremely inconvenient, but would consider their legalization through a complex process to be extremely convenient! Laws are often passed simply because bureaucrats hate to be inconvenienced or because they want more jobs. But both? What a win-win!)

 . . .

That's because the social people package their views as a form of morality, and fewer and fewer people are willing to run the risk of being publicly labeled as immoral. It is now immoral to disagree with the overwhelming scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming alarmism. A woman publicly scolded me for it not long ago, and while I brushed her off, many in my position would not have, as she is a rich local philanthropist, much accustomed to giving orders and making sure that the wrong people don't get invitations to social events, and just because I don't care about being snubbed socially does not mean that others don't.

The idea that disagreement on such issues is seen as immoral fascinates me on another level, because I think it might shed light on a polarizing aspect of the Culture War. Once it becomes immoral to disagree with the social people, then the only people who will dare to disagree are people who don't mind being considered immoral. I know I'm generalizing here, but I think these divide themselves into two primary groups:

  • libertarians (and atheists) who are resistant to political arguments dressed up as morality; and
  • religious people who have their own view of morality as coming from God.
  • Unfortunately, many ordinary people are willing to have their morality manufactured and directed for them. There is not enough cynicism, and this allows the "vast group of intellectuals whose standards are declining" to wield the vast social power they do not deserve. While I still don't know precisely what to call this vast group, my biggest concern is that people who are given undeserved and unearned power are more likely to abuse it than people who at least had the decency to run for office. In a country built on the premise that no one has the right to rule, those who believe they have the right to rule are the last who should be given power.

    The Social People.  Coming to a bedroom, garage, living room, kitchen, school, park, business, television, radio, bar, restaurant, sports venue, highway, sidewalk, Wal-Mart, factory, park, front yard, or back yard near you.  And they're right, and you're wrong.  Deal with it.

    Why We Fight: a reminder

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    Because our enemy are monsters.

    Read thisLook at the pictures.  Look closely.  (There are a lot of pictures, it may take a while to load.  Be patient.)
    I told the Iraqi commander, Captain Baker, that it was important that Americans see this; he took me around the graves and showed more than I wanted to see. He said the people had been murdered by al Qaeda. I made video of him speaking, and of the horrible scene. The heat and stench were crushingly oppressive and broken only by the sounds of shovels as Iraqi soldiers kept digging.
    Our enemy thinks nothing of slaughtering entire villages--man and woman, child and beast.  They crave the opportunity to do this to Elk Point, South Dakota or Mound City, Missouri.  We fight them now, when they are weak, or we fight them later, when they may be much, much stronger.

    Shrek taught us that donkeys are annoying

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    So now, the story of the Eggers of Corson, South Dakota:
    When neighbors complained that they didn't want to listen to barking dogs from a proposed kennel, Randall and Vicki Eggert decided to give them something else to listen to - donkeys.

    "I have a sister in Mobile, Ala., who told me they pretty much make a lot of noise. We did it to irritate the neighbors," Vicki Eggert said. "I figure if the neighbors want to complain, then they'll have to listen to the donkeys."

    Is it me, or is this story really stupid?

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    Let me see if I have this story straight.  (go ahead, click the link.  I'll wait.)


    So, if the Earth wasn't, um, the Earth, then much of the United States would be under water.  Or swimming in magma.  Or something like that.  Ooooo-kay.  Let me guess--this research was funded by a Federal grant.

    Next, people will be suggesting that the Sun (did you know, it rises in the east and sets in the west?) is the predominant factor in warming the Earth, and not, for instance, carbon emissions from evil Americans.

    The Thompson Files

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    Or, more accurately, the Thompson Reports--Fred Thompson, that is, as in his ABC Radio Network commentaries.

    In responding to a thread over at FreeRepublic, I took some time and pulled some money quotes out of Fred Thompson's commentaries since April, 2007.  I'll cross-post them here (since it's my blog, after all).  I have to say, I agree with pretty much everything ol' Fred says here.

    Not that this problem is new. For decades, the U.S. Government Accountability Office has told us, time and time again, that we've lost control of the waste and fraud and mismanagement in many of our most important agencies. And it's getting worse.

    A big part of the problem is our outmoded civil-service system that makes it too hard to hire good employees and too hard to fire bad ones. The bureaucracy has become gargantuan, making accountability and reform very difficult.


    There was nothing wrong with firing eight U.S. attorneys. Of course the Department of Justice was inept in the way they did it, trying to conceal things that didn't need to be concealed but the U.S. attorneys, like innumerable other public officials serve at the pleasure of the president. He fired eight of his own appointees apparently because they were not aggressive enough in pursuing voting fraud cases.


    At what point is it okay to fight dictators like Saddam or the al Qaeda terrorists who want to take his place?

    It turns out that the answer, according to Gandhi, is NEVER. During World War II, Gandhi penned an open letter to the British people, urging them to surrender to the Nazis. Later, when the extent of the holocaust was known, he criticized Jews who had tried to escape or fight for their lives as they did in Warsaw and Treblinka. "The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife," he said. "They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs." "Collective suicide," he told his biographer, "would have been heroism."

    The so-called peace movement certainly has the right to make Gandhi's way their way, but their efforts to make collective suicide American foreign policy just won't cut it in this country. When American's think of heroism, we think of the young American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, risking their lives to prevent another Adolph Hitler or Saddam Hussein.

    Gandhi probably wouldn't approve, but I can live with that.


    But the Iranians have filed a flurry of complaints with the United Nations, claiming "300" is "cultural and psychological warfare."

    Who are these guys who are getting all flushed over our cultural insensitivity?

    People who want to blow Jews off the face of the earth. The regime that stormed our embassy in 1979* and kept Americans captive for 444 days. Iran's Hezbollah puppets have killed more Americans, than any other terrorist group except al Qaeda. Explosive devices from Iran are being used right now against our soldiers in Iraq.


    I think its time for a little plain talk to the leaders of Mexico. Something like: Hey guys, you're our friends and neighbors and we love you but it's time you had a little dose of reality. A sovereign nation loses that status if it cannot secure its own borders and we are going to do whatever is necessary to do so, although our policies won't be as harsh as yours are along your southern border. And criticizing the U.S. for alternately doing too much and too little to stop your illegal activities is not going to set too well with Americans of good will who are trying to figure a way out of the mess that your and our open borders policy has already created.


    A lot of people have at least a little in common with Sheen and O'Donnell. They just don't like to think about how much our enemies actually hate us. It's easier to escape down a rabbit hole to a land where our own government is tricking us into thinking the world is a dangerous place.

    This would be the same government that can't even keep our most secret surveillance programs out of the newspapers.


    There were many Germans and other Europeans who came to America and warned of the Nazi threat in the 1930s, including writers and filmmakers. Can you imagine that any of them would have ever needed bodyguards?

    Hirsi Ali does -- right here in America. Yet too many people still don't understand what our country is up against. They might if they read her book.


    There is hope, though. The Iranian people are not an anti-Western horde. They're an educated and freedom-loving people for the most part, and reformers there have been begging us for support and sanctions that would weaken the ruling theocracy. Instead, they've just seen the Iranian dictatorship successfully bully the West into impotent submission. This is not a good thing.

    We need to understand this and use every means at our disposal, starting with serious and painful international sanctions, to prevent Iran's rulers from becoming the nuclear-armed blackmailers they want to be. Unfortunately, we are hearing demands that we abandon the people of the Middle East who have stood up to Islamofascism because they believed us when we said we would support them.

    If we retreat precipitously, the price for that betrayal will be paid first in blood and freedom by the Iranian people, the Kurds, the Afghanis, the secular Lebanese, the moderates in Pakistan and the Iraqis themselves. And America's word may never be trusted again.


    To face these challenges, and any others that we might encounter in a hazardous world, we need to maintain economic growth and healthy tax revenues. That is why we need to reject taxes that punish rather than reward success. Those who say they want a "more progressive" tax system should be asked one question:

    Are you really interested in tax rates that benefit the economy and raise revenue -- or are you interested in redistributing income for political reasons?


    Whenever I've seen one of those "Gun-free Zone" signs, especially outside of a school filled with our youngest and most vulnerable citizens, I've always wondered exactly who these signs are directed at. Obviously, they don't mean much to the sort of man who murdered 32 people just a few days ago.


    Everyone in Washington embraces Federalism until it comes to someone's pet project designed to appeal to the voters. Then, oftentimes, even the most ardent Federalist throws in with the "Washington solution" crowd. I fought this for eight years in the Senate. I remember one vote (I believe it was 99 to one) when mine was the only vote cast for Federalism. The bill would have created a federal good Samaritan law.


    America is a free country and we do not tell people what they can believe or say. We should realize, however, that there are people in America who are also telling their children that the holocaust is a lie and that those who say otherwise are their enemies. We cannot prevent them from doing so, but we also cannot let them promote their agenda by claiming they are victimized by historical facts.

    This would be a good place to quote an important British writer, George Orwell, who wrote, "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." Even in America, our children are often taught a watered down, inoffensive and culturally sensitive version of events ranging from the Crusades to the battle at the Alamo.

    It's time for people who believe that they have a stake in Western civilization and its traditions to get a little backbone -- even if it offends somebody.


    These days in Washington, there's an awful lot of talk about the need for conversation -- that we should talk more to our nation's enemies; that we should speak "truth to power." However the speakers are usually turned in the wrong direction. Instead of talking to each other, leaders need to be speaking more to the American people.

    The message would be simple: "My friends we have entered a new era. We are going to be tested in many ways, possibly under attack and for a long time. It's time to take stock and be honest with ourselves. We're going to have to do a lot of things better. Here's what we need to do and here's why. I know that, now that you're being called upon, you will do whatever is necessary for the sake of our country and for future generations. You always have."

    When the American people respond to that, as I know they will, you will have your bipartisanship.


    Sometimes folks around the world mock Americans for not having more of a sense of history. They might be right, but I think it is often for a good reason. Americans are a people who look to the future instead of the past. We hope and believe that things can and will get better. We are more than willing to forgive our old enemies and move forward together in peace. So we tend to forget the bad things we left behind.

    Unfortunately, some of our enemies feel differently. They neither forgive nor forget. Listening to the messages of al Qaida's leaders, you understand that they see their old defeats in very personal and contemporary terms. They are in a “long war” against us, even if we don’t know it. And they’re committed to winning it.


    The funny thing is that the success of the current crop of radio talk show hosts is due, in part, to a lot of people’s perception that broadcast television doesn’t give the views of their audience a fair shake. Maybe I shouldn't admit it, since I dabble in radio myself, but this media used to be viewed as a kind of broadcast ghetto. The bi-coastal elite had such a grip on the major newspapers and television networks; they pretty much ignored the hinterlands. It was media flyover country.

    Now congressional leaders say they want to “level the playing field” there too – meaning they want to diminish the importance of conservative talk radio. In other words, they don’t trust the results of freedom and the marketplace. Why am I not surprised?


    We should scrap this “comprehensive” immigration bill and the whole debate until the government can show the American people that we have secured the borders -- or at least made great headway. That would give proponents of the bill a chance to explain why putting illegals in a more favorable position than those who play by the rules is not really amnesty.


    If a used car salesman can check your credit in minutes, doctors ought to be able to pull up your vital records. If you can trade stocks online, doctors ought to be able to chart blood pressure or cholesterol levels over the years instead of making decisions based on a couple of recent readings. If the police can find outstanding parking ticket in seconds, emergency medical workers should be able to get information to save your life, or your child's, as easily. If you can access your bank account online, you ought to be able to check your own medical records, and fix them if they're wrong.

    President Bush has been asking for such a system, with proper privacy protections, since he took office. Last year, both the senate and the house passed bipartisan bills designed to help bring our medical records into the modern era, but the differences between the two versions were never reconciled and nothing came of them.

    It's pretty clear that this is one of those wheels that isn't going to get any grease until it starts squeaking. Next time you go for medical care, ask if your doctor is keeping your records in a form that can be shared with other providers. If the answer is "no," squeak a little.


    Less than half of college seniors knew that, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal" is from the Declaration of Independence. Less than half knew basic facts about the First Amendment. Half didn't know that the Federalist Papers were written in support of the Constitution's ratification. Only a quarter of seniors knew the purpose of the Monroe Doctrine.

    This is our quandary. Memorial Day is about remembering. It’s about remembering those who died for our country; but it's also about remembering why they believed it was worth dying for. Too many Americans, though, have never been taught our own history and heritage. How can you remember something that you’ve never learned?


    It’s equally tragic that the U.S. is in no position to provide the victims of this emerging dictator with the truth. There was a time, though, when Americans were on the front lines of pro-freedom movements all over the world. I'm talking about the “surrogate” broadcast network that included Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, often called "the Radios." . . . We'll never know if Afghanistan might have rejected al Qaeda if America had actively engaged that country as we did those Eastern Europeans. We can't know if Venezuelans would have chosen liberty over the false security of authoritarianism if they had been challenged to face the issues. I do know, though, that it's time for a new generation of Americans to stand up for freedom -- like others before us. And this time, we’ll have a whole new set of media technologies.


    Unfortunately, this is an example of what Washington is all about these days. All too often the intersection of politics, law and the media results in a lack of responsibility by practitioners in all three areas. Having all this crashing down on the head of one man and his family, in a time when national security leaks are published regularly on the front pages of the newspapers without consequence, will justifiably add to the cynicism and outrage on the part of all observers.

    For the preamble to our Constitution, our founders stated explicitly the purposes for our Constitution. Listed even before providing for domestic tranquility or for the common defense was the establishment of justice. Official behavior, with regard to matters like the Scooter Libby case, are not what our framers had in mind. Now this excessive sentence, given by the Federal District Judge is just another in a long line of reasons why Mr. Libby should be pardoned.


    Now we have to keep in mind that while the UN is hopeless in some respects, a Security Council vote provides political cover for some timid nations to do the right thing -- like help us in Iraq. Also, UN humanitarian assistance, like the World Food Program’s, run by Americans, do much good. But it’s a constant challenge at the UN, and the reason we must always have a strong ambassador there willing to blow the whistle when they do outrageous things.


    It's important, though, that we recognize when government does something right. And one of the biggest employers of nurses in the world, with more than 60,000 nursing personnel, the VA struggles to fill its posts. The VA has announced an innovative plan to help deal with that problem. It’s establishing the virtual VA Nursing Academy, partnering with 12 nursing schools across the country over the next three years to train more nurses. The immediate beneficiary will be veterans, including many who served in World War II. An increase in the number of nurses, though, will benefit all Americans.


    America is facing a growing threat from Latin American totalitarianism and we need to call on those who are most familiar with it to lead the resistance. And the least we can do is free Radio and TV Marti and let them fight for freedom in the realm of ideas.


    Let me restate the obvious. In America, we need the right to join a union. We also need the right not to join a union.


    Then, in 2003, Texas passed Prop 12, capping non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits to $750,000. $250,000 of that applied to physicians. There were no limits put on damages for medical expenses or economic expenses such as past and future lost income.

    At the time, there were only four insurance companies left in Texas willing to cover doctors, and they were scheduling rate increases. Now 30 insurers are doing business in the Lone Star State and others are moving into the market. Rates have fallen on an average of more than 20 percent. Malpractice lawsuits have fallen 50 percent,

    So many doctors have now requested Texas medical licenses that thousands are backlogged and an emergency appropriations was passed to help the Texas Medical Board speed up their processing. Now, other states are considering similar legislation to stop the loss of their own doctors to Texas. I consider this a small but important victory for the principles of Federalism.


    And there's nothing about Americans that would make us any better able to run a government health care bureaucracy than the Canadians or the British. In fact, we've got less practice at that sort of thing than they do -- and we might be a lot worse at it.

    Changing strategy in Iraq

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    You may not have noticed, but our strategy has changed significantly in the past couple of weeks.  (Why should you notice?  Heaven forbid that the media actually report something more in-depth than the daily body count).

    Anyway, here's the new strategy, as described in the Small Wars Journal:
    These operations are qualitatively different from what we have done before. Our concept is to knock over several insurgent safe havens simultaneously, in order to prevent terrorists relocating their infrastructure from one to another, and to create an operational synergy between what we're doing in Baghdad and what's happening outside. Unlike on previous occasions, we don't plan to leave these areas once they’re secured. These ops will run over months, and the key activity is to stand up viable local security forces in partnership with Iraqi Army and Police, as well as political and economic programs, to permanently secure them. The really decisive activity will be police work, registration of the population and counterintelligence in these areas, to comb out the insurgent sleeper cells and political cells that have "gone quiet" as we moved in, but which will try to survive through the op and emerge later. This will take operational patience, and it will be intelligence-led, and Iraqi government-led. It will probably not make the news (the really important stuff rarely does) but it will be the truly decisive action.
    My big question is:  why haven't we been doing this all along?

    "Speaking Truth to Art"

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    Most normal people know that much of what passes today as "art" is simply self-indulgent crap.

    Gary Wolf at the American Thinker considers why this is so:
    There is yet another problem with our "artists." They believe that all prior rules can be tossed into the dustheap. What they do not realize is that no area of human endeavor, be it medical research, fine art, or football, can exist without a foundation of rules. These rules are the result of characteristics inherent in the material, and of the interaction between the material and man. For instance, in the visual arts, certain proportions are more pleasing to the eye than others. If the rules are rejected, the domain ceases to be what it was. A person submerging a cross into a beaker of urine is no longer an artist, just as a group of people running aimlessly around a field is not a football team.

    Of course, this line of argument presupposes that the artist wants to produce something that is gratifying, that contributes to humanity, that enriches people's lives. But when the goal is to devastate, the whole scene shifts.
    . . .
    There is a dire need to revisit basic principles, to fortify the foundations, to revitalize common sense. People used to understand much more about life and how it functions. We've become too myopic. The individual, highly specialized, often knows a great deal about a narrow subject. When it comes to general knowledge, however, and a sober view of life, he knows less than ever before.

    There is a need for a second renaissance. The original Renaissance was marked by a heightened awareness of the ancient world, with its expansive intellect and relentless probing of reality. This conceptual recycling provided much of the fuel needed to launch principles of thought and inquiry that provided the escape hatch from the Dark Ages, and that formed the basis for the subsequent growth of material and spiritual riches. Now it is up to us to realign ourselves with the Renaissance thinkers, using their ideas as a springboard. It may be the only way to reverse a century or more of precipitous decline, and hoist our miserable civilization, kicking and screaming as it may be, out of the current dark ages.
    It might be a bit of a stretch to say that we're in a new "dark age" but all too much "art" nowadays does truly suck.