Friday, October 30, 2009

The lunatics are out: Happy Halloween

The Amazing Grace Baptist Church has organized a good old fashioned Christian tradition for Halloween: their annual "Halloween Book Burning." But don't expect to go and roast marshmallows, it is only for church members and those with personal invitations from the crazy pastor.

They want to burn "ungodly" books and their list is a long one, including most translations of the Bible, which they call "Satan's bibles." In there view the only legitimate Bible is the King James Version. Apparently God has only one correct version of his word and he needed a gay British monarch to arrange it for him.

The church also will be burning "Satan's music" which includes the following: "country, rap, rock, pop, heavy metal, western, soft and easy, southern gospel, contemporary Christian, jazz, soul, oldies but goldies, etc." That "etc." category sound interesting.

Sadly, the secularists, humanists, liberals and atheists are preventing a good old fashioned heretic burning. So they will have to limit their fun time to the burning of books and music. As compensation for such a restriction on their "religious freedom" they are promising "fried chicken, and all the sides."

You just know this good ol' boy is yearning to burn a sinner.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Libertarians at an all time high and I don't mean drugs.

David Boaz, at the Cato Institute, has made it a hobby to keep track of the opinion polls and what they reveal about libertarian sentiments. One problem in doing this is that you can't simply ask people if they are libertarians since many people don't know the term, and don't know what it means if they do know the term.

But Gallup has asked two questions to help determine political ideology from respondents. Boaz lists the two questions as:
Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country’s problems. Which comes closer to your own view?

Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view.
A libertarian would say that the government is doing too much in the economy and would say that government should not be int he business of promoting "traditional values." Combine the percentages of people taking both positions and you have a rough idea of how many people are inclined toward libertarianism—whether they know it or not. Here are the results of a yearly poll since 2000. And the trend is upward. Almost one in four Americans is inclined toward liberty.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Finally, the real motivation comes out.

Most people have heard the story of Eric Williamson, the man arrested for being naked in his own house. I hesitated on blogging about the case because I felt information was missing. In addition the story was changing fairly quickly.

First, we were told the woman had been cutting across private property and saw the man inside the house naked. She called police who came rushing down in force. When there were questions about the woman being on private property and not on public property the story evolved. Now she claimed to have seen the man twice, once while cutting across the property where he lived and a second time in front of his house on the sidewalk. I found that story change a bit convenient.

I assumed that this second claim on the woman's part would cause the police to reconsider the arrest. Instead they redoubled their efforts and acted in ways I thought highly improper. The police distributed a leaflet basically begging other people to file charges against the man by claiming they too had seen him naked. It is one thing if others say this happened repeatedly but when the police solicit complaints they are, whether wittingly or not, soliciting people to file false accusations. There are plenty of people who want their 15 minutes of fame and wouldn't mind falsely accusing another person to do so.

It seemed odd to me that the police seemed to have so much invested in this case. The easiest thing to do would have been to say that all complaints have to be investigated and leave it at that. But the police were actively trying to get other people to make charges as well. I wanted to know why. Now the Washington Post has revealed the reason:
As officers tell it, the 45-year-old woman, the wife of a Fairfax police officer, was walking her son to school about 8:40 a.m. along a well-traveled path between public tennis courts and the house where Williamson had been living for three months when a noise drew her attention to a side door.
Now their extraordinary interest in proving the man's guilt is clear. The woman is married to a police officer and the boys in blue will always rally around one of their own, no matter whether their own is wrong or not. It is just the same crap we see from cops repeatedly, where they will lie and fake evidence to support one of their own, even if one of their own is a criminal. I'm not saying the woman is a criminal but she was trespassing on private property and she saw a naked man because of it. Get over it.

Ah, but what about her child. Actually it was her son and I suggest the boy has seen a penis before. The man didn't have anything the boy lacked. And the description of the incident that has been given indicates the man was not a flasher. Exhibitionists usually don't operate from inside their own homes, they prefer to ambush people. Of course, there are exceptions. Exhibitionists also do this because it is sexually stimulating to them. All the descriptions of the incident lead one to conclude this man was not stimulated in any way. Frequently such incidents are combined with masturbation. The exhibitionists prefers to shock a viewer and get them to watch him orgasm. Again this didn't happen either. The man was in his kitchen and wasn't aroused and wasn't masturbating.

Exhibitionism, like most paraphilias, is often planned in advance. The expectation of the incident adds to the excitement for the exhibitionist. They will place themselves in such a manner as to "ambush" an unsuspecting victim (usually a man showing himself to a woman). So they will go someplace where victims are likely to be found. But could this man know that a woman was going to cut across his property that morning?

The evidence against him is very circumstantial indeed. And the incident doesn't seem to fit the pattern for exhibitionists. Of course, it is possible that the he did it on purpose, didn't find the experience arousing (but does it anyway for some other reason) and was willing to do it in a manner where he was sure to get caught. Most exhibitionists will not use their home as their base of operations for the "show" they put on. They don't want to get arrested, just be seen. So typically they will hang out away from their home or be sitting in a car so they can make a speedy get-away. To me everything about the case still says he was probably doing precisely what he said he was doing: making coffee in the morning, in his own kitchen, without getting dressed.

Once again the American pre-occupation with, and fear of, nudity is astounding. Should plain nudity alone be shocking? It was certainly common in the parks of Germany, in full public display of everyone. Beaches in France were the same way. I remember a hotel in Paris that overlooked a public pool where the women swam topless. The hotel staff said that no one, except Americans, found this offensive --- which is why they said Americans were the only ones who sat looking out their windows all the time.

Much of the law on this topic assumes that nudity per se is obscene. What a strange position to take over the human body. The truth is, most nude humans are totally uninteresting. A rare few have the bodies that attract attention and, sadly, they are the ones who tend to stay clothed the most. I've walked down the street and seen naked people through their windows. I neither slowed down, stopped, or stared. It was a glimpse and not particularly shocking or upsetting. Why should it be?

I certainly can understand the question of whether sexual activity in public is acceptable. But plain nudity is rather boring and I don't see why Americans have to make more of it than is warranted. You'd think these people thought we were born with diapers on. Outside of the Islamic world the United States is still pretty unique in this rather bizarre and contradictory view regarding nudity: it is obscene and disgusting yet people are fascinated by it. Well it is neither obscene nor disgusting and, to be quite honest, not that fascinating.

Photo: this rather boring photo is a satellite image of the Tiergarten park in Berlin. Those dots on the ground are naked people. Horrified?

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

A little more comes out about the old bigot.

In my previous post I mentioned how Pauline Howe, of England, was demanding that the city council strip gays of the right to have a rally because she found them offensive. According to the news story that ran she wrote an anti-gay letter to the city council and was visited by the police, who filed no charges. They were investigating whether a hate crime had been committed by her letter, or so we were told.

But it seems Howe intentionally tries to agitate people. She didn't merely write a letter to the council while spending her days sitting at home, sipping tea and watching the telly. The gay rally she wanted banned was one she attended. She went with the express purpose of handing antigay tirades to gay people. This sweet old lady was not so sweet after all.

Howe said she went with other "Christians" to protest "the public display of such indecency on the streets of Norwich which is so offensive to God and to many Norwich residents." She handed out anti-gay leaflets to people at the rally. So she was intentionally offensive to them. And people responded, as you might predict. But no one violated her rights. She says that the people she attacked "were in our faces with aggressive verbal abuse." In other words, the people at the rally responded to her speech with their own speech.

And this old cow then sends a letter to the city council demanding that the speech of others be restricted while her own speech be allowed to flourish. But, she entertains the delusion that she is speaking for some god.

The Christian Institute is, as expected, defending Howe's demands that others be censored because apparently Howe's "rights to free speech and religious liberty under the Human Rights Act" were being transgressed.

I would say that is the case. But I still have no sympathy for this old woman. She believes in censorship. She demands it for others while claiming free speech for herself. By her own values there are no rights to free speech. Or, does she really want to admit that she believes only Christians like herself have rights and that other people do not.

She had the right to go hand out her narrow-minded, religiously-induced hate leaflets. And the recipients of those leaflets had the right to tell her off verbally. That is freedom and that is what happened. But it was then Howe who demanded that the State step in and ban one side of the debate, and only one side.

Yet, as predicted, the fundamentalist Christian Institute is making out that Howe was the victim. And, I can assure you that other fundamentalist groups will pick up on that distortion, probably magnify it several times over, and spread the falsehood around. Keep watching the web to see if that happens.

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No fool like an old fool.

Earlier today I was sitting with a couple of business associates and we were discussing a bit of everything, including the role of religion in bigotry. I asked if there were any specific group of people who had not been subjected to hatred in the name of God. It occurred to me that “God hates everyone” if those who purport to speak on behalf of this being, are correct.

There are large numbers of Muslims who say God hates Christians. Fundamentalist Christians think God is pissed off at Catholics, Jew, Mormons, gays, secularists, liberals, and an almost endless list of people. The Religious Left, which does exist, is convinced God hates capitalists, businessmen, landlords, SUV owners and countless other groups. Since there is no evidence that anyone actually speaks for this being, or that such a being even exists, this is the cheapest, easiest, most convenient way for any bigot to assert his hatred and give it respectability.

The comments earlier today started off in jest but as we discussed the matter it became clear that it would be difficult to find any identifiable collective of people that isn’t identified as deserving of God’s wrath by at least some believer, somewhere; usually large groups of believers, not just a few.

I return home this evening to read the London Telegraph and the story of a sweet-looking, tea-sipping, bigoted old fart named Pauline Howe. No doubt Howe will be portrayed by the Christianists as a victim, though I’m sure they will misreport the events completely.
Howe wrote the Norwich city council filing a complaint about “its decision to allow a gay rally in city centre.” Was the complaint something justifiable; like litter left around, noise, congestion, etc? Of course not. Howe complained before there was anything to complain about and her complaint was basically a “God-hates-fags” letter to the council. Remember she was demanding that a public rally be forbidden. She wanted to censor speech she didn’t like and wished to use state power to do so.

Her complaint was it was “shameful that this small, but vociferous lobby should be allowed such a display unwarranted by the minimal number of homosexuals.” Get that. She was upset that gays were free to have a rally. Apparently in her world minorities don’t have rights because these rights are “unwarranted” by the “minimal number.” As a libertarian, I would say a minority of one has rights and that if one person wanted to hold a “rally” that they should be allowed to do so. So, please, don’t forget that Howe was the one who first demanded the suppression of free speech.

Howe felt that gay people didn’t deserve free speech rights because of “their perverted sexual practice” which spread sexually transmitted diseases. Okay, but what sexual practice can’t spread a sexually transmitted disease? And, to whom would such diseases be spread, but to other homosexuals? Even if this were something for to worry about, how was she endangered, unless she had a tendency to fornicate with gay men?

And, according to the sweet-looking hate merchant, gays are responsible for “the downfall of every Empire.” What a sweeping, silly claim. I know some unread and ignorant Christians have tried to attribute the fall of Rome to gays, but truth be told, Rome fell after it converted to Christianity and became suppressing homosexuals. While Gibbon is often claimed to have said this, he did not do so, but he did place a considerable amount of blame on the conversion to Christianity. (See chapters 15 and 16 of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.) Rome was tolerant of gays during its height of power but became intolerant, slipped into totalitarianism and eventually collapsed, after it converted and started trying to repress homosexuality.

And now we get back to the beginning of my comments. According to the Telegraph, Howe “argues that she is not homophobic, but was expressing her deeply held religious beliefs.” There it is, the trump card that religionists think they ought to be allowed to play to exempt themselves from any and all criticism, scrutiny or ration investigation. The truth is that many religious people believe that they can assert any claim, no matter how cruel, offensive, or vicious, and be allowed to get away with it by claiming that it comes from God.

I once sat in a church that preached the “Identity” gospel. According to the Identity movement the white race is the true nation of Israel, Jews are the sons of Satan, and blacks are the biblical “beasts of the field,” without any rights except to be slaves. Identity teachings are widespread in the Nazi, Klan and other white supremacist movements. It is a combination of the absurd “British Israelism” mixed with Nazism and racism. They claim that God hates Jews and blacks, that a race war is coming, that “white Christians” have to destroy the Jews and enslave the blacks. They do so in the name of God.

There is no exemption to scrutiny because a belief is based on a religious fantasy. The burden of proof for Miss Howe is the same as for everyone. Religion doesn’t give her a free pass to pretend that the facts are on her side. She is still required to present real evidence, not just doctrines imagined by some divine, mystic, witchdoctor or theologian. A religious assertion has no more right to a presumption of truth than any other assertion. No one gets a free pass.

Unfortunately some silly bureaucrat who read the letter reported it to the police. The police visited Howe and decided no crime had been committed. That is important to remember. Now, in my opinion, she should not have been reported or visited. Even the chief executive of a local gay organization said the report to the police was “disproportionate” and said he was “glad Norfolk police didn’t take it any further.” I have little doubt that if I Google this story in a few days some US Christian sites will be using this as an example of how gay people repress freedom of speech —although no gay person filed a complaint and the only gays involved said the police shouldn’t have done what they did. And, along the way, they will conveniently forget that Ms Howe was the one demanding state action to suppress the freedom of speech of gay people.

I personally think Howe is an old fool who lacks decency and common sense. She has not justified her positions, nor tried to do so. She attempted to initiate the suppression of freedom of speech against others and they whined loudly when it backfired and she found her own freedom of speech under potential threat. I sympathize with anyone who faces government action to prevent them from expressing an opinion but I find it hard to have very much sympathy, perhaps just a smidgen, when the person is question was openly demanding the suppression of others. Why, exactly, should Howe whine that State power threatened her freedom of speech when she clearly wants to the State to use its powers for just that purpose? If you lobby for taxes then you have no right to complain when you pay them.

To me, the lesson of Howe is not just that every hateful belief in human history has been justified by some imaginary friend in the sky. While that does seem true, there is a second lesson. Suppression of the freedom of speech of anyone can backfire and lead to the suppression of your own freedom of speech as well. Like every would-be censor Howe was demanding the censorship of others and free speech for herself.

And, if you want some humor about bigotry, try this hilarious clip. It is one of the funniest skits I've seen in a long time.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ya can't get there from here: social conservatism and libertarianism

Imagine you have been driving west on Interstate 80. It’s been a long drive and for hours you and this station wagon have pretty much kept up with each other. You’ve lost track of them and decide to stop at the next rest stop to stretch your legs. As you pull in there’s the station wagon. You park and get out and walk around a bit. You see the driver of the station wagon. He nods in your direction and says “hello.”

You acknowledge it and out of politeness ask where he and his family are headed. He surprises you by saying, “Chicago.” For a moment you have to wonder if you got on the highway going in the wrong direction without noticing. But you know you went through Elko, Nevada not long ago and Winnemucca is not far ahead.

Puzzled you ask, “Are you sure you want to go to Chicago.”

“Sure,” says the man. “What’s wrong with Chicago? I like Chicago. Is it because you don’t like Chicago? Why shouldn’t I go to Chicago?”

“Sorry, that’s not what I mean. You are headed west not east.”

“So. A man’s free to travel any direction he wants, isn’t he? First you hate Chicago and now you question my right to travel. What’s wrong with you? And to think I was just being friendly.” In a huff he storms off, gets in his car and heads in the direction of the Pacific Ocean.

It’s not that you are questioning his right to go to Chicago or want to deny him the right to travel in any direction he pleases. You are like the mythic New Englander who is asked for directions to a local town, and replies: “Ya can’t get there from here.”

And that’s my reply to libertarians who claim to be social conservatives, who perhaps more accurately, my reply to social conservatives who claim to be libertarians. You can’t get there from here.

It isn’t that they don’t have a right to be socially conservative. Nor is it that they don’t have a right to advocate socially conservative viewpoints. It’s just that the route they are embracing is headed west when they are trying to go east.

Consider two main positions of libertarianism, or classical liberalism: free markets and individual liberty. Both are driving forces for change. Individuals, when free to choose for themselves will often choose to live in ways contrary to the social consensus. And the free market gives them the wealth to pursue those goals. In addition the profit-motive inspires entrepreneurs to ignore the social consensus in search of profit. Whether it be gay bars, abortions, sexually explicit DVDs, or even pot and alcohol, potential profits drive entrepreneurs to provide these “forbidden” goods. And, if the social consensus is strong, and there is still a demand, people will pay premium prices for the forbidden driving up profits and encouraging more and more people to break the consensus.

Consider another way that capitalism has undermined socially conservative values. Conservative jurist Richard Posner, in Sex and Reason, notes, “traditional sexual morality is founded on women’s dependence upon men.” As capitalism progressed more and more women entered the job market, for various reasons. That meant that women were more and more economically independent of men and Posner says, “as that dependence lessens, the traditional morality weakens.” “Women need and receive less male protection as their childbearing role diminishes and their market opportunities grow.” Single women are rewarded in the marketplace. Contrary to modern myths single women earn on par with single men. Married women drag down the average because they work a lot less.

Being single is rewarded in the modern economic system. So more people remain single. But they don’t remain celibate. And many of the women, though single, choose motherhood as well. Part of the reason for the growth of unwed mothers is that fewer and fewer women need rely on men to support them.

Capitalism allows people to pursue values contrary to the social consensus and it rewards entrepreneurs who help people pursue those values. Lord Samuel Brittan, a former advisor to Lady Thatcher, put it this way, approvingly: “"The important point, however, is that both the political and economic philosophy and the capitalist practices of a century ago set in motion a train of events and ideas which eventually undermined the status-ridden conventional society of the time and brought into being the more tolerant England of today."

Numerous social conservatives, on the Right and the Left, have recognized that liberalism and capitalism are forces for change. And change is the enemy of social conservatives values.

It isn’t that the social conservative can’t be a libertarian. It’s just that they can’t go in the libertarian direction and achieve socially conservative ends. A social conservative agenda requires stagnation, not change. Liberal capitalism rewards innovation and change.

Like the New Englander, I would have say to those who want social conservative goals, by heading in a libertarian direction, that: Ya can’t get there from here.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stossel vs. O'Reilly

Bill O'Reilly is clearly disappointed with John Stossel's premier performance on his show. He wanted Stossel to tell viewers that his former network friends attacked him for going to Fox network. Stossel denied that he received any such treatment but O'Reilly continued to push him to claim this happened.

Next O'Reilly moves on to drug legalization and keeps peppering Stossel with questions and then denies him the opportunity to answer the questions. Stossel finally says: "Do I get the last word?" The hilarity of O'Reilly is that he is a fake interviewer. He doesn't interview. He brings people on and then lectures them, using almost all the time for himself. Stossel remained a gentleman throughout and even said: "I'll have to work on my answers," as if O'Reilly would give him the chance to give those answers.

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A few treasures.

One thing I hate about moving is the treasures that one has to leave behind, it's just not possible to move everything. Having lived for extended periods in five different countries and five states makes matters worse. I've been in the middle of the country, both coasts, and both Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Along the way things get left behind.

Just this weekend I picked up the last 15 boxes or so of items I had in storage a few hours away. Even with a large van to haul things this was my third trip to pick up things. And I've started digging through the boxes and boxes of books from my library—where I will put them I don't know.

But I was pleased to discover some items I had forgotten about or even assume were lost forever. Several were inscribed books that I thought I had lost. I was quite pleased to find the copy of The Passion of Ayn Rand, that Barbara Branden had inscribed to me in June, 1983. Oddly coincidental was that I had only spoken to Barbara a couple of hours earlier on the phone.

One book I assumed was lost forever was Freedom's Child by Walter Polovchak. That was 21 years ago. Walter was born in the Ukraine, which was then under Soviet domination. His family had immigrated to the US but Walter's father wanted to return to a mistress in the Ukraine. The Soviets said he could, provided his entire family came back with him. They wanted to use it the return as propaganda about how awful America was. Walter was then 12-years-old and said no. He did the unheard of, he defected. For the next several years Walter, with the help of supporers, fought attempts to deport him back to the Soviet Union. Eventually he turned 18 and got citizenship.

Walter wrote about his experiences and why he did what he did in his book but it wasn't getting enough attention, in my view. So I flew Walter out to the West Coast for a tour promoting the book. He stayed with me for a few days and spoke to around 100 people at a dinner I arranged for him. I had forgotten where the copy of his book was. I was pleased to find it inscribed: "Thank you for making all this possible. I had a lot of fun. Thank you and enjoy the book." I'm glad to have that back.

Another book packed away was George Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God, simply inscribed to "A good friend." I did once have a signed, first edition hardback of the book. Unfortunately I flew out of the country for a month of travel and left a Christian watching the house. Smith's book, which had been sitting next to my bed had vanished while I was gone. My Christian friend, or I should say ex-friend, denied knowing anything about the disappearance of the book, even though he was the only person who had access to the house during my absence, he was actually staying there and sleeping in my room while I was gone. I later discovered a few other items disappeared, which I knew he was quite fond of, as well.

Also among the batch was an inscribed copy of Wendy McElroy's book, XXX on pornography and censorship. Wendy has been a friend for a very long time now. I won't call her an "old friend" as she'll never forgive me. But long-term friend is appropriate. I found a few books by Thomas Szasz that he signed for me so those have gone on the shelf with other signed books.

Some books I found are merely books I would like to read again. A fascinating little gem I read some years ago is Moral Development: A Guide to Piaget and Kohlberg by Duska and Whelan. I have always thought that political philosophies could be spread along the stages of moral development, particularly those stages outlined by Lawrence Kohlberg. I've been wanting to reread this book just to give the whole matter a second thought.

I was happy to find Lord Samuel Brittan's A Restatement of Economic Liberalism because it contains a very important essay he wrote: Capitalism and the Permissive Society. I find that essay particularly insightful. Unfortunately this is not signed though I do have a copy of newest work Against the Flow, which he inscribed for me a couple of years ago when we met in Germany.

Another work I was wanting to reread was discovered today. That is The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes. It's a great book and worth reading several times over. I also found two books I wanted to read but never did. One is Francis Neilson's hard to find, The Churchill Legend. The second is Michael Kazin's biography of William Jennings Bryan, A Godly Hero. Also in the batch were several biographies of Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899), one of my favorite writers of all times. I keep a couple of Ingersoll's letters framed on display on the top of the hutch of my work desk, along with a note from Auberon Herbert (1838-1906) and a couple of photos, by Julius Shulman, of Ayn Rand taken in the house designed for Josef von Sternberg by Richard Neutra.

There are stills boxes and boxes to unpack. I can hardly wait.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Libertarian funds evolution exhibit.

I am pleased to see that a permanent Hall of Human Origins is being funded at the Smithsonian by a private contribution from libertarian David Koch. Koch, who was the vice presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party in 1980, when the Libertarian Party was actually still libertarian, gave $30 million to fund the project. Almost $21 million will go into the David Koch Hall of Human Origins, another $5 million will endow a research chair on evolution at the Smithsonian and the rest will go to education efforts.

Koch has been generous to numerous causes. He gave $100 million to renovate a theater at Lincoln Center, was a major funder of the PBS science series Nova, gave $20 million to the American Museum of Natural History and funded a $68 million center for math, science and technology at Deerfield Academy. He gave $100 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to fund the David Koch Institute for Intergrative Cancer Research, $20 million to John's Hopkins University, $30 million to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and numerous other health related charities. Koch sits on the board of the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation. In addition is a board member of 11 boards for hospitals or research institutions.

Bravo. It's all good stuff.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Love letters and traditional morality.

One of the fringe people who inhabit the internet dropped by the site and left a little hate note earlier today. I found it amusing to no end, mainly because he got so many things completely wrong. I immediately shared it with numerous people.

What particularly amused me was that he bitched that I call those who disagree with me, "'bigoted,' 'racist,' homophobic,' 'Nazi, anti-Semitic,' and 'xenophobic" and ascribe (sic) their views to 'hate.'" Yet, in the same comment our writer (at IP address attacks gays, immigrants, blacks, and interracial marriage. He did not attack Jews, but I'm sure it was oversight.

I have used the term "security Nazis" and "health Nazis" and I have called people who are actually propose Nazism Nazis, but I've never branded someone a Nazi for disagreeing with me. And I've only used "anti-Semitic" to refer to people who actually hate Jews. I think the people I have called bigots have pretty much proven themselves to be bigots. And the author of the love letter, certainly didn't do his cause much good by immediately launching in bigoted diatribes about gays, immigrants and blacks. I was tempted, when I saw that obvious contradiction, to assume it was hoax by someone who agreed with me and was supporting my views through satire. But I think this "love letter" was quite genuine.

The author claimed I "supported the disaster of black rule in Africa." Well, that's hard to answer because to say I did, or I didn't .would both be wrong. I just never supported rule by anyone on account of race. I never supported a government merely because it was run by whites or because it was run by blacks. I've supported and opposed black candidates and supported and opposed white candidates. Race just was never a factor, policies were. I have openly criticized the policies of Mugabe, in Zimbabwe, and of the African National Congress, in South Africa. How I supported "black rule" I don't know. But then neither did I oppose it. My support, or opposition, is not connected to race.

The author claims I "agitate for dispossession of whites through mass immigration." Dispossession of whites? He also claims I "fanatically" support interracial marriage. Out of the hundreds and hundreds of articles I've posted here I believe that only two have touched on the subject. Apparently that is enough to be accused of "fanatically support[ing] interracial marriage." In truth, I don't support interracial marriage, but neither do I oppose it. I have no position on who other people ought to marry, only that they ought to be free to marry the partner of their choice. [And for the crazed individuals lurking in the background, I am talking about adults and humans so don't try to drag kids or sheep into the discussion.]

It simply is none of my business who another rational adult chooses to marry. So I literally have no opinion on it. If someone told me they were marrying I would congratulate them because it means something important to them. I wouldn't urge them to seek a partner of a different race, a partner of the same race, a partner of the opposite sex, or a partner of the same sex. It is just not my business. I wish them well regardless.

Our poison pen writer claimed that I want to "tear down the world our ancestors built" and that I'm "motivated by hatred" for European civilization and western culture. I supposedly also don't "care at all about the white children who will have to suffer the consequences of the death of the West." I do care about white children, and brown children and black children. I don't actually limit my concern for children to one race, as apparently my critic does.

For the record, I don't think the West is dying, nor do I think it ought to die. I am an advocate of the values of the Western Enlightenment, the great tradition of classical liberals that arose in the West. I happen to think that many values that dominated in the West are right and proper and are superior to other values. But they are not superior merely because they dominated the West, but because they work and are right. Nor are they good merely because they are part of our tradition.

I was also accused of being an opponent of "traditional morality." Again, this is wholly besides the point. I am a moralist, in that I have a firm code of morality about how people should act toward one another. Only a complete non-thinker supports a moral principle solely because it is traditional. It was traditional to enslave people. It was traditional to rape women during war. It was traditional to burn people at the stake. Are these the traditions that the author of this "love letter" wishes to support? Well, given his general tone, they might be.

That a "value" or "moral principle" is "traditional" neither says anything in favor of it, or against it. There are traditional values, that are long-standing values, that I support strongly—such as property rights. But there are others, such as racism, which go back centuries, which I oppose.

The "traditionalist" is the non-thinker. He is bound by the thoughts of dead people because he is unable to think for himself. The advocate of "traditional" morality is not an advocate of moraity at all. In fact, they advocate nothing but the past. Which past? Whose past? Would our writer, if born in Saudi Arabia, be an advocate of stoning women to death? Would he support the burka? Would he say the Koran is true merely because it is the tradition of his tribe?

There is no position more sterile than supporting the "traditional" since it is entirely relative to where you live and controlled by what era you are living in. The traditional morality of a native in a land of cannibals is vastly different from the "traditional" morality of someone living in Iraq in 1500. or in Chicago in 2009. To say you support "traditional" morality says you have abrogated the right to think for yourself and rely on whatever ancient dead people preferred. It's not even clear which dead people one must cling to. Is it those of the last 100 years, 200 years, 500 years, or can we go back to our ancestors in the African bush and cling to their values—it would be interesting to see conservatives try that.

I'd like to know if I should cling to the tradition of Luther, or maybe Calvin, or maybe the Pope? How about the tradition of the Greeks who preceded the rise of Christianity? Can I cling to their traditions? Would my nemesis have supported Greek, traditional pederasty merely because it was traditional? It seems to me that advocates of "traditional morality" answer no questions at all but raise plenty.

I can understand being a "traditionalist" if one is incapable of thinking, but anyone with an IQ higher than the typical houseplant ought to be able to think for himself. Apparently the author of the poison pen letter to me does not see it the same way. Either way, I must thank him for the amusement he gave me.

Illustration: A traditional practice, burning Protestants at the stake.

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Nobody told us we had to have facts.

The conflict over Proposition 8, the anti-marriage equality proposal in California continues in federal court. A legal battle is brewing over the discriminatory nature of Prop 8. The proponents of Prop 8 have their lawyer in court defending the measure.

That lawyer, Charles Cooper, claimed that marriage equality would harm children. This is the sort of claim that the anti-equality advocates have been pushing all along. But a court room is not the place for meaningless, political sound bites. And the judge in this case, Vaughn Walker, wasn't falling for a sound bite.

Because Cooper had claimed that marriage laws further procreation, and allowing gays to marry would somehow harm procreation, Walker asked: "What is the harm to the procreation purpose you outlined of allowing same-sex couples to get married?" That's a fairly, straight forward question and one that Cooper clearly should have anticipated since he claims are central to his argument.

But Cooper seemed shocked by the question. He stumbled for words saying: "My answer is, I don't know. I don't know." Well, if the lawyer defending Prop 8 doesn't know how gay marriage harms the "procreative" purpose of marriage, who does?

At this point Cooper started proposing a Right-wing version of the flawed "Precautionary Principle," that environmentalist love to push. Under the Precautionary Principle one should not take actions unless one can prove they won't lead to harm. Proving a negative is rather difficult. It is a policy meant to prevent change and it is inherently conservative. Cooper argued that it doesn't matter if there is evidence that gay marriage harms marriage at all because "There are things we can't know, that's my point."

Without evidence that something does harm others, then I say the Liberty Principle applies. People are free to do what they wish unless it can be proven that their actions violate the life, liberty or property of others. This is the opposite of the Precautionary Principle. I do find it interesting to see Cooper resorting to a version of it to protect the interests of his clients.
He told the judge: "But it is not self-evident that thre is no chance of any harm, and the people of California are entitled not to take the risk." So, he argues, that he doesn't have to prove harm from gay marriage, he only has to imagine there might be harm and that is sufficient to justify policies promoting legal inequality. People who wish to exercise their rights must, however, prove that in so doing there is no possibility whatsoever of other's being harmed. How would one do that? It's not possible.

One thing about this case, that interests me, is that the anti-equality crowd will have to present facts and they aren't used to doing that. They rely on fear and innuendo and outright falsehoods. And those don't go over well in court.

Photo: Mr. Cooper of the Prop 8 campaign. Shortly after the photo was taken the Prop 8 sign fell to the floor, sort of like his arguments.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Reality: It's a bitch.

Previously I mentioned that I was at the Atheist Alliance International meeting in Burbank recently. As expected a good number of people were dyed-in-the-wool Lefties of one statist variety or another. But a goodly number of people were libertarian—which is what I would expect.

In the course of the conference I meet and talked to dozens of people and have previously recounted some of the arguments I heard from the Left. But there was one argument I wanted to leave for a discussion by itself because it was so interesting. And, actually, it wasn’t really an argument, just a statement.

The discussion began with our Left-leaning friend saying that we need stringent government regulation of, well just about everything, in order to protect the Little Guy from rapacious Big Boys with lots of power. To do this we had to give the State lots and lots of power to counter-balance the Big Guys out to hurt the Little Guy. It’s a pretty standard argument from the Left.

My reply was what I would call Libertarianism 101. Simply put, I argued that history has shown that when the State is given such powers it is rarely used to protect Little Guy. Instead Mr. Politician conspires with Big Guy to use the new fangled powers in order to make life for Mr. Politician and Big Guy better at the expense of Little Guy.

As I’ve repeatedly said, the concentration of power does not help the powerless but those who already have power to grab the new power. Politicians need the support of powerful people, not little people. So they automatically turn to the Big Guys for financing. Senators don’t go out and have dinners at McDonald’s with the local gardener. They go to expensive restaurants with corporate executives and work out the “new” legislation that will protect the Little Guy. Since Big Guy and Mr. Politicians need each other, and the Little Guy only has to be fooled at the ballot box—which is a relatively easy thing to do—the end result is not favorable to Little Guy.

At this point my nemesis presented a very sad reply. And I don’t mean sad as in pathetic, I mean sad as in depressed or despondent. He actually looked sad as well. His voice got soft, as if he didn’t really want to say what he was about to say. He sort of shook his head slightly and lamented: “Yes, but it shouldn’t be that way.” And that was the end of his discussion. He bid me farewell and moved on. “Yes, but it shouldn’t be that way.”

What surprised was the lack of willingness to defend his fundamental argument that centralized power could be beneficial to the poor and the powerless. Instead, he just lamented that life is not the way he would like it to be and said, “It shouldn’t be that way.” He was acknowledging that it is that way; just saying it ought not be so. Which is like wishing to fly, despising gravity, and then stupidly flapping your arms in the hopes of getting airborne. He did not seem willing to abandon his premise that state power can be used in the way he thought would be good. He just lamented that reality is not the way it ought to be. If wishing were sufficient we’d all live in Candyland, walking streets of gold and be young, good looking, wealthy and smart. But reality loves to interfere with our wishes. Wishing isn’t enough.

Creating new powers and controls merely creates new ways in which the powerful can oppress the powerless. These new powers simply won’t be in the hands of the poor or the powerless. It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t matter what I want, what you want, or what any of us want. Reality is what it is. Today’s New York Times illustrates this point perfectly with two stories.

The first article mentions the astronomical levels of debt that Obama has imposed on future generations of Americans. The new debt for the year is $1.4 trillion. That is equal to 10% of the entire economy. The Times says the debt is currently $12 trillion and that the Feds estimate it will rise by $9 trillion over the next decade. Anyone want to bet it will rise much, much faster than that? In essence, Obama is bankrupting America, just like Bush was doing, only more so.

The second story looks at one major cause of the new debt—the bailout packages. Politicians said they had to have billions in bailouts for Bankers to help the Little Guy --- it’s always to help the Little Guy, of course. But justification for policies and the results of policies rarely coincide. The Times notes that while people are struggling to pay debts and keep their homes “much of Wall Street is minting money—and looking forward again to hefty bonuses.”

The Times explains why: “It may come as a surprise that one of the most powerful forces driving the resurgence on Wall Street is not the banks but Washington.” Ah, excuse me, but YOU WEREN’T PAYING ATTENTION. This is NOT a surprise but precisely what I expected. This is the rule of power: expanding power always benefits those who have power already, not those who don’t. Maybe this is a surprise to the staff of the New York Times, as they seem relatively naïve on the role of incentives in politics and markets. But this sort of “surprise” is precisely what advocates of depoliticized, free markets predict will result from such policies. The Times says that the measures taken by the politicians “helped set the stage for this new era of Wall Street wealth.”

And the concentrated forms of wealth on Wall Street are only becoming more concentrated.
A year after the crisis struck, many of the industry’s behemoths — those institutions deemed too big to fail — are, in fact, getting bigger, not smaller. For many of them, it is business as usual. Over the last decade the financial sector was the fastest-growing part of the economy, with two-thirds of growth in gross domestic product attributable to incomes of workers in finance.
Now, the industry has new tools at its disposal, courtesy of the government.

I am sorry the New York Times is surprised that the policies they helped promote had results contrary to what they wanted. Ignore reality at your own peril. The Left does that in economics all the time. I guess the Times would say: “Yes, but it shouldn't be that way.” Yep, reality is a bitch, so maybe you ought to start paying attention to it.

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Another school goes overboard with zero tolerance.

The bureaucratic mind is a wonder to behold. It is rigid, unthinking, and bound by manuals and rules. Minutia and inconsequentials are the rule of the day. The culprits in this case are the morons who run the Lansingburgh High School.

Matthew Whalen, sounds like a budding militarist to me but that doesn't mean he isn't the victim in this case. Whalen is an Eagle Scout anxious to go off to U.S. Military Academy and a member of the National Guard. True to his budding nature he keeps a "survival kit" in his car which contains a sleeping bag, water, a ready-to-eat meal and a tw0-inch pocket knife. These things are kept locked in his car.

But the bureaucrats who control the government school learned these things were locked in the car and saw, not a would-be militarist off to invade some country, but a terrorist, or perhaps a criminal about to rape and pillage and execute most his fellow students—all with the tw0-inch pocketknige that was locked up in his car in the parking lot. Obviously an immediate threat.

So they suspended him from classes for five days. And then they held a hearing and decided the crime of having this survival kit in his car was such a threat to their rules that they added another 15 days to his suspension. The school says:

"The district also has an established policy of zero tolerance with respect to possesions of weapons of any kind on school property or in school buildings. We believe this policy allows us to fulfill our duty of maintaining the safety of our district's educational environment for our students, faculty, and community members."

Zero tolerance is a policy loved by bureaucrats because it removes the necessity to think. The rule is the rule and common sense, something that is missing among the rule bound, is almost totally absent.

That zero tolerance is so loved by the bureaucrats and teacher's unions tells us something about the current state of government-run education. State schooling is run by individuals who can't think, who can't apply principles to situations based on the evidence. They don't have independence of spirit, an ability for critical thinking, or a desire to instill these values in the children under then control. They cling to rules like the most rabid authoritarians. They are in the government system because the system relieves them of the necessity to think—which really ought to be the central task of their job. How do these people teach critical thinking and common sense to the young when they are so afraid of practicing these themselves.

And to be quite honest, I'd be a lot happier if I thought that Matthew had been taught critical thinking instead of mindless obedience to authority. Unfortunately it seems that the schools and the military are both united in a campaign to stamp out such traits in the young.


Can't fault the message.

It's not my cup of tea, but I can't fault the message, even if I"m not so found of the messenger.

About 5 minutes.

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Another battle for marriage equality.

Like so many couples, this couple just wanted to get married. But when they showed up at the local justice of the peace he refused to perform the ceremony. His reasons is all too familiar.

First, he said, he wants everyone to understand, he's not bigoted. Nope, they never are, are they? He just said that this sort of relationship is just not proper—he doesn't believe in it himself. But, he's not prejudiced and doesn't like people saying he is.

Second, it really is about the children. You know children growing up in such atypical family homes have a hard time in life. And we must put the children first. He told the press: "My main concern is for the children." They aren't readily accepted by other people in the community.

It all sounds hauntingly familiar. These are the same arguments used by the Prop 8 folks wanting to ban marriage equality. They insist they aren't bigots , they just don't believe in this type of marriage, and, all they are doing is thinking about the children.

The couple in question is a man and woman. The local justice of the peace refused to marry them because she's white and he's black. This took place in Hammond, Louisiana—you knew it was going to be somewhere like that, didn't you?

Keith Bardwell is the local justice of the peace and refuses to perform marriages for interracial couples—in violation of the law. He insists he is not bigoted and that he is only thinking of the children. He sounds like Maggie Gallagher and others of her ilk.

What I appreciate about Bardwell's arguments is that by making them he shows them up for what they are—senseless. Yet lots of people will pooh-pooh the arguments when it applies to interracial couples but sudden spout the same rot when it is a same-sex couple.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Health Care BS from the Unions

Whole Foods has one of the best formulas for health care around. Yet it is under attack by the Left because John Mackey, the CEO, has written about private alternatives to state control. It is astounding to watch the protesters claiming that the Whole Food employees are just ignorant. What Mackey and Whole Foods offers is precisely the kind of policy I would want. It combines cash to the employee to cover small health care issues and then an insurance policy, with a higher deductible, to cover the rest. Employees are saying it is the best health care they ever had and the union hired picketer just calls them ignorant of the facts. All in all, who do you think cares about the health care of the employees most? Is it the union picketer or the employees?

I suggest the union moron just has another agenda and it isn't the health care of the employees. The other flash protesters doing their little dances just seem uninformed especially the one going on about how Mackey doesn't want his "Latino-based" workers to have health care. All the employees have health care. That is just Left-speak --- anyone who disagrees with their desire to have state control is merely a racist. Rubbish.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Murdering, raping cop protects students by beating them.

I have long opposed putting cops into the schools. Cops are dangerous and should be avoided. Watch this news story. Here is a special ed student who was beaten violently by a police officer for not having his shirt tucked in—that's it. If you think that's bad, wait until you hear the rest.

The Dolton Police Department was reluctant to release the name of the officer involved, Christopher Lloyd. The police officer "has a troubling history that includes killing a man in a case of disputed self-defense and is now in an Indiana jail for an unrelated rape charge." What a peach! Here is more: "According to Lake County, Ind., court documents, he [Lloyd] held a pillow over the woman's face while sexually assaulting her Sept. 14 and had previously threatened her with a knife." He is also facing a lawsuite from his ex-wife who says Lloyd "gunned down her new husband Cornel McKinney in front of their children outside their home on Feb. 17 2008."

Yet, it appears that Lloyd had no problem finding a job with the police, where he got to beat up kids for the crime of having an untucked shirt. Here is another video from security cameras at the school, see if the boy in question acted in any manner worthy of a violent beating.

Chicago Police never pressed charges for the killing saying it was self-defence. But get this, the dead man was shot 24 times, according to an autopsy. That means Lloyd emptied an entire magazine of bullets and reloaded to continue shooting. That is not self-defence, that is someone acting with anger and hatred. To say Lloyd has "anger management" issues would be an understatment. Yet the police felt comfortable putting this man into the school system.

Dolton is facing a heavy law suit and in my opinion the award ought to come out of the police budget starting with the salaries of chief and other top offices and working down from there. These sorts of violent antics by thugs in uniform are all too common. Another reason to home school, or seek out private education, is to get you kids out of the way of violent cops. Government youth-holding centers, once called schools, are not the place to get an education as this poor boy learned. My view is that one should look at police officers as members of a well-known, violent gang, who happen to have "Get Out of Jail" cards in their pockets. The rest falls into place from there.

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Fifth grader sets cat among the pigeons.

Will Phillips, is a fifth-grade student at West Fork Middle School in West Fork, Arkansas. He is also a student who got into a bit of trouble with the school authorities, especially a substitute teacher who overstepped her boundaries.

Not long ago Will came home and told his mother and father, Laura and Jay Phillips, that he was no longer going to say the Pledge of Allegiance at school. He told them that the pledge talked about "liberty and justice" for all, but that he didn't think this existed for gay people. He told his parents: "To say them [the words of the pledge] and not mean them would be a lie."

But a substitute teacher started getting on his case every day he refused. The teacher just wouldn't let the matter rest. On the fourth day she tried guilt, telling the boy that his mother and grandmother would want him to say the pledge. His response was: "With all due respect, you can jump in a lake." As Laura Phillips said: "Don't push him—four days of hassle, hassle, hassle and raise your voice. He's going to lose his temper." He did, and he had every right to. The matter of forcing students to say the pledge was cleared up in 1943. Apparently this part of Arkansas is stuck in 1942. Schools have no such authority.

The pledge itself is a rather interesting thing if you know its history. Consider how elected officials are supposed to pledge allegiance to the constitution, not to the flag and the government, as the Pleadge requires. Two cousins, Francis Bellamy and Edward Bellamy, along with a friend, Daniel Ford were advocates of a socialist state as envisioned by Edward in his book Looking Backward. They felt that the American school system should be like the Prussian system and wanted to use it to teach loyalty to the state. In particular they meant it as a way of making people loyal to the federal government.

Edward Bellamy lamented the Constitution of the US because it limited government functions. He admired the British system where the Constitution did was a plethora of legislaiton and traditions not a written document with enumerated powers. Bellamy wrote: "England's Constitution readily admits of constant though gradual modification. Our American Constitution does not readily admit of such change. England can thus move into Socialism almost imperceptibly. Our Constitution being largely individualistic must be changed to admit of Socialism, and each change necessitates a political crisis." Bellamy hoped that his Pledge would push the public more in favor of a centralized state. This is why it amuses me to watch the Right constantly defending the Pledge while the Left seems to hate it. Funny that.

The teacher was way out of line. Will was quite within his rights to refrain from saying the Pledge of Allegiance. His parents had warned him that some people would criticize him, or perhaps insult him, for that decision. But he said he was prepared for that to happen. He was still going to do what he believed was right. But what I don't think he was prepared for was an adult in authority using her position to try to bully him into caving into conformity.

Telling the woman "to jump in the lake" may not have been the best choice of words. However, in his situation I suspect that my comments wouldn't have been nearly so refrained. From my reading of the situation it appears that Will was the most adult individual in that room that day.

To find someone so bright at 10 years of age is refreshing and in Arkansas! He must get lonely.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Death and the value of life.

If you are looking for sunshine and lolly pops, I’m afraid you came to the wrong place today. My mind has been preoccupied with something unpleasant: death. Neither worry, nor get your hopes up, as the case may be: I’m not thinking of doing away with myself. But the deaths of others have been on my mind.

I am the type of person who gets extremely upset when others are hurt. That is the reason that I’m a libertarian. I despise the needless pain that is inflicted on people. I despise tragedy. Given my druthers I’m for comedy. I love to laugh. And I love to love. But we don’t’ live in a world made up exclusively of light and laughter.

This somewhat morose journey began when I was shocked to hear of the death of Stephen Gamely. I was never a fan, nor did I dislike his music. A popular singer, Gately had also become a stage presence in London’s West End. But what shocked me was that he had so much good in his life, he had so much going for him, and suddenly he’s gone. He was so young as well.

He, and husband Andrew Cowles were at their vacation apartment in Majorca. Around 1:00 am the couple drove to Palma for some drinks. Gately had called his family in England just shortly before that. It was an hour’s drive in both directions. And Gately and Cowell were home by 6 a.m. Cowell retired to the bedroom to sleep but Gately stayed awake to watch some television. At some point he fell asleep sitting on the couch. In his sleep he became ill and vomited. He choked as a result and was discovered several hours later. Update: Autopsy results reveal that Gately died "died a natural death of acute pulmonary edema." Contrary to sleazey media reports his death had nothing to do with alcohol or drugs.

All the accounts I’ve read describe him as a gentle person who was kind and caring. He had it all. Now he’s gone.

In reading the press reports I found some information and many merely lurid speculations. One article mentioned other “stars” who had untimely deaths. One of those surprised me since I didn’t know about it. I had missed the news when it happened, probably due to being out of the country at the time. Jonathan Brandis, who played the role of Bastian Bux in the sequel to The Never-ending Story, killed himself in 2003. He was just 27-years-old. He got his start in 1982 in television, and had roles off and one for several years. His longest role was in seaQuest DSV, from 1993 to 1996. But his career stalled and he became depressed. He wanted it so badly and it didn’t seem to be happening. In a depression he ended his life.

I remember some conversations I had with my friend Jason, who like Brandis, was a Connecticut resident. Jason called me during my brief run for office and wanted to work in the campaign and we became friends. He had done some television commercials as a boy. He then went on to perform on Broadway with the likes of Yul Brenner and Angela Lansbury. He spent some time in Hollywood where he went to shoot a TV series and did a film with Glenn Close.

A couple of years ago Jason wrote me about his experiences in industry. He wrote:
Few child actors can cross over that bridge, they have to REALLY want to. By 14 I realized that I didn't really want to succeed in acting enough to do the work required to have a successful career. You have to really want it, the same goes for the music industry as I found out.

I've had my ups and downs but I look back and I think that generally I have too much self esteem for the performing arts. Most of the artists I know are motivated by an innate burning desire to be validated from the outside world. ( [Richard] Rodgers for all of his genius was a classic example) I am more or less content with my humble self, just the way I am, and if no one else recognizes my genius, that is their loss.
One of the things I long suspected about the Hollywood “life” is the need to constantly be selling one’s self. A woman I met there told me she was a screenwriter and starts giving me all sorts of advice on projects I was working on. In the end it turned out she had never had a script in production, though she did claim that two of her scripts were “stolen.” She was selling an image not a reality.

A good friend of mine in Hollywood produced two films, both of which I enjoyed. We reconnected this last spring after a very long period of being out of touch. But he has to constantly to sell himself as well; I’ve seen him doing it. The industry requires it. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable in that sort of environment though I am glad that I was able to help him and another friend connect to their mutual benefit. The latter is a producer who was looking for a director for a film project that is near and dear to my heart. (And it’s not what you think; I guarantee it.)

I can understand how alluring the Hollywood lifestyle can be. Jason didn’t have the drive for it and gave it up. Brandis had the drive, but his career never jelled quite the way he wanted. Brandis took his life and Jason lives happily with family back East. I can’t help but think Jason got it right.

Both these tragedies reminded me of the darkest moment in my own life. David was my closest friend. Not a day went by that we didn’t talk by phone for at least one hour or more. I didn’t realize precisely how much David sacrificed to remain friends. I once offered him a job and he was told by his partner, in no uncertain terms, that if came to work for me that he had to find a new place to live and give his car back. David handed over the keys and walked out. I didn’t know about it until after it was a fait accompli.

David’s time working for me lasted about half a year when he announced he was moving across country. I was disappointed, but it was his decision. He was seeing someone and they decided to move in together. He also got a job at a resort where he would stay during the week, retuning to his new home on weekends.

Even though he was almost 800 miles away we continued talking by phone daily. It soon became apparent that David was unhappy where he was. But his position for me had been filled and I wasn’t sure what to do but try to counsel him through the unhappiness. Christmas was coming and I called the resort where he worked and booked myself in under a pseudonym—I wanted to surprise him.

Some months earlier, before he left, we had gone shopping together and he showed me a boxed, two volume set of Salvador Dali, whose work he loved. I drove to the store where we had seen it and bought it as his Christmas present. I then drove the 8 hours to the coastal town where he was working to cheer him up. As I was walking in to the resort he came walking out and did a double take immediately. He lit up and came running to give me a hug; he was so thrilled to see me.

I told him I had come down to spend a couple of days before Christmas and handed him the present. He immediately opened it and looked shocked. He could only say: “You remembered, I can’t believe you remembered.” I checked into my room, had some dinner, and met David at the resort's bar, where he was assigned bar tending. But it became apparent that he was trying to deal with his depression and personal problems through drinking. By the time the evening ended he was drunk. There was nothing I could say or do under those conditions.

The next day we went for a walk and I tried to speak to him about his problems. It was his day off and he continued drinking. Once again the ability to talk degenerated. I realized there was little I could do for him when he was in this state. I drove back home that afternoon and kept in touch daily by phone.

By the New Year things had gotten much worse for him. He was depressed more often and drink was his only solution. Each day I tried to encourage him by phone and gave the best advice I knew how to give. By the end of January the calls became more frequent, every few hours. I spent hours each day trying to help him. But, as often happens with problems solved by drinking, the problems only grew. Come early February I was on the phone three or four times a day.

The one-day in question I spoke to him early in the afternoon. Again during the late afternoon we spoke. And one again we spoke in the evening. He was calling other friends as well. He was constantly on the phone with someone, me most of all. He was on the line with a girlfriend late in the evening. He was drinking again and severely depressed. In mid sentence she heard a loud noise and then nothing. She was sure it was gunshot. She couldn’t get a response and hung up and called the police.

The police had to break down the door of the main resort building to get in. David was found sitting on the floor. The phone had been in one hand, a gun in the other. The police wouldn’t say whether they thought it an accident or intentional. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

It was around 2 am when I got the call. I was asleep when the phone rang. It was a friend of David’s. He said: “I thought I better tell you. I’m not sure anyone else would think to call you and I know how much you meant to David.” I was shaken when I hung up from the call. The house never felt so empty to me as it did that moment. A horrible, painful howl shocked me, and then I realized that I was making the sound. I cried alone for hours until the sun came up. I called a friend and begged him to pick up a friend who didn't have a car, so he could be with me.

Both of them arrived two hours later. The one booked off work for a week as a personal leave. They went to the pharmacist and got some sedatives, not being the U.S. this was possible, thank god. I would take a pill and climb into bed. Hours later I would get up, have something to drink, take another pill and go back into my self-induced coma. For three days I remained in a drug-induced coma. The one friend stayed with me the whole time. With little else to do he finished the renovation project I was doing in the living room—stripping off the rest of the wallpaper and repainting the room.

I spoke with David’s mother who told me she always thought that something like this would happen, that David was a doomed child from the beginning.

David worked at a restaurant where I frequently ate for business reasons. He knew who I was but I didn’t know him until he was my waiter one night and introduced himself. Two days later he called me at my office and started chatting. I left the country for a month of traveling and almost forgot about him.

Shortly after I got back I saw him again. It was at a contest where I had been asked to be one of three judges. I was there with a friend who worked with me on the publication I edited. David was there as well and came over and sat at our table. I still have a picture taken of us at the table that night. Our friendship began that evening and our conversation lasted until the next sunrise. David told me his life story and it was clear that he held a tragic view of the world and his own life.

David’s mother had his funeral planned at a Baptist Church, merely because it was the closest church to her home. I demurred attending explaining to her that David would never expect me to enter another Baptist Church in my life. I also feared the minister would use the occasion to say something particularly stupid, since they often do. And I knew if he did, I would not keep my temper, or my silence. David would have been shocked if I had. So it was best I not be there.

Funerals are not for the dead, but for the living. So the morning, before the funeral, two friends came by and chauffeured me an hour away to the funeral home. I walked in and looked into the viewing room. I saw David’s body lying in the casket. But David was life itself; this wasn’t him. I went because I felt I needed to know it was all real, I needed to see him to make every cell of brain understand that he really was gone.

I was told that David had written various notes, but what they said, I don’t know. The police decided that it was best not to release the notes, at least not to me. David’s mother did not know what they said either. To this day I never found out. Like so many put in the same position I have second-guessed everything I did. I’ve asked myself if there was something I could have done to prevent this. I never had answers. I never will.

We are inquisitive creatures who need to understand. We ask questions and sometimes we ask questions for which no answers exist. Some people invent answers. They posit a divine being with a special plan which doesn’t make sense to anyone but him. They talk about intelligent design where the design makes no rational sense at all. They invent a “higher logic” and a “higher reason” that is beyond our understanding. They want this deity to be the answer to the questions for which there simply are no answers discernible to us.

We are told that the dead have gone “to a better place” and that are “resting in peace.” We try to make death sound like a good thing. They have “gone to be with God.” Or, “God has called them home.”

Some people find comfort in that. I don’t. What I feel is quite the opposite actually. The idea that death moves us to a better place, or higher plane, denigrates life. It devalues the existence we know we have, in order to hope for an existence for which we have no evidence.

How many people actually believed that they “were going to a better place” when they pulled the trigger, or opened the fatal bottle of pills? Can we ever know? How many people would still be with us today if they hadn’t believe that death was preferable to life?

Some years ago I was given a suicide note left by a young man from a fundamentalist church. The young man was gay. As hard as he tried he couldn’t be anything but gay. He truly believed that being gay was endangering his immortal soul. He begged Jesus for forgiveness and took his own life. He told the readers of the letter that he really believed he was going “to a better place.”

The young men who flew those planes on 9/11 also believed that their deaths, and those of thousands of other people, would take them to a better place. I cannot but help think that a belief in a life after this one devalues the life we have here and now. It not only devalues the life we are living but it devalues the lives of all the people around us. There has been no shortage of people willing to snuff out a person’s life in order to save his immortal soul.

Once you believe there is an endless, eternal, bliss-filled life after this one it becomes difficult to value this life very highly. If anything this life is an obstacle to get through as quickly as possible. The early church father, Tertullian expressed precisely this problem when he said: "I have no concern in this life except to depart from it as speedily as possible."

I see the real tragedy in death. Because I do, I embrace life and life affirming values. I want a world that shuns death instead of looking forward to it. I don’t want to see pain or suffering. I want to wipe them out. I don’t believe we can avoid death but we shouldn’t welcome it as a portal to something better. It is the end of a life, not the beginning of one. Because of that I want to value the life of each and every person.

It is not possible to do that with billions of people. But when I read about someone like Stephen Gately or Jonathan Brandis I actually mourn. When I read a story recently about a mother who killed her two young sons, before taking her own life, I felt grieved. Life is important, as far as we know, as far as we can prove, this life if the only one we have. To pretend that we know there is more only reduces the value of the life we do have. And that is not a message I want to send out to the world.

Photo: 1) Stephen Gately and husband, Andrew Cowles. 2) Jonathan Brandis. 3) David. Ek het jou lief, bokkie. Totsiens.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Is this the future we will face?

The drive to impose a nationalized health system on the US is a major goal of the far Left. They really are quite rabid about it. I've previously discussed the failures of all health systems and why I think the US is the least worst of the lot. I'm no defender of the muddled system we currently have where various laws and regulations horribly distort the system and limit choice. But I couldn't possible embrace the nationalized system that the UK has, for example. Consider these two recent cases in the British press.

Matthew Millington enlisted in the British military at the age of 16, some 15 years ago. While stationed in Iraq he was diagnosed with a lung illness and it was determined he needed a double lung transplant. But the National Health Service gave him the lungs of a man who had been a heavy smoker and which contained cancer. Because Millington was taking drugs to surpress his immune system the cancer had a field day and spread rapidly.

Remember, the NHS hospital gave Millington lungs infected with cancer during his transplant. They also gave him drugs to suppress his immune system which allowed the cancer to grow. And when the cancer was discovered they said he was ineligible for another lung transplant because the hospital's rules. I quote the Times of London: "Because he was a cancer patient, he was not allowed to receive a further pair of lungs under hospital rules." The cancer he had, which made him ineligible for a second transplant, was literally given to him by the hospital.

The Times reports: "The cancer was discovered only six months after the operation, because of a lack of communication between radiographers and consultants. The tumour had grown from 9mm to 13 mm in that period." The hospital admits "a string of problems, including difficulties with communication, record-keeping and patient handover."

Hazel Fenton, 80, came down with pneumonia and was placed in the local NHS hospital. Doctors determined immediately that she was terminally ill and placed her in a controversial NHS program "to east the last days of dying patients." The program is actually something else entirely. When a patient is placed in the program the hospital ceases to feed the patient and given them care, allowing them to die.

And that is what the NHS was doing to Hazel. They refused to feed her, to ease her last days, by ending her life. Hazel's daughter, Christine Ball, was there to fight for her mother. She fought the hospital for days before finally getting them to begin feeding her mother again. Nine months later, the woman the NHS deemed in her "last days" was alive and well in a nursing home near her daughter.

The Times reports: "Doctors say Fenton is an example of patients who have been condemned to death on the Liverpool care pathway plan. They argue that while it is suitable for patients who do have only days to live, it is being used more widely in the NHS, denying treatment to elderly patients who are not dying." Miss Ball was equally blunt: "My mother was going to be left to starve and dehydrate to death. It really is a subterfuge for legalised euthanasia of the elderly on the NHS."

Ball says that while she was trying to convince the hospital her mother was not dying a nurse asked her for instructions on what to do with her mother's body.

The Times also writes: "In a separate case the family of an 87-year-old woman say the plan is being used as a way of giving minimum care to dying patients." The daughter of the woman in question says that her mother was put on "the plan" and "her medication was withdrawn. As a result she became agitated and distressed." Justified as a way to make the last days easier for the patient it appears "the plan" is a way to make medical care cheaper and meet budgetary restraints by denying treatment to old people.

Meanwhile another scandal is brewing in regards to NHS staff members who become sick. It appears that the National Health Service doesn't trust its own care when it comes to their staff members. Recent documents reveal that over the last three years the NHS spent £1.5m (about $2.4 million) so that their staff could receive private treatment outside the NHS system. Some 3,000 NHS employees received private care paid for by the NHS, care denied to patients of the NHS. Norman Lamb, Shadow Health Secretary for the Liberal Democrats said: "If the NHS thinks it necessary to pay for private treatement for its staff to jump waiting lists then it raises serious questions about whether the current system is working as it should."

One local newspaper looked at how the NHS paid to have ambulance staff receive private care and was told by a spokeswoman for the amubulace service that "we want to get [our staff] back o work as quickly as possible so they can continue to provide services to the people of the east of England..." Apparently to give quick service they have to scuttle the NHS and go private.

The BBC recently reported that a report on NHS procedures show that: "More than 5,700 patients in England died or suffered serious harm due to errors lastest figures for a six-month period show." And another NHS report shows that one in 50 patients are receiving treatment to undo the harm done by the NHS with previous care. This includes those with reactions to medication, those suffering from "misadventures" during surgery and "adverse incidents" related to medical equipment.

Another example of how nationalized systems lower costs comes with the drug tocilizumab. This drug appears to work very well for patients with rheumatoid arthritis who have not responded well to other medications. But nationalized systems are known for being cheap and being cheap means not offering medical care deemed too expensive. The NHS has an agency called the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (which they abbreviate as NICE). NICE is not nice when it comes to recommending drugs. NICE said that the medication is too expensive and has advised against its use, not because it is ineffective or dangerous, but because it costs too much. The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society says the decision is "extremely bad news."

However, while they can't afford to pay for medication that would ease the pain of patients, the NHS can afford to continue to pay executives who no longer work for the NHS. A publication in Wales reports: "The Western Mail understands that chief executives and finance directors displaced by new arrangements that came in last week have a guarantee that their existing salaries will be protected for 10 years." So, a job is ended, but the staff member stays on salary for 10 years at full pay.

Photos: Upper left, Lester Millington with a photo of his deceased son, Matthew. Mid right: Christine Ball with her still quite alive mother, Hazel Fenton.k

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