Monday, May 31, 2021

Slight delay in raffle results, due to the public holiday


Today, May 31st, 2021, was to be the final day for receipt of entries to our raffle for an AR-15 pistol.  However, several readers contacted me to point out that today is a public holiday (Memorial Day), and the post office won't be delivering any mail.  At their suggestion, I'm going to postpone the drawing for 24 hours;  instead of drawing the winner tomorrow, I'll delay it until Wednesday 2nd June, so that late entries will have an extra day's mailing time to reach me.

Look for the announcement of the winner either on Wednesday or Thursday, after I've had a chance to contact them, find out whether they'd prefer to remain anonymous or not, and set up delivery arrangements.

Oh - and just to confirm, there will be another raffle, this time for a Glock pistol with reflex sight.  Watch this blog for details!


Memes that made me laugh 60


Gathered over the past week from the Intertubes.  Click each image for a larger view.

More next week.


Memorial Day


I know lots of readers come here first thing Monday morning to read the regular "Memes That Made Me Laugh" post.  That'll be coming just after 9 a.m.:  but there's something more important than memes, and that's the people we commemorate today.

May the souls of our honored dead rest in God's peace;  and may those they left behind receive what comfort they may from a grateful nation.  Even if the nation as a whole is forgetting its debt to them, we who served remember them, and we will keep their memory alive as long as we are.  May others take the torch from our hands when the time comes, and keep it aloft.


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Sunday morning music


The divertimento is traditionally understood as "a musical genre, with most of its examples from the 18th century. The mood of the divertimento is most often lighthearted (as a result of being played at social functions) and it is generally composed for a small ensemble.  Divertimento is used to describe a wide variety of secular instrumental works for soloist or chamber ensemble. It is a kind of music entertainment although it could also be applied to serious genres. After 1780, the term generally designated works that were informal or light."

Mozart excelled at divertimenti.  Here are three from his prodigious output.  First, the Divertimento in F major, K. 138, performed by the New York Classical Players conducted by Dongmin Kim.

Next, from the same performers, here's Mozart's Divertimento in D major, K. 136.

Finally, here's his Divertimento No. 15 in B-flat major, K. 287, performed in Japan in 1984 by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan.

Mozart wrote 27 divertimenti, and many other composers contributed their own pieces to this classical genre.  You'll find most of them on YouTube.  Consider them the "pop music" of the classical era.


Saturday, May 29, 2021

Saturday Snippet: Wizardry, ships and swords


Christian Cameron has written some of the finest historical fiction on the market today.  Under the pseudonym Miles Cameron, he's also produced some of the very best fantasy I've had the privilege of reading.  I have all his books, and re-read them regularly, which is the highest recommendation I can give them.

His Masters and Mages fantasy trilogy is captivating.  I find myself re-reading it at least once every year, and sometimes more often.  It's a thrilling blend of historically recognizable threads, woven by a master storyteller into something greater than the sum of their parts.  This morning I'd like to bring you an early chapter from the first volume of the trilogy, "Cold Iron".

We talk about "world-building":  how a writer builds the world in which he's writing, and introduces it to his readers, so that they feel drawn into it and become a part of it, following his vision with their own imagination.  Please read this excerpt from that perspective, looking at how Mr. Cameron draws us into his fictional world and makes us feel at home there.  It's a masterful display of the craft.

(One caution:  I normally keep this blog family-friendly, but there are a couple of F-bombs in this excerpt.  If that bothers you, you might want to skip it.)

It was almost dark when he prepared to make his way down to the docks which all but surrounded the City. He had a simple leather shoulder sack, a heavy cloak rolled and tied to it, and the sword—his most expensive possession and one that he wasn’t sure he should even carry—on his waist belt with his purse.

He liked the sword, even though he wasn’t very good with it. He wasn’t sure it was completely legal for him to carry it outside the City, but it had, in just a few weeks, become a part of him. A symbol of the changes. An identity. Students were allowed swords by ancient privilege. Also, it wasn’t an Arnaut sword, curved and razor sharp. It was a Byzas sword, an old one, with a complex hilt that seemed at odds with the simple, heavy blade.

If the sword was one outward sign, then so were his clothes—City clothes, nothing like what Arnauts wore: tight knit stockings and boots and a doublet with buttons to the throat. Arnauts, like Attians, wore baggy trousers and voluminous shirts and turbans or skullcaps or both. It occurred to Aranthur how much he would stick out at home, in his City clothes, with his City sword.

He grinned at his reflection in his room-mate’s expensive mirror. With brown skin and green eyes, no one would ever mistake him for an aristocrat, but he was satisfied with what he saw, and he was tall and powerfully built, and size had advantages.

He settled the sword on his hip and imagined arriving home with it—imagined his father’s annoyance, his mother’s worry, his sister’s admiration. He nodded, put the cover on his brazier to seal the fire, said a prayer to the Eagle, and walked down the steep steps of the ancient building in which he lived: six flights, and his sword tapping on every step.

He’d forgotten to return Kati’s penknife. He paused on the stairs and swallowed a curse. But he was honest enough to admit that if he went back to return the knife to her room, he might just stay.

He went out into the afternoon air of the City instead.

The City was vast, a long peninsula riddled with alleys and criss-crossed with canals. Every street led to the sea in at least one direction, and some in both, and wharves full of ships bound to the whole of the known world waited at every pier. It was an aspect of the City that he loved above all others. But the Academy dominated the highest hill, and its precincts included not just the ancient, magnificent buildings of its founder, but the rows and rows of taverns, inns, and tall houses with crazy chimneys that had been built over a thousand years for the students and the masters, their fronts decorated with crazy patterns or magnificent frescoes, fresh or ancient. Most of those houses had glass windows, because students required light to read and write, and the winter sun reflected on glass and sparkled like ice; away to the north, at the top of the City, the Emperor’s palace positively glittered with mosaics and the crystal dome of ten thousand panes that rose over his reception hall into a high point like a spire. And to the east, the Temple of Light dominated the waterfront like a mountain made by men. To the west, the rose marble “Palace of the City” where the Great Assembly met and sat.

The sight never failed to make him breathe deeply and contemplate his own insignificance. Born a farm child in the distant Arnaut hills, the largest building he had known was the village’s stone barn, and later the local lord’s manor house where he had learned his letters and his first cantrips.

Even the deep woods he loved could not really rival the City.

At the base of his street, lined with tall houses and overshadowed by wooden galleries, balconies, and even bridges at the upper levels, he turned left, descending the hill towards the canals. There, on the first terrace, was the statue of the Founder: Tirase. He faced the statue, a little self-consciously, and made a reverence on one knee, the point of his scabbard catching on the cobblestones. Tirase gazed out over his Academy—a long, ascetic face, relieved by the obvious humour of his mouth and the ever so slightly raised eyebrow. He wore a simple long gown and he was pointing east. Theories abounded as to why.

Aranthur straightened. He revered Tirase; he was always aware that without the man’s reforms, he would be tending milk cows in Soulis. He made a face and went down the marble steps. He’d never known the Academy to be so empty. He’d never been alone on the terrace before, and he had the odd feeling that his hero was watching him.

At the base of the steps he passed over the line of gold set in the ground that marked the Precinct. He paused at the shrine of the goddess Sophia and said a brief prayer, a simple invocation and request for blessing on his travel, and then he crossed the line.

As soon as he was out of the Academy he thought in terms of his own people, the People of the Eagle, the Arnauts. They were not against the one great Goddess of Wisdom that the educated preferred, but at home they tended to worship the Twelve, and especially the Eagle, the great god of the sky and of lightning, and his pantheon of brothers and sisters and lovers and enemies, and the Lady, who might or might not be Sophia. He wasn’t sure he believed in the Eagle any more, but the Eagle was pinned to his thoughts in ways that gentle Sophia was not. His first weeks at the Academy had taught him to reflect on such things. He had a Magos who said the gods were nonsense invented for weak minds, and he had another who claimed that all power came from the goddess, and that only the most rigid adherence to her tenets would allow a student to master power. But here, walking along a canal no wider than the alleys above him, smelling the sea, he was a different young man.

Although he was turned away roughly by the first ship he tried, the second ship was different. She was a small lugger whose owner was the captain, and Aranthur felt that the Eagle was with him; indeed, there was a carved eagle on the bow.

The ship was bound for the Gulf of Lonika, had need of a strong back, and when the captain heard he was a student at the Academy, the older man took him immediately.

“Can you master a wind?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“No, Master,” he said.

He wanted to add that he understood the principle—that in an emergency … Instead he touched his kuria and shook his head.

Farming taught you to keep your silence. So did the Academy. Farming also taught you to work hard.

The ship’s master nodded.

“Good, a straight answer. What’s your name, boy?” he asked, kindly enough.

“Aranthur,” said the young man. “Aranthur Timos.”

“Arnaut?” the man asked.

“Yes, Master.”

The man tugged at his own beard and nodded.

“My wife’s an Arnaut. Five days, and if you help us unload, five silver chalkes.”

The student bowed. “At your service,” he said, and both men spat on their hands and shook.

Aranthur was no sailor, but he had grown up within two days’ walk of the ocean and he’d been on a few ships. He didn’t get sick, but he didn’t really know how anything worked, either. He simply stood amidships all day waiting to be tasked, and the work wasn’t too bad. They didn’t overwork him, and he loved to stand on the deck just at the edge of darkness and watch the stars come up in the firmament, to say the prayers he’d learned at school and watch the sky as he had been taught for signs and portents. There was plenty to see: a meteor storm; a confusing flash in the heavens; the Eagle constellation, more gloriously laid out than he’d ever seen the nightly manifestation of his people’s god.

The breeze was steady despite the onrush of winter, and even when snow fell on the ship, the wind didn’t rise. They sighted land early in the morning of the fifth day. Before noon they were alongside a pier, and Aranthur was stripped to the waist despite the weather, throwing bags of grain grown in Atti from the hold up onto the deck. It was, at first, an excellent piece of exercise, and then it became dull. He turned his mind elsewhere, heaving sack after sack to the men above him, covered in sweat, and he did it until his arm muscles trembled with fatigue, but five silver crosses would transform his holidays and he was used to hard work. He lifted and threw, lifted and threw until his arms would barely function.

And then, suddenly, they were done. The sailors were as eager to go to their homes as Aranthur was to go to his, and after a couple of warm embraces, Aranthur was virtually alone. He was alone long enough to fear that the ship’s master had forgotten to pay him, and then the older man came up the gangplank from the pier.

“You’re a good worker,” he said. He handed over a small leather bag. “Count it, lad. There are more thieves than honest men in this world, by Draxos.”

Aranthur opened the little purse. There were six silver chalkes and a tiny gold sequin.

“For my sins,” the ship’s master said with a smile. “Pray for me, will you, Student?”

Aranthur bowed. “It is too much.”

The older man smiled bitterly. “Bah. Perhaps. I got a fine price for the grain. Darknight is coming, eh? Best do a good deed. Take it, and eat well, and think of me.”

He nodded and stomped off to his cabin.

Aranthur went down the plank, shrugging into his wool cote and getting tangled in the knife he wore around his neck. He was cooling off rapidly, and he pulled on a hood, paused, and realised he had left his sword. Almost as if it had called out to him.

He stopped at a dockside tavern that looked faintly reputable and ate a good cuttlefish stew, black with squid’s ink. Eating fish didn’t trouble him, although he made the invocation to the spirit of the fish. It was a matter of debate among the learned as to whether fish had the spark or not. Aranthur grinned, thinking of how hot such debates could be, and how different theory was from a bowl of fish stew on a cold morning.

But the day was still young and even with a sequin in his purse, he didn’t have the time or money to linger in Lonika.

Still, the men in the tavern—and they were all men—were talkative, and he listened. And then, in turn, the barkeep asked him where he had come from. The barkeep was eyeing his sword.

Aranthur was already wondering if the sword had been a mistake.

“Academy.” He was really quite proud of his status as a Student. In the City it didn’t mean that much, but here …

One man actually tipped his hat. The others made faces.

“I saw a Lightbringer yesterday,” said the man who’d tipped his hat. “Civil bloke. Very civil.”

“Very few students become Lightbringers,” Aranthur explained. “I myself …”

The barkeep was still looking at his sword.

“Saw a swordsman yesterday,” he said. “He was from the city. A Master.”

Aranthur nodded. “I’m not a master of anything. I’m just a student going home for the Feast.”

“Oh, aye,” said the first man with a smile. “Home?”

“In the hills,” Aranthur said.

“Oh, the hills,” a sailor muttered. He touched his knife and muttered, “Mongrel.”

Coastal people were very fair, like Voltains in the west. Arnauts were a race of mongrels, all the shades of the earth. Aranthur himself was betwixt and between, like most of his people; he was green-eyed, but coloured like old wood.

But despite the hostility of the one sailor, the others wished him well. The idea that he was going home for the great feast made him more normal to them; a longshoreman patted him on the back. Another asked for a blessing. Aranthur had never given anyone except his sister a blessing before. But he swallowed, made the sign of the Eagle on his chest, and managed to say a prayer without faltering.

The man grinned. “You’ll do,” he said, and went about his business.

Aranthur hoisted his pack and went out into the brisk air. He pointed his nose north and west, and began to walk. In ten minutes he was passing a statue of the Founder, and he paused and made his reverence.

A minute later he was approaching the landward gate. A pair of soldiers watched him and he had the uncomfortable knowledge that he held the focus of their attention because he had a sword.

The shorter one looked dangerous: a heavy mouth set in a frown; short as a Jhugj, the old folk of the hills. The taller one, seen closer, was a woman, wide-shouldered but slim. She had a fine steel breastplate and every inch of her was armoured in plain steel polished like a mirror. Her peaked armet made her appear taller. Her armour had bronze edgework, and she had a fine edge of scalloped red leather on her breastplate—worth a fortune. In the City, Aranthur had learned to notice such things.

The short man’s face told Aranthur he was to be stopped, so he paused.

“Let me see your slicer.”

The man’s voice was deep and rough. His maille was heavy, made up of rings of different sizes, and his leather-work spoke of money and hard use together. Aranthur did leather-work to fund his studies; he knew the good stuff when he saw it.

Aranthur took the sword out carefully and handed it pommel first to the guard.

“Stupid sword for a stripling,” he said. “Too big for you. Steal it?”

“No, sir,” Aranthur said.


“Yes, sir.” Aranthur nodded his head as if he was speaking to a Master at the Academy.

“Thieves and cut-throats,” the guard said. “And you more of the same, I guess.”

“No, sir,” Aranthur said. “I’ll just keep your sword, honey,” the guard said. “Strip that belt and give me the scabbard too.”

The short man was watching him; even in Aranthur’s state of near panic, he noted that the powerful man was intent and careful, as if he, Aranthur, might be dangerous.

“Drek …” The woman’s voice was deep, and had a cool dignity Aranthur wouldn’t have expected in a guard.

“I have a writ,” Aranthur said, his voice rising. He tried to breathe, to practise the control he’d learned at the Academy. That sword represented every penny he’d saved …

“Let me see it.” The woman sounded bored.

Aranthur fumbled in his belt-purse, the feeling of panic rising, clouding his ability to find the thrice-damned fold of vellum.

He drew a breath and touched his kuria. Paused, accepted the calm, even if it was artificial.

The moment he touched the crystal, the woman stepped back and put a hand on her sword hilt.

Of course he’d put it in his coin purse. An inner pocket.

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

She kept her distance.

“You are a Magos?”

“Keep both hands where I can see ’em,” said the short, heavy guard. He drew and put the edge of his sword against Aranthur’s throat all in one motion. “You don’t have a fuckin’ writ.” He was grinning now. “And you’re wasting my time.”

Aranthur’s fingers closed on it. The vellum was smooth and cold, and he extracted it, and held it out, the artificial calm of the talisman helping him.

The woman opened it with practised fingers, left handed, her right still on her sword hilt.

She looked at him with her head tilted slightly, as if he was something foreign to her.

“You are an Imperial Student?” she asked, her intonation putting the capitals on the words.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

“Oh, by the Lady, anyone can say …” The guard rolled his eyes, but the woman gave him one look and he was silent.

She nodded, folded Aranthur’s writ and tapped it on the back of her sword hand.

“Give the boy his sword, Drek.”

Drek obeyed. He wasn’t even surly, he just handed it over.

“Can’t let everyone walk about armed,” he said.

Aranthur wanted to sheathe the sword easily, but his hands were shaking, and he fumbled with it for so long that the big guard reached over and slipped it home in the scabbard.

“Too long for you, boy,” he said. “That hilt is old-fashioned …”

Aranthur nodded. The woman scratched under her chin and looked out of the gate.

Aranthur was calming; he had enough control of his fear to note that the woman in the fine helmet was perhaps forty, and had a strong face and even features and looked like …

“That writ is for students learning to fight in the City,” she said. “I’ll pass you—you are a Student, after all. It might as well be tattooed on your head. But …”

She looked at him, and suddenly he saw that she was not a lowly gate-guard. She was someone else—someone reviewing the watch, or commanding the town. And that he was very, very lucky she had been here. She gave him a flick of her eyebrows. A quarter of a smile.

The big guard nodded. “There’s a lot of crap out there, Student,” he said. “Where are you headed?”

“Home,” Aranthur said. “The hills.”

The guard grunted, as if the hills made him uncomfortable.

“We hear there’s fighting out west,” the woman said. “Be careful.” She looked at him intently.

“Get a smaller sword,” the big man called after him.

Aranthur walked away, his cheeks burning, thankful and indignant by turns. As his feet crunched the new snow he heard the man say, “Fluster him and see what he’s made of …” and a moment later, “I was not stealing his fucking sword, ma’am.”

The book - and the trilogy - just gets better from there.  Highly recommended, if you enjoy fantasy.


Friday, May 28, 2021

Yes, the dollar really is worth that little


We've spoken at length in these pages about inflation and the vanishing worth of the dollar.  The two are synonymous.  I pointed out earlier this year:

It's not that products and services are worth more, and therefore getting more expensive - it's that the currency we use to buy them is worth less, because it's becoming depreciated ... The US government, over the past year, printed or electronically created over 40% of all the dollars that have ever existed.

There's more at the link.

In another article, I noted:

The reason house prices, share prices, etc. are all continually rising is that the "funny money" created by the Federal Reserve (the red in the graph above) is funding the increase.  More and more empty, valueless dollars, created out of thin air without any underlying economic value, are chasing whatever they can buy that does have economic value.  That's the very definition of inflation:  more money chasing the same amount of goods.  What happens when all those "funny money" dollars are exposed as having no underlying economic value, and therefore become monetarily valueless?  Just look at how much the dollar has declined in value over the past century or so.  Expect an even greater collapse in the not too distant future, as the Fed's economic chickens come home to roost.

Again, more at the link.

Now Aesop brings his own perspective to bear on the issue, and does so very well.

IOW, in real commodity-based pricing, your dollar is worth exactly 50 times less now than in 1913. That would be...2¢. Color me shocked. Gold, chocolate, coffee: all confirm the data ... Your real wages, IOW, have slipped nearly 40% because of just inflation in the last century. You're making less actual money, and everything is costing more inflated dollars to buy. And it doesn't last as well.

. . .

$26.14 is now supposedly worth $1. But $1 is worth 2¢. To have the same $26.14 as you had in your pocket in 1913, you'd need $1307 in dollars right now. Or $2407.69 in gold. That's 5000% cumulative inflation over a tad more than a century. It's about 4% annually, every year, forever, compounded. And bear in mind, the government pays no taxes on inflated dollars. You do. Put another way, your dollar bill from 1913, when it was gold-backed, should now measure 18 inches high and nearly 4 feet long, because that's now much it's been inflated. That's a beach towel. If you wanted to know how much it's shrunken in value, it should measure 1/10" tall by not quite 1/4" long.

. . .

That's how you get to 100 trillion dollar banknotes. Because a $50 [bill] today ... is a $1 from 1913. And we're headed for it being [a] $100 bill, soon. Long before you get to $100 trillion, the paper and ink are worth more intrinsically than their actual face value. Hence the toilet paper and kindling stage.

. . .

I say yet again, BRACE FOR IMPACT.  Because the first time the US economy hiccups, the whole house of cards comes all the way down. Look what one sector eating it did to us in 1999 or 2008. Now imagine that with everything, simultaneously.

More at the link.

I wish I could disagree with Aesop, but I can't.  I think we're poised on the precipice of an almighty economic hiccup, and I can only pray that we don't make this sort of landing (thanks for the link, Aesop!) at the bottom.

We won't recover from that economic landing nearly as well (or as often) in the real world as Wile E. Coyote does in that cartoon.


Is there a "massive pattern of fraud in the USA"?


A correspondent calling him- or herself "Mercy Flush" makes that allegation at Free Republic.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

This is my personal observation of a pattern of suspicious activities and behaviors going on in the government of a certain West Coast Democrat-operated state that will remain nameless (but it's just south of Oregon).

Approximately ten years ago I observed a massive increase in turnover in the accounting departments and HR departments of state agencies responsible for making grants of state and Federal money to the public. This phenomenon did not seem to impact any agencies that do not issue payments to the public.

In prior years the pattern within state government was that accounting staff would frequently spend an entire 30-40 year career with one agency. This meant they had significant experience and understanding of the financial operations of the agency and this led to efficiency. The same applied to Personnel/HR staff.

Then starting around ten years ago the pattern abruptly flipped. New managers were hired into most accounting and HR offices and they ruthlessly purged or isolated older, experienced staff. These people were replaced with younger, less experienced people who were typically recent college graduates.

The typical tenure of more than half of these new accounting and HR staff at a particular agency is less than one year. For whatever reason they frequently fail probation and are then removed from their jobs. Some of them face inexplicable acts of retaliation by their managers and numerous lawsuits have resulted as affected individuals have fought back.

This phenomenon impacting accounting and HR staff did not exist prior to 2010.

The advent of this staffing issue coincides with the rise in a specific indicator of fraud: Multiple recipients of fraudulent payments listed at the same real or fictional addresses.

. . .

Because of the persistent instances of high turnover and retaliatory acts by a broad spectrum of managers after 2010 it is not a small logical leap to assume that this phenomenon is tacitly sanctioned by the people who own and operate state government.

Based on my own informal observations I've concluded that the fraudulent acts of likely embezzlement includes a database of approximately 600,000 to as many as 900,000 fictional persons. The purpose of the fraud is quite possibly to move Federal funds from certain accounts transferring them to non-Federal accounts. This amounts to likely tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars being siphoned off from Federal programs over an eleven year period.

Some of these funds are likely being redirected to state government accounts.

A recent case in point: the over $31 billion dollars in fraudulent unemployment claims issued by California's Employment Development Department (EDD). A relative handful of criminals have been arrested for this fraud and that accounts for less than .5% of the total amount of the estimated fraud. Note that some estimates of the fraud are as high as $80 billion.

No one at EDD has been arrested, demoted, prosecuted, reprimanded, or kicked out of the office coffee club over this fraud. Why? Because I don't think any of the front line staff for EDD were involved. These hard working folks are backlogged trying to clear a massive number of legitimate unemployment claims.

I believe the fraud was automated and that a very few individuals were directly involved in the actual crime. I believe the fraud was automated for the very simple reason that legitimate claims are still backlogged. The fraud was quickly processed because there was no actual review of the claim involved.

Okay, now this goes to the next step.

Someone created a database of up to 900,000 fictional persons. Some of those fictional persons are listed as living at the same real or sometimes fictional addresses.

And starting in 2016 someone got the bright idea to use this list of fictional persons to commit vote fraud. I believe this fraud recurred in 2020.

. . .

I am not an investigator but I also suspect that an inquiry into vote fraud and into fraud relating to payments from government agencies will inevitably demonstrate a concurrence of fictional individuals and multiple fictional individuals listed at the same real or fictional addresses.

I have no reason to believe that this criminal enterprise has ceased their activities. I also would not be the least bit surprised to see a concurrence between payment fraud and voter fraud in other states.

Remember how Obama was supposedly creating a massive database of his supporters? What if that story was to cover for the creation of a massive database of fictional persons who would be used to finance and influence future elections?

There's more at the link.

Those are important questions to ask, but I've seen no coverage whatsoever of the allegations in the mainstream media.  What say you, readers?  Do any of you have any insight or information that would either substantiate or refute them?

Given Californian politics at this time, I suspect there won't be any official investigation of the situation - but one hopes that someone, somewhere, at some stage, will do so, there and in other states.  If true, such allegations might explain much about how the November 2020 electoral fraud was funded, organized and perpetrated - and how those behind it hope to get away with it again in future.


The curse of "identity politics": setting groups at each other's throats


The Democratic Party and the Biden Administration are systematically pushing the poison of "identity politics" on us in every conceivable walk of life.  I think Prof. Amy Chua described it well.

When groups feel threatened, they retreat into tribalism. When groups feel mistreated and disrespected, they close ranks and become more insular, more defensive, more punitive, more us-versus-them.

In America today, every group feels this way to some extent. Whites and blacks, Latinos and Asians, men and women, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, straight people and gay people, liberals and conservatives – all feel their groups are being attacked, bullied, persecuted, discriminated against.

Of course, one group’s claims to feeling threatened and voiceless are often met by another group’s derision because it discounts their own feelings of persecution – but such is political tribalism.

This – combined with record levels of inequality – is why we now see identity politics on both sides of the political spectrum. And it leaves the United States in a perilous new situation: almost no one is standing up for an America without identity politics, for an American identity that transcends and unites all the country’s many subgroups.

There's more at the link, and in her book "Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations".

We see this on our streets in the violence propagated and encouraged by groups such as Black Lives Matter and Antifa, and in our politics by budgetary and other allocations aimed at specific identity groups, rather than at the needs of Americans as a whole.  Critical race theory is a well-known outgrowth of identity politics, seeking to understand history, culture and society in terms of identity politics, prioritizing some races and criticizing or denigrating others.

Tragically, when one or more groups start agitating on the basis of identity politics and its offshoots, they polarize and politicize the differences between other groups in society.  Before long, each group seeks to prioritize its own interests at the expense of others, so as not to lose out.  The result is what we see today in America:  a nation divided, where national unity takes second place in the hearts and minds of most Americans compared to their own sectarian, racial, cultural, economic or other interests.  Injustices committed against other groups are excused or even ignored, because addressing them might cause more resources to be devoted to those groups, and less to our own.

In fact, government is seen as a zero sum game;  it has a finite amount of resources, and must divide those between the groups fighting for their share of them.  There's no sense of spending equally on all Americans to deal with national problems - everything is broken down into special interests and groups, fighting each other for their slice of the pie.  Usually, this means taking part of the slice of someone else's pie and giving it to another - which touches off the next cycle of outrage and demands for redress.

The trouble is, this has divided us so greatly that it may no longer be possible to talk about an "American" rather than a "hyphenated American".  As Theodore Roosevelt put it, more than a century ago:

There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all. This is just as true of the man who puts ‘native’ before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen. Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance. But if he is heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as anyone else.

The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality, than with the other citizens of the American Republic. The men who do not become Americans and nothing else are hyphenated Americans; and there ought to be no room for them in this country. The man who calls himself an American citizen and who yet shows by his actions that he is primarily the citizen of a foreign land, plays a thoroughly mischievous part in the life of our body politic. He has no place here; and the sooner he returns to the land to which he feels his real heart allegiance, the better it will be for every good American. There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.

Again, more at the link.  More recent terms such as "African-American", "Hispanic-American" or "Native American" are, IMHO, just as divisive as those highlighted above.

The wisdom of the late President Roosevelt's remarks is borne out by many of the statements, appeals and screeds that appear daily in our news media.  Almost without exception, they seek to divide Americans by emphasizing and prioritizing this, or that, or the other group over our national identity.  Essentially, they're doing all they can to destroy our national identity.  The same is evident in other nations.  Witness the two recent letters from retired and current military figures in France to President Macron concerning the divisions within that country, and their call to re-establish national unity as a culture and a polity (not to mention their implicit threat to act if he doesn't do so).

Is it too late to begin to re-emphasize a national identity?  Have we already become too riven by division and identity politics to have an agreed "American identity" at all?  I begin to fear so.  My recent series of articles on "Defending yourself in a progressive, left-wing environment" was inspired by the self-evident reality that many of our law enforcement and justice systems, local, regional and national, are now deliberately, actively and openly biased against certain groups and in favor of others.  When that is not only permitted, not only tolerated, but actively encouraged by the highest authorities in the land, then there can be no national identity.

If the enemies of this nation had actively conspired to undermine it, they couldn't have done a better job than identity politics has accomplished.  To restore America as a nation, we're going to have to undermine identity politics - and too many groups and individuals now identify themselves with the latter to make that easily achievable.  I believe those responsible for that should pay the price for their actions.


Thursday, May 27, 2021

When police won't uphold the law, sooner or later the community will act


In the second article of my recent series titled "Defending yourself in a progressive, left-wing environment", I pointed out, concerning the situation in South Africa during the most difficult years of resistance against apartheid:

The first thing that had to be done was to ensure local law and order by keeping as many criminals as possible at a distance.  This wasn't easy.  In such a lawless environment, many local gangsters set themselves up as warlords, dominating their areas and exacting a toll on residents to fund their criminal lifestyles.  Any resistance was met with savage reprisals.  Sadly, that meant the resistance also became more and more savage.  The Golden Rule tells us to "do to others as you want them to do to you".  If gangsters behave brutally, they must expect brutality in return - and they got it, in spades.

Tragically, once such attitudes become embedded in a community (including an ongoing, abiding distrust of the police and the authorities), they may continue to take the law into their own hands.  That's just happened (again) in Zandspruit, South Africa, where the victims were beaten up, tortured, and then executed by the dreaded "necklace".  It's the latest in literally hundreds of vigilante "executions" in that nation over the past year.

Gory images of the remains of eight men lying with their hands tied behind their backs with rope while their bodies are charred beyond recognition have once more highlighted the horrors of vigilantism or mob justice in some townships and informal settlements.

The eight victims found in an open field in Honeydew informal settlement, known as Zandspruit, Joburg this week will drastically increase the 903 number of people already murdered as a result of vigilantism in the last year in South Africa, according to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) figures supplied by the head of justice and violence Gareth Newham.

Witnesses have alleged that some members of the community rounded up suspects by beating one after another and forcing them to point out their fellow gang members. The men were then frogmarched to the open field where one resident described a heart-wrenching scene where they were beaten up with everything at the hands of the mob, including stones, sjamboks and hacked with axes and other dangerous objects while they were lying on the ground.

“It was horrible. They were bleeding and screaming for help while being dragged to the soccer field. The group was actually looking for 12 boys, three of whom managed to escape,” said a man who seemed unaffected by what he saw.

In the aftermath of the rage and mob justice, eight men succumbed to the injuries – four at the scene while another four died in hospital. The survivor is alleged to have been saved after pleading for his hands to be cut rather, is fighting for his life after he suffered burns on both arms.

. . .

One of the resident at the scene, Sphamandla Dludlu, said although he doesn’t condone what happened, these boys were very problematic. “This has been going on for a while now. There are lots of these boys, from different groups. These boys terrorised the community. My friend was killed by one of these groups called “Tripple O” in 2019,” he said.

He said one of the reasons that led to the community taking the law into their hands was the police’s lack of response to crimes.

“We report criminal activities to the police, but they sometimes tell us that there are no vehicles to attend to our complaints. Even those who killed my friend are out there enjoying their lives. We were told that an investigator who was dealing with the case has been transferred to Mpumalanga and that the dockets were missing. Now the community is fed up and opted to deal with these boys on their own,” he said.

There's more at the link.

I fear we'll see similar events in this country, if local police turn into partisan agents who allow certain groups to get away with their crimes while cracking down on others who are not in political favor.  The latter appears to be happening in left-wing, liberal, progressive jurisdictions across the country, and people are rapidly losing patience as a result.  It can't be long before we reach a flashpoint in one or more of those areas - and once that happens, things get out of control very quickly indeed.  I know.  I've seen it at first hand.

BLM and Antifa extremists might want to take note of that . . . before it's too late.


You may not like the law, but you disobey it at your peril


I've had a few readers take me for task for insisting that I'll follow all applicable laws, rules and regulations in the firearms raffles I've recently conducted.  They've claimed that "nobody will ever know" if they win, drive across state lines to meet me, and just collect the gun in person.  "The Second Amendment says it's OK!", they trumpet.  "We can ignore any laws that don't obey the Constitution!"

Well, quite apart from questions of basic honesty and morality, here's why I won't follow such requests.

A man charged with illegally buying the gun Kyle Rittenhouse used in two deadly shootings during the Kenosha unrest last August appeared in court Tuesday.

Dominick Black, 19, of Racine, was charged with two counts of intentionally giving a dangerous weapon to a person under the age of 18, causing death.

He entered a not guilty plea.

. . .

At the time of the deadly shootings, Rittenhouse was 17 years old and not legally permitted by Wisconsin law to buy or own an assault rifle.

Prosecutors said Black bought the gun for Rittenhouse in what is known as a straw purchase.

. . .

Black could face up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

There's more at the link.  Earlier news reports indicated that Rittenhouse had used his COVID-19 stimulus money, giving it to Black to buy the rifle on his behalf.

That's why I said, as clearly as possible, in my raffle announcements:

Needless to say, all laws, rules and regulations will be followed.  If you live in Texas and are within easy driving distance of the Wichita Falls area (my nearest big city), we can do a face-to-face transfer;  otherwise, the firearm will be shipped to your Federal Firearms License dealer and transferred there, complete with background check.  Please don't ask me to break the law, because I won't.  I've been a prison chaplain, so I already know how unpleasant life behind bars can be - and you don't want to find out.

I even took the trouble to contact the ATF directly to check that I had the law straight, and would not be in violation of it by following the above procedure.  The representative to whom I spoke gave me the green light to proceed on that basis, and provided that I didn't buy the gun for the purposes of the raffle, but used one that was already part of my collection, and had been for some time.  (Disposing of all or part of one's collection to defray medical expenses is apparently regarded by the agency as justified by a legitimate need.)

Folks, we may disagree on whether a given law, or rule, or regulation, is constitutional or appropriate or fair:  but when the rubber meets the road, the legal system applies and enforces existing laws.  Unless a judge rules that law to be unconstitutional (which happens very seldom), it will govern our actions, and a jury will find us guilty or innocent based on how well we followed and obeyed it (or otherwise).  Feeling resentful and/or rebellious about it won't matter a damn in the cold, hard light of a court of law, where facts rule (or, at least, are supposed to rule) over feelings.

If Dominick Black is convicted of a straw purchase, he'll not only go to prison:  he'll also lose his Second Amendment rights for the rest of his life.  Furthermore, whether or not Kyle Rittenhouse was legitimately defending himself when he shot his three opponents (which has yet to be adjudicated in court), he's already openly and publicly admitted to being guilty of involvement in the same crime.  Even if he's found innocent of murder, I expect he'll be charged with that violation, and - if convicted - he'll probably spend time in prison for it, and lose his Second Amendment rights as well.



The joys of small town life...


In the small hours of this morning, my wife and I were awakened by a sound guaranteed to jerk us out of a sound sleep.  Incredulous, we looked at each other, only to hear again a low, melodious, inquiring "Moo?"

She, more awake than I, jumped out of bed to investigate, and came back giggling to inform me that we had a cow on our front lawn, sniffing curiously at the bushes in front of her study window.  It seems our neighbor's herd had broken down the fence (again), and decided to go walkabout through the neighborhood.  Our cats, staring through the window, were Not. Impressed. by our large visitors.

We were shortly treated to the spectacle of our local police arriving in their latest-technology SUV's, only to have to leave them on the road while they used their bright tactical flashlights to pursue cows who were having a very nice time, thank you, and didn't see any reason to return to their field.  They were (literally) enjoying pastures new, particularly lawns that had been well watered by recent rains and not yet trimmed back to size.

(You can read my wife's impressions of the incident here.)

In due course, the cows departed, and peace returned to our street.  Despite the rude awakening, we enjoyed the episode.  It's one of the little things about small town life that makes it fun to live here.  Big city folks don't know what they're missing!


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The devil's in the details: "Community Gun Violence Prevention"


An opinion piece in US News by anti-gun activists Andrew Papachristos and Daniel Webster sounds reasonable on the surface, but when you dig deeper turns out to be a tissue of fabrication and falsehood.  It looks very much like an attempt to divert billions of dollars of the "infrastructure spending" promised by President Biden to the cause of gun control.  I won't reproduce the entire article here - you can read it for yourself - but it's worth addressing some of its points.

First off, most of the statistics and studies cited in the article come from anti-gun sources.  (Follow the links in the article for yourself, and check out where they come from.)  Their scholarship is dubious, their bias is clear, and I don't think anyone in his right mind would regard them as fair and balanced in their approach.  Many of them are probably quantifiable only as unverifiable estimates, as in this claim:

Researchers estimate the economic toll of gun violence in the U.S. to be $280 billion, a price tag that includes the costs of short- and long-term physical and mental health care, forgone earnings, reduced quality of life for victims and criminal justice expenditures.

Who assigned a monetary value to "forgone earnings" or "reduced quality of life", and how?  Those are basically unquantifiable - they're "what if" guesstimates.  When such supporting evidence is the only thing cited in support of the authors' positions, it's fairly clear where those positions will lead.

The authors go on:

What America urgently needs is community violence prevention infrastructure, a system of physical, social, political and financial connections among community violence preventionists that can support, develop and sustain on-the-ground efforts to reduce gun violence. As with all public goods, such a system will require public investment and long-term commitments from government at all levels, as well as from community institutions.

. . .

New York City has seen success with programs that involve outreach and violence interruption and mediation, and efforts in Los Angeles have linked outreach with connections to job opportunities and other services. Oakland, California, greatly reduced its homicide rate by more narrowly focusing arrests, implementing targeted outreach efforts, and making substantial investments in social services and other prevention measures.

. . .

A community gun violence infrastructure would connect resources from all levels of government to the communities most impacted by gun violence by building thoroughfares between organizations, communities, government and resources. New York City's Office to Prevent Gun Violence and Oakland Unite represent models for how this might unfold at a local level.

That all sounds wonderful, doesn't it?  Well . . . it sounds wonderful until one looks at what's actually happening in the cities the article cites as success stories.  I give you two recent headlines:

There are many more I could have cited, but those will do for now.  Those models of "community violence prevention infrastructure" suddenly don't sound so wonderful, do they?  How the article can cite them as success stories, when their impact on the ground is effectively zero or even negative, I can't quite figure out.

Now we come to the meat of the matter.

The blueprint of any gun violence infrastructure must recognize that the expert architects of such systems often reside in these very same communities. And gun violence prevention leaders across the country, including many of those who attended a recent White House briefing, have experiences and ideas that can fundamentally shape a prevention infrastructure in more fair, just and impactful ways.

Of course, investing in infrastructure is costly. It requires the labor and materials to build and sustain it. Investing in community violence infrastructure means building and training a new community-centered workforce – essentially, a new form of public health worker or public safety professional.

Oh, really?  Well, here are a few questions.

  • If the "expert architects" of "gun violence infrastructure" already "reside in these very same communities", then why the hell haven't they already been more successful in reducing gun violence there?  Seems to me their efforts have so far resulted in abject failure.  How would throwing more money at the situation change that?
  • What, precisely, are their "experiences and ideas" that can "fundamentally shape a prevention infrastructure in more fair, just and impactful ways"?  Most of those I've read about while browsing the links in the article appear to be completely unqualified to do anything except serve as "community organizers".  Our experience of such individuals in this country, particularly at senior levels, has not been such as to inspire great confidence in their abilities.  I'm against giving them a single cent unless and until we know for sure it's being well spent.
  • So the authors want "a new community-centered workforce – essentially, a new form of public health worker or public safety professional".  Sounds to me like yet another variation of "Defund the police and replace them with social workers".  Having served as a prison chaplain in a high-security penitentiary, allow me to assure you from personal experience that such criminals aren't your average innocent little baa lamb.  Their only respect for law and order comes from the fact that they know the police (or the prison guards) will shoot them if they go too far - and even that knowledge doesn't stop many of them.  What makes the authors think that touchy-feely "public health workers" will get through to them where even a bullet won't?

This sounds to me like yet another attempt to rake off billions of dollars of US taxpayer money, and pour it down the bottomless pit of yet more "community organizations" and "social upliftment" schemes.

If the authors expect me, or anyone else, to agree to fund such efforts, they'd better show us first when, where and how such community efforts have succeeded.  They don't have to limit themselves to gun violence;  they can take any and every community organization effort in our cities.  I want to know how much has been spent on each project or program, and I want a dollar value on what it's achieved, so I can compare input costs to output results.  If the balance isn't positive, why throw good money after bad?  In almost every case with which I'm familiar, such a cost-benefit analysis has been uniformly negative.

Based on the decades-long, appalling state of society in many inner-city suburbs wracked by violence and crime, I have no faith in those cities' previous community organizing efforts, and I have no faith that a national program will do any better than a local one.  This entire proposal seems to be nothing more than a call to allow the anti-gun movement to feed at the national taxpayer trough, without accountability and without scruple.

My answer is simply, "No."


"Lies, damned lies, and statistics": accounting for COVID-19 cases


No-one knows for sure who first used the phrase "Lies, damned lies, and statistics", but it's become a truism in our society.  It certainly looks as if it applies to official US government statistics for COVID-19 infections, which appear to be about as (un)trustworthy as its statistics on inflation.

Off-Guardian reports that the CDC is changing its measurement criteria.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) is altering its practices of data logging and testing for “Covid19” in order to make it seem the experimental gene-therapy “vaccines” are effective at preventing the alleged disease.

. . .

Essentially, Covid19 has long been shown – to those willing to pay attention – to be an entirely created pandemic narrative built on two key factors:

  1. False-postive tests. The unreliable PCR test can be manipulated into reporting a high number of false-positives by altering the cycle threshold (CT value)
  2. Inflated Case-count. The incredibly broad definition of “Covid case”, used all over the world, lists anyone who receives a positive test as a “Covid19 case”, even if they never experienced any symptoms.

Without these two policies, there would never have been an appreciable pandemic at all, and now the CDC has enacted two policy changes which means they no longer apply to vaccinated people.

Firstly, they are lowering their CT value when testing samples from suspected “breakthrough infections” ... Secondly, asymptomatic or mild infections will no longer be recorded as “covid cases”.

. . .

The CDC is demonstrating the beauty of having a “disease” that can appear or disappear depending on how you measure it.

To be clear: If these new policies had been the global approach to “Covid” since December 2019, there would never have been a pandemic at all.

If you apply them only to the vaccinated, but keep the old rules for the unvaccinated, the only possible result can be that the official records show “Covid” is much more prevalent among the latter than the former.

This is a policy designed to continuously inflate one number, and systematically minimise the other.

What is that if not an obvious and deliberate act of deception?

There's more at the link.

What gets me is how the CDC is being so blatant about this.  They're not even trying to hide what they're doing.  They simply expect to be allowed to get away with it.

That's why I remain more than a little dubious about the value of a COVID-19 vaccination.  I'm not anti-vaxx at all;  I've had all too many of them in my lifetime.  However, I object to being pressured into accepting a vaccine that may or may not be efficacious, and may or may not have potentially serious deleterious effects.  How can I know for sure, when the figures are being fudged?  In the absence of demonstrably impartial, accurate, scientifically valid data, how can any of us say for sure whether the cure is - or is not - worse than the disease?

The CDC looks like it's become its own worst enemy.  It's certainly no friend of ours, with these sorts of statistical shenanigans on public display.