Epiphany: noun epiph·a·ny \i-ˈpi-fə-nē\
(1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
(2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking
(3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure

One of the things being old gives you is perspective. I’ve lived through the 60’s when so many fundamental aspects of American socio-political life changed seemingly overnight. Civil rights, women’s rights, poverty, war, sexual relations, recreational drug use, the list goes on. Everything was on the table and seemingly everywhere change was happening. It was not a pleasant time! I watched the man who assassinated a president murdered on live television at the age of 6. I wept along with the black members of my extended family for Selma and Little Rock, and was numbed in horror as Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. I was angered at the Watts riots triggered by police brutality. I trembled the night that Robert Kennedy was assassinated. I watched the Democratic Convention in Chicago erupt into a protest that Mayor Daily had proclaimed could never happen in “his town”. I also witnessed the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, Immigration reform, Tax reform, and a successful mission to land a man on the moon. No decade since has equaled the sheer magnitude and scope of societal change as the decade of the 60’s. I note this specifically to remind my liberal friends that the current election will not undo the progress that was made 50 years ago. It simply cannot – the advances made have been indelibly etched into today’s social fabric since before many of you were born.

It is also somewhat of a preface to cast my own political development against. I began life as a conservative Republican, and one of the early Goldwater “neo-cons”. I believe that there is a place for social justice nonetheless and supported all those measures. This because our Declaration of Independence contained the guidestar “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I believe the maxim that “the government that governs least governs best”. In short, my ideal government intervenes very narrowly and with surgical precision to correct broad injustices. Against those beliefs I watched as government became a tapestry of special interest captured agencies, politicians who served the interests of the few rather than the needs of the many, where laws were passed to ensure the prosperity of a few rather than the benefit of all. I was angry and felt disenfranchised. This was not the government I grew up believing in. It was not a government that did great things for all people, but more of a special interest mafia doling out favors for those who had paid the vigorish.

The Reagan administration was, to me, supposed to be the righting of past wrongs. A return to Morning in America, where the civics I had been taught would once again become the norm. While there were elements of that administration that were laudable for their attempt to rein in the juggernaut it became clear that the needed reforms were only half of what was needed. Sure, we got the tax cuts promised, but the spending cuts never appeared, the program reforms never happened, and the giant stack of tax code never got cut. The end result was a fiscal and tax policy nightmare whose repercussions are still the ire of the neo-progressives.

My epiphany happened after watching the bread and circuses politics right into the Contract with America during Clinton’s first mid-term election. I believed that its tenets were good and needed. I felt that they would truly begin to make a difference. However, my mentor in politics didn’t agree. He was a staunch Republican who voted the ticket without fail. But he was also a shrewd political analyst and an outstanding legal mind (a product of Stanford Law School in the company of O’Conner and Rehnquist). He set before me an exercise to understand the entire landscape surrounding that legislation. The goal was to understand why it wasn’t what I believed it to be, to learn that this was something else entirely, and to discover a fundamental problem with how our country had come to function. Wow, what an order! It seemed that every attempt to solve this problem met with a very cogent and firm refutation and ended up having to be tossed. I couldn’t seem to get around the problem!

Then I had an epiphany. I began to listen to all sides of the argument and became unstuck from my partisan perspective. Moreover, I found that I needed to look beyond the existence of the legislation both forward and backwards and see the path that brought it into existence and the paths that could result from its passage or failure. I worked through the analysis from this new perspective, not as a partisan trying to defend a point of view, but as if I was looking at the entire picture through a lens ground to focus history, sociology, psychology, economics and logic but blind to party ideals. It became clearer and clearer that the Contract with America was nothing more than a stalking horse whose real purpose was to divide the Republicans and provide leverage that could be used in negotiating other deals with their Democratic counterparts. It had no hope of passing. I could look at all the pieces and predict that none of them would pass into law in their form [7 of the 10 elements died in the senate, 2 others were vetoed, and 1 element was ruled unconstitutional]. In short it was a modern version of snake-oil designed to woo the gullible but effectively nothing more than a placebo, while reaping gains for the salesmen to cover their vices.

When I sat down with my mentor and went over this new analysis it finally passed muster. Indeed, the actual results proved the concept. My mentor then passed on to me these words of advice:

1. To truly understand what is going on in politics you must listen as if you have an equally vested interest in both sides
2. You must accept that both sides are valid to their adherents – each believes the other is wrong, understand why
3. You must rise above the mechanics and see the board from a broader perspective, who wins or loses is irrelevant – only the consequences matter
That is how you can understand the game of politics.
So long as you remain in a partisan reality you can never gain enough perspective to see what you must see to make sound political judgements.

This lesson came to mind recently as I read a fellow colleagues’ own epiphany. He and I haven’t so much disagreed but talked past each other, his focus has been exclusive to the wheelhouse he knows so well while mine includes elements of a broader, seemingly less scientific, perspective. It was impossible for him to understand what I was trying to say to him without feeling at least a little bit insulted or that he was arguing with an idiot. I couldn’t get through to him, he was incapable of understanding beyond his own perspective just as I once was, until this happened:

I am confident that he understands more now, and that he is forever changed by his own epiphany. I have no doubt that this added perspective coupled with his keen intellect can move his mission forward with much greater alacrity.

I’m disclosing this for more than just acknowledging my own epiphany or Dr. Phillips’, but to leave some breadcrumbs to follow for others who, because of the recent election, may find themselves at a loss to be able to understand the landscape they now find themselves in. To these friends I say, as my mentor did to me: “The world didn’t change, everything is the same as it was before, what changed is your perspective. Where once you lived in a world where only one is right and the other wrong – you now live in a real world where there are more possibilities…”

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EU Leave/Remain Referendum

H/T to BlacksmithPro’s M.L.Farrier. An excellent read on being an adult in a democracy.

BlacksmithPro Photography

There’s been a literal outpouring of disgusting accusatory rhetoric across the board post results here in the uk and worldwide for the EU referendum I’m sad to say, as I posted the following elsewhere online in pictorial form, I thought I would add it to here as well since this is my blog after all and I dictate the content of it.

To those asking for the referendum results to be overturned/ignored (including an actual MP), please understand what it is you’re actually asking for. You are asking for the democracy to be literally overturned, for the principle and definition of it to be soiled. Understand what the cost would be of what you’re asking for, what precedent this would set not just for our history but for the world at large, to demonstrate that democracy can be this plainly ignored, that the process is quite literally useless and pointless.

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Button, Button

Because this was such an important essay that originally appeared on the Campaign for Liberty site [and is no longer available there] I am reposting this here. Full credit to the original author.

Button, Button
By Robert Hawes
Published 09/05/09

The 1980s revival of the Twilight Zone series featured an episode entitled “Button, Button,” based on a short story by sci-fi veteran Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, What Dreams May Come). In the story, a strange package arrives at the small apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis, who appear to be about one bill away from relocating to a matching set of cardboard boxes. Mrs. Lewis opens the package and discovers that it contains a simple wooden box with a clear plastic lid overtop a large red button (the type of contraption teens might build in a high school woodshop class). Also included is a note advising that someone will be in touch to explain everything.

Later that afternoon, as promised, a mysterious, black-clad gentleman arrives at the apartment and presents Mrs. Lewis with an offer that proves both tempting and frightening. He informs her that she and her husband have two options with regard to the box:

1. Don’t push the button. The man will come back to reclaim the box. No gain, no loss. The end.

2. Push the button, after which two things will happen: “Someone whom you do not know will die. And afterward you will receive $200,000, tax-free.”

The stranger then leaves to let the bewildered Mrs. Lewis think over her options.

That night, when Mr. Lewis comes home, the couple argue over whether the offer is real, and, if so, what to do about it. Mr. Lewis decides that it would be unconscionable to press the button, as it would result in murder. His wife disagrees; she wants to go for it. After all, what is the death of someone they don’t know? People die all the time, don’t they? “What if it was some old Chinese peasant, or someone with cancer?” she argues. “And what if it’s someone’s newborn baby?” her husband counters.

After a sleepless night and more arguing, Mrs. Lewis decides that she is owed this opportunity. She opens the box, looking as if she half expects it to bite her, and quickly presses the button. Nothing dramatic or ominous happens… at least not immediately. Later that afternoon, however, the mysterious man in black returns. He presents the Lewises with a briefcase full of cash, and reclaims his button box. Nervously puffing away on a cigarette, Mrs. Lewis asks if someone… “well, you know… ” She’s unable to bring herself to say the word “died”. “Of course,” the man replies matter-of-factly. Then, when she asks him what will happen next, he looks into her eyes and says: “The button unit will be reprogrammed and offered to someone else, the same terms and conditions…I can assure you it will be offered to someone whom you don’t know.”

Hardly a day passes when I don’t spend at least some time wondering how it is that America has gone from being a constitutional republic to more of a ‘people’s republic,’ and how much longer I’ll be able to discuss such questions in public before some heavily-armed civil servants kick my door in and haul me off to be shocked or waterboarded into correct thinking. And in considering these issues, I am convinced, now more than ever, that the premise of that old Twilight Zone episode speaks forcibly to the central aspect of our current problem.

It’s all about who we don’t know.

Think about it this way:

How many of the socialists that you see clamoring for more government programs and intervention on TV would, if offered the chance, walk into an average American home (assuming no 2nd Amendment deterrent, of course), raid all of the available wallets and purses in that home, and then go donate the money they confiscate to some charity or politically-correct cause? Can you see Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or Barbara Boxer walking into someone’s living room and announcing: “We’re here to tell you what’s best for you and your family. We’ll decide what school your children will attend and what they’ll be taught there. We’ll decide what doctors you can see, what medications you can have, and whether or not you can try alternative treatments. We’ll decide what you can eat and how much of it you can have. We’ll decide what causes you will support with your money and how much you’ll give. We’ll decide how you should fit into society and which of your personal beliefs are a threat to society and should be suppressed. We’ll decide what privileges you will be allowed. And, oh, by the way, we’re also going to force you to maintain the system that will ensure that you abide by our directives. Any attempt to deviate from said directives will result in serious consequences.”

Now, granted, there are people who would do things like this if they thought they could get by with it. By and large, however, most people would not. Why? Because confrontations such as what I’ve described above are personal. When you enter someone’s home, or otherwise spend time with them, you can attach a name and a face to them. You can see where and how they live, what difficulties they struggle with, what is dear to them, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what hopes and dreams they may have. Under such circumstances, they are individuals, and they are real to you as individuals. You may think that you know better than they do, but you’re not likely to tell them that, and you’re even less likely to try forcing your views on them.

But while this is generally the rule in individual situations, things change completely come election day, when we find ourselves in the voting both and that curtain swings shut behind us.

Consider an imaginary ballot, and a couple of typical voters:

Option 1 asks Joe Voter whether he favors raising the local sales tax to help pay for a new sports arena. What it’s also asking, albeit in a more subtle form, is whether Joe thinks that his friends and neighbors should have to sacrifice a little more every time they buy anything, so that Joe can get what he wants. But Joe never thinks of it this way. Bob, his next door neighbor, won’t pay the tax; “the city” will. Conveniently, “the city” has no distinct identity. It has no face. Joe doesn’t know “the city,” so he feels no guilt in voting for Option 1 and raising Bob’s taxes. Besides, the old arena is a real eyesore; a new one would make Joe feel as if he lived in a more upscale community.

In the booth next to Joe, Barbara reads over Option 2, which asks whether the state’s blue laws should remain in effect, prohibiting the sale of general merchandise prior to 1:30 pm on Sundays. Barbara supports Option 2 because she hates commercialism in general and thinks that people need to slow down more. A day with less shopping and more family time is just what the doctor ordered, for everyone. Besides, Barbara’s husband owns a car dealership, and if the other dealers were allowed to be open all day on Sunday, then her husband would either have to lose business to them or else open earlier than he would prefer. Thus Barbara considers a vote to retain her state’s blue laws a boon for family values and a blow to greed commercialism. It’s “what’s best” for everyone.

We wear such amazingly effective political blinders, don’t we? It’s always “the city,” “the county,” “the state,” or “the country,” that pays for what we want and heels to our demands. Never Bob the struggling family man. Never Jill the single mom. Never anyone we know. Never anyone we have to explain ourselves to.

Such is the cold, impersonal ugliness of statism, and the subtle, de-humanizing way in which it works itself into our consciousness. Statists never stop to think about the individuals they harm because, politically speaking, individuals either don’t matter to them or else escape their notice. They consider themselves “big picture” people. They see only society itself, broken down into various competing subgroups to be crunched and graphed like so many numbers (“digital individuals,” if you will). Civilization is their political blackboard, filled with social equations waiting to be brought into utopian balance. Statists never see Bob or Jill having to struggle harder to make ends meet because of some new tax. What they see is how nice a brand new stadium would look and how it might “advance the community as a whole.” The tax Bob and Jill are forced to pay is just their “fair share” of “doing what’s right for the community,” and if Bob and Jill object to it, they’re being “selfish” and “short-sighted.” Statists never see Rick from down the street being denied a city contract and an opportunity to expand his business simply because he is not the right color or gender. Instead, what they see is someone who is the right color or gender being given that contract in order to “right past wrongs” done to a particular group, and Rick is assigned a portion of the blame for those wrongs, even though he may never have hurt, discriminated against, or otherwise “wronged” anyone in his life. Statists never see those who are turned down for operations, denied treatments, or else suffer and/or die while waiting for treatment while bureaucrats sedately dot their I’s and cross their T’s in the hubs of their vast, tax-based healthcare bureaucracies. All they can see is that they’re extending aid to yet another faceless group: “the unfortunate.”

How easily we put on those robes and crowns. How casually we wield the scepters of little gods, passing out life and death, determining who is worthy of what and how much, deciding what’s right on the most intimate levels for people we don’t even know. We play our own version of the button game, day after day.

Press the button, get a guilt-free program. Some “wealthy” person, some privileged “winner of life’s lottery” will be the one to pay for it, right? Perhaps not, but what does that matter in the greater scheme of things? Press the button, get guilt-free social justice. Praise God, someone’s finally gonna pay! Who? Who cares? That’s beside the point, right? Press the button, get guilt-free regulation. After all, other people don’t always know what’s best for them, but we always know, don’t we? And best of all, when you regulate someone’s life from the privacy of the voting booth or the distance of the council room, you don’t have to put up with insolent questions like: “What right do you have to tell me how to live?” And you don’t have to get your hands dirty, either. Government agencies, police departments, and courts will do all the dirty work: hounding people, fining them, running them out of business, prosecuting them, jailing them, taking their children from them, and sometimes killing them. Most of the time, you’ll never even have to hear about it.

And so down the road we go, playing “button, button” with one another, always hoping to get something from someone we don’t know, or forcing them to live by the dictates of our conscience — never thinking that the button box will be reset and handed to someone who doesn’t know us, giving them their own chance to play God with us and the things we hold most dear.

Folks, we can launch all of the ad campaigns we want, hire the most riveting speakers we can find, and money-bomb the daylights out of the Ron Paul’s and Peter Schiff’s of the world, and we will still lose our freedoms until and unless we can make our fellow citizens see “the city,” “the county,” “the state,” and “the country” as their friends, neighbors and co-workers. We must make them see that their acts of interference in the lives of others forge precedents by which those others are empowered to interfere in their lives. We must bring the cold, impersonal, ugly consequences of statism home in the most personal ways possible. We must make people see the button game for what it is, make them realize that when they step into the voting booth they’re making decisions that affect real people, and not always for the better. For starters, try getting those you know to ask themselves some of the following questions the next time they go to cast a vote:

1. Do I have the right — personally — to do what I’m about to ask government to do on my behalf? If not, how can I give my representatives power that I don’t even possess myself?
2. Would I want someone else to make this sort of decision for me?
3. Is getting my way on this issue worth having someone fined? Is it worth them losing their job? Is it worth sending them to prison? Would it still be worth it if I had to fine them, fire them, or imprison them myself? If not, why would I ask anyone else to do what I am not willing to do myself?
4. What precedent am I setting here? Would I want this sort of power in the hands of the politician or political group I fear the most? Does anyone out there think of me or the politicians and groups I support in that same way already?
5. If a program is supposed to give, what must it first take? From whom will it take it? Could I justify this if I had to face the person I’m voting to take it from?
6. If a program is supposed to provide an opportunity for someone, must it first take that opportunity from someone else? Could I justify taking it if I had to face the affected person?
7. If my community really wants to accomplish something, why must it forcefully collect money for it via taxation? Why can’t sufficient funds be raised privately, through voluntary means?

Some may argue that we shouldn’t “get personal” when it comes to politics, but what they fail to appreciate is that politics is already fundamentally personal. It’s impossible to interfere with the lives of individuals and not affect them personally. If we can make America see this, we can begin to turn the tide, but if not, then the war is lost already, and we’re all just sitting around waiting for our next turn with the button box… and dreading the idea of who may get it after us.

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Revelations of a Steam Powered Human

steam-powered-humanOriginally there was a two-part post in this space that dealt with electronic cigarettes and my work in advocacy for this disruptive technology.  After much consideration I have privatized and demoted these original posts as their content has been reorganized and became the basis for a completely new blog.  If you are looking for those posts they are here: Revelations of a Steam Powered Human

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Food for Thought…

by Bruce Nye on Wednesday, February 21, 2012 at 11:08pm

I’ve been searching long and hard for reference to an oft-quoted maxim, usually attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.
To my never ending amusement, it is a mis-attributed quotation.  I commenced to find the source for the quote and came upon discussions relating two notions, published eight years apart, which generated an intrigue of thought about the solutions available to us in modern times.  As food for thought, here are the two quotations:

“Paradoxically enough, the release of initiative and enterprise made possible by popular self-government ultimately generates disintegrating forces from within. Again and again after freedom has brought opportunity and some degree of plenty, the competent become selfish, luxury-loving and complacent, the incompetent and the unfortunate grow envious and covetous, and all three groups turn aside from the hard road of freedom to worship the Golden Calf of economic security. The historical cycle seems to be: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to apathy; from apathy to dependency; and from dependency back to bondage once more.

At the stage between apathy and dependency, men always turn in fear to economic and political panaceas. New conditions, it is claimed, require new remedies. Under such circumstances, the competent citizen is certainly not a fool if he insists upon using the compass of history when forced to sail uncharted seas. Usually so-called new remedies are not new at all. Compulsory planned economy, for example, was tried by the Chinese some three milleniums ago, and by the Romans in the early centuries of the Christian era. It was applied in Germany, Italy and Russia long before the present war broke out. Yet it is being seriously advocated today as a solution of our economic problems in the United States. Its proponents confidently assert that government can successfully plan and control all major business activity in the nation, and still not interfere with our political freedom and our hard-won civil and religious liberties. The lessons of history all point in exactly the reverse direction.”

– Henning W. Prentis, 1943, “Industrial Management in a Republic”, p. 22

“Two centuries ago a somewhat obscure Scotsman named Tytler made this profound observation: ‘A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.’

This ought to be a waring sign of the times, for never before in this nation has there been such temptation to use the formal mechanism of democracy as a means for gratifying the selfish designs of the individual citizen. This applies not only to the corrupt high official who sells influence or conspires with crooks to steal money from the public. It applies, likewise, to the individual voter who seeks to profit personally by laying a heavier burden on his neighbor, through subsidies and other government gifts.

The hard core of freedom is the unselfish spirit of the citizen. Democracy cannot live long without this agency of conscience.

Unselfish motivation in politics is much more than a gesture of good morality. It is a practical factor without which democracy canot exist. In the long run nothing else will work.”

-Elmer T. Peterson, December 9, 1951, “This Is The Hard Core of Freedom”, The Daily Oklahoman,  p. 12-A

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GDP Percentage by Industry

by Bruce Nye on Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 16:36m

This table shows the breakdown by industry of the percentage contribution to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product from 1998 through 2010. It is interesting to note that the largest contributors to the GDP are: Government, Real Estate, and Professional and Business Services totaling 38.2% of the 2010 GDP.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Affairs

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What the S&P downgrade *really* means…

by Bruce Nye on Saturday, August 6, 2011 at 13:57m

While pundits spin the recent downgrade of US sovereign from ‘AAA’ to ‘AA+’ it is important to understand what that really means.

To Standard & Poor’s, ratings are based on the entities ability to pay their debts under adverse conditions.  That is, will an entity continue to make payments under extreme conditions.  Ratings are based on the strength of the cash flow and balance sheets, combined with worse-case stress scenarios.  Thus an entity with a AAA rating is able to meet its debt obligations under the most extreme stress, while an entity of a lower rating will default (be unable to meet its obligations) under lesser degrees of stress.

To understand the rating change, therefore, it is important to understand what the stress tests are.  Here are the definitions from Standard & Poor’s:

‘AAA’ stress scenario:
An issuer or obligation rated ‘AAA’ should be able to withstand an extreme level of stress and still meet its financial obligations.A historical example of such a scenario is the Great Depression in the U.S. In that episode, real GDP for the U.S. declined by 26.5% from 1929 through 1933. U.S. unemployment peaked at 24.9% in 1933 and was above 20% from 1932 through 1935. U.S. industrial production declined by 47% and home building dropped by 80% from 1929 through 1932. The stock market dropped by 85% from September 1929 to July 1932 (as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average). The U.S. experienced deflation of roughly 25%. Real GDP did not recover to its 1929 level until 1935. Nominal GDP did not recover until 1940. We consider conditions such as these to reflect extreme stress. The ‘AAA’ stress scenario envisions a widespread collapse of consumer confidence. The financial system suffers major dislocations. Economic decline propagates around the globe.

‘AA’ stress scenario:
An issuer or obligation rated ‘AA’ should be able to withstand a severe level of stress and still meet its financial obligations. Such a scenario could include GDP declines of up to 15%, unemployment levels of up to 20%, and stock market declines of up to 70%.

In simple terms what the downgrade means is something we, perhaps, all may realize but haven’t talked about; The United States, who once weathered the Dust bowl, The Great Depression, and WWII successfully enough to “Save the World” is no longer able to do so.  As a country we would be behind Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Singapore and others in ability to weather the events of 1920 – 1940.  As a people, we have lost something valuable in the perception of the world.

The question to be asked: “Now that this has happened, now what?”  Your answer determines *your* future.  Will you blame the other guy, or seek something from within yourself to make a difference?

Knock, knock Neo.

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