On Guns and Civil Society

Gunshow_tableOkay, let’s talk about this indeed, but be warned – this is a long post:

The first problem *is* cultural. Back in the day (yeah, I’m old) firearms were fairly common as tools, after all there were lots of WWII vets, Korean Vets, and Vietnam was in full swing, plus there were hunters and farmers who needed to deal with varmints. We were taught from a young age to respect firearms, what they could do – when it was, and  was not, appropriate to use them. And get this! Our families did the teaching, our neighbors, our schools. I took my first shot at 8 years old, and killed my first varmint (a coyote) at 12, and I was a big city doctor’s brat. My family included everything from the aforementioned doctor all the way to farmers and laborers – volunteers, salerymen, and women who worked. Every one had known poverty at some point. None shunned it, and all respected the hard work to get out of it. We didn’t hide our roots, our shortcomings, or our success. We didn’t wait ’til we had ours before helping out the folks next to us. We were in the same boat, and everyone took a turn at the oars. Then something changed.

Now the only apparent avenue for education in firearms for the public at large is the news, TV shows, or video games. There isn’t real firearms education in the schools, the scouts, the Y, or most parents… No wonder most react to the mere presence of a firearm like it was a giant spider ready to eat them. The only sense of community seems to be gathering to protest to get someone else to do something that all those people marching won’t do themselves. We don’t talk to each other, we don’t look each other in the eye, we look down and talk past each other. We curse folks for cutting us off in a hot rage, never thinking about our own failure that cut someone off just the day or week before. “They’re the asshole, and we’re the saints” has become the sole substance of our political debate – screw the issues, we want to eliminate the republocrats. We settle conflicts by force, we don’t have debates – whoever can muster the most votes or money or violence gets the nod. There are no redeeming qualities to those that oppose us, it’s brook-no-quarter take-no-prisoners.

So… How do we walk this back. What do we do to move the needle towards a more civil society and solve the crisis that keeps showing up on our TV’s?

First, we have to accept that there is no zero, no absolute, never going to happen, result in any solution. It wasn’t true when I grew up, or when my parents, grandparents, or their parents grew up. There’s always some nut-job that is just not right that’s going to blow up a bunch of kids or commit some other heinous act. It’s the law of large numbers at work, at 0.005% there’s going to be trouble. The more people on the planet the bigger the number 0.005% turns out to be. That’s an irreducible minimum. Like the poor, or the infirm, they will *always* be with us. What we need is to learn to cope with tragedy. The folks that raised me sure knew how to cope, and I’m grateful they passed it on – cause there’s been a share of it in my own life. Strangely, like them, I’m actually grateful for the hardships, they helped shape me in ways comfort and ease could never do.

Second, we have to understand that guns are a symptom, not the problem itself. Really, guns can’t be eliminated. Not only is getting hold of all of them impossible, but there’s always a ready supply through diversion from law enforcement and the military to ensure that evil assholes will get guns. The objective then is to reduce the number of nearly evil assholes. Without guns, truly evil folks will make explosives, drive cars into buildings, fly planes into skyscrapers, light a refinery on fire causing a BLEVE that levels a neighborhood. It doesn’t matter, they’ll find a way. It’s what they do. Accepting that this is going to happen doesn’t mean we have to think it’s right – far from it. It does mean that we prepare to give aid and comfort to those affected in the same way we’d give aid and comfort after any other natural disaster. These events are just as unavoidable. That truckload of thoughts and prayers is nice, but the thing I’ve learned from being on the front lines is this – money helps from a distance, kindness helps up close. So if you can’t be there and you want to do something – send $5 to a local charity in the area, they’ll know what and where to spend it to really be helpful.

Understand that there are real evil people that will shoot up schools, rock concerts, and whatnot – they’re that 0.005% of humanity, and they exist in ALL societies. Call it a genetic defect, whatever, these people just ain’t built right. No amount of good parenting, or any other intervention is going to fix them. They will do something evil, hopefully we can catch them, and the best thing to do once caught is to put them down. Clean the gene pool. Yeah – I know, that’s pretty tough. But really, what are you going to do? You don’t have to kill them – you can lock them up forever on bread and water and nature will take its course (hey Charlie Manson is *finally* worm food). Laws won’t make them go away. Good laws can ensure that they probably won’t end up loose in society after they’re caught.

Next we have to deal with the other 99.995%.

Now there’s going to be a good number of them that are going to do something stupid. It keeps me in business (I’m a nurse). There’s never a shortage of it. These are the ones that accidentally shoot their friends while hunting, shoot their kid/friend/spouse while cleaning a firearm. They’re not evil, just tragically incompetent. Sometimes this is a permanent state, other times its induced by fatigue, alcohol, or just a plain split second’s carelessness. I knew a very well-trained soldier with a long service record who blew his knee apart because he tossed his holstered Glock on his couch and it went off. His regret? He thought he’d safed the weapon “Guess not eh?”. Treat these as what they are, mistakes. The world will not end though, where firearms are concerned, the results are going to be rather dramatic. It’s really not any different that driving down a road and hitting a patch of black ice and ending up in the wrong lane head-on collision with another vehicle. Shit happens. Writing laws to fix this is a waste of pen, ink and paper.

Then there’s another group that feel the best way to win an argument is to use force. These blockheads have little intellectual capacity and couldn’t find reason if it was on every surface in a square room. It’s a special breed of stupid – emotional stupidity. To them everything is personal. You know the type – just wrapped too tight. These people shouldn’t be able to have weapons of any kind, let alone firearms. Here’s the deal though – we *can* figure these people out, more on that in a bit. Laws are capable to dealing with these folks, provided that the penalty is rehabilitative. Just putting these idiots in a box with a bunch of other idiots isn’t a great idea – fools are ingenious and in large groups the stupid grows exponentially.

Then there are the amateur hero wanna-be’s. These are the ones that think that having a firearm empowers them to act at a moment’s notice. I see these all over, even in law enforcement and the military. You can spot them, they’re just a little too puffed up. They have a swagger to them. But to someone who knows, it’s an easy move to quickly steal their firearm. They are the ones that get the Glock and the expensive controlled expansion rounds and leave them loaded in their nightstand. They have loose holsters and, if they carry concealed, they print real fast to those who know what to look for. In reality their marksmanship is crap and they’re more likely to shoot themselves, an inanimate object, or an innocent bystander, than any aggressor, provided that they don’t freeze in fear. Hell the first muzzle flash will blind them. I’ve watched one tough-guy wannabe lose control of his weapon on the range – flying behind him on the first shot. Laws don’t really deal well with this sort – it takes a subtle form of education and good old fashioned humility to work with these folks, I’ll circle back to them in a moment.

Now we come to the folks that just don’t like violence. Smart folks really. While they may believe everything can be solved by diplomacy, they’re not the ones to step in the middle of a gang war. You can find them doing something sensible, like screaming, crying, or whimpering in the corner. That’s a problem cause they target themselves, but they’re not aggressors – they’re the ones we’re actually trying to protect. There’s no law that can or should be written to deal with these folks. There is, however, some basic training/education that they need to know to be safe – and we should see that they get it from an early age. They’ll be less helpless and less likely to become a part of the problem if they have some confidence and understanding. Unfortunately, we’ve chosen a path that bubble wraps these folks and they often become a bigger problem than the active shooter.

Finally there’s the trained citizen militia. Some of are soldiers mustered out, some are law enforcement, some are experienced hunters, and some have just the fortune to train with all the above. They understand firearms, how they work, what they do, they have used firearms to hunt, and many know what it feels like to draw down, and God forbid, fire a shot in anger at human being. They want to avoid that at all costs, but understand the moment when they have to ante up, point, and shoot. And yeah, that sucks. It’s all fun and games until you really have to pull that trigger to stop a desperate man from committing a desperate act.

So how do we deal sort this all out?

The text of the Second Amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Well regulated doesn’t mean laws/regulations – it means training and discipline. A militiaman is a citizen soldier, able to serve when needed, but otherwise just a ‘normal’ citizen, think volunteer not conscript. The bit about necessary to the security of a free State – well we don’t feel very free or very secure right now do we? So maybe something is missing eh? The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed means just that – but what it does NOT mean is that there is no responsibility attached to such bearage. Summed up, this is the only ‘positive’ right in the entire Constitution. There are those who will disagree, and I respect that. But I interpret this amendment as the founders did – reading the Federalist 46 and 29. The ideas below stem from my reading of these works in connection with the Second Amendment, together with an understanding of human nature, and some sense of the needs of our times. It is a starting point for serious thought.

So – we do the following:

1. Every single citizen, male/female/whatever, is taught firearms safety in school by the 5th grade. Every. Single. One. If you’re older that school age you get the information and a test as a one-time deal. Fail to turn it in and you don’t get to have a firearm. You’re just not safe. For our children this is repeated again at about grade 8/9. Every. Single. Citizen. No exceptions, no excuse. Everyone understands what these tools are and how to handle them safely. Discharge of a firearm is NOT part of this education. Recognition, safe handling, and respect is the point.

2. Every single citizen gets to experience, live not televised, the effect of a firearm at least once – up close and personal. There is always an excess of animals available to serve for demonstration. Every single person gets to see a living thing killed by a firearm. It isn’t going to be fun. THAT’S THE POINT! Every hunter remembers his/her first kill, every soldier/LEO remembers the first time they killed a combatant. It stays with you, you never forget it. Ever. Life takes a new meaning afterward. When you see it live it can’t be rationalized away – the dog was barking, now it’s dead. Just. That. Fast.

3. We debrief the event using psychological techniques, we can spot the stupid, the crazy, the wanna be with a psych profile. You have the temperament to be responsible, you can own a firearm if you choose, if you don’t you have to change until you can show you’re responsible. We don’t accept people in the military who are mentally warped, and the testing is pretty good – the rates of social killers from our military ranks is extremely low, especially since they’re already been through the most brutal testing. We need to have a level of that same thing in society as a whole. Wish for the day this isn’t needed, but today is not that day.

4. After all that you want to keep and bear arms? Great! You have to demonstrate proficiency. Again, it’s a responsibility. If you want a hunting license in any state you have to pass HSC. You want to carry concealed, you need a CCW. This is just taking it a small step further. Firearms safety, marksmanship, basic defense these can all be taught. You show proficiency you get to own a firearm.

5. As a firearm owner, you have further responsibilities. Firearms use is a semi-perishable skill. Shoot/Don’t shoot scenarios fade without reinforcement. Second target acquisition get a bit dicey. It’s easy to fall into bad habits without reinforcement. You have to keep those skills at a useable level in a civil society. So you would have to re-cert every couple years. You must maintain your arms, you must maintain your proficiency. The good part is that society now has some confidence that every gun owner is “well regulated”. That builds trust and security.

That deals with the gun problem itself. But now we deal with our community problem. We do teaching throughout school to show different methods of dealing with disagreement. We talk about jealousy, anger, and fear – not as externals but as something we will all experience. We promote failure as a teacher, valuable and not something that is “not an option”. Not everyone wins the trophy, and the ones that don’t are better off. We bring back manners – teaching these simple acts of respect and kindness: May I? Please. Thank you. Why one should respect elders, that there’s always time to think of others (don’t close the elevator door before checking if there’s one more running to get on).

Many will exclaim “What an order! There’s no way we can do all that!!” I disagree, as will most of my generation. We were brought up on it as were our parents. These lessons aren’t all pleasant, but the lack of them is now irrefutably more unpleasant.

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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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as freedom is a breakfastfood – E. E. Cummings 1940

by Bruce Nye on Monday, April 18, 2011 at 13:17m

I always loved the way Cummings was able to turn seeming non-sense into a profound statement.  Here he provides a view of love in several levels.  In one, as Ashleigh Brilliant observed, there is the sense of falling in love turning the world on its head.  In another, a look at how logic and the heart are oftimes at odds with one another.  And further that public norms are often absurd to the spiritual and emotional self.  For your enjoyment here is:

as freedom is a breakfastfood

as freedom is a breakfastfood
or truth can live with right and wrong
or molehills are from mountains made
-long enough and just so long
will being pay the rent of seem
and genius please the talentgang
and water most encourage flame

as hatracks into peachtrees grow
or hopes dance best on bald men’s hair
and every finger is a toe
and any courage is a fear
-long enough and just so long
will the impure think all things pure
and hornets wail by children stung

or as the seeing are the blind
and robins never welcome spring
nor flatfolk prove their world is round
nor dingsters die at break of dong
and common’s rare and millstones float
-long enough and just so long
tomorrow will not be too late

worms are the words but joy’s the voice
down shall go which and up come who
breasts will be breasts and thighs will be thighs
deeds cannot dream what dreams can do
-time is a tree (this life one leaf)
but love is the sky and i am for you
just so long and long enough

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Footsteps of Angels – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1839

by Bruce Nye on Monday, April 18, 2011 at 12:36m

This poem became dear to me in memory of my first wife, Jan.  I was reading Longfellow’s Voices of the Night collection and came upon this verse.  It described how it felt to be a new widower perfectly:  Trying to reconcile the world as it moved on, with the partner now departed.  A salient feature of a spiritual marriage is that our spouse becomes a reflection of our conscious.  Once that reflection is no longer animate, grief seeks to reconcile its loss.  Longfellow aptly captures the early part of that transition.  -bruce


Footsteps of Angels

When the hours of Day are numbered,
And the voices of the Night
Wake the better soul, that slumbered,
To a holy, calm delight;

Ere the evening lamps are lighted,
And, like phantoms grim and tall,
Shadows from the fitful firelight
Dance upon the parlor wall;

Then the forms of the departed
Enter at the open door;
The beloved, the true-hearted,
Come to visit me once more;

He, the young and strong, who cherished
Noble longings for the strife,
By the roadside fell and perished,
Weary with the march of life!

They, the holy ones and weakly,
Who the cross of suffering bore,
Folded their pale hands so meekly,
Spake with us on earth no more!

And with them the Being Beauteous,
Who unto my youth was given,
More than all things else to love me,
And is now a saint in heaven.

With a slow and noiseless footstep
Comes that messenger divine,
Takes the vacant chair beside me,
Lays her gentle hand in mine.

And she sits and gazes at me
With those deep and tender eyes,
Like the stars, so still and saint-like,
Looking downward from the skies.

Uttered not, yet comprehended,
Is the spirit’s voiceless prayer,
Soft rebukes, in blessings ended,
Breathing from her lips of air.

Oh, though oft depressed and lonely,
All my fears are laid aside,
If I but remember only
Such as these have lived and died!

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