Thursday, January 31, 2013

Another hit!

This one by the IDF, in Syria.  Contrary to earlier reports the main target seems not to have been the convoy to Lebanon, but an installation that included Iranians and Soviets Russians.  Funny time for Obama to be sending F-16's and Abrams to Egypt.

A hit already???!!!

We haven't yet reached the end of January, and I am already on the verge of claiming a "hit" on one of Unforeseen Contingencies' predictions for 2013!

According to Wall Street Journal via Yahoo News, the Teamsters, AFL-CIO, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and Unite Here are all complaining to Obama that PPACA is causing insurance costs to skyrocket.  That's a "hit" on prediction number six.

Gee, it turns out that when insurance liabilities are uncapped and "children" aged 18-26 are added to parents' insurance plans and benefits covered are increased, insurance becomes more costly, not less.  Whoda thunk?

Now the unions fear that both union-sponsored and employer-sponsored plans are in jeopardy, and that without taxpayer subsidy or some other solution will become extremely expensive, and perhaps unsustainable.

From the WSJ article:

John Wilhelm, chairman of Unite Here Health, the insurance plan for 260,000 union workers at places including hotels, casinos and airports, recalls standing next to Barack Obama at a rally in Nevada when he was a 2008 presidential candidate.

"'I heard him say, 'If you like your health plan, you can keep it,' " Mr. Wilhelm recalled. Mr. Wilhelm said he expects the administration will craft a solution so that employer health-care plans won't be hurt. "If I'm wrong, and the president does not intend to keep his word, I would have severe second thoughts about the law."

If unions don't win the subsidy argument, they say that companies with unionized workers would become less competitive, especially compared with rivals too small to face the law's new requirements.

To which we at Unforeseen Contingencies can only respond "ha ha ha ha ha, told ya so."

Update 4 February: Walter Russell Mead provides further corroboration on the coming headslam citizens can expect on insurance prices.  I suppose it is not nice of me, but I find this mess mildly amusing... too much time spent arguing with ACA advocates, I guess.

Wendy Kaminer: "progressive values don't include individual liberty"

From spiked, a lefty-libertarianish online journal: "Obama: selling out civil liberties."

"[P]rogressives revelling in Obama’s speech can’t claim ignorance... When they applaud the president’s ‘muscular liberalism’, without qualification, they’re effectively applauding his strong-arm security state.

That’s not entirely surprising, given his many nods to important liberal causes (which, in general, I support) and given the tendency of many liberal as well as centrist Democrats to ignore, trivialise or endorse the post-9/11 assault on liberty. When Democratic members of Congress talk about their party’s values, they sound just like the president; they talk about equality, social and economic justice, and immigration reform. They rarely talk about the preservation of liberty.

I doubt that either the president or the Congressional enablers of his anti-libertarian agenda consider themselves the enemies of freedom. Instead, I suspect, they define freedom differently than civil libertarians do."

This is from Wendy Kaminer, lawyer, writer, and lefty/progressive/feminist gadfly who has been a systematic and thoughtful critic of political correctness and leftwing authoritarianism for decades.  It's a very thoughtful piece.  A few other excerpts:

"When the subject is liberty, the egalitarian left mirrors the authoritarian right. ...freedom isn’t primary; it’s contingent on what they value most - authority and equality, respectively."

And "This president, announcing a moderately progressive second-term agenda, can perhaps be trusted with trying to advance equality. But he should never be trusted with freedom. Presidents naturally prefer their power to our rights."

Well, OK, but doesn't Obama believe in freedom too?

"Obama did make at least one passing reference to freedom from state control: 'We have never relinquished our scepticism of central authority', he observed. That, too, is partly true, and perhaps it’s why the administration insists that so many of its authoritarian executive actions and interpretations of law must be hidden from us."

Very good stuff, worth reading in its entirety.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Crazy and impossible: the new "normal"

During the 2008 Presidential election, a columnist in one of the major Michigan newspapers wrote a humorous piece claiming that while MI Gov. Jennifer Granholm was out of state helping Joe Biden prepare for the candidate debates (Granholm played the role of Sarah Palin in practice sessions) the real Sarah Palin came to Michigan, broke into the governor's office, and using the governor's computer changed Michigan laws and regulations.  It was an absurdist piece, and clearly a joke, but the paper was flooded with emails and calls demanding to know more.  The columnist (whose name escapes me, as does that of the paper) took one call from a an upset woman who asked if it was true.  The columnist responded, "look, doesn't it sound completely crazy and impossible?" to which she replied "yes, of course... but all the news sounds crazy and impossible these days."

No fooling.  That was 2008.  Things are even crazier now.

My previous post covers a news story showing the U.S. Army practicing aerial assaults in Houston coordinated with unidentified federal agencies (presumably DHS) within the continental U.S.  Back in September 2008 "we" pointed out that for the first time an Army combat units were beginning full time active duty assignments in the United States, assigned to the newly established NorthCom.  Here's something "we" didn't cover: TSA has established something called VIPR Teams that move around the country randomly setting up screening checkpoints for, well, apparently for whatever the hell they feel like.  (Yes, TSA is the beloved Transportation Safety Authority, and VIPR is Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response.)  In Tennessee they invaded the interstate highway system and began screening trucks.  In Savannah Georgia, TSA took over a railway station and began searching everyone, including passengers disembarking from a train, provoking substantial outrage among passengers... but apparently no lawsuits, unfortunately.  TSA itself couldn't understand the outrage, and on its own TSA blog noted that it was  really the passengers fault, because "During VIPR operations, any person entering the impacted area has to be screened" and "disembarking passengers did not need to enter the station..."

TSA failed to mention how "any person entering the impacted area has to be screened" is in any way compatible with "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."  Apparently this latter sentence does not appear in any TSA screening manuals or training materials.

Great.  We also have the NDAA of 2012 which apparently authorizes indefinite detention of anyone the President decides is an enemy.  We have the Attorney General assuring us that if he and the President and a few unnamed others in the executive branch decide to assassinate an American citizen, that's due process.  (Summary here.)

Welcome to the new normal.

All of this has those loony conspiracy theorists are now claiming we're on the verge of some nightmarish operation, a totalitarian clampdown that will begin with disarming us.  (It's not just right-wingers who worry about this, by the way.)  But this is obviously crazy and impossible, as any devotee of the New York Times well knows.  "Black helicopters and such, haha."  (You know, the New York Times, the "paper of record" the one that confessed it allows the Obama administration to censor its articles.)  And it is crazy and impossible, something entirely outside of anything normal for this country; it sounds like something from the USSR or some third world dictatorship.  But it isn't fantasy.  You'll note that my links above documenting this are official U.S. government websites, local media, and Army Times.  If all of your news came only from the New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, and major television networks, you'd not necessarily be oblivious to all this, but it is downplayed, treated as normal.  But it's not.

I'm skeptical of conspiracy theories.  For one thing, there are strong reasons to doubt the competence and even intelligence of those "in charge" and those behind them.  While no doubt an enormous amount of what humans do involves plotting and subterfuge, I don't believe that humans are capable of the kind of planning and coordination that conspiracy theories posit.   But you don't have to believe in the Bilderberger/CFR/Illuminati/NWO conspiracy to be alarmed by what is happening, and in fact it really doesn't matter so much whether all of this is planned or, as is more likely, we're witnessing a version of Mises' logic of intervention, in which one bad policy begets another in a self-reinforcing vicious cycle.  Either way, we are losing the constraints that separate a free country from a full blown police state.  You cannot remove these constraints and merely rely on the "good intentions" of those who have unchecked power.  Their incentives are to use their power to the fullest, and to expand it.

This removal of constraints is happening now, right before our eyes.  It is not normal to have the U.S. Army practicing attacks coordinated with federal law enforcement agencies.  It is not normal to have random roving internal federal security checkpoints searching civilians.  It is not normal for the President to claim the power to imprison or assassinate American citizens merely on his say-so.  And it is not normal for the media to pretend there's really nothing new here.

Sure, the Houston exercise and similar ones elsewhere can't be taken as proof of sinister intent.  Maybe this isn't preparation for war on, say, recalcitrant county sheriffs who oppose some future gun confiscation program.  Maybe the idea is to prepare for something like a Mexican drug gang occupying a high school, or an Al Qaeda cell seizing city hall.  That in itself would be disturbing enough.  But more disturbing is simply the idea the military is preparing for combat on American soil.  Even if it is not intentional, the barriers against authoritarian power are being reduced, the instruments of such power are developing, and certainly we're becoming desensitized to the trappings of a police state.  We did not see these things on this scale prior to the Bush 43 and Obama regimes.  From an institutional standpoint what is happening is extremely dangerous.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"Move long, nothing to see here, everything's normal..."

It's just the U.S. Army and DHS practicing conducting coordinated attacks in the U.S.

Friday, January 25, 2013

I'm Christina Holt now!

In terms of policy, the Obama regime has been quite similar to that of Bush 43: undeclared and unending wars, flouting the rule of law and civil rights in the name of "homeland security," extreme fiscal irresponsibility, expansion of entitlements, and secrecy.  Obama has been much worse, in fact, since regime has accelerated these activities and procedures and is institutionalizing them in many cases.

Here's one bad example: Obama's outgoing administrator for the EPA, Lisa Jackson, has used a secret email account under a false name -- Richard Windsor -- to keep some of her EPA activities from public scrutiny.  This violates federal law, and Jackson and the EPA have been sued.  DoJ ultimately ordered Jackson and EPA to make public emails from the account.  So far, Jackson has failed to comply, withholding 900 selected emails.  The House Science Committee is demanding that she comply.

So much for the rule of law.  This is one of many examples of members of Obama and his administration doing whatever suits them, Constitution and law be damned.  It's an unConstitutional and lawless regime; hardly our first, but one of our worst ... probably our worst.  Admittedly Jackson's coverup is probably small potatoes compared to Eric Holder's "Fast and Furious" gunwalking operation and coverup which has apparently killed several hundred innocents at least, or the Obama-Holder summary executions of citizens on mere suspicions (Holder assures us that when he and Obama discuss whether or not to kill someone, that's due process).

Since it probably is small potatoes, one can at least make fun of it, and someone has.  Americans for Tax Reform has set up an EPA Fake Identity generator so that everyone can become a "Richard Windsor."  Why should the luxury of aliases be limited to the elitist hypocrites of the Obama administration?  Now everyone can have a fake EPA ID.  Now there's egalitarian democracy for you!

Call me Christina!

Note: you'll have to go to the ATR web generator to get your own alias.  The one below displays my name and can't be reset.
Lisa Jackson

Assume your very own fake identity!

Got something to hide? Don't want Congress or pesky taxpayers to find out how you spend your time? Then take a page from outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's playbook and just make up a new identity. Get creative with it, don't let traditional limitations like "gender" hold you back – Ms. Jackson went by Richard Windsor.

Accountability is the worst. Fill out the below fields and let ATR help you find the new you!

Your Name:

Your Email Address*:
Your ZIP Code:

New Name: Christina Holt
New Email Address:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ultra Update: Some Bad News

Injury is the the bane of the ultrarunner, and I have two. I regret that these will prevent me from starting at BoB 2013. Ugh. In the last couple of weeks even short runs have left me limping with two different joint problems. The basic rule I follow is Penn and Teller's "no permanent damage." I'm fairly sure that attempting 100 miles on these injuries runs a very high risk of permanent damage, and I'd prefer to get them healed and keep running in the future.

It's disappointing, but following this rule has gotten me through 33 ultras.  I plan on finishing many more.

Photo: Finishing Le Grizz 50 Miler, October 2011.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What are the Chances of "Assault Weapon" Confiscation?

Poor and decreasing, I think. I would love to know what Barack Obama thought when he received this letter from the Utah Sheriff's Association.

The key paragraph: "We respect the Office of the President of the United States of America. But make no mistake, as the duly-elected sheriffs of our respective counties, we will enforce the rights guaranteed to our citizens by the Constitution. No federal official will be permitted to descend upon our citizens and take from them what the Bill of rights -- in particular Amendment II -- has given them. We, like you, swore a solemn oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and we are prepared to trade our lives for the preservation of its traditional interpretation."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Gun Appreciation Day

Tomorrow, Saturday the 19th, here in the U.S. One way to celebrate is by writing to your local and national representatives, and telling them you oppose gun control.

Ruger Firearms has come up with a webtool that makes this very easy. Just go to their site, click the link, fill out the form, and send. Then write a personal letter to your Congressman, Senators, Governor, and local representatives.

Either we win this fight politically, or we'll find ourselves fighting a much worse sort of battle soon.

Meanwhile, here's something else from their site that is nightmarish.  Help stop this from happening anywhere else.


Simply select a category and then click the "Answer" button next to the question for information on that topic.
If you cannot find the answer to your question below, please Click Here for contact information.
With the new law in New York, is Ruger going to be offering 7-round magazines for my 8+ round gun?
We are aware of the new law and are evaluating magazine options. This could take some time and we ask your patience. We will make more information available once we have had a chance to analyze the law and decide how best to meet the needs of Ruger's customers.
I live in New York and ordered magazines that are now banned, will I receive them?
No. We can no longer ship magazines over seven (7) rounds to New York. Orders for such magazines will be automatically cancelled and you will not be billed for the magazines, though other items will be billed and shipped, as appropriate.
I live in New York; can I still return my firearm to Ruger for repair?
PLEASE DO NOT SEND US MAGAZINES OR FIREARMS THAT ARE PROHIBITED UNDER THE NEW LAW. Firearms that are not prohibited may be returned for repair as before, but we recommend you retain any magazines you have. Once we have an opportunity to examine the law and our obligations under it, we can provide further guidance.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Diane Feinstein's lunch!

Larry Correia on Guns, Gun control, and Stopping Criminals

Here's one of the best and most comprehensive treatments of the issues of guns, gun control, and the use of firearms by civilians that I've yet seen, sent to me by a friend and former student.  Well worth reading.  There's much in it that is excellent, but here's the one bit I will emphasize:

You crazy gun nuts and your 2nd Amendment. We should just confiscate all the guns.
Many of you may truly believe that. You may think that the 2nd Amendment is archaic, outdated, and totally pointless. However, approximately half of the country disagrees with you, and of them, a pretty large portion is fully willing to shoot somebody in defense of it.

He goes on to estimate that there are very conservatively 800,000 law abiding Americans who would refuse to be disarmed and would be willing to fight to prevent it.  I think he's right, and it makes me wonder what the government officials pushing for gun control are thinking.  Do they not understand this?  Did they miscalculate?  Do they have something in mind?  Conspiracy theorists will no doubt have an explanation (many of them!), but I suggest we not underestimate the power of stupidity coupled with powerlust.

In the end, it doesn't so much matter.  What's worth noting is that everywhere -- including New York -- firearms and ammunition are nearly sold out, and the less politically correct an item the greater the demand. This tells us a lot about how Obama's asinine statements about "coming together" and the mainstream media's incessant campaign against guns and gun owners are working.

Why New Yorkers should not register their firearms

Registration is confiscation.  I've just arrived in the east (not the New York Soviet Socialist republic, happily) and am back to blogging; oh, yes, and also work.

I listened to the President's shameful theatrics yesterday while driving through Ohio. Emotional manipulation, outright lies, attacks on political opponents, and absence of any logic or sense -- this sums up his show. It was primarily staged for whipping up the emotions of his supporters and demonizing his opponents. I won't comment in any depth about his speech but will note a few points that deserve attention.

When Obama speaks, he pretends to be talking to everyone; e.g. consider comments like "I'm not coming to take your shotgun, or your rifle, or your handgun." Comments like this seem to be directed at gun owners who fear confiscation, but they are not. No one believes Obama if they know the history of gun control or understands what has been proposed in the past by Obama, Feinstein, Schumer, Holder, et al. in the past. And when he speaks like this, he tends to take a tone of mild exasperation, as though he's talking to panicky dullards who don't get that these are just "common sense" reforms that preserve the Second Amendment. If he really were talking to gun owners who oppose confiscation, this would be extremely condescending, but he's actually speaking to his anti-gun supporters, who largely know nothing about firearms, self defense, or the history of gun control.

During yesterday's stunt he also mocked the idea that this is part of a "tyrannical all out assault on liberty." All of this was designed to provide talking points for his advocates in the mainstream media and the public. If he really were serious, he could have explained how he intended to protect our rights and defend the Second Amendment.

Here's an example of how dishonest Obama is.  In New York, the Journal News (Westchester) has published a map showing names and addresses of legal holders of handgun permits, to "out" them and demonize them. This now apparently is being used by criminals to identify targets for crime. Local police and corrections officers are outraged, because they are now exposed and are being threatened by criminals.  One woman in hiding from a former husband who had tried to murder her is now terrified for her life.  Some people without guns are now getting permits since they've now been ID'd as "gun free homes" and soft targets for home invaders.  (This short article is quite chilling.)  In this light, the buffoon in the Whitehouse might have explained how the registration proposed in Feinstein's new AWB makes us safer.

Of course, New York has just passed the most draconian anti-gun legislation in the country, rushed through voting and signing in less than 24 hours, without debate or public discussion.  All sorts of perfectly legal firearmsNot tyranny?  Not an all out assault on liberty?  If New Yorkers with "assault weapons" (sic) comply with the registration requirement, two things will happen:

1. Journal News or some similar scoundrels will get the list and publicize it.

2. Sooner or later either New York state or the feds will use the list to confiscate the firearms.

Unforeseen Contingencies counsels New Yorkers to think very carefully before complying with this vicious and oppressive law.  You'll be more of a target if you do than if you don't.  And what has happened in Westchester makes it obvious that no one should comply with Barack Obama and Diane Feinstein's proposal for grandfathering "assault weapons" (sic) by registering them; it won't protect them, or you.  It's complete confiscation they intend, nothing less.  And if they manage to pass this damned AWB, you're going to need those weapons.

Just another elitist hypocrite...

And tyrant-wannabe, as well.

Friday, January 11, 2013

One for the Road

I'm about to hit the road (I think there's a road somewhere under that snow) but before I do wanted to post two interesting links.

The first is from Kimberly Strassel in WSJ.  She argues that there is a real consensus on draconian gun controls, in Congress and in the public -- and the consensus is against such controls.  Outside of the MSM and the left, there's no support for the citizen disarmament proposals being floated. She also argues that Obama and Biden have potentially blundered in raising the expectations of disarmers so high:

"The White House is playing its usual fuzzy double-game. Does it intend to stick to mental-health recommendations and slough off on Congress any gun decisions? Or does it intend to embrace gun control in its liberal remake of the country? Was the leak that the Biden task force is debating big gun restrictions a signal of a fight to come? Or was it a deliberate head fake—to make smaller proposals look more reasonable? No one has a clue.

Whatever the White House intends, it is already in a tough position. The task-force leak, combined with Mr. Biden's tantalizing suggestion of a gun-related executive order, has seriously raised expectations. Anything less than the dismantling of the Second Amendment will earn Mr. Obama a lambasting from his left."

Regardless of what the White House is up to, it has intentionally and dangerously increased the divisions in this country.  Leftists call for killing gun owners, outlawing the NRA and similar groups, and killing republican leaders -- and it's treated as acceptable political discourse.  Meanwhile gun owners are stripping shelves of weapons and ammunition, and discussing what to do if the Department of Homeland Security begins trying to confiscate weapons.  The President is knowingly creating this crisis.  Enough said.

The second piece is by a Hillsdale College student, Richard Thompson.  In this short piece he cuts straight to the essential point -- gun control is not about crime control, it's about disarming law abiding citizens and making us subjects in stead of citizens.  He is exactly on target.  I don't know Thompson, but his piece reminds me of the reason why being able to teach at Hillsdale always feels like an honor.  Read it.

Photo: DPMS varmint rifle.  The scope, barrel, and magazine ought to be camouflaged as well.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Rights, Guns, and Freedom

I won't be blogging for a bit as I travel eastward (weather permitting -- there's a pretty good blizzard outside as I write this).  Before I hit the road, here's a quick note on rights and why the battle over gun control is so important.

One of the fundamental differences dividing the country at present is the nature of rights: there are two competing and incompatible conceptions of rights: individual rights and human rights.  Individual rights are based on the principle that every individual has self-ownership.  Each of us is sovereign, we have a claim to control over ourselves that is superior to any other claims.  Individual rights are the corollary principles implied by this principle.  The rights to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, and ownership of justly acquired property are all implied, so too the right of self defense.  These rights are unalienable, that is, they are inherent in us and stem from our fundamental self ownership.  They do not go away simply because someone (a government, say) doesn't recognize them.  These rights are imprescriptable: it is not that some authority thinks them up and prescribes them (and maybe later unprescribes them).  These rights also circumscribe our behavior; they restrict us from interfering with others' individual rights.  This should sound familiar, because it is the position of the likes of John Locke and  the American revolutionaries, and is the philosophical and legal basis for the United States.

The alternative conception of rights is that of human rights.  Human rights, in modern thinking, are social constructs.  They are arbitrary, in the mathematical sense, i.e. different "societies" might "choose" different rights.  There's no objective or external standard other than that "society" has "chosen" or constructed these rights, hence extreme multiculturalism makes sense in this conception.  [N.B. "Society" as a single mind that "chooses" something is a very misleading and harmful metaphor; social choice processes are not even vaguely analogous to individual choice.] These "rights" are prescriptable and certainly are not unalienable.  Imagine, for example, the supposed right to health care.  Such a right cannot exist except in a society sufficiently advanced to have health care.  Guaranteed incomes, rights to education, housing etc. all require a sufficiently wealthy someone who is willing, or more likely compelled, to pay for them.  Such "human rights" are actually entitlements, with the title granted by the grace of those in power, should they decide to prescribe it.  There is no such thing as "society choosing," and this tends to be a euphemism for those in government granting privileges to the governed.

I've had a couple of discussions of late in which someone has expressed astonishment that being able to own firearms and exercise self defense could in any way be a right.  To anyone who understands the concept of individual rights, the rights of self defense and to keep and bear arms are obvious.  And it is understandable that those who are only familiar with modern human rights would be utterly unable to understand what we're talking about.

At heart, the two views of rights mirror two views of government.  The first view holds that government is only a servant, and properly exists only so long as it protects individual rights.  The second sees government as the master, granting rights (perhaps on behalf of an even higher entity, some collective such as society, or the proletariat, or the Volk, etc.)

Most people no doubt hold mixed or confused views of rights that mingle (or mangle) the two views in various ways.  But if you understand and accept the first view, that of individual rights, you can understand why the question of gun control is such a fundamentally important issue.  It's not about guns themselves, it's about whether we are free individuals or subjects of a master who will decide what "human rights" to grant us, and what to withhold.

To understand just how serious the current situation is, I highly recommend you read former SEAL Matt Bracken's "Dear Mr. Security Agent" or at least Sipsey Street's presentation of the conclusion.  The Yellow Line and the Red Line are already proposed by Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Diane Feinstein.  If they persist, how far are we from the Dead Line?

Monday, January 07, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Another Christmas post!  Yes, we're back on the Julian calendar.  To all of our Orthodox readers (and everyone else) Unforeseen Contingencies wishes a Happy Orthodox Christmas!

The Orthodox world seems to be one of the few places where Christmas is still regarded as primarily a religious holiday, rather than a meaningless extravaganza of presents and decorations and celebrations of nothing in particular.  Perhaps that's too extreme, but the standardized sanitized a-religious "Christmas" production that's politically correct in parts of today's America strikes me as a weird and even dreadful thing, dreadful because it emphasizes the almost complete absence of deep belief in anything.  How strange to see non-Christians who mock Christianity or are even deeply offended by it then go to great lengths to set up a Christmas tree, spare no expense in selecting presents, and produce a huge Christmas dinner, all centered on 25 December (Gregorian) and all the while religiously opposing any religious reference.  What's the idea?  I don't get it.

On the other hand, do you really have to be a believer to get the point of this holiday and respect or even celebrate it?  Maybe not.

Walter Russell Mead has had a very nice special "Twelve Days of Christmas Yule Blog" that investigates the meaning of Christmas for the benefit of both believers and non-believers.  I've not read all of it yet, but like all of his stuff it's quite thoughtful and well-informed.  Much of it is extremely good indeed.  For example, here's an excerpt from January 5 (Day Twelve, there are actually 13 posts):

Society really does depend on the imperfect virtue of its members.  Self restraint and moral behavior, even only realized in part, really are the foundations of liberty.  If too many people do the wrong things too many times, nothing can protect us from the consequences.

The weaker the hold of virtue on a people, the stronger the state needs to be.  If people don’t voluntarily comply with, for example, the tax codes, the enforcement mechanisms of the government need to be that much stronger.  If more people lose their moral inhibitions against theft, and against using violence against the weak, then society has to provide a stronger, tougher police force — and give them more authority under less restraint.

Yet at the same time the state becomes stronger, it loses control of itself.  When the moral tone of a people declines, bureaucrats and the police are not exempt from the decay of morals.  Perhaps a stratum of high minded elites and civil servants can keep up a moral tone that is significantly higher than the declining standard around them, but lesser officials and the police will reflect the society around them. They will steal; they will abuse their authority; they will manipulate the processes of the state to serve themselves and their favored clients.  The courts become corrupt; the security services link up with the crime syndicates.  Night falls.

This is almost a summary of Adam Smith's basic arguments in Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations.  If I disagree with anything, it's only that I'd emphasize that the moral rot can easily start at the top, perhaps more easily.  "[H]igh minded elites" who imagine they possess a superior moral tone arewhat is truly to be feared.

Or consider this excerpt from 29 December on the meaning of Christmas:

This feeling that there is some meaning to our lives is the basis, I think, not only for the Christian religion and for all religions and mystical experiences; it is the basis for the many noble forms of ethical thought and philosophical reflection found among atheists and agnostics. Anyone who feels the pull of a higher path and greater responsibilities than just blindly grabbing what can be seized is moved by a vision of something outside ones own life that compels our allegiance and respect: a vision of what matters and a sense of life’s meaning.

That sense of life’s meaning is our sense of the transcendent: a sense that our experience points beyond itself to something important.

It seems to me that atheists and theists often exaggerate their differences. Both atheists and theists experience transcendence or meaning in their lives and both have faith that transcendence matters. Both try to live their lives in the light of their experience of life’s meaning.

The difference between theists on the one hand and atheists and agnostics on the other is relatively minor compared with the difference between those who believe that life means something and those who don’t know and don’t care. Ethical atheists believe in the importance of justice, the need for self-control and the need to live by an ethical code in the world just as much as religious people do. Like religious people, they often fail to live up to the codes they believe in, but that (for now) is not the point. The vast, the overwhelming majority of the human race thinks that life means something and that we ought to honor that meaning in the way that we live.

Mead's argument is, I think, that it's the sense of the meaningfulness of life that generates personal morality and then civic virtue.  If I may expound further... We have an inbuilt moral sense.  We may not all take the same intellectual starting point, but we're not tabula rasa with respect to ethics.  Most people really are interested in better lives, more freedom, and respecting the rights of their fellow human beings.  But it must be learned, and regularly reinforced, and can be lost, as the first excerpt suggests.

Writers as diverse as Ayn Rand and Sam Harris have made identical arguments.  Mead suggests that for Christians, Orthodox and otherwise, Christmas encapsulates this meaning.  I agree.  And that's why a non-believer can wish everyone a Happy Orthodox Christmas with no irony at all.  We can honor the meaning that good people who happen to have different ideas and knowledge attach to something.  One of the most important things about human knowledge is that we all are radically ignorant; most of what is true we not only do not know, but have no inkling of.  But so long as we respect and protect each others' rights, that doesn't matter so much. And so...

Happy Orthodox Christmas to all!

Photo: Ukrainian girls caroling.

Gun Control: The Best and the Worst

Happy New Year.  So far, it's been a very good one for "us" here at Unforeseen Contingencies, despite current events.  Perhaps more on that later.

It's unfortunate that there's a major drive for citizen disarmament (euphemistically known as "gun control") underway.  Anyone who still supposes this is all about the Newtown murders is an ignoramus.  The Union Journal's publishing of names and addresses of honest, law abiding gun owners is enough to show what it's really about -- it's about demonizing and disarming law-abiding American citizens, and about destroying the left's political opponents.  Absolutely nothing good can come of this.

Meanwhile, sales of guns and ammunition have skyrocketed so greatly that ammo is almost unavailable in places, and so too firearms, at least the ones most likely to be banned.  There are numerous examples from around the country, but my own experiment is interesting.  A few days before Christmas I visited two major stores in Billings MT; both had substantial supplies of .223, 5.56, and .45 ACP ammunition.  Cabela's had cases of a thousand, plus smaller lots, on the shelves.  Big R had two stacks of cases of 5.56mm ammo that were maybe 3x3x6 feet (i.e. about 4 cubic meters total), and were limiting customers to 10 20rd boxes apiece.  Cabela's also had a barrel full of individually packaged 30 rd PMAGS for sale.  I spoke to some customers and clerks; people were quite upset.  The general tenor was "good grief, Obama really is going to come after us!"  One guy said to me "I fought in the Korean War so we would never have to face communism at home. Now I find myself looking at ammunition and wondering what I would need if the Feds try to bust through my door.  We have a communist in the White House.  How could it come to this?"

I returned to both stores on 3 January.  All of Big R's 5.56 ammo is gone, sold out.  All of Cabela's was gone, but they'd managed to scrounge some 50 grain Federal .223 varmint ammo that was selling for 1.5 times what the cheapest 5.56 ammo had been selling for two weeks earlier.  All magazines holding more than 10 rounds were gone.  Most of the .45 ACP ammo was gone from both stores, although it was still available, again at higher prices.  The law of demand still works, I am happy to report!

This is happening all across the country.  Dear readers, do you suppose that this indicates Americans are planning on giving up their guns and ammo when Obama and Co. command it?  Ha ha ha.  The "law" of "command" may prove less robust than the law of demand.

But understand that it really is not a laughing matter.  If Obama gets his way, there will be violence directed against gun owners.  If Feinstein gets her way, there will be violence directed at gun owners.  There's no way at all that these plans could be put into "law" without killing honest Americans who refuse to surrender their unalienable rights.

I can't believe that Obama and Co. don't realize this.  Certainly there are those on the left already calling for killing gunowners.  Here's the worst of the op-eds I've seen in this regard, written by one Donald Kaul of Ann Arbor MI and published in the Des Moines Register.  Kaul proposes killing gunowners, designating the NRA a terrorist group, and executing John Boehner and Mitch McConnell by dragging them behind a pickup truck.  His piece was reprinted on another site where lefties praised him in the comments and one suggested razing the NRA headquarters.  But (hee hee ho ho) don't you know Kaul now says he really didn't mean it, it's just satire he now says?  Lefties can't believe the right doesn't "get" it.  Hee hee, what a bunch of unhip squares those rightwingers are...

And so if NAACP or some gay rights group were substituted for NRA, the left would also find that clever satire?  (Well, only if the gay rights group happened to be Pink Pistols or Log Cabin Republicans.)  Never mind what the left would think if someone wrote a "satire" proposing deadly violence for Obama and Biden; the DoJ and Secret Service would be on them instantly, and New York Times op-eds would be screaming that something must be done about the dangerous American right.

No, Kaul's piece isn't satire.  It's a hate-filled rant that gives voice to death threats that the left wants to make.  This isn't funny at all.  That the president hasn't spoken out strongly to condemn this kind of crap shows he's a worthless ass.  That he's trying to manipulate this mess to gain political power and crush political opposition shows he's an extremely ruthless man.  The American Republic, or what's left of it, is in real danger.  The left had better back down.  They are making existential threats; this is not just nasty campaign politics.  Nothing good can come of this if they persist.

I've also seen quite a number of very good pieces on these issues, but I think the best is this short note written by a law student at George Mason University, Brian Miller.  Miller quickly gets to the real issue.  This debate is all about power and responsibility, and the alternatives are that it be in the hands of a central planner -- a dictator -- or else spread among the people:

I would much rather power be spread out and in the hands of everyday citizens ...but that of course would require that we accept responsibility for such power.

Liberty is a great power, and it too demands a great deal of responsibility. True freedom is inseparable from responsibility. Any political position that is built from the want to shirk responsibility will leave a void, because it is necessary that someone be responsible. To sacrifice your responsibility is to sacrifice your power, and ultimately your freedom.

Miller is right.  And that's why it is imperative that we not surrender to the left.

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