Once in a lifetime

From Maggie's Farm, images of the desert bloom resulting from historic rains in the driest place on Earth.

That explains it

A retread, but still a Halloween-worthy explanation of the country's economic woes.

But that's a serious allegation!

Apparently nothing  can ever come to light that will keep a lot of MSM commentators from expressing uncomprehending shock at the notion that Hillary Clinton lied about Benghazi.  In this interview, Charlie Rose asks in confused irritation what possible motive she could have had.  Rubio gamely replies that it was a campaign tactic in the final weeks of the 2012 presidential election.  "But that's a very serious allegation!" Rose stutters, for all the world as if no one had ever brought it to the attention of his colleagues until that moment, or as if they'd have been digging into the matter before now if only they'd known.  Rose then tries to argue that Clinton must have been in the dark, because the CIA kept changing its analysis--as if the changes in the talking points in the days following the attack had had anything to do with the untrammeled professional judgment of CIA analysts.  You have to wonder how much of this stuff Rose really believes, because it's hard to imagine that at this point he couldn't have made himself aware of the message-machine process during that eventful week, if he were willing to open his eyes.  Disagreeing with Rubio's interpretation of the facts I could almost accept, but claiming to be innocent of the controversy is a stretch.  Rose acts as if Rubio had suddenly decided to blame the situation on an attack from Mars.

What I rather like about the repeated display, however, is that it gives Rubio yet more opportunities to lay out the evidence to viewers who, like Rose, perhaps are hearing the facts for the first time.  A few may become curious.

Fun to Shoot

Powerline has the right attitude. I'm going to take the day off to enjoy this beautiful fall weather while it lasts. Do some hiking, and then perhaps later...

Taking it back

Bookworm Room's on fire with the videos lately.  There's a Democratic Debate Bad Lip Reading video up, but also this PSA applicable to the coming weekend:

Immoderate moderators

Much of the fireworks in last night's debate centered on the media's habit of beclowning itself.  The Democratic-operatives-with-a-byline in charge of moderating the debate were supposed to be conducting a session on "economic issues."  This is apparently what they think economic issues look like:
  • A question about Rubio’s Senate attendance, driven by a newspaper editorial.
  • A question about Jeb’s decline in the polls.
  • A question about Hewlett-Packard’s stock performance while Carly Fiorina was the CEO.
  • A question about Rubio’s family finances and his use of some retirement dollars.
  • A question assuming the veracity of the “women earn 77 percent as much as men” canard. Wow. Just wow.
  • A question to Ben Carson about Costco’s policy on benefits for employees in same-sex relationships.
  • A question to Mike Huckabee about whether Trump has the moral authority to unite America. Wow again.

Self help

If you don't follow The Walking Dead--as I don't--you should skip all the written part of this HotAir piece, but watch the video explaining how to deal with zombies.

Waco Update: Dallas News Editorial

Just in case you like the bottom line up front, they give it to you in their headline: "In Waco case, biker gangs earning more trust than prosecutors."

Is God a Fact, or an Opinion?

Not too long ago we had a surprisingly intense argument over the proper definition of 'fact' and 'opinion.' It was framed, and not wrongly, as a really central issue in the quest to develop virtuous citizens. The use of language and the meaning of core concepts of language does indeed have much to do with that. This is just why Socrates was always so interested in whether people could define the terms they were using: "justice," "piety," and the like. Could you give an account of the real nature of the concept you were naming? Or could you not?

(An aside: Socrates thus gets the best line in this cartoon.)

Today I mention it because of this 7th grader whose teacher insisted that anyone who said that "God is a fact" or that "God is an opinion" was wrong. The only correct answer was that "God is a myth."

Now, the way I was taught the distinction, "fact" and "opinion" were mutually exclusive categories that covered every possible statement. "Fact" meant "a statement that can be proven true or false." Opinion meant every other kind of statement.

Thus, "God is a myth" (in the sense of 'myth' as 'false tale') is either a fact or an opinion. Since the teacher thinks it can be proven correct, she is classifying this statement as a fact. But then she ought to recognize that she has entailed that "God is a fact" is true, since she thinks that God's existence can be proven false -- and a fact is the kind of statement that can be proven true or false.

On the other hand, if "God is a myth" is an opinion because it cannot be proven either way, then "God is a fact" is also an opinion. "God is an opinion" is thus a fact, while "God is a fact" is an opinion. That's fun.

In any case, it's all bad metaphysics. Those who think that they can prove God don't try to prove his existence, but rather his necessity: God's existence is of such a different nature than ours that no one believes that we can understand how God exists, but if God is necessary, then we must accept it though we don't understand it. See Avicenna's Metaphysics of The Healing. Aquinas summarizes the argument (far too briefly to give you the sense of it):
The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence — which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.
Now Aquinas describes that as a proof of God's existence, but goes on to note that by "existence" he means something extremely different from the "existence" that you or I have -- in other words, he isn't proving "existence" in the usual sense at all. This point he gets from Avicenna, I think, although frankly he could have drawn it from the Neoplatonists or Parmenides. All of these are dense arguments that require years of work to grapple with effectively.

That's work that the seventh grade teacher is unlikely to have done, which ought to provoke some humility -- except that she is doubtless ignorant enough of the whole set of arguments not to realize that it is work that needs to be done to grapple with the question in front of her. She is still trying to prove or disprove God as if God were to be proven in the same way as your postman.

So is God a fact, or an opinion? Both, of course. How could it be otherwise? All things follow from God, and thus all things must be prefigured in God. God is both provable in Avicenna's sense, and outside what can be thought of as a proof for Kant. And thus it is just as true to say that God is neither, of course: all these concepts of human language are limited, and God is not.

Paid the Taxman

Today I rode over to the county seat and had a conversation with a man I know only by face, who recognizes my face in return even though he only sees me twice a year. Once I year I ride over there and pay my tag fees for the various vehicles registered in my name. The other time I come to pay the taxes on my property here in the county. He and I have to talk every time I come because it is his job to physically search me before I am allowed into the building.

The conversation turned, ironically I thought, on his desire to lament just how much of our money the government takes in taxes. He is of course paid out of those taxes, and is fully employed as a cog in the wheel of the tax-collection machine. His job is to protect the taxman from me, and to ensure that said taxman only encounters people like me after we have been carefully checked for arms.

It always strikes me as strange. The same government licenses me to carry arms, has my fingerprints on file and has itself investigated my background. They know who I am. The same government pays for its operations out of money that I or people like me provide. In fact, the reason I ever go there is just to provide them with that money. I always show up and pay my bill as soon as it arrives even though I could wait months to pay it.

Of course, the reason I pay it so quickly is that if I should forget, the government will sell my house and land at auction and evict me. Perhaps that's why they are so unwilling to trust me with arms around them, even though I'm coming -- as I always do -- to pay them what they ask at the earliest opportunity. Their own deep-set bad faith undermines our relationship. They cannot trust their citizens not to use force against them, even the ones who have always played by the rules and who have volunteered to be investigated, because they know how quickly they intend to resort to force if I miss a payment.

Seems like there's got to be a better way. The relationship between the citizen and the state should be a kind of friendship, ideally. You watch The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and you can see how the citizen used to participate in local government, indeed how citizens to really be local government.

Even in this very rural corner of a fairly rural state, we've gotten far away from that ideal.


Via D29, an investigation into the Clinton Foundation.
[T]he foundation portrays itself as do-gooder nonprofit organization but a cursory look reveals questionable and incomplete disclosures of its activities and accounts, as well as incredible misspending of donor money, virtually since its inception.

Naturally, this can’t be stated in polite society. For example, the New York Times just had a story on the Clinton Foundation that found highly questionable conduct but buried it under the bland headline, “Rwanda Aid Shows Reach and Limits of Clinton Foundation.” Other stories have mentioned that the foundation has partnered with assorted dictators and robber barons. Among the latter is Canadian “mining magnate” (read: "penny stock artist") Frank Giustra, who donated millions to the foundation after Bill Clinton helped him land a mining concession for him in Kazakhstan....

However, the problems appear set to catch up with the foundation (now formally known as the Bill, Hillary, & Chelsea Clinton Foundation), which has until November 16 to amend more than ten years’ worth of state, federal and foreign filings. According to Charles Ortel, a financial whistleblower, it will be difficult if not impossible for the foundation to amend its financial returns without acknowledging accounting fraud and admitting that it generated substantial private gain for directors, insiders and Clinton cronies, all of which is against the law under an IRS rule called inurement.
OK. That could be interesting.

This aligns nicely with the Hall's interests

Entropy and Income Inequality

The Mises Institute adjusted individual income to deduct taxes and then add back in what one receives in 'benefits' from one's government. The result:
Since Sweden is held up as a sort of promised land by American socialists, let's compare it first. We find that, if it were to join the US as a state, Sweden would be poorer than all but 12 states, with a median income of $27,167.

Median residents in states like Colorado ($35,830), Massachusetts ($37,626), Virginia ($39,291), Washington ($36,343), and Utah ($36,036) have considerably higher incomes than Sweden.

With the exception of Luxembourg ($38,502), Norway ($35,528), and Switzerland ($35,083), all countries shown would fail to rank as high-income states were they to become part of the United States. In fact, most would fare worse than Mississippi, the poorest state.

For example, Mississippi has a higher median income ($23,017) than 18 countries measured here. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, and the United Kingdom all have median income levels below $23,000 and are thus below every single US state. Not surprisingly, the poorest OECD members (Chile, Mexico, and Turkey) have median incomes far below Mississippi.

Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, has a median income ($25,528) level below all but 9 US states. Finland ranks with Germany in this regard ($25,730), and France's median income ($24,233) is lower than both Germany and Finland. Denmark fares better and has a median income ($27,304) below all but 13 US states.
No surprises here, though: there's significant entropy involved in taxing and spending. If you make $10,000 and I make $110,000, our average income is $60,000. If the government takes $50,000 from me to distribute to you, it's going to have to pay taxmen and bureaucrats to administer the program. You'll probably only get $25,000 of the money, the rest being lost to the systematic entropy. Our average income will now only be $47,500.

That's what these societies are striving for -- a more level field of incomes. That doesn't come without a cost.

In Praise of James Comey

I certainly hope that the author is right about our top G-man.
The fiercely independent head of the FBI is directing the investigation into Clinton’s use of a personal email server and attendant issues raised during the Benghazi inquiry, which could lead to indictments of the former Secretary of State or her various aides....

Comey has shown a nettlesome tendency to stray off the Obama reservation. Most recently, he challenged White House orthodoxy by linking the rise of homicides around the country to stepped-up scrutiny of the police. In a speech at the University of Chicago Law School last week, Mr. Comey described the “YouTube” effect that has created a “chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year.” Police, he suggested, are so concerned about starring in a video that goes viral that they are attacking their job more tentatively to the detriment of law and order. The New York Times reported that Comey’s remarks “caught officials by surprise at the Justice Department, where his views are not shared at the top levels.”

Comey has also parted ways with Obama on the ‘Black Lives Matter’ controversy. In his speech in Chicago, the FBI director declared that “all lives matter” three times; at the White House, Obama was simultaneously defending the Black Lives Matter mantra while participating in a panel on criminal justice reform....

Comey has a reputation for integrity, a quality lauded by President Obama when he nominated the former Deputy Attorney General for his current post. Obama told how Comey prevented an ill Attorney General Ashcroft from being hoodwinked into reauthorizing a warrantless eavesdropping program, in the process standing up to President George W. Bush and putting his career on the line.

"He was prepared to give up the job he loved, rather than be a part of something that he felt was fundamentally wrong," Obama said.
All those qualities will be needed if he is to do the right thing here. No one expects it. The rule of law has collapsed so completely where the powerful -- or even the famous -- are concerned that there are pop-culture songs about how much you can get away with if you're a celebrity. Clinton is protected by both personal celebrity and deep ties to the rich and powerful among the ruling party. I doubt you could find three people in a hundred who really believe in their hearts that the government will call her to account for her casual, habitual violation of the laws governing classified information.

The author says "With James Comey leading the investigation, and unlikely to participate in any cover-up, [Republicans] should have faith in the system." It isn't just Republicans who doubt the system here. Democrats are also confident that she will face no charges. After the Justice Department long-investigated and then winked away Lois Lerner's moves at the IRS, nothing could be more plausible than that the law will go unenforced and the friends of the powerful will be protected from legal consequences. It would be eucastrophic if the FBI upheld its due and proper function in this case.


John Cleese lists some of his favorite, but less-well known sketches from his career.

Budgetary Maneuvers

Exit question via Dan Foster: Would this budget deal have been this bad if Meadows and the Freedom Caucus hadn’t pushed Boehner out? The reason it’s two years instead of one and concedes so much to the Democrats is chiefly because Boehner no longer has any fear of reprisals from the right. He made a bad long-term deal in order to take this topic off the table for his protege, Ryan, when he replaces him as Speaker.
I think I'd like to know what the goals are for the maneuvers. I assume TEA Party advocates don't have a veto-proof majority on this issue either. There are two possible things that you could be after, then:

1) A better compromise on the budgetary concerns,

2) Losing the budget fight while winning a political "optics" fight.

There is little reason to compromise for either side of the fight. The President's minority party in Congress can rely on his veto to back them up. The majority party might be willing to compromise, but the TEA Party element of the right-wing coalition has drawn strength from driving out people who compromise. They're shifting the party rightwards just by winning conflicts like this one.

It sounds like (2) is what is going on, then: let Ryan vote against the deal, but let the deal pass, thus allowing him to assume the Speakership without being tainted by having compromised on the budget. It will, as they say, remove the issue for a couple of years -- an important couple of years, within the context of the 2016 elections. Voters hate government shutdowns, and tend to blame Republicans for them, so that makes some sense.

It does have the advantage of opening room for Paul Ryan to claim to be on the side of the TEA Party wing. For the TEA Party to have claimed the Speakership of the House -- symbolically if not actually -- is a major advance for a party that only got started in 2010, and which is not even officially independent. If Ryan elects to go along with them, it will raise their credibility in the eyes of ordinary voters who may not understand what is and is not symbolic. The budget gets settled ugly, but that is likely to happen anyway.

I'm Sorry I Missed the Irish Breakfast Special

Clicked a link on Instapundit that led to an online war between the White Moose Cafe and the worldwide cabal of vegans. It's a funny way to start your Tuesday.

Also, educational: I found out in the comments that "vegan" is an old Indian word for "bad hunter."

Winning Votes

The Clinton campaign has probably locked up the Democratic nomination already. Nevertheless, she continues to do damage to herself for the general. Most recently, it was this:

Leftists are in an outrage, because "Sander's record as a feminist is as good as Clinton's." Ok, if you say so. Frankly, I doubt the statement is true. I expect that Sanders would prove to be a better feminist than Clinton, whose work as a lawyer and a First Lady has undermined that cause. I also doubt it matters. 'Who's the better feminist' is chasing a majority among the 18% of Americans who think they are feminists. That's probably not the margin of victory in a Presidential election.

More to the point, though, Clinton has to win votes to win the election. She's already in something of a bind with working class voters, both black and white, because of the economics. She'll be running as the heir to the current administration, whose health care plans have largely determined that most working class Americans are chasing part-time jobs without benefits -- part time jobs that start off as "seasonal" so you don't even make minimum wage for a year or two -- in an environment where all new jobs statistically have gone to immigrants.

She's got to win a massive percentage of women to make up for the men she's losing with remarks like this. She's got to win a massive percentage of the gun-control advocates to make up for the fact that they're a small minority among American voters. She'll have a huge enthusiasm gap given that black voters can't view her pro-immigration policies as otherwise than depressing their access to jobs and the pay that those jobs offer. She won't have access to anything like the Obama coalition, nor does she deserve to.

Of course, a lot depends on who her opponents in the general turn out to be -- and whether there will be one, or two.

Saint Crispin's Day

"American Martial Culture"

Seth Barrett Tillman wonders if the decline of academic quality has something to do with the declining number of veterans in higher education.
Pre-World War II, this division between American civil and military society was less (perhaps, much less) of a problem. Then, the largest part of our (white male) population (of a certain age) was enrolled in our various state militias (or, their successors—the U.S. and state National Guards). Conscription, if not universal conscription, naturally flowed from actual congressionally declared wars. Likewise, a large swathe of Americans, across all social classes, could expect to see military service in war, including, unfortunately, Indian wars. (Lincoln and Davis both served in the Black Hawk War.)
With all due respect, that's not right. After the Civil War, the United States military shrank to a very tiny size and remained that way until the First World War. The very brief Spanish American War (1898) aside, the main business of the Army was fighting unions, not fighting Indians -- the famous Indian wars were fought by Civil War veterans like Sheridan and Custer (who was one of Sherman's favorites). So it's not a new generation of fighting men, it's the same generation staying on in a much smaller army, fighting battles that were minor echoes of the great battles of their youth.

Military service was the exception rather than the rule for most of the 19th century, excepting the Civil War generation. It was again between the two World Wars. It is actually only after the two great wars -- the Civil War and WWII -- that we have had a very high percentage of veterans in American culture. You can see the effect of this by looking at this poll about the percentage of American men who are veterans. All the way to retirement age, the percentage hovers around twenty percent. It shoots up among the eldest among us, so that 80% of those 85-89 and 74% of those over ninety are veterans.

For women, too, we see the lingering effects of the draft because women were not drafted: overall, only 2% of women are veterans, compared with 24% of men, mostly in the older generations. That number is 14.5% currently, so the overarching importance of the WWII/Vietnam drafts is what is driving the percentage of female veterans down into the low single-digits.

Another way you can see the lingering effects of WWII and, to a lesser degree, Vietnam is in the chart on proportions of veterans by region. The numbers are fairly flat: overall 12.7%, with a low of 11.4% in the Middle Atlantic states and a high of 14.6% in the Southeast. That means we're talking about the bulk of these numbers coming from the draft eras: since the introduction of the All Volunteer Force, the military has been 40%+ from the South. The trend has only intensified since Heritage did that study in 2008: recent numbers show that it was 44% in 2013. People move around, of course, but the relatively flat percentage of veterans by region shows the lingering influence of the massive draft of WWII and the smaller but significant draft of Vietnam.

So really, if a culture is a way of life that one generation passes to the next, it doesn't make much sense to talk about an "American martial culture." There are some families, especially but not only in the South, where a culture of military service is passed from one generation to the next in the days of non-compulsory service. American culture overall has not been martial. For all but two generations, the bulk of Americans have not served in any military nor fought in any wars. The institutions have cultures, but American culture overall has been not much affected by them for most of our history.

The Dangers of Art

Powerline commends to our attention a terrific interview of Paul Cantor by Bill Kristol.  Normally I'm not a big fan of 90-minute interview videos and wish someone had just transcribed them, but this one's worth the time.  Cantor is a Shakespearean scholar who long ago turned his attention to American popular culture.  The whole thing is worth watching if only for the discussion of Hobbesian vs. Lockeian westerns.  And who can resist a guy, especially a grizzled old conservative, who liked the instantly forgotten "John of Cincinnati"?  At a dream dinner party, you'd be seated next to him.

One of Tex's Comrades

So, apparently this is how law is practiced in Texas?

Has the Elf King Stolen Our Children?

Instapundit sent me off on an interesting journey through an old-school role-playing gamer's blog via a novelist's.

The blogger at Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog spent a year reading the authors recommended by Gary Gygax, creator of D&D, in Appendix N of one of the rule books, and reports. A few of his more interesting conclusions are:

  • ... Next to the giants of the thirties, just about everything looks tamed and watered down.
  • It used to be normal for science fiction and fantasy fans to read books that were published between 1910 and 1977. There was a sense of canon in the seventies that has since been obliterated.
  • Ideological diversity in science fiction and fantasy was a given in the seventies. We are hopelessly homogenistic in comparison to them.
  • The program of political correctness of the past several decades has made even writers like Ray Bradbury and C. L. Moore all but unreadable to an entire generation. The conditioning is so strong, some people have almost physical reactions to the older stories now.
  • The culture wars of the past forty years have largely consisted [of] an effort to reprogram peoples’ tastes for traditional notions of romance and heroism.

Author John C. Wright, of an older generation, read this and brought up the topic of how elves have changed in the popular mind.

Who Are Your Peers?

Should you be accused of a crime, you are guaranteed a trial by a jury of your peers. What does that mean, exactly? We get the rule from Magna Carta, where it meant that a baron accused by the king was entitled to be tried by others of similar independence of rank and station -- and not, say, by several of the king's lackeys. The independence of the jurors is meant to prevent you from being railroaded by a system of closed power.

The American system usually thinks that all citizens are peers, being free men or free women. A judge in Louisville thinks that isn't sufficient:

Unhappy with the number of potential black jurors called to his court last week, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens halted a drug trial and dismissed the entire jury panel, asking for a new group to be sent up.

“The concern is that the panel is not representative of the community,” said Stevens, who brought in a new group of jurors despite objections from both the defense and prosecutor....

“There is not a single African-American on this jury and (the defendant) is an African-American man,” Stevens said, according to a video of the trial. “I cannot in good conscious go forward with this jury.”
I'm of two minds about that. On the one hand, it's a tremendously bad decision insofar as it seeks to further enshrine race as a category of thought (and, even, of law). On the other hand, pragmatically rather than philosophically speaking, the judge is probably right that it makes a huge difference to the defendant's likely outcomes at trial. So while there is a bad legal principle at work, it is conceivable that the defendant would get a fairer trial if race were taken into account. The particular trial is about the particular defendant, who either is or is not guilty of the offenses with which he is charged. The business of the particular trial is to come to a fair and, hopefully, correct decision about that -- not to display grand legal principles, but to set a man free if he is not guilty of the crime with which he is charged. That's why we have trials by jury at all: we could enforce the law without them, as long as we weren't worried about whether the state was accurate in the charges it filed.

It'll be interesting to see what the state Supreme Court says. My guess is that they will come down against him, if only because it would open the state to having to re-consider goodness knows how many earlier cases in which black men were convicted by all-white juries. Indeed, presumably every black man convicted previously could file an appeal on those grounds, since we wouldn't have necessarily kept a record of the race of jurors.

Mirror Images -- Two CIA Action Flicks

Recently I watched the movies Erased and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. The movies themselves are good, secret agent / underworld action flicks in the tradition of the Bourne series or Taken, though not quite as suspenseful or compelling.

What I found interesting was the sociopolitical viewpoints of the two movies, which mirror each other. First I have to say that the social and political aspects in these films are minimal. Regardless of what one thinks about the US or its intelligence agencies, they are enjoyable because they are mostly fighting, chasing, and solving mysteries. However, in those few places where background is given, Erased assumes the US is part of the problem, while Jack Ryan assumes the US is one of the good guys.

I think one example from each movie is enough here. In Erased, the hero is a highly trained warrior whose motivation for leaving a US intelligence agency is that he "grew a conscience." In Jack Ryan, the hero is a former USMC officer who was severely wounded in Afghanistan and given a medical discharge. He gets a Ph.D. and joins an American intelligence agency as an analyst because he still wants to serve his country.

These little differences interest me. The stories a culture tells about itself are important. I don't think one movie is very important. But I think the themes that are repeated in movie after movie do have an impact on how that culture sees itself.

If You Like Your Plan...

Yeah, you know the rest.
As of this week, nine of the law’s 23 state co-ops — nonprofit health-insurance companies set up to help people enroll in Obamacare — have collapsed. Over 600,000 people who enrolled in co-op health plans will lose their insurance at the end of this year. Many of them were forced into the co-ops to begin with when Obamacare canceled their private insurance policies in 2013, meaning they will have lost their health insurance twice because of the law.