Random Matter


by Mike Cronin

Five items of interest this week.  In no particular order:

There was bit of brouhaha this week over a Tallahassee, Florida school sending a waiver home with kids that would allow them, with parental consent, to opt out of saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Conservatives painted the move as a sacrilegious, PC attempt to erode patriotism. The same kind of outrage is evident when protesters burn or otherwise desecrate the flag.  When I see people doing that it makes me mad. But those of us who love freedom and liberty have to be consistent in our defense of them. All of our freedoms are under attack, including freedom of speech. Even though we may hate the idea that there are people out there who do not love America, even though we may be angered by their actions, we have to respect that they are free to voice their displeasure just as we can voice ours.  Regardless, a loyalty oath that is made into a compulsory ritual to be performed by those who have not yet attained the age of reason can be no more reliable an indicator of patriotism than a confession extracted by torture can be relied on as evidence at a trial.

If we ban law-abiding citizens from owning or possessing firearms because they might misuse them to commit or attempt to commit mass murder, then by the same logic we should also ban law-abiding citizens from owning or possessing propane tanks for gas grills (Columbine, 1999), fertilizer and diesel fuel (Oklahoma City, 1994), light aircraft (Austin, TX, 2010), passenger cars (Reno, 1980), gasoline (Happy Land nightclub arson fire, NY, 1990), envelopes (Anthrax episode, 2001).  Oh, and let’s not forget commercial aircraft (9/11). In fact: “Guns aren’t even the most lethal mass murder weapon. According to data compiled by Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections, guns killed an average of 4.92 victims per mass murder in the United States during the 20th century, just edging out knives, blunt objects, and bare hands, which killed 4.52 people per incident. Fire killed 6.82 people per mass murder, while explosives far outpaced the other options at 20.82. Of the 25 deadliest mass murders in the 20th century, only 52 percent involved guns.” Note the source. This isn’t from the NRA or some other pro-gun organization, but the liberal Slate magazine just after the 2012 Aurora school shooting!

We are so pre-occupied trying to achieve “diversity” that we have neglected the concept of unity.  Do we live in the United States of America or the Diverse States of America?  Corporations, institutions, and other sizable employers are now hiring C-level “Diversity and Inclusion” executives.  They are the interior decorators of the company organization chart – their job is to color-coordinate the work force!

George Orwell’s 1984 showed us a dystopian future where everybody was under surveillance by Big Brother. What Orwell didn’t see coming was that the technology works both ways.  Citizens in the developed world can buy a smartphone or webcam or other recording gear and take video of the police and government, at least in most public areas.

Some day in the near future, artificial intelligence, or A.I., may render the concept of the nation-state and representational government obsolete.  Having humans connected to some form of A.I. is becoming a staple of science fiction. Neal Asher, Alastair Reynolds, and others have imagined futures where people are implanted with, or “augmented” with devices that allow them to connect and communicate via direct neural interface. John Scalzi dreamt up the colorful “BrainPal,” a kind of advanced Siri inside your head. Imagine if we could do away with almost all of the government and participate directly through our neural links while a wise, super-intelligent, ultra-rational A.I. provided guidance?  I don’t know if A.I. will bring us dystopia or utopia or something in between, but it is coming soon.

Weasel Words: Ethics and Morality


By Mike Cronin

I was raised and educated to believe that the basis  of moral conduct was dictated to man by God through the Ten Commandments, the teachings of Jesus, and the precepts of the Catholic Church.  I was also given to understand that “ethics” were more about the rules humans applied to themselves. Regardless of what religious or secular tradition you were raised under, chances are the distinction between morality and ethics has not always been made clear.

What if that is on purpose?  What if politicians, philosophers, spiritual leaders and other demagogues have twisted the meaning of these words?

Richard Maybury, author of 22 books and monographs and the Early Warning Report newsletter and website, focuses on economics, law and history. According to him:

“Ethics is from the Greek word ethos, which means the essential nature or character of something. Four legs, a head and a tail are part of the essential nature of a cat. The cat cannot change this.

Morals is from the Latin word mos, meaning mores, customs, habits. These can and do change. Rosie the Riveter in World War II made it okay for women to work outside the home in jobs that formerly went only to men.

Ethics refers to a higher law than any human law. To be ethical is to be in sync with the principles of right and wrong built in to human nature.

Morals are not built in. They are the result of opinion, which can change with the wind.

We are born with limits based on ethics. If we choose to be ethical, life gets better, and if we don’t, life gets worse; it’s automatic.

Morals, again, are just opinions.

Ethics is doing what is right even if every other person on earth is doing what is wrong.

To be moral, on the other hand, is to behave in ways that are popular, customary or in sync with the behavior of the majority. If most others do it, it’s okay.”

What insights can we glean by applying these original meanings to ethics and morals?  For a start, is it ethical for a lawmaker to ban conditions, possessions, or behavior just because some constituents find it immoral (e.g. mixed–race or same-sex marriage, drug use, pornography, prostitution)?

To borrow from an internet meme: Knowledge accepts that a cherry tomato is a red fruit similar in size, shape, and color to a cherry, but one demonstrates wisdom by not putting a cherry tomato on top of an ice-cream sundae.  Similarly, it is one thing to know the meaning of ethics and morality, it is another to apply those meanings wisely.

For example: if knowledge tells us it is unethical for the government to ban pornography merely because some sector of society finds it immoral, is it not also unethical for the government to ban child-pornography for the same reason? Don’t child pornographers have as much right under the First Amendment as adult pornographers?

No. We have to apply wisdom: children, especially young children, are not capable of providing informed consent, so they cannot reasonably permit themselves to be the subject of pornographic materials; ergo such materials are unethical to produce in addition to (or despite) being immoral to possess. The rights of the would-be child pornographer end where the rights of the child begins – he (or she) has no right to employ the child in such a manner, whether the child might have seemed to agree to it or not, because the child is not competent to make such a decision yet.

How can we get this wisdom ourselves?  It helps to simplify, or reduce things to a principle, then apply it.  To my way of thinking, virtually every unethical act reduces, in principle, to some form of theft:

Murder (as opposed to killing in self-defense) is the unethical taking (i.e. theft) of someone else’s life.

Rape, assault, and enslavement are unethically taking a large portion, but perhaps not all, of someone else’s life.

So-called “white collar” crime, fraud, lying, and other unethical forms of misleading conduct are attempts to hide reality from those entitled to it.  They are the theft of the truth.

By the same token, many so-called immoral acts are ethically neutral: e.g. eating meat on Friday, not going to church on the Sabbath, using foul language, wearing provocative clothing, or having homosexual or premarital sex.

So: Is it ethical for a lawmaker to enact, obligate, or promote acts that take property from citizens without due process (e.g. confiscatory income taxation, eminent domain, or civil asset forfeiture)?

The Founders established that the only valid purpose of government is to protect citizens’ rights. Government cannot succeed in that purpose if it is routinely, systematically, and unethically violating the rights of those very citizens!

To paraphrase Maybury: Life continuously gets better in civilizations that make the correct distinction between ethics and morality and enforce ethical conduct; civilization itself fails in places where ethics and morality have been twisted into weasel-words.

The Land of the Free* (*terms and conditions may apply)


By Mike Cronin

When asked what kind of government our new country has, Benjamin Franklin is widely quoted as stating “a republic, if you can keep it.”  Apparently we could not.  It’s almost universally accepted these days, to the point of being taught as fact in schools, that we have a democracy. Yet our Constitution outlines a republican form of government with three branches (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial) that functions with some democratic processes. (You can check this for yourself – the word democracy does not appear anywhere in the Constitution or Declaration of Independence).

Unfortunately, we’ve accumulated three additional, unofficial branches of government, and devolved so far from our Founder’s vision that we may no longer have either a republic or a democracy, but an oligarchy (i.e. a form of government where power is held by small group).

What are the three “unofficial” branches that the oligarchs use to wield power?  The donor branch, the media branch, and the education branch; all run by the so-called “elites.”

I’ve written before about the “elites” that steer this country, and you’ve probably read or heard others speak of them without really explaining the composition of the group.

Who are the elites in the United States (international elites are another subject)? They are people at the head of the three legitimate branches and the three “shadow” branches of government. In influential order:

The President of the United States: Head of State. Head of Government. Chief Executive Officer of the Executive Branch and Commander in Chief of the military. The incumbent holds possibly the most influential position in the world; certainly whoever occupies the Oval Office wields the most diplomatic influence backed by the most extraordinary military.

The donor class – the folks who provide significant funds to politicians, PACs, and campaigns and are owed favors and quid pro quos. Think George Soros, the Koch brothers, corporate lobbyists, and the like. If we could dig deep enough, we might also find drug lords and other organized crime dons in this class.

The rest of the elected politicians at the Federal level: the 535 members of Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate), plus the vice president.

Next come political appointees: ambassadors, cabinet secretaries and other cabinet-level executives, federal judges, and military combatant commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff – and the emeriti of these positons – e.g. Henry Kissinger.

There is some overlap between the politicians above and the influencers in their networks. These are their fellow Ivy-League and service-academy alumni, corporate and institutional boards, bank chairmen, media moguls, etc.

Perhaps at the bottom rung of the elites are the folks who try to influence us more directly. This group is largely composed of the academic and think-tank intelligentsia and “on-air talent” in the mainstream media.

Perhaps not really elite, but still somewhat culpable for the direction of our country: The entrenched bureaucrats just below the political appointee level. They provide institutional continuity across multiple administrations – and they are largely not accountable. Not because they don’t “report” to anyone, but because it’s so damn hard to fire someone in the Federal government, and because they can just outlast the appointed bosses that can fire them.

Altogether, I estimate that there are perhaps as many as 300,000 to as few as 30,000 people running our country of 300,000,000+ people.  What would you call a form of government where perhaps 1/1000th to 1/10,000th of the population holds almost all of the power?

“…A lot of Dumb Things.”


By Mike Cronin

The latest kerfuffle in the culture wars has put Dirty Harry in the camp of Donald Trump.  In the latest issue of Esquire magazine and in other recent comments, actor Clint Eastwood laments political correctness and the attention given to some of Mr. Trump’s brasher statements.  (He did not officially endorse Trump.)

One need not support Mr. Trump, (or any other candidate) to find political correctness troubling.  The First Amendment to the Constitution charges the government to protect our right to speak freely. This is an intolerable condition to control freaks who just know that their ways and opinions are right and everybody’s lives would be better if we just obeyed them. Political correctness seeks to accomplish by peer pressure and social sanctions what cannot be legally done by government: the limiting of personal expression.

Last week’s post was bout the spotty availability of formal training in logic and critical thinking in America’s educational institutions.   The purposeful omission of such fundamentals from curricula smacks of an elite trying to restrict entry to their ranks.  Now add political correctness to the mix.

According to Merriam-Webster online, political correctness is “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.”

Bottom line: giving offense should be eliminated.  We can’t have dissent. Do not speak freely. Protect everyone else’s feeling, but don’t have any non-conforming thoughts of your own.

Don’t look at the value of the dollar.  Don’t examine public education.  Don’t question the dysfunction of maintaining an immigration enforcement enterprise while rewarding illegal immigration. Don’t peer into the doings of your city, county, state, or federal government. Don’t read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights. Don’t ask probing questions.

Do not give offense. Don’t see the hypocrisy and irony of being offensive in the name of eliminating offensiveness, being racist in the name of eliminating racism, and churning out myriad petty laws in the name of reducing crime.

Do not think for yourself. Don’t find the insanity in trying to stimulate the economy by taxing real wealth out of it then pumping funny money back in. Don’t be self-reliant; rely on your elected rulers to use the power of government to steal from your more productive friends and neighbors and give some of the loot back to you.

Go with the crowd. Run the machines. Consume. Watch the latest reality show/sitcom/talent contest/news crisis on cable/satellite/internet.  Go find some Poke-mon.