Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle. Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it. It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours. -- MaxedOutMama

I don't just want gun rights... I want individual liberty, a culture of self-reliance....I want the whole bloody thing. -- Kim du Toit

The most glaring example of the cognitive dissonance on the left is the concept that human beings are inherently good, yet at the same time cannot be trusted with any kind of weapon, unless the magic fairy dust of government authority gets sprinkled upon them.-- Moshe Ben-David

The cult of the left believes that it is engaged in a great apocalyptic battle with corporations and industrialists for the ownership of the unthinking masses. Its acolytes see themselves as the individuals who have been "liberated" to think for themselves. They make choices. You however are just a member of the unthinking masses. You are not really a person, but only respond to the agendas of your corporate overlords. If you eat too much, it's because corporations make you eat. If you kill, it's because corporations encourage you to buy guns. You are not an individual. You are a social problem. -- Sultan Knish

All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war. -- Billy Beck

Monday, October 30, 2006

Don't Look Now...

...or you'll miss it.

I saw the link to this story on Instapundit (yes, again) this morning, but an email from reader Lee made me read the story a bit closer. I admit I missed it the first time, too.

Prof. Reynold's excerpt goes:
On one wall of the plaza is a sculpture of a lunch counter with several people sitting at it. It's so very life-like that in nice weather people routinely sit down on the empty stools to eat their lunches at the counter. There is no plaque to explain the sculpture.
It's a story about the Wichita, Kansas drugstore lunch counter where, in 1958, groups of black youths sat in protest, day after day waiting to be served. It's an excellent article.

But Lee notes this as the important part:
The store tried to wait them out by ignoring them. They kept coming back and sitting there, silently, day after day, waiting to be served. On one occasion three police officers tried to coerce and intimidate the teenagers to leave, and succeeded. But they came back, and the police did not return. They were breaking no law, only a store policy, and the store was not willing to challenge them directly.

A group of local white toughs came by trying to intimidate them. The police were called to break it up but left immediately without challenging the whites, saying they had instructions to keep their hands off. After an emergency phone call a group of local black men arrived, armed, to defend the protesters. The white youths retreated, leaving the store.
As Lee said in his email, "Buried near the end of the fifth paragraph is the single word "armed" that is so very important here." Amen.

"Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle."
Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it.

It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours. - MaxedOutMama
Via Instapundit, Six Meat Buffet brings you It's Jihad, Charlie Brown.

My favorite line:
"It really isn't such a bad little bomb. It just needs a little hate."
Fatwah to follow, I'm sure.

This is TOO Cool!.

Via The Freeholder: A Rifle For Shifty.


Atheists and Anti-theists

Or: "Brights?" Don't Make Me Laugh!

You know, I sometimes hesitate to write these pieces. Partially because they're the ones that draw 100+ comments, and partially because they generally serve only to piss some people off. However, it's a topic that I find pretty fascinating, and (given the 100+ comments) others obviously do too.

I noted recently that Rev. Donald Sensing had written a piece entitled Can Atheism Be Justified?. I greatly respect Rev. Sensing - in fact it was to him I addressed an Important Question. I said then, and I believe now, that Rev. Sensing is one of the not-so-common deep thinkers in the blogosphere. The Reverend's essay begins:
Dinesh D’Souza writes,
A group of leading atheists is puzzled by the continued existence and vitality of religion.
What an interesting thing for atheists to ponder. In the modern day one either has to accept some kind of deistic understanding of the origin of the universe or an evolutionary understanding that excludes any sort of deity from contributing to the origin of the universe and all contained therein. I am not saying that one must either be religious or non-religious, for the dichotomy is true even for adherents of non-deistic or nature religions. Either deity (or deities) had a hand in existence itself, or it/they did not.
So why would a deity-denying atheist be puzzled that religion is thriving? If evolution as they describe it is true, then religion is itself a product thereof. Not only that, but Judaism is an evolutionary product, so is Christianity, so is Islam, so is Buddhism, so is Shamanisn, so is … well, you get the idea.
And so is the theory of evolution itself. And astrology. And tarot-card reading. And medical science. And faith healing. And everything else. So why do materialists single out religion as a particularly puzzling thing to exist? Why religion and not, say, athletics or stamp collecting or consumption of alcohol?
See what I mean? Cuts right to the quick of it, doesn't he?

I took some time to read D'Souza's column. In it, he references Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and E.O. Wilson - all of whom I have linked to or quoted myself in Why I Am an Atheist. D'Souza's arguments for why religion is popular and atheism is not are (in my opinion) irrefutable. Example:
(I)magine two groups of people -- let's call them the Secular Tribe and the Religious Tribe -- who subscribe to one of these two views. Which of the two is more likely to survive, prosper and multiply? The religious tribe is made up of people who have an animating sense of purpose. The secular tribe is made up of people who are not sure why they exist at all. The religious tribe is composed of individuals who view their every thought and action as consequential. The secular tribe is made up of matter that cannot explain why it is able to think at all.

Should evolutionists like Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Wilson be surprised, then, to see that religious tribes are flourishing around the world? Across the globe, religious faith is thriving and religious people are having more children. By contrast, atheist conventions only draw a handful of embittered souls, and the atheist lifestyle seems to produce listless tribes that cannot even reproduce themselves.
Oooh! Ouch! (Truth hurts, or so they say.) And that last paragraph on the fact that secular societies are not breeding while religious ones are is a telling one. D'Souza, too, turns the question around most effectively in his last paragraph:
My conclusion is that it is not religion but atheism that requires a Darwinian explanation. It seems perplexing why nature would breed a group of people who see no purpose to life or the universe, indeed whose only moral drive seems to be sneering at their fellow human beings who do have a sense of purpose.
This is a question I've fielded here in comments on more than one occasion.

But bear with me a few more minutes.

In this month's issue of Wired magazine, editor Gary Wolf looks into The Church of the Non-Believer, and it's a very interesting exposé. Wolf starts off with fire and brimstone (sorry about the mixed-metaphors.):

It's a question you may prefer not to be asked. But I'm afraid I have no choice. We find ourselves, this very autumn, three and a half centuries after the intellectual martyrdom of Galileo, caught up in a struggle of ultimate importance, when each one of us must make a commitment. It is time to declare our position.

This is the challenge posed by the New Atheists. We are called upon, we lax agnostics, we noncommittal nonbelievers, we vague deists who would be embarrassed to defend antique absurdities like the Virgin Birth or the notion that Mary rose into heaven without dying, or any other blatant myth; we are called out, we fence-sitters, and told to help exorcise this debilitating curse: the curse of faith.

The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it's evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there's no excuse for shirking.
You know, I sort of understood that there was a battle going on, but I hadn't before realized just how virulent it was. I've repeatedly stated that I'm a small "a" atheist. I guess that makes me "noncommittal" in the war on faith. Actually, that's not completely accurate. I found this quote somewhere, but I failed to link to the source:
Consider the two statements:

"I don't believe there is a God."

"I believe there is no God."

One has a belief, the other does not. The latter is the position of what's thought to be the true atheist (though the nomenclature is screwed up, because atheist should really mean no theistic beliefs, e.g. asexual, or amoral, and antitheist is the word we should use for someone we currently term an atheist).
I'm an atheist. They are ANTItheists.

I'll stop here for the moment. Please read the entire, quite excellent Wired piece. There will be a discussion later.

Oh, and it runs just a bit over 7,000 words. I don't want to hear how long-winded I am anymore! ;-)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Twelve Minutes.

Take twelve minutes and watch the video linked in this post at Miserable Donuts.

Then ask yourself why CNN shows enemy propaganda films of U.S. solders getting shot by snipers, but never shows anything like "Boots on the Ground."

I Wonder What He (or She) Was Studying?.

Checking Sitemeter, I found that I'd had a visitor this morning who'd spent considerable time here:

He or she spent 76 minutes reading 22 pages, the last of which was March of the Lemmings, and then they exited to go to Publicola's volunteer firearms instructors list.

Seeing that this visitor came from the servers at the University of Lancaster, in Blackpool, England, I have to wonder if this was someone doing detailed research on America's gun-nuts for a paper on gun control? Unfortunately, this visitor left no comments nor dropped me an email, so I'll just have to wonder.

But I can hope I gave them something to think about.

UPDATED to add: They're Baaaaack!:

They started back at March of the Lemmings and have proceeded on through to Is the Government Responsible for Your Protection? Pt. II

Hello, mystery person! If you have any specific question, please drop me an email. The address is over on the left sidebar. Hope you've enjoyed your visits!

Oh, I Thought I'd Answered That...

Joe Huffman writes a response to the überpost, and begins with this devil's advocate question:
(Kevin) says:
But the ideas of Western civilization in general, and the American philosophy in specific have proven themselves superior.
"Superior" on what scale? How is it that you measure that superiority? By the scale used by Muslims we are arrogant, decadent, and sinful. We drink alcohol. Our women, who are the tools of Satan, are allowed to tempt men with exposed skin in public are allowed to attend schools. We charge interest on the loaning of money. We do not pray to Allah. We tempt the youth of the faithful to desert that which is holy and become sinful. We have succumbed to Satan. Our power is not proof of our superiority. It is proof of the bargain we have made with the Prince of Darkness.

The Germans in the late 30's had a "noble goal" as well--"purification" of the human race. A similar argument could be made of the Japanese in the same time frame.

Who are you to say Western civilization is superior? By what measure and how have you determined that measure is superior?
As I say in my piece, I believe there is one fundamental right - a man's right to his own life (or a woman to hers.) This is the core of Lockean philosophy, and the measure of liberty in any society is how well the government of that society protects that right and its corollaries, though in practice none do it (or can) perfectly. The utopian vision of the anarcho-capitalists is a society that does so, perfectly, by not having a government at all. But this is only a dream, because you can never get a group of three or more people who will agree on what all of the corollary rights are, and there will always be people who will go along to get along. During a phone conversation last night with Publicola, I mentioned that I wanted to use a quote in the überpost, but I wasn't able to work it in anywhere. It's another Heinlein quote:
You can never enslave a free man, the most you can do is kill him.
Too many people are not free even in their own minds. That's one of the reasons coercive societies work, and utopist societies don't.

But on to Joe's specific question, how do I measure Western civilization's superiority? By this:
In America your destiny is not prescribed; it is constructed. Your life is like a blank sheet of paper and you are the artist. This notion of being the architect of your own destiny is the incredibly powerful idea that is behind the worldwide appeal of America. Young people especially find the prospect of authoring their own lives irresistible. The immigrant discovers that America permits him to break free of the constraints that have held him captive, so that the future becomes a landscape of his own choosing.

If there is a single phrase that captures this, it is "the pursuit of happiness." As writer V. S. Naipaul notes, "much is contained" in that simple phrase: “the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation, perfectibility, and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system. It cannot generate fanaticism. But it is known [around the world] to exist; and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away."
And this:
When soldiers from any other army, even our allies, entered a town, the people hid in the cellars. When Americans came in, even into German towns, it meant smiles, chocolate bars and C-rations. -- Stephen Ambrose
Western philosophy in general, and the American philosophy in particular, best protects the right of its citizens to their own lives. As a result of this, America has become the superpower that it is. It draws those who understand that they are free, and "blows away" more rigid systems, generally without having to fire a shot.

But we are not perfect. This blog and many like it stand as testament to the fact that even nominally free governments constantly arrogate power, and are loath to surrender any they have taken. The only thing that can slow this (I don't think it can be stopped) is the resistance of their citizens. If enough of those citizens understand that they are free, then the predation of government can be limited, but if too many are ignorant or apathetic their eventual enslavement is highly likely.

And I'm not putting on a tinfoil hat here and blaming the Trilateral Commission or the Bilderburgers or the Skull and Bones Society or any other shadowy group. I'm with Justice Louis Brandeis here:
The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.
And Robert J. Hanlon:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
Or, in this case, ignorance and apathy. (Ignorance is curable. Stupidity is organic.)

Joe continues in his essay:
Paraphrasing Greg Hamilton here: In the eyes of Muslims what Osama Bin Laden has to say about the West is as inherently obvious, once articulated, to them as the superiority of Western civilization is to us.
True. Once again, two incompatible philosophies are now fighting it out for domination. The question is open as to which will win, since our side has an internal component that is trying to tear it down from the inside. That component is made up of those who are not Lockean in philosophy, and who see that philosophy as hypocritical and false:
The State (in Germany) and the Emperor (in Japan) were what the individual existed to serve. Hence, we were "playing by their own rules" by killing civilians in our efforts to defeat the Germany state and the Emperor of Japan. And even then it is clear that many had serious qualms about the actions taken. We weren't blind to the hypocrisy of suspending our principles. It was a reluctant pragmatic concession to reality not mapping perfectly to our theory of individual rights.
Our "suspension of principles," our hypocrisy, is the spike on which our internal opponents attempt to spindle Lockean philosophy. This was the point of the überpost. We must understand that the ideals of Lockean philosophy must yield to objective reality when objective reality rears its ugly head.

All societies are defined by their philosophies, and their philosophies are, in effect, shared delusions. When placed in conflict, objective reality highlights the flaws in those philosophies, and makes them obvious. If the society will not recognize the flaws and take pragmatic steps to counter their effects, that society will most probably be on the losing side of the conflict. AFTER the conflict that society can once again resume its suspended belief, or it can continue on in some changed form. Americans dropped firebombs on German cities and firebombs and nuclear weapons on Japanese cities, killing tens of thousands of innocent children. Then we helped rebuild Japan and Germany into economic powerhouses - powerhouses that far better protect the rights of their citizens than the old societies did.

The point of the whole rights discussion has been one of pragmatism vs. absolutism. Islam is an absolutist religion. So is communism/socialism. The American belief in individual rights tends very hard towards absolutism, but it has been flexible and pragmatic enough to survive the Civil War and two World Wars without deforming too far. Western culture is being attacked from within and without by absolutists who accuse it of falseness because of the fact that we have acted against the absolute requirements of our stated creed. Unless we believe as a society that what we fight for are ideals - things worth believing in - and not self-evident, absolute, positive, unquestionable, fundamental ultimates, then we run the risk of losing the conflict because we won't make the pragmatic concessions necessary to survive.

UPDATE: Right as Usual comments.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

You Can't Copyright the Entire World.

Though it would appear, via Instapundit, that Universal Studios is trying:
After being encouraged to viral market Serenity, the studio has started legal action against fans (demanding $9000 in retroactive licensing fees in one case and demanding fan promotion stop), and going after Cafepress. The fans response? Retroactively invoice Universal for their services."
I sent them a bill for $500 for these five links:

Sorry 'Bout the Light Posting


Screw Sith! Show Serenity!

I KNEW this Blogging Thing would Pay Off!

and True Believers.

I also went to Cafe Press and ordered four Firefly-based T-shirts. (Pssst! Don't look now, but while they've removed products linked to the words "Firefly" and "Serenity," "Browncoats" still gets you about 3,000 hits.)

I bought these:

And, of course:

I prefer black T-shirts. We'll see, I guess, if Cafepress is hounded into ceasing to sell all of this merchandise, but I think Universal deserves a thumb in its eye for heavy-handedness at this late date.

Besides, I needed some new Tees.

I wonder if Universal will be suing these guys next?

UPDATE 11/7: Shirts came in today. They look good!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ian Hamet IS BACK!.

Back in August I noted that Ian Hamet's blog Banana Oil! had vanished. Several others had noticed as well. Ian's an expat living in Shanghai, so we wondered if something bad had happened, and if we should try to call out the blogosphere to find out.

Well, he's back:
Like Shepherd Book in Firefly, I've been out of the world for a while. In my case, it wasn't by choice, but I'm not going to talk about it. At least, not publicly.

But I am not: incarcerated; deathly ill (or ill at all); sadistically tortured by (or torturing) anyone.

I owe lots of you an email, and some of you a good deal more than that. You will get them, though perhaps not immediately.

Will try to post some interesting quotes for the next week or two, at the very least.

Otherwise, I'm remaining out of the world for just a bit longer. Many apologizings.
Well, kinda.

Welcome back, Ian. Damned glad to hear from you. We were worried. Still are, kinda.

Don't do that, OK?

MMM... Discarding Sabot, High-Explosive Rotten Eggs...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The United Federation of Planets.

Or: Finally! The Uberpost!

Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love, true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.
That was part of the "young man's speech" delivered by the character "Hub" - played by Robert Duvall - in the film Secondhand Lions. Those are good words. There's wisdom there. Here are some more good words:
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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Thus the United States of America were born - as no other nation had ever before been born - with a declaration that government exists to serve the rights of the individual, not for the individual to serve the power of the State; and that failure to perform that singular function is sufficient grounds for the overthrow of the government in default.

"L'Etat c'est moi"
(I am the state), once said Louis XIV. "The PEOPLE are the State," said Thomas Jefferson. A few decades later Louis XVI found out, once his countrymen came to believe, that Jefferson was right. (Of course, the French then handed the scepter over to Napoleon, but, after all, they were French!)

The day I started this blog I posted my essay What is a 'Right'? and it has spawned a considerable amount of conversation and commentary here and at other blogs over the last three and a half years. On this site alone there have been at least a dozen associated posts, six of which are linked on the left sidebar. The comments to the most recent installment, Contracts and Absolutes from a few months ago, illustrate that the topic is still not exhausted.

Prepare to be exhausted! (That was for you, Alger! ;-D)

In What is a 'Right'?, I stated:
A 'right' is what the majority of a society believes it is.
I was taken to task for that position pretty early on. In that six-part exchange with math professor Dr. Danny Cline, we thrashed the topic pretty thoroughly, but not, apparently, thoroughly enough. So, let me see if I can express my position so clearly now as to remove any ambiguity or misunderstanding, and relate this to the current world situation so that you can see why I believe it is important for others to accept my argument.

In my discussion with Dr. Cline he proposed that the rights of man are akin to mathematical axioms; that those rights exist in the realm of logic like the the concepts of pi or Pythagoras' Theorem, and only wait to be discovered. I allowed that he might be correct, but that it takes a certain type of person to do the discovering. There are very few people who think about things like fundamental rights or mathematical axioms. Those who think about ideas like rights are called philosophers, and philosophers (influential ones, anyway) are rare, and rarely in agreement. Like economists, if you lined up all the philosophers who ever existed, they wouldn't reach a conclusion.

This is not to say that their ideas all have equal merit.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." As one commenter noted, that phrase is a slightly modified version of "life, liberty, and property" - a concept philosopher John Locke expressed in his essay Two Treatises of Government. Among other things in that work, written between 1680 and 1690, Locke refutes the long-held philosophy of the "Divine Right of Kings." Given the fact that Locke's father lived - and fought - during the English Civil War, a war in which a king was deposed and beheaded for being abysmally bad at his job, it isn't surprising that Locke was able to logically justify such an act by his countrymen. However, in that same work he also came up - through logic - with a right to property which included ones own life and liberty:
Man being born, as has been proved, with a title to perfect freedom and uncontrolled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of Nature, equally with any other man, or number of men in the world, hath by nature a power not only to preserve his property - that is, his life, liberty, and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men, but to judge of and punish the breaches of that law in others, as he is persuaded the offence deserves, even with death itself, in crimes where the heinousness of the fact, in his opinion, requires it. (Book II, Chapter Seven, "Of Political or Civil Society," section 87)
I have often quoted Ayn Rand, and her declaration:
A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life.
Rand's "one fundamental right" merely restates Locke's, for "a man's right to his own life" requires his liberty and property, but note the difference between Locke's position and Rand's. Locke argues that in a state of nature Man has the right to do all the things he describes - defending his property (life, liberty, estate) even unto inflicting death upon another, but Rand argues that a "right" is specifically the codification of proper action in a "social context." In other words, rights establish proper behavior between individuals in a society.

Rand's work and Locke's before it stand in contrast to centuries of thought by other philosophers who didn't discover the axiom of the individual right that Locke did, and both Rand and Locke were and are opposed by philosophers contemporary to them and contemporary to us, such as Hobbes, Rousseau, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger.

The core of the discussion to date has involved three primary questions:
A) Are there "absolute, positive, unquestionable, fundamental, ultimate rights" that exist regardless of whether a society recognizes (much less protects) them;

B) do those rights belong to all people, everywhere, at all times, simply because they are human - and;

C) are those rights "self-evident?"
My answer is: A) Yes; B) No; and C) Self evident to whom?

Yes, I realize that position A) contradicts my initial "what a society believes it is" statement, but bear with me. I believe in Rand's "one fundamental right," and have so stated in earlier posts. The source of that right I have stated before:

Or Nature. Yaweh. Christ. Vishnu, Mother Gaia, Barney the Dinosaur. I don't know, nor do I care overly much, but reason works for me.

I believe that right is "real" because I believe that - given the chance - average specimens of humanity will conclude through reason that they are of value (to themselves if no one else), and that their physical selves and the product of their labor belongs to them and not another.
It's in what comes after that "one fundamental right" that we begin to run into problems.

Let's proceed backwards. Are the "Rights of Man" self-evident? Then:
1. List them. All.

2. Illustrate which are axioms and which are corollaries of those axioms.

3. Explain why every society in history has violated all or at least the overwhelming majority of these rights, if they're absolute, positive, unquestionable, fundamental, ultimate, and self-evident.

4. Explain what a society that honored and protected these rights would look like.

And, finally,

5. Explain why such a society does not now exist and never has.
I think everybody will fail at item #1. I made that point ealier, too:
"[I]t would not only be useless, but dangerous, to enumerate a number of rights which are not intended to be given up; because it would be implying, in the strongest manner, that every right not included in the exception might be impaired by the government without usurpation; and it would be impossible to enumerate every one. Let any one make what collection or enumeration of rights he pleases, I will immediately mention twenty or thirty more rights not contained in it." - James Irdell, at the North Carolina ratifying convention
He's right. Everybody can come up with their own list. Professor Saul Cornell, Director of Ohio State University's "Second Amendment Research Center" seems to believe there's a "right to be free from the fear of gun violence." I believe there is no such thing. If there was, there'd be a right to be free of the fear of all other kinds of violence as well. (Tranquilizers for everyone?)

C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States believes that everyone has a right to health care. That's nice. It explains where the tranquilizers are going to come from. But who provides it? Who pays for it? And who decides what level of "health care" each individual is entitled to?

Olivia Shelltrack is a resident of Black Jack, Missouri whose family was recently prevented from occupying the single-family home she and the father of two of her three children rented because the couple is not married. Ms. Shelltrack believes "People should have a right to live where they want to live." The majority of the town council believes otherwise. (I want to live here.)

California State Senator Sheila Kuehl believes
"There is only one constitutional right in the United States which is absolute and that is your right to believe anything you want."
As Tom McClintock points out in the linked article, that right is the only right a slave has. Interesting that a politician would espouse that one as the only absolute right.

Cardinal Francis Arinze believes "one of the fundamental human rights: (is) that we should be respected, our religious beliefs respected, and our founder Jesus Christ respected." But I don't believe that, either. I've said before, I'm in general agreement with "MaxedOut Mama:"
Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle. Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it.

It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours.
Do you see the problem?

On these topics where we are in disagreement, how do you decide who is "right"? Whose cherished rights do you abrogate, and whose do you defend? Who gets to judge? I mean, if they're absolute, positive, unquestionable, fundamental, ultimate, and self-evident?

Our Founders decided that they needed to enshrine certain rights they believed fundamental into the establishing legal document for our nation. The Declaration of Independence provided the moral underpinnings for the nation, the Constitution provided the legal ones. James Madison, fully aware of the problem noted by James Irdell, tried to protect other, unenumerated fundamental rights by including the Ninth Amendment, but his effort predictably failed as that amendment has been likened to "an inkblot" by no less a figure than a previous Supreme Court nominee.

Jefferson did declare that "all men are created equal," and were "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," yet the Constitution of the United States as written and ratified allowed for the alienation of liberty, life, and property. It even codified slavery. In short, the "unalienable rights" of man have been alienated pretty much without thought, without much argument, and from the beginning of this nation. So, it has been asked, was Jefferson wrong? That depends on your perspective. If you understand that the Declaration was an expression of philosophy, not a statement of fact, then no, he wasn't wrong.
Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.
It's always been a question of what we believe. Ayn Rand, from her 1974 speech Philosophy, Who Needs It? given to the graduating class of West Point:
As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation -- or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears....
Societies are defined by their philosophies, regardless of where that philosophy comes from or even how well-defined and coherent that philosophy may be. As I pointed to in An Illustrative Example, author Jared Diamond in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel demonstrated that the philosophy of the Pacific tribe of the Moriori - one of peace, restraint, cooperation, and negotiation - served them well for many years as they lived on an island with little material wealth and difficult living conditions. However, when they were exposed to the Maori culture - one of territoriality, violence, and conquest - their philosophy failed them utterly. Had they protested against the violation of their "absolute, positive, unquestionable, fundamental, ultimate rights," it would have availed them nothing, because to the Maori the Moriori were "others," and not due the consideration of equals. This has been the template for human behavior since before recorded history.

The American philosophy has been described (but not defined) here before, from the introduction to David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America:
We Americans are a bundle of paradoxes. We are mixed in our origins, and yet we are one people. Nearly all of us support our Republican system, but we argue passionately (sometimes violently) among ourselves about its meaning. Most of us subscribe to what Gunnar Myrdal called the American Creed, but that idea is a paradox in political theory. As Myrdal observed in 1942, America is "conservative in fundamental principles . . . but the principles conserved are liberal, and some, indeed, are radical."
Paradoxical, yes, but this nation was the first modern nation established with a mandate to protect the rights of its individual citizens. However flawed in practice, it's the ideas that matter:
Western concepts of equality cannot truly be described as just another culture competing with others. Western thought is not a mere tradition but rather the outcome of a special political philosophy. It is an artificial construct that derives rules of behavior from reason, as distinct from traditional societies. - Amnon Rubinstein, The New York Sun, May 1, 2006 via Empire of Dirt
"Traditional societies" that is, that throughout history have "just growed," like Topsy, developing their cultures haphazardly - strictly from the competing influences of environment, religion, exceptional individuals, and interaction with other cultures. Unlike those other cultures, Western society in general and the American culture in specific is based on "a special political philosophy" indeed: one of individual rights. One that dates back to the Greeks, at least.

This is the problem I want to illustrate with a belief in absolute, positive, unquestionable, fundamental, ultimate rights. Remember Rand:
A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context.
This definition works perfectly inside a social context. It worked for the Moriori. It worked for the Maori. But when those two societies clashed, the Moriori were wiped out. The Maori were not of their "social context," and to the Maori, the Moriori had no rights. The Moriori had no experience with physical conflict, and were unable to defend themselves. In accordance with their philosophy they tried appeasement and negotiation, and instead received slaughter and enslavement.

We like to pride ourselves that American society is different, superior, more "true" than all other preceding societies. After all, what other polity has accomplished what we've accomplished in the mere two centuries we've existed on the planet? We enjoy an unprecedented standard of living (even our poor people are fat!) Americans invented powered flight. We broke the sound barrier. We went to the moon! And who has a higher moral hill to stand atop? Twice in the last century we've ended Europe's bloody wars. We stopped the expansion of facist, imperialist, and communist forces, defeated their sponsor governments utterly, and have more than once reconstructed former enemy nations into peaceful, productive democracies. As then-Secretary of State Colin Powell stated so eloquently:
We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we've done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home... to live our own lives in peace.
But to do that, we've sometimes put aside some of our beliefs in the face of hard reality, only to take them up again once the crisis was over.

All societies change, and what changes first is their commonly held beliefs. Robert Heinlein wrote once:
Roman matrons used to say to their sons: “Come back with your shield, or on it.” Later on this custom declined. So did Rome.
Ours is not immune. In 2004 I wrote "While Evils are Sufferable" wherein I said:
The "Right," in the overwhelming majority, believes that America, the United States of, is the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. We're the Sword of Justice, defenders of the oppressed from the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, from sea to shining sea (so long as it's in our National Interest to be.) As long as this belief represents the dominant paradigm, that is the way our nation will act, in the main. We are human, of course. We're not perfect. We will make mistakes, but as I wrote in That Sumbitch Ain't Been BORN!, those mistakes are just that. They are not evidence of our evil Imperialist nature, just mistakes. The "Left," quite simply, thinks we've left the tracks if we were ever on them to begin with. To them, we're oppressive, racist, imperialistic warmongers out to take what isn't ours and distribute it unfairly among the white males. After all, they have centuries of European exploitive colonization to point to, don't they? The Greens think we need to give up industry so that we can "save the planet." They don't hate America, they hate humanity. Of course, the Anarchists see both sides as delusional and dangerous. They believe that the Free Market is the answer to it all, and that we need to give up this nationalistic fantasy crap and start dealing with objective reality.

As if objective reality would appeal to people who voluntarily share common delusions.
Appealing or not, objective reality is again raising its ugly head, and we must wake up to it if we wish to survive. Not only "survive as a society," but survive individually.

Locke declared that man in a state of nature...
...hath by nature a power not only to preserve his property - that is, his life, liberty, and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men, but to judge of and punish the breaches of that law in others, as he is persuaded the offence deserves, even with death itself....
The "state of nature" is the ultimate objective reality. In it, people will do whatever is necessary to survive, or they don't survive. In point of fact, throughout history - even today - people have not only defended their lives, liberty and property, they have taken life, liberty, and property from others not of their society. And they have done so secure in the knowledge that their philosophy tells them that it's the right thing to do. This is true of the The Brow-Ridged Hairy People That Live Among the Distant Mountains, the Egyptians, the Inca, the Maori, the British Empire, and the United States of America. It's called warfare, and it's the use of lethal force against people outside ones own society. Rand explained that:
A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context.
That's a critical definition. If a society truly believes 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
then that society cannot wage war. It cannot even defend itself - because to take human life, to destroy property, even to take prisoners of war is anathema to such a society, for it would be in violation of the fundamental rights of the victims of such action. (See: the Moriori. Or the Amish.)

This creates a cognitive bind, then, unless you rationalize that the rights you believe in are valid for your society, but not necessarily for those outside it. Those members that violate the sanctions on freedom of action within the society are treated differently from those outside the society that do the same. Those within the society are handled by the legal system, and are subject to capture, judicial review, and punishment under law, whether that's issuance of an "Anti-Social Behavior Order" in London, or a death by stoning in Tehran. Those outside of a society who act against that society may be ignored, or may risk retaliatory sanctions up to and including open warfare, depending on the situation. (See: Kim Jong Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, nuclear weapons.)

In every successful society the majority must share a common philosophy and believe that philosophy is superior to all others. It must, or that society will change. The philosophy of any society can be one of aggressive evangelism, or quiet comfort, or anywhere in between, but successful societies are marked by one key characteristic: confidence.
Confidence that (your society) would still be around next year, that it was worthwhile planting crops now, so they could be harvested next season. Confidence that soldiers wouldn't suddenly appear on the horizon and destroy your farm. Confidence that an apple seed planted in your backyard will provide fruit for your grandchildren. That if you paint a fresco, the wall its on will still be standing in a century. That if you write a book, the language you use will still be understood half a millennia in the future. And that if you hauled stone for the great cathedral which had been building since before your father was born, and which your baby son might live to see completed if, the good Lord willing, he lived to be an old man; your efforts would be valued by subsequent generations stretching forward toward some unimaginably distant futurity.

And above all, the self-confidence that you are part of something grander than yourself, something with roots in the past, and a glorious future of achievement ahead of it.
But when a society faces the fact that its philosophical foundation does not match objective reality, it is inevitable that there will be a loss of confidence and a societal change. James Bowman has written a book on the loss of confidence in Western culture, called Honor: A History. In it, he describes how the Western concept of honor has been slowly destroyed since the turn of the previous century, beginning with the aftermath of World War I - the war in which Western culture lost its innocence in the face of objective reality, much like a teenager discovers that his parents don't really know everything and therefore must know nothing. It's an excellent book, and I strongly recommend it, but by way of illustration I will again quote English Literature Professor Jean Duchesne of Condorcet College in Paris:
"What is a little disconcerting for the French is an American president who seems to be principled. The idea that politics should be based on principles is unimaginable because principles lead to ideology, and ideology is dangerous."
If this is not an example of a society with no confidence, I don't know what is.

Many people have commented on the loss of Western confidence. Peggy Noonan in her recent column, A Separate Peace:
I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture right now. In fact I think it's a subtext to our society. I think that a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley off the tracks. That in some deep and fundamental way things have broken down and can't be fixed, or won't be fixed any time soon. That our pollsters are preoccupied with "right track" and "wrong track" but missing the number of people who think the answer to "How are things going in America?" is "Off the tracks and hurtling forward, toward an unknown destination."
Mark Steyn in his piece, It's the Demography, Stupid:
That's what the war's about: our lack of civilizational confidence. As a famous Arnold Toynbee quote puts it: "Civilizations die from suicide, not murder"--as can be seen throughout much of "the Western world" right now. The progressive agenda--lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism--is collectively the real suicide bomb.
James Lileks:
Mind you, it's not the actual news that bothers me as much as the reaction to it; the reactions speak to something amiss in the heart of the West, a failure of nerve, a fatal lack of faith in the civilization we’re entrusted to defend.
These are just a few samples. When the normally Pollyannish Noonan and Lileks see a "fatal lack of faith," you know there's something severely amiss.

It is my contention that the loss of faith in Western civilization is the direct result of two things: the secularization of Western civilization, and a corresponding realization that there are no absolute, positive, unquestionable, fundamental, ultimate rights. Or, more specifically, the cognitive dissonance resulting from the refusal to accept this as objective fact.

Western civilization is based on the concept of God-given individual rights, but reality refutes their existence. War cannot exist if such a philosophy is true, yet war exists. People die. Their liberty is stripped from them. Their property is stolen or destroyed. No one is punished for the violation of these rights. If a society abandons religion (as much of Western civilization has done) then we cannot count on God to punish the violators, and they get away with their crimes against us, (See: Josef Mengele, Slobodan Milosevic, and most probably Saddam Hussein) yet we've been breastfed on the idea that our rights are absolute, positive, unquestionable, fundamental, and ultimate - not to mention, self-evident.

World War I soured the West on the concept of "honor." World War II soured the West on the idea of a "war to end all wars" - and it proved conclusively that man's inhumanity to man was still alive, well, and unchanged except in sheer capacity since the time of Genghis Khan. The Korean War suggested strongly that war was nothing but a waste of life, and Vietnam hammered that suggestion home.

Critical Mastiff starkly illustrated the philosophical dichotomy in his post, The Enervated Man of the West:
The difference with the West is that we value life so much that we are willing to kill people to protect it. This requires a sterner mind than does simple nonviolence; it is not trivial to develop a philosophy in which you can willingly kill others at the same time as you hold life sacred, indeed, in service to that sanctity.

A word on sanctity. It necessarily implies that human life is sacred everywhere, at all times, regardless of prevailing social mores or laws. This carries with it the obligation to protect human life everywhere, to the best of our practical ability, and regardless of opposing social mores.


(I)t is difficult to reconcile the sanctity of life with the need to kill people in its defense. It is even more difficult for a decent person to kill another, himself (as opposed to supporting a champion who kills in his stead). And, most of all, it is most difficult to do so when it places yourself and your loved ones at risk. In short, we are dealing with an intertwining of philosohpical dissonance, misplaced mercy, and above all else a deep, pervasive fear.
The political Left has embraced that fear. If you examine it closely, it has wrapped itself in a philosophy that attempts to extend all of the West's "rights of man" to the entire world - up to and including those who are actively seeking our destruction, and the Left holds itself as morally superior for doing so. Attempting to intercept terrorist communications is "illegal domestic wiretapping" - a violation of the right to privacy. Media outlets showing acknowledged Islamist propaganda is exercise of the right of free speech, but suppression of images from the 9/11 attacks - specifically, the aircraft crashing into the World Trade Center, or its victims jumping to their deaths - is not censorship. The humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib is described as a "human rights violation," as is the detainment of prisoners at Guantanimo without trial. For the Left, the war between the West and radical Islamists should not be handled as a war - it should be handled as a police matter - as a society would handle internal violators. Our enemies shouldn't be killed, they should be, at worst, captured and counseled. Our enemies are not at fault, WE are, because we are hypocrites that don't live up to our professed belief in absolute, positive, unquestionable, fundamental, ultimate rights. If we just lived up to our professed beliefs, the rest of the world would not hate us. Yet to believe this, the Left must ignore objective reality. It acts, as the Moriori acted, to negotiate and appease, because that's what its philosophy demands - and the results would be identical.

Rusticus at Solarvoid illustrates that the Left is exercising a philosophy other than Locke's:
The prevailing philosophy of the left has many names and ideas: collectivism, identity politics, minority rights, the Nanny State, but what it all boils down to is that group rights always trump individual rights. The individual is always subsumed into the group.

This is at complete odds with Lockean philosophy. And the United States is Lockean at the core. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights are written contracts implementing John Locke’s philosophies on government and self-rule.
Our rights are not as important as their rights, in short.

To some extent the political Right suffers from a similar cognitive dissonance. Critical Mastiff suggests that we have a philosophy that reconciles "the sanctity of life with the need to kill people in its defense," but in point of fact we do not, at least not one that goes beyond Rand's one fundamental right - the right to ones own life. We have the right to kill others because our own lives are of value. We extend that value to others, and justify the killing of those who do not respect that value as defensive, as protective, and not as aggression. We kill some so that others can be free. It's a rationalisation that pacifists disagree with:
But in short, we believe that our good triumphs over their evil. The prevailing philosophy is expressed well by Robert Heinlein:
Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill him without hate–and quickly.
This piece is written from an atheist perspective in which the concept of God-given rights is plainly rejected. Reverend Donald Sensing wrote a recent piece entitled Can Atheism be Justified? in which he asserts:
Let me say that again so you know I am intentional: If atheists are to take their own beliefs to their logical end, they mist(sic) agree that they have no right to promulgate their belief. They have no right to challenge me about my religion. They have no right to speak up in my community, no right to live in my community, indeed, no right even to life itself. They have no rights at all, in fact.

If atheists are true to their own creed, they must admit that the entire concept of human rights crumbles to dust according to that same creed.
I think that I just spent 5,000+ words saying pretty much that rights aren't objectively real - with the one glaring exception of Rand's "one fundamental right" - the right to ones own life. He continues:
If persons are not “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights” (in the words of a famous Enlightenment rationalist), then “rights” is nothing but a flatus vocis. The concept of rights then really means nothing but “who wins.” So by their lights, atheists are able to speak out (in America, anyway, not in Saudi Arabia) and attempt to persuade others only because the rest of us let them. But why should we let them? Why don't we religious people simply persecute atheists out of existence?
Because most current Christian and Judaic philosophy prohibits it, just as some current Christian and Judaic philosophy rejects warfare. It was not always so. It does not logically follow that it will forever remain so. (See: Phelps, Fred.)
So, regarding rationality for any system of beliefs, how does atheism have a superior claim, except in the minds of its adherents? Any “rational”system of law or morals that atheists may devise may be rebutted by an equally rational system that countermands it.
Well, I as an atheist, don't claim that atheism is "superior," merely different. But I would also point out that there is no single Christian, Judaic, or Islamic philosophy, either. Every faith-based system of law or morals that has been devised has been rebutted by equally faithful adherents to a different sect. Atheism is just another one, albeit with one less God. Thus, his argument seems moot. I am curious however. If everyone is indeed endowed by their creator with unalienable rights, how does Rev. Sensing reconcile the universal sanctity of life with the need to kill in its defense? Some Christian sects other than his reject the idea and embrace pacifism. (I assume he does not.) Why are they wrong?

I titled this (extremely long) essay The United Federation of Planets. Why? Because until all of humanity (as one of Rev. Sensing's commenters put it) comes "together at the table as a family," we will have conflict between societies. Those conflicts will illuminate the flaws in our particular philosophies, and cause those societies to change. Joe Huffman recently quoted Samuel P. Huntington from his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order:
The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.

The problem for Islam is not the CIA or the US Department of Defense. It is the West, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the universality of their culture and believe that their superior, if declining, power imposes on them that obligation to extend that culture throughout the world.
I don't think that the West is all that evangelical, it's just that freedom and prosperity are damned attractive to those without it. However, freedom and prosperity are destructive to organized religion in general, and fundamentalist religion in particular - Islam perhaps more than most. But the ideas of Western civilization in general, and the American philosophy in specific have proven themselves superior. Dinesh D'Souza expounded on the superiority of the American philosophy in his essay What's So Great About America?:
In America your destiny is not prescribed; it is constructed. Your life is like a blank sheet of paper and you are the artist. This notion of being the architect of your own destiny is the incredibly powerful idea that is behind the worldwide appeal of America. Young people especially find the prospect of authoring their own lives irresistible. The immigrant discovers that America permits him to break free of the constraints that have held him captive, so that the future becomes a landscape of his own choosing.

If there is a single phrase that captures this, it is "the pursuit of happiness." As writer V. S. Naipaul notes, "much is contained" in that simple phrase: “the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation, perfectibility, and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system. It cannot generate fanaticism. But it is known [around the world] to exist; and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away."
In an old post over at Knowledge is Power contributor Claire wrote something appropriate to this post:
We need to reacquaint ourselves with what is good and right and pure and unique about The Great Experiment that is America. We need to return to the roots of belief in the basic goodness of Man from which our approach to governance sprang. We need to give ourselves permission to be proud of all that we have accomplished in our mere 228 years and believe that we, indeed, still have the Right Stuff to continue to do credit to our forefathers, and to ourselves. We need to give ourselves permission to protect ourselves because what we have created and what we have done is worth protecting. And what we will do will be principled, and decent and right.
If we do that, then perhaps the rest of Western civilization might reacquaint itself with it, too:
When soldiers from any other army, even our allies, entered a town, the people hid in the cellars. When Americans came in, even into German towns, it meant smiles, chocolate bars and C-rations. -- Stephen Ambrose
Bill Whittle discusses in the first chapter to his next book the need for philosophers to be able to tell the difference between the map (theory) and shoreline (reality). And he's right. Philosophers have had that particular problem since they asked the first question "Who am I?", and the second, "Why am I here?"

However, human beings do not function on reality alone. It's crucial that the maps be accurate; running aground where the map says "deep channels" can be fatal to any society. It's also crucial that the people aboard any particular philosophy also be able to look at a dusty little fishing village and see the potential for a shining city upon a hill - because if they can't see it, not even its foundations will ever get built.
Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love, true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.
UPDATE: There have been some blogposts associated with this essay. Publicola still disagrees with me, but I think we're much closer in worldview than he imagines. Perhaps even after 6719 words I still wasn't clear enough. Otter of Scaggsville may have been convinced by my argument, but he's struggling with the idea. I struggled with it, too. That's why it took me the better part of five months to hammer it out. And, of course, someone had to comment on the length of the essay. (Still no word from Alger, though. ;-)

UPDATE II: Joe Huffman comments. I respond.

UPDATE III: Critical Mastiff comments from the perspective of Judaic Law.

UPDATE IV: Added the video clip.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

You've GOT to be Kidding Me.

A "tactical" pistol... with a bayonet? At first I thought it was a joke, but it's apparently not. It reminded me a lot of this, though:

Alphecca Turns Four.

Go congratulate Jeff on his blogiversary.

And read this rant, too. I disagree with his conclusion, but he do rant good, don't he? Just one more reason I want Jeff to keep blogging for a long, long time.

Want to Make Your Blood Boil?.

Go to Watch the videos (you may need to use IE 6.0, but it worked for me under Firefox).

Then donate at least $30 and get a DVD of the whole thing for yourself. Play it for the next person who tells you that the government will never go door-to-door confiscating firearms.

(h/t: Xavier)

Saul Cornell Receives a Professional Whuppin'

(h/t: Geek with a .45 who emailed me the link!)

Professor of Law Stephen Halbrook has apparently had his fill of Associate Professor of History Saul Cornell and his attempt to rewrite history in the effort to convince people that the Second Amendment wasn't written to protect an individual right to arms.

For those unfamiliar, Associate Professor Cornell is the director of the "Second Amendment Research Center" at Ohio State University - a "research center" established with funds from the rabidly anti-gun Joyce Foundation. Yet Associate Professor Cornell presents himself as an unbiased academic, merely out to explain to we poor, unwashed, ignorant savages what the Second Amendment to the Constitution really means. He writes op-eds that end up in newspapers all over the country, and he has recently published a book has received glowing reviews from gun-grabbers. I've written several pieces here on Associate Professor Cornell, including a rebuttal to an email he sent me in response to my first piece. See:

Dept. of They Never Ever Stop

Professor Saul Cornell Responds, and So Do I

Saul Cornell, Unbiased Researcher

and, most recently, The Jabberwocky World of Saul Cornell.

While I'm merely an amateur, Stephen Halbrook is a professional. His curriculum vitae:
Attorney at Law, Fairfax, Va.; Ph.D. Florida State University, J.D. Georgetown University; former philosophy professor, Tuskegee University, Howard University, George Mason University. Books include The Founders' Second Amendment (forthcoming); That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right (1984, 2000); A Right to Bear Arms: State & Federal Bills of Rights & Constitutional Guarantees (1989); Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, & the Right to Bear Arms (1998); Firearms Law Deskbook (2006). Argued Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997), and other Supreme Court cases.
So when Professor Halbrook talks about law, especially firearms law, one ought to listen. Professor Halbrook has written a 25-page rebuttal (a PDF file, about half of it footnotes) to Cornell's recent presentation of “St. George Tucker and the Second Amendment: Original Understandings and Modern Misunderstandings” at a symposium at the William and Mary College of Law. Once again, Professor Cornell has twisted history to meet his agenda. Like others of his ilk, he selectively quotes, baldly misstates, and deliberately omits material that conclusively disproves the ideas he attempts to foist off on his unsuspecting, credulous victims readers.

I'm not going to quote too extensively from Professor Halbrook's truly devastating rebuttal but let me give you a little of the flavor of it:
While humble people generally think that they are among “the people,” a segment of the not-so-humble appear to disagree when it comes to the right of “the people” to keep and bear arms.


Debunking the individual-rights “hijackers” of the Second Amendment, Professor Cornell refers to “the often-quoted passage describing it [the Second Amendment] as the ‘palladium of liberty’” at least five times, but strangely fails to provide the actual quotation or to acknowledge its contents. It would be worthwhile to do so at the outset in order to determine the extent of the constitutional hijacking by scholars who read the Second Amendment as protecting individual rights.


As with Tucker, Cornell studiously avoids mention of the content of Story’s analysis of the Second Amendment, much less does he quote any of Story’s “palladium of liberty” statement.


Having left the reader in the dark about what Tucker and Story actually said on “the palladium of liberty,” Cornell asserts that for both: “Protection of states’ rights, not individual rights, was the issue that had prompted the inclusion of the Second Amendment.”


Cornell refers to this statement of Tucker, but fails to quote it, and asserts that it does “not address the question of individual self defense.”


Tucker made further references to infringement of the individual right to bear arms which Cornell fails to mention.


As usual, Cornell avoids the embarrassing quotations.


Cornell’s rendition of Tucker is long on Cornell’s characterizations and citations to recent law review articles supporting the “collective rights” view of the Second Amendment, but woefully short on Tucker’s actual words. This pattern also arises regarding Tucker’s views on judicial review.


Cornell refers to the page number, but neither quotes the passage nor summarizes its content.
Halbrook corrects Cornell's omissions, and proves conclusively that what Cornell is selling is unadulterated bullshit.

When I wrote Why Ballistic Fingerprinting Doesn't (and Won't) Work, I noted
What they say (and this is overwhelmingly true for these groups) is only partly (in this case, minimally) true. There's a whole lot of information they neglect, gloss over, bury, and avoid.
Associate Professor Cornell is another example of this sad fact. Professor Halbrook hammers that point home until Cornell's reputation ought to be nothing but a thin, putrid smear. However, as is common for the type, I'm sure Associate Professor Cornell will continue with cockroach resilience, writing more op-eds and more books filled with omissions, distortions, and outright lies.

And we, amateurs and professionals alike, will keep exposing him.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

See What Happens After I Spend a lot of Money?.

The only 9mm handgun I've ever wanted comes on the market at a damned good price.

An FN-made Browning Hi-Power with alloy frame and the Safety Fast hammer.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Think the Dems are Going to Win This Time...

...because the Republicans and Independents are going to stay home in disgust?

Read this thread at

I get the distinct impression the Dems are going to be shouting "STOLEN ELECTION!" again.

I'm reminded of this quote from Instapundit today:
...if losing elections made political parties improve, the Democrats would be in a lot better shape than they are about now.
Apparently a whole lot of people instinctively grasp that idea.

Now, how do we hold Republican feet to the fire after the election? Nothing seems to have worked so far.

UPDATE: Kim du Toit explains the situation well.

And Tam cuts to the quick with a razor-sharp observation.


Read this, courtesy of Arms and the Law.

That is all for now.

Edited to add: See also, OUCH!!

Edited again to note that Ravenwood wants an .88 Magnum. (Read the comments!)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Just So You Know...

Vacation is over. Coming back to work after two weeks off certainly proved that. Posting will continue to be thin, bland, and random.

Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Said Better, Elsewhere.

Instapundit links to a discussion at Hit and Run about Libertarians (big "L") and why they don't achieve much as a party. The pertinent quote, from a comment to the post:
The fact is, libertarians aren't generally joiners. Yet to influence people, you have to go to their meetings, bring a snack, raise funds for them, and listen to their ideas before they'll listen to yours. Politics is about people, after all, and people don't often think in policy paper terms. If you want to change minds you have to engage others in a positive way.
At the Gunblogger Rendezvous I was discussing this topic with Joe Huffman and paraphrased one of my favorite quotes. When I got back to Tucson, I dug it up and emailed it to him. He made it his "quote of the day" for that day. Here it is, again:
"It stands to reason that self-righteous, inflexible, single-minded, authoritarian true believers are politically organized. Open-minded, flexible, complex, ambiguous, anti-authoritarian people would just as soon be left to mind their own fucking business." -- R.U. Sirius in How To Mutate and Take Over The World

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Consumer Confidence.

Jebus I love how the media spins good news:
Treasuries rattled by retail, consumer confidence data
That's the Reuters headline from Google News's #1 return on a search for "consumer confidence." Want another example?
Bonds spooked by consumer numbers
That's from CNNMoney.

What's the horrible news that's destroying the bond market?

Consumer confidence - and spending - are up. Retail sales are up. So is the dollar.


For some, apparently, there cannot be good economic news. It might lead to Republicans getting credit! Can't have that.

Well, I've done my part to assist. I spent a few hours yesterday buying a new truck. I didn't help out Ford or GM this time (sorry, JimmyB), I bought a made-in-Tennessee Toyota Tundra, which I have committed to making payments on for the next five years.

How's that for "consumer confidence?"

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Engineer's Perspective.

This deserves repeating, so I shall. Taken verbatim from The Purple Avenger's blog:
My best friend is a lawyer, bright, gifted, ... PhD in law; bored with his job, he decided to study engineering. After his first quarter, he came to me and said that the two "C"s he'd achieved in Engineering Calculus 101 and Engineering Physics 101 were the first two non-A grades he'd ever gotten in college, and that he had had to study harder for them than for any other dozen classes he'd had. "I now understand", he said, "why engineers and their like are so hard to examine, whether on the stand or in a deposition. When they say a thing is possible, they KNOW it is possible, and when they say a thing is not possible, they KNOW it is not. Most people don't understand know in that way; what they know is what we can persuade them to believe. You engineers live in the same world as the rest of us, but you understand that world in a way we never will."

I don't think that you have to love math to be an engineer, but you are going to have to learn it. That means that you're going to have to do the homework, correctly. Mistakes and "close enough" are the ways to build bridges that fail.
htom | 09.26.05 - 2:10 am
Knowing, in your soul, that if you screw up your work you could be responsible for the injury or deaths of innocent people tends to make you look at "reality" in a way I think is different from the majority of the population. Engineering attracts those with a certain kind of personality, and repels others.

At the Gunblogger's Rendezvous I spent some time talking with SayUncle, and among other things we discussed personality types. As I've noted here before, my Myers-Briggs personality type is INTJ - Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, Judging. According to Wikipedia, INTJs make up about 2.1% of the population (and, I think, a significantly larger proportion of bloggers). I believe this profile accurately describes me. (My wife agrees. She said I ought to frame it.):
To outsiders, INTJs may appear to project an aura of "definiteness," of self-confidence. This self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for simple arrogance by the less decisive, is actually of a very specific rather than a general nature; its source lies in the specialized knowledge systems that most INTJs start building at an early age. When it comes to their own areas of expertise -- and INTJs can have several -- they will be able to tell you almost immediately whether or not they can help you, and if so, how. INTJs know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don't know.
INTJs are perfectionists, with a seemingly endless capacity for improving upon anything that takes their interest. What prevents them from becoming chronically bogged down in this pursuit of perfection is the pragmatism so characteristic of the type: INTJs apply (often ruthlessly) the criterion "Does it work?" to everything from their own research efforts to the prevailing social norms. This in turn produces an unusual independence of mind, freeing the INTJ from the constraints of authority, convention, or sentiment for its own sake.
INTJs are known as the "Systems Builders" of the types, perhaps in part because they possess the unusual trait combination of imagination and reliability. Whatever system an INTJ happens to be working on is for them the equivalent of a moral cause to an INFJ; both perfectionism and disregard for authority may come into play, as INTJs can be unsparing of both themselves and the others on the project. Anyone considered to be "slacking," including superiors, will lose their respect -- and will generally be made aware of this; INTJs have also been known to take it upon themselves to implement critical decisions without consulting their supervisors or co-workers. On the other hand, they do tend to be scrupulous and even-handed about recognizing the individual contributions that have gone into a project, and have a gift for seizing opportunities which others might not even notice.
In the broadest terms, what INTJs "do" tends to be what they "know". Typical INTJ career choices are in the sciences and engineering, but they can be found wherever a combination of intellect and incisiveness are required (e.g., law, some areas of academia). INTJs can rise to management positions when they are willing to invest time in marketing their abilities as well as enhancing them, and (whether for the sake of ambition or the desire for privacy) many also find it useful to learn to simulate some degree of surface conformism in order to mask their inherent unconventionality.
Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ's Achilles heel. While they are capable of caring deeply for others (usually a select few), and are willing to spend a great deal of time and effort on a relationship, the knowledge and self-confidence that make them so successful in other areas can suddenly abandon or mislead them in interpersonal situations.
This happens in part because many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals; for instance, they tend to have little patience and less understanding of such things as small talk and flirtation (which most types consider half the fun of a relationship). To complicate matters, INTJs are usually extremely private people, and can often be naturally impassive as well, which makes them easy to misread and misunderstand. Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense. :-) This sometimes results in a peculiar naivete', paralleling that of many Fs -- only instead of expecting inexhaustible affection and empathy from a romantic relationship, the INTJ will expect inexhaustible reasonability and directness.
Probably the strongest INTJ assets in the interpersonal area are their intuitive abilities and their willingness to "work at" a relationship. Although as Ts they do not always have the kind of natural empathy that many Fs do, the Intuitive function can often act as a good substitute by synthesizing the probable meanings behind such things as tone of voice, turn of phrase, and facial expression. This ability can then be honed and directed by consistent, repeated efforts to understand and support those they care about, and those relationships which ultimately do become established with an INTJ tend to be characterized by their robustness, stability, and good communications.
Out of all of that, the one thing that really struck me is the phrase "Does it work?" That's it, exactly.

I'm not a perfectionist. As an engineer I am thorougly familiar with the aphorism that "the perfect is the enemy of the good." I once described my job to someone as follows: "To solve my customer's problem A) using the most current, appropriate technology, B) in the most timely manner and C) at the best price possible. Choose any two." I'm not a perfectionist, but I'm more than happy to reject a lot of what other people would consider "good enough."

"Good enough" too often gets people killed, but "perfect" never gets built.