Friday, May 26, 2017

Not Anti-War But Anti-Tyranny

War can be hell. But it is also something that many young men look forward to so they can test their mettle, men like Alexander Hamilton, who in a 1769 letter to a friend wrote: "I wish there was a war." (He apparently had not yet mastered the subjunctive.) In times of peace, young men often wish for war. In times of war, all men wish for peace.

Here is a song by Leslie Fish explaining why the wish for total peace, if granted, would lead to tyranny. We all want peace, but not at the price of a one world government.

Is it wrong to long for a war to break out just to gratify one's personal wish to go to war? Well, it is if you start a war just to make that happen! It is if you conscript and/or tax others to serve in that war without their consent. But it's not wrong,  if you are a privateer or a mercenary, and you offer your services to those who want them and would be willing to pay.

Who should pay for waging war? Those who want to wage war. That way we can put a cap on it. But it is not wrong for a young warrior to long to serve. It is not wrong for men and women who have that calling to pursue it.

In the video embedded below, I read from Nathan Alterman's poem "אמרה חרב הנצורים" --"Said the Sword of the Besieged".  The poem is from the point of view of a sword being wielded in a hopeless last battle, in which the warrior is killed.

In the discussion that ensues after the reading, my father, Amnon Katz, says: "The sword's entire purpose is battle. And it is happy to fulfill its purpose. Even under these tragic circumstances. But we get the impression that also the one who wields the sword is privy to these values and to this experience, to the glory of this bitter and awful hour." Is it wrong for a young man to long for battle? To sign up for voluntary military service? To hope for glory?

Both Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton served in the American Revolution. Both distinguished themselves. But Aaron Burr wanted always to be on the front lines, so when he was offered a desk job by George Washington, he turned it down. Hamilton was ambitious for advancement, so he took that job.

Both Jean Laffite and Aaron Burr served the US as volunteers. Neither of them did it for a "free" college education or for a salary. Laffite was never reimbursed for his contribution or for those things that were taken from him by force. For years, Aaron Burr was destitute after being persecuted by Jefferson, but as a veteran he was not entitled to a military pension. Finally, when Burr was very old, President Jackson granted him a small pension.

Is all war bad? Or only some wars? Is getting paid for war always bad? Shouldn't our soldiers be paid?

There are some Libertarians who seem to have serious problems with the idea that military service could be entered into in the hopes of going into battle or for pay.  In the video embedded below. Austin Petersen and Larry Sharpe discuss a recent anti-military statement by the Vice Chair of the Libertarian Party.

Not all libertarians are anti-military or anti-war. "Did you agree to kill people for money?" Austin Petersen asks Larry Sharpe.  Sharpe replied "War is evil. War is bad. ...Would I join now? No. I'm also not 17 years old anymore."

But is it wrong to be 17 years old and long to serve? I don't think so.  Should soldiers expect always to be penniless and to go begging when they are in want?

Why do we honor our soldiers only when we see them as poor and without compensation for their service? Why do we think that they deserve less than teachers or doctors? Is it because we are uncomfortable with the work they do? Or is it because public funding for anything corrupts?

Let us honor our soldiers and work toward a free country where they can ply their trade with their heads held high and with compensation that is not dependent on taxation.  We do not want a standing army, but we do need to have warriors who are well trained and ready to fight for us. If we repeal the Neutrality Act and the Logan Act, we can restore the freedom that volunteer soldiers like Aaron Burr fought for in the Revolutionary War!


Thursday, May 18, 2017

On the Plains of Negev

This is my English translation of "בערבות הנגב". I translated it from the only version I knew, which was in Hebrew. But... the history is more complicated.  This song came out in Hebrew in 1948, but apparently it is just a version of a Russian song that was written in 1943:  На опушке леса "On the Edge of the Woods". Who knew?

If you see me smiling at one point when I am singing, it is because I realize my translation of that line is really awkward.

Israeli war songs  are so different from any song I have heard in America. I have looked for songs about grieving mothers, but have not yet found one about how she raised up her son to keep her people free or about how another soldier can replace him. Most of the songs I have heard have two salient differences from this one:

  1. The loss of the son or other loved one is seen as only personal and not national.
  2. There is usually some mention of reunion in an afterlife.
For people who see death as final, it takes a completely different outlook to accept this kind of loss. 

Related Posts

My English lyrics can be read here

This is my analysis of some of the issues with this song:

This is the guy who wrote the Hebrew version:

Here is all the info on the Hebrew song:

The lyrics in Russian can be found here:

There is also a closer translation to Hebrew of the original Russian words:

Monday, May 15, 2017

You Get What You Pay For

You get what you pay for. But no, don't read that with the accent on "pay". Of course, you have to pay. Everyone knows that you can't get anything without somebody paying for it. Yet people are always hoping that somebody else will pay for them.  So even though we all agree that you get what you pay for, most give that line the wrong reading. It's not "You get what you pay for." It's "You get what you pay for."

This is certainly true when it comes to the defense of your country, as well as the defense of a legal case. You cannot expect to get proper representation unless the person who holds the purse strings is the person being defended.

If it's not the person who eats the dog food who pays for the dog food, the dog food may not end up being fit for a dog to eat.  That's even though the person paying for the dog food has very good intentions. It's not the amount of money that is spent that matters, nor the intentions of the one spending it. The Wedel chocolates will be ruined, if the free market does not serve as quality control.

I've seen people arguing that if the accused  is entitled to a free defense -- to have an attorney appointed for him -- then a sick person should be entitled to free health care, too. If the one is a "right", why shouldn't the other be a "right"? Well, neither is really a right, because the doctor and the lawyer still need to agree to serve. Yes, I know, the government can pay them.  But nothing that we don't personally pay for is going to be the same in value as what that amount of money could purchase if wielded by the ultimate consumer. That is the aspect of laissez faire that socialists don't grasp.

Ask anyone accused of a crime how helpful his PD is. Ask veterans dependent on the VA how great the service they receive is. Ask any dog whether he would rather eat dog food or your leftovers. You get what you pay for. What you personally pay for.

Monday, May 8, 2017

2017 Appearance, Review and Bio

I will be a featured speaker, along with Will Coley and Bill Redpath at the 2017 Missouri Libertarian State Convention on July 22, 2017 in Jefferson City. My topic will be "Show Me What You want to Tax and I Will Show You What You Will Destroy."

I am very excited about this opportunity, Meanwhile, though we did not get a public celebration of the 200th anniversary of the  founding of Galveston this April, a new review of Theodosia and the Pirates: The War Against Spain has come out this year by a Top 100 Amazon Reviewer.

There is also an new biographical entry in the LPedia about me as a libertarian author.

For me, 2017 will be a year not for writing new books, but for speaking out about the books I have already written. The new audio version of Vacuum County as read by Kelly Clear should be out in late August. And perhaps for the first time, my writings will have a clear genre designation in which they legitimately belong: libertarian.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Random Acts of Kindness

There are many disadvantages to being visibly different from other people. One possibility is that you will be bullied. But another, equally unpleasant one is that someone will decide to target you for a random act of kindness.

Yes, there is a movement like that. It's been going on for a long time, since before I was born. And the idea behind it is that if we all practice unexpected small acts of  kindness toward strangers, we will be living in a much better world. Practitioners of random acts of kindness are well meaning, but incredibly thoughtless.  Because of that, if we overreact to their kindness, they are likely to go ballistic. So if it ever happens to you, the best thing you can do is set them straight very softly, so as not to set them off. There is nothing like a would-be good Samaritan to become enraged if you reject his random act of kindness, no matter how bad it makes you feel.

The first time I was subjected to a random act of kindness, I was seven years old and in a public swimming pool. I had just learned how to swim, and my movements were still very jerky. My father was in the pool with me, supervising from a distance, but not interfering with my progress. Suddenly a strange man that I had never seen before swooped in, carried me aloft and deposited me on the other side of the pool. That was really scary. And then when he explained that he thought I was drowning, it just got very embarrassing. My father thanked him for his help, and eventually we laughed about it. But it was still an unpleasant thing to have happened. I will never forget it.

Random acts of kindness are based on the idea that without knowing someone, his situation, his abilities and disabilities and the subtle context of his life, you can decide what would be best for him and just swoop in and do whatever you like to him, without his permission. It's really no different from kidnapping, except that you mean well. In the case where they refuse to take your money for a service or give you money that you have no way to refuse, that is a kind of assault that we don't even have a name for.

Take the example of a professor who returns to the US from abroad and finds himself at Yale on a snowy day dressed in sandals, because he has just come back from a place with a different climate. Let's say his clothes are wrinkled from the long flight, and his hair is disheveled. He walks into a Payless Shoe Source to get snow shoes, but the clerk there becomes convinced that this is his moment to shine in a random act of kindness. The clerk is a young African American man, very well groomed and dressed for success. He is also a church-goer, and he sees the professor who walks into his store as a needy person. "Why are you wearing sandals? Have you just had an operation?" he starts to ask. "No," the professor answers distractedly. Because nothing that the professor says or does makes sense to the clerk, he becomes convinced that this strangely dressed man is a homeless person -- possibly retarded. When he offers to give him the shoes for free, and the professor refuses, he starts to take offense, because he thinks maybe this white homeless man is prejudiced against blacks, and that's why he's refusing his generous random act of kindness. "I go to church," he starts to say. "I'm a good person!" It does not help that the professor tells him he earns a great more than he does and does not need his charity. The good Samaritan is now insulted!

Or how about the case of the elderly woman with white hair and very plain clothes who does not  accept that the person behind her wants to pay for her groceries in an orchestrated act of kindness by a Church group during the Christmas holidays. She's not going to tell the stranger that she is well-off and set for life. She was brought up to be modest in her dress and to not brag about her wealth so as not to arouse envy. But how to deal with people who think they know who is in need based only on their outer appearance?

These are all true stories.  In each case, the random act of kindness is like a slap in the face to someone who had no idea he looked so helpless and in need to other people. And what makes it worse is that we are not allowed to get angry, for fear of offending our would-be benefactor, because the benefactor belongs to a majority religion or a particular ethnic group.

I have been trying to warn my well-meaning friends who practice random acts of kindness that they may be hurting others in the process, but so far I don't think anyone understands what I am saying. They are so into charity and good works that they think this is all about "selfishness". But who exactly is the selfish one here? Is it the person refusing unwanted help or the benefactor who hopes to store up points to go to heaven by forcing himself on others?

The person you pity based on their appearance, clothes or behavior may indeed be missing your physical coordination, social skills or fashion sense, but they might have advantages that you don't even know about. They might be a mathematical genius or wealthy beyond your imagining. But since you won't bother to get to know them before bestowing your kindness on them, there is no way for you to find that out. You figure if they look weird, they need help. The random act of kindness is ultimately motivated by the same instincts as those of the bully: to level differences and to enforce uniformity. The only way to avoid other people's pity is to act and look exactly the way society says we should. Otherwise, you never know when someone might mistake you for his inferior and swoop down to help you unbidden.

All people need respect and friendship and love. But you can't help strangers by just throwing money at them or fishing them out of the water, because they have not mastered the breast stroke yet. Random kindness is not too different from random violence. It's rude and thoughtless and causes pain to others, because it just stresses the difference between and among people. Don't do it. Resist the urge. The kindest thing you can do for a stranger is to leave them alone, unless they ask for help.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Bullying by the Government

Many of us have been bullied in the past. Bullying can take the form of name calling, and in such cases, it isn't legally actionable. It can involve social unpleasantness without physical outcomes. Bullying often escalates to become more physical, though, and it can  involve throwing things and hurting others, even to the point of outright murder. Most bullying is designed to punish people for being different from others, and its origins are tribal. While bullying may result in ostracism or even death to those bullied, the overall effect is to enforce uniformity in those who remain. Viewed scientifically, bullying has a social function. For those of us who want to put a stop to it, we have to address that function, and not just the symptoms.

In order to get to the bottom of bullying, we need to understand our own role in it, even if we are a victim or someone standing on the sidelines, neither participating nor reaching out to help the individuals being bullied.

The time to help is when it begins, not at the bloody end. The thing you have to be willing to do is to stand up and say that you support the other person's right to be different and are willing to put yourself at risk, even if you don't share their difference. It is not enough to just say afterwards that it's too bad that they died. Or that you had no idea it would go that far. Or that you were sure the other person would surrender before the mob put him to death. Because that's what every "sensible" person would do -- surrender!

If that is your attitude, then you are supporting the overall function of the bullying: to enforce uniformity.

When bullying is done by individuals and private groups, it is ugly. But when it is the government that takes on the role of the ultimate bully, that's when we should all stand together against it.

One of the reasons the Branch Davidians had so few people speaking up for them before they were slaughtered in plain sight of the entire nation is that they were smeared in ways that made people on the right and on the left have no sympathy for them. On the right, all you had to do was allege sex with minors, and no decent church going American was willing to lift a finger. On the left, all you had to do is call them religious nuts with Messianic leanings, and the same happened. Nobody cared because they were "too weird".

I tend to be tone deaf to exactly those "PR blunders" that are now tearing the Libertarian Party apart. It makes no impression on me if you attribute to Satan a libertarian sentiment. I'll agree with the sentiment and not worry too much about Satan. It does not worry me if freedom of religion involves having some people worship a man as a god, as long as I don't have to. And I want the Federal government to stay entirely out of the sex racket. The states have jurisdiction over those issues, and if Child Protective Services in the local jurisdiction have cleared someone, I do not want the Feds charging in there with their guns drawn.

Where were you when Mt. Carmel was under siege? I tried to organize a peaceful protest, but somehow all my Libertarian, Quaker, Wiccan and Unitarian friends were too busy to show up that day. The Feds, on the other hand, were very prompt.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Memory Aids: Prose Poetry and Song

I am very excited about what Kelly Clear is adding to the experience of reading Vacuum County.  I am not a big fan of Audible books myself, because I like to look at the words in a book as I read it. You might say I am more of a visual learner. But there are some things that need to be heard to be understood and remembered. Poems are meant to be said out loud. Songs should be sung.

I was sharing this video of the song "Down by the Crick" from Chapter 3 in Vacuum County with a friend who had read the book many years ago. "That's nice," she said. "But I don't remember that there was a song in the book." Well there were the words to the song. And David was described singing it. But it depends on how you read books whether you are likely to remember that.

If you're reading visually, it's easy to miss that something is a song. I mean, it's obviously not prose. And it says in the story that David plays the guitar and sings it. But if you only kind of sped past that part in your reading and only tend to remember "what happened" in the chapter, then you are unlikely to remember the song at all.

Most people use episodic memory  for specific vivid events and rely on semantic memory to sort out the overall narratives of their lives, but they don't remember anything that they read in a novel word for word. By the same token, few people have episodic memory for dialogue in real life.  Much of the information that we acquire through experience is stored as semantic memory, without the moment by moment experiences that gave us the information. In the same way, if we read a book, and it made any kind of impression, we might later be able to describe what happened in the book as a general synopsis of the action, or we might be able to say what we may have learned from the book, but nobody expects us to remember all the words in the book in the right order. If we could do that, there would be no point in copyright laws. Everybody would have a copy of each book he has read stored in his head and would be able to read it off for other people at a moment's notice.

But when you hear a song played or a poem recited, this creates an episodic memory of it word for word, and not just a summary of what the song was about. Read it out loud several times or hear it played and re-played, and you'll remember it forever. That is the genius of poetry and song. 

When new readers experience Vacuum County through the medium of the Audible book produced by Kelly  Clear, they are  going to remember certain passages as if they had lived through the experiences themselves. The songs sung by David will come to life!

File:Frans Hals - Luitspelende nar.jpg

Image: By Frans Hals (1582/1583–1666) - André Hatala [e.a.] (1997) De eeuw van Rembrandt, Bruxelles: Crédit communal de Belgique, ISBN 2-908388-32-4., Public Domain,