Thursday, July 2, 2015

Did You Know...

The British poet Lord Byron (1788-1824) was so enamored with the Greeks that he traveled to Greece to fight against the Turks in the Greek War of Independence. He contracted a fever there and died at the age of 36. The Greeks consider him a national hero.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Let's Celebrate!

Morals, Ethics, Common Sense? Meh...

I grew up believing that the purpose of life was to be successful in the sense of work, family, and the accumulation of material goods. Especially the accumulation of material goods, along with the resultant elevation of social status that usually results in being rich. I'll bet most of you bought into the goals of the rat race too. However, as my paternal grandmother once said, Tommy is, well, a little different. It's taken me a lifetime to realize the extent of that simple observation. Now, this piece isn't some attempt by me to justify a life of seeming missteps and poor decision-making. To the contrary, I believe all my experiences were necessary in leading me up to this point -- and there is an undeniable sense of accomplishment simply because I am still alive. I don't live in a hole under a bridge, I eat regularly, am healthy, and I don't have a dead-end job. I work for myself when I want to.

No, this piece is more about the value of ethics and morality -- angles on human nature where admittedly I have consistently failed to measure up. Yet, ethics and morality are essential aspects to human nature when it comes to surviving not only as an individual but as an individual embedded in society. After all, the quest for survival is not solely against nature; it is also for the man (or woman) struggling amongst and within a group of individuals who are just as selfish, evil, and full of desire as he/she.

And so it follows that there are rules and standards for living in a group, any group. I mean, if your neighbor possesses something you don't and you desire that thing, what is it that prevents you from waiting until dark and then sneaking over and taking it? Maybe it's a garden tiller, maybe it's a shiny new bicycle. Or, maybe it's the neighbor's wife. Maybe his kids bother you with their incessant noise and your desire is to shut them up permanently, eh? Are you going to do it or continue to live in misery? Well, ethics and morality is what prevents us from running amok. Certainly, fear of consequences has something to do with it as well, but my point is, if one thinks they can get away with something despite what the law dictates, often they'll put a plan into motion; that is, unless their inner conscience (not their social conscience) kicks in. That's ethics and morality.

Without these inner notions of propriety, there is only the law and as you probably have figured out by now, the law is cold, uncaring, and often gets it wrong. I wrote a little review for the new Mad Max movie last week -- Fury Road -- that portrayed a tribe of people living in a post-apocalyptic world. Murder, mayhem, and a raw administration of justice was the order of the day, but it was still a kind of order. At least, everyone knew where they stood. That's how I view the law today. It doesn't really have to make any sense to those of us who live either inside or outside, its existence is its justification.

All the same, if you are anything like me, and you are simply because you're human, you know there is more to life than the steam-shovel dictates of laws made up by men with secret agendas. Perhaps I've lost you at this point, but hang in there because I'm about to touch on something topical.

Most of us understand that society changes. The boundaries of behavior stretch and recede at varying times to accommodate the desires of dominant social forces. Some days you're the bug and some days you're the windshield. Recently, our leaders have decided to bow to the "progressive" pressure to normalize behavior that has traditionally been viewed as deviant, even depraved. Specifically, I refer to homosexual behavior. The march toward normalization has resulted in a legal acceptance of unions between persons of the same sex. But you, my readers, know all this already and some of you may even be among the celebratory fringe that welcomes these new changes to our civil laws.

Concerning such matters, I have always been tolerant and hesitant to judge -- after all, as I explained above, who am I to judge? [Which brings up another topic altogether, but suffice to say as long as I am a tax-paying member of society I do have the right to voice my opinion (to judge) - and NOT expect to be punished for it.] No, it is not my goal to convince you here and now whether or not homosexuality is a viable behavior and good for society in general -- that is, a contributing behavior to the well-being and prosperity of society. I would like to point out that such discussions have not been available to the general public. Indeed, when they are attempted in an open forum, they are shut down by the vocal antics of concentrated, angry activists. So, it is fair to say that during the course of "progressive" evolution, free speech often becomes a casualty. Truth becomes secondary to the matter. This is part of the negative consequences of the process we have seen at play.

The progressives also claim that what they strive for is what the conservatives always say they value, which is freedom for the individual. On the surface, it's a good argument, but considering the prior discussion clarifying the reasons for checks and balances within a given society, we innately understand that all behaviors cannot and should not be blessed and codified. Why? Because they may end up destroying the fabric of society and perhaps even worse. What can be worse? Why, threats to mankind (humankind, if you prefer), of course, threats just as viable as the theoretical asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs. Pestilence, disease, and/or the acceptance of behaviors that encourage not only the spread of disease but also the approval of the next taboo behavior.

For instance, I don't know about you, but during the course of my life, I am sorry to say I have accumulated a number of enemies. I imagine my name is scribbled among lists hidden in secret notebooks and databases of people who would wish me harm. Likewise, there are those who have injured me to the point where I sometimes wish I could take out my revenge. If I could get away with it, at times I would be sorely tempted to do just that. It's not the law that stops me. It is, rather, the belief that my own personal growth as a spiritual being would be stunted even more than it already has by committing yet another thoughtless action in this material world.

So, the freedom argument becomes little more than a straw man.

It is not my intention to declare a stance on this particular issue and then retreat to a walled fortress of impervious intellectual opinion. I have my beliefs, you see, and they are based on a long history of reasonable moral decisions made long before I was ever conceived. I have reviewed the basis of that inherited morality because I have been forced to do so by progressive elements within the society where I live. Among he arguments for change I have found an ignorance of the facts, an inability to recognize what I regard as higher truths, a dependence on innate desire (if it feels good, then do it), a bastardization of prior beliefs (God is love), and a drive to win the argument at all costs. In all these debates, it has became readily apparent that the means justifies the ends. Therefore, during the course of the struggle, there is no fairness, no truth (other than what progressives say it is), and no reasonable discourse. It has become far more important to win than to be correct.

With all that said, it doesn't mean the progressives are necessarily wrong. It does mean they will do whatever it takes to force changes upon society.

From my view, it is ironic because I had always considered myself a free-thinker, a seeker of the truth. Now, I find myself caught in the net of accusations of being a white, privileged, heterosexual Christian male from the southern USA who doesn't get it. In the current political climate, those things disqualify me from having a valid opinion.

One last anecdote before I wind up this rambling soliloquy. Back in college, I had to take a foreign language to graduate. The requirement was four semesters in one of the languages that the university offered, a task that if taken sequentially would have taken me two years because I worked during the summers (the truth is, I worked all the time, even while I was in school, but summers were especially devoted to full time construction work.). Anyway, there was a one semester accelerated course in French that would give me enough credits to graduate. I signed up and took the course. It was taught by a gay man with whom I became good friends. We maintained our friendship even after I graduated, throughout graduate school, and the subsequent years until he died of immune deficiency disease.

Along the way, I was allowed to view the gay lifestyle in its natural habitat, so to speak. To this day, my conclusions are that the gay experience is indeed a choice that is influenced by one's early social and familial environment and furthermore, it is a choice that leads to a lifetime of hardship, confusion, and exposure to disease and ridicule. Additionally, there is a psychological cost to surrendering to one's prurient desires.

My friend worked hard to be viewed as a good, moral man but yet I witnessed the parade of young males that were regularly seduced and used for purposes of sexual gratification. Several of them later committed suicide. Many died young from AIDS and similar diseases. There was rampant drug and alcohol abuse. Promiscuity was far more prevalent than among heteros like myself.

They say seeing is believing, right? A sense of established ethics and morality acts as a guard between you and the outside world. It keeps you from stepping on people's toes, it keeps you out of jail, it helps you to avoid disease and even accidents that could have been side-stepped. Over time, we will see how the new rules affect those of us who disagree as well as those who pushed for the changes. We've ignored the warnings from the past and have only ourselves to blame for our present day choices. Now that the old walls have cracked and fallen, who knows what new social innovations will be adopted? A new, uncertain future looms before us with new, confusing political rules that are relativistic at best. Good luck to all of us. I think we're going to need it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Communism Sucks

The French Marxist anthropologist/sociologist Pierre Bourdieu theorized that economic capital was not the only source of power in a society. He defined capital in many forms. Symbolic capital the power symbols hold for us, cultural capital the power of knowledge, political capital the power to change people’s minds, and so on. However, at the root of society is economic power. Without it, nothing else is possible. So money is, for the purposes of this argument, power.

It then follows that if the government produces all the means for getting money or buying things, then it has all the power. It doesn’t matter what the law says, because that’s just a means of managing power in a society and it only works when there is incentive by those with power to do so–That is, checks and balances. In a society where the government has all the power, it has no incentive to check it’s own power, so the only means of the citizens getting change in their favor is for either their rulers to be benevolent, or outright revolution.

Capitalism allows for power to be distributed and for those checks and balances via laws to work, and it provides the means for regular citizens to gain power by converting it into cultural, symbolic, political or other forms of capital, which can get you more economic capital and so on. Laws and constitutions only work so long as the citizenry has both the means and the will to ensure that power is distributed and those with great power are kept in check, just as the Constitution was intended to do.

Now I'd like to explain why communism sucks. What follows are ten reasons I found on the internet for why communism sucks. I've made a few slight changes here and there because I'm a stickler for correct grammar and concise language, but it's all good stuff. Please read on.

10 - Communism doesn’t value creativity. The average person, as George Carlin once observed, is not particularly good at anything. The perfect job for such a person is on the assembly line. But regardless of the governments under which we live, we all have different aspirations. Some people are perfectly happy sweeping floors, but most of us—justly—want more out of life. Not only money, but fame, glory, and a sense of accomplishment. All of these require at least some creative thought.

You may want to be a poet or a painter, but these jobs certainly don’t pay the bills—and Communism views them as unnecessary and ridiculous. All that matters is building a super-powerful nation—and one of the first obstacles that must be removed is what Jefferson called “the pursuit of happiness.”

9 - Forced Collectivization. The most notorious example of forced collectivization is the land reform carried out by Soviets between 1928 and 1933. It was thought that collectivization would maximize the use and potential of the countryside for urban and industrial needs. Russian industry was just taking off, and enormous quantities of food would be required for the workers.

Masses of resisting landowners—many of them small-scale farmers who worked their own land—died at the hands of executioners. The state’s requisition of crops, livestock, and farmland was paid for by the farmers and by the lower class in general, some ten million of whom starved to death in five years.

Exactly the same atrocity took place in Communist China, between 1958 and 1961. During this time, private farming was outlawed as it had been in Stalin’s Russia, and about 33 million people starved to death in possibly the single most destructive famine in human history.

8 - A citizen has no rights under communism. Several of these entries are related, and the absence of citizens’ rights is at the heart of more than one. In keeping with the last entry, Marx advocated ten rules in his Communist Manifesto for the forced redistribution of all land and property for the good of the national community.

This is theft, from the citizens’ point of view. They are forced to join the new Communist government—whether they like it or not. This, of course, must be done with a “might is right” frame of mind: lots of men with guns show up and take everything you have “for the glory of the motherland,” as the Soviets might have said.

7 - Reduced incentives to work hard. Incentives—such as higher pay for doctors—are necessary to give people the energy they need to work hard in a difficult job.

When there are no extra incentives available—such as in a Communist state, where all reap an equal share in what some have worked harder to sow—the people in difficult jobs quickly lose their motivation. For example, workers would stop caring about how thoroughly they inspect the cars on the assembly lines, since it makes no difference to them either way. They are also likely to grow bitter at the government for failing to give them recognition when they do a good job. Revolts become a distinct liability; many a Communist state has fallen because of this problem of reduced incentives.

6 - Militant opposition to imperialism. It doesn’t take much to bring the fury of a Communist state upon you; in fact, it takes nothing more than simply existing in a capitalist state. The Communist Manifesto advocates the replacement of all governments by Communist governments. This has almost always been put into effect internally: the Russian monarchy was overthrown, as were the Republic of China and the Cuban democracy. But the threat is not merely internal. The US need not fear a Cuban invasion, but China is indeed a force to be reckoned with. It controls the second-largest portion of American debt, and though that only amounts to about eight percent, the number is rising. Should they ever call in America’s entire debt to them at once, America’s already depressed economy would be greatly harmed.

5 - Indifference towards the environment. With all the alarmist global warming nonsense, I'll bet you're surprised to hear this one. Well, the truth is that a Communist state will make up for its inefficient economy by doing whatever is necessary to produce crops and water. In the 1960s, the Soviet Communist regime diverted two important rivers for irrigation. The Aral Sea, which those rivers fed, has now shrunk to as little as ten percent of its original size. It used to be the fourth largest lake in the world.

The lesson: rather than letting the efficiency of capitalism into its economic model, the Soviet government chose to extract everything it could from the environment—without caring one bit about the health of that environment.

4 - The economic calculation problem. The relative success of the free market economy is a real-world refutation of Marxist economics. The latter never has sufficient information on the market prices of commodities, and therefore cannot properly ration the distribution of a nation’s resources.

The only reasonable criticism of the free market economy is the presence of monopolies, which can raise the prices of their products with little fear of reprisal. But monopolies are just like the central control a Communist government exercises on its whole economy; a true free market ensures that there be checks and balances on the price of goods and services.

3 - The class struggle’s goes nowhere. Marx founded Communist philosophy on the principle that class struggles have been, by far, the primary cause of all strife, wars, economic woes, and regime collapses. There are popularly thought to be three major classes of people: the upper, the middle, and the lower. The upper class has most of the wealth; the lower class the least; and the middle class plays the peacemaker between them, maintaining the hope and sanity of the lower class. Without the middle class, heads are chopped.

Communism itself does not erase the class struggle, as it proclaims, but keeps it going. It does this because it is a government: there must be a group of people in charge, and it’s likely that this group enjoys its power. By maintaining their power, the leaders of a Communist state separate the population into at least two classes: themselves as the upper class, and preferably everyone else in the lower class.

Communist states have generally not featured a middle class—and its absence allowed for the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917; the Chinese of 1949, the Cuban of 1953-59, and a host of others. All of these revolutions ended with the rise of a Communist state—and all of them were the ruin of their respective nations, because the Communists themselves became the very same brand of elitist upper class they had deposed.

2 - State-sponsored mass murder. Communist rule may be directly blamed for the deaths of at least eighty-five million people in the twentieth century. Stalin alone murdered about twenty million, although other estimates range from fifty-three million to eighty million.

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia, and set out to establish a Communist utopia. They immediately committed genocide on their own people. At least two million were executed by brutally primitive methods in keeping with the Khmer Rouge’s anti-technology stance; many of the victims were murdered merely for wearing glasses. Intelligence was deemed a direct and serious threat to the Khmer Rouge.

And let’s not forget Chairman Mao. He may not have been as evil as Stalin, but he was the very definition of indifference towards humanity. His “Great Leap Forward” caused the deaths by starvation of forty-five million Chinese civilians.

1 - Lastly, Karl Marx was wrong to begin with; Marx’s doctrine is fraught with faulty logic, loopholes, and unsolved problems. His idea of economics is based on the labor theory of value, which asserts that a car, for example, should cost more than a TV, because more labor is needed to produce it. But this is an oversimplification of the market.

Sam’s Choice Cola tastes almost identical to Coca-Cola, but costs half as much. The labor is the same, but people are happy to pay twice as much for the only difference: the brand name. The same holds true with medicine.

In the same way, tennis shoes can cost over $200 in the US, despite being made in China or Taiwan for only about $3–10. Why do they cost so much? Because the industries that own them sell them based on how highly they are in demand by the public. That’s why they have athletes endorse their products: to make them more desirable to the athletes’ fans.

This is expressly why Marxist communism has caused the utter collapse of so many national economies: it thinks in broad strokes, and fails to tell one subtlety from another. This, first and foremost, is because communism is not grounded in reality.

Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (born June 24, 1842; assumed to have died sometime after December 26, 1913) was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist, and satirist. He wrote the short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and compiled a satirical lexicon entitled The Devil's Dictionary. His vehemence as a critic, his motto "Nothing matters", and the sardonic view of human nature that informed his work, all earned him the nickname "Bitter Bierce".

Despite his reputation as a searing critic, Bierce was known to encourage younger writers, including poet George Sterling and fiction writer W. C. Morrow. Bierce employed a distinctive style of writing, especially in his stories. His style often embraces an abrupt beginning, dark imagery, vague references to time, limited descriptions, impossible events and the theme of war.

In 1913, Bierce traveled to Mexico to gain first-hand experience of the Mexican Revolution. While traveling with rebel troops, he disappeared without a trace.

Bierce was born at Horse Cave Creek in Meigs County, Ohio, to Marcus Aurelius Bierce (1799–1876) and Laura Sherwood Bierce. His mother was a descendant of William Bradford. His parents were a poor but literary couple who instilled in him a deep love for books and writing. The boy grew up in Kosciusko County, Indiana, attending high school at the county seat, Warsaw.

He was the tenth of thirteen children whose father gave all of them names beginning with the letter "A". In order of birth, the Bierce siblings were Abigail, Amelia, Ann, Addison, Aurelius, Augustus, Almeda, Andrew, Albert, Ambrose, Arthur, Adelia, and Aurelia. He left home at age fifteen to become a "printer's devil" at a small Ohio newspaper.

At the outset of the American Civil War, Bierce enlisted in the Union Army's 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment. He participated in the Operations in Western Virginia campaign (1861), was present at the "first battle" at Philippi and received newspaper attention for his daring rescue, under fire, of a gravely wounded comrade at the Battle of Rich Mountain. In February 1862 he was commissioned First Lieutenant, and served on the staff of General William Babcock Hazen as a topographical engineer, making maps of likely battlefields.

Bierce fought at the Battle of Shiloh (April 1862), a terrifying experience that became a source for several later short stories and the memoir, "What I Saw of Shiloh". In June 1864, he sustained a serious head wound at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, and spent the rest of the summer on furlough, returning to active duty in September. He was discharged from the army in January 1865.

His military career resumed, however, when in mid-1866 he rejoined General Hazen as part of the latter's expedition to inspect military outposts across the Great Plains. The expedition proceeded by horseback and wagon from Omaha, Nebraska, arriving toward year's end in San Francisco, California.

Bierce married Mary Ellen "Mollie" Day on 25 December 1871. They had three children; two sons, Day (1872–1889) and Leigh (1874–1901), and a daughter, Helen (1875–1940). Both of Bierce's sons died before he did: Day committed suicide due to depression over a romantic rejection, and Leigh died of pneumonia related to alcoholism. Bierce separated from his wife in 1888 after discovering compromising letters to her from an admirer. They divorced in 1904 and Mollie Day Bierce died the following year.

On Bierce's religious views, he was an agnostic.

Bierce suffered from lifelong asthma as well as complications from his war wounds.

n San Francisco, Bierce received the rank of brevet major before resigning from the Army. He remained in San Francisco for many years, eventually becoming famous as a contributor and/or editor for a number of local newspapers and periodicals, including The San Francisco News Letter, The Argonaut, the Overland Monthly, The Californian and The Wasp. A selection of his crime reporting from The San Francisco News Letter was included in The Library of America anthology True Crime.

Deadwood in 1876.
Bierce lived and wrote in England from 1872 to 1875, contributing to Fun magazine. His first book, The Fiend's Delight, a compilation of his articles, was published in London in 1873 by John Camden Hotten under the pseudonym "Dod Grile". Returning to the United States, he again took up residence in San Francisco. From 1879 to 1880, he traveled to Rockerville and Deadwood in the Dakota Territory, to try his hand as local manager for a New York mining company; when the company failed he returned to San Francisco and resumed his career in journalism.

In 1887, he published a column called "Prattle" and became one of the first regular columnists and editorialists to be employed on William Randolph Hearst's newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, eventually becoming one of the most prominent and influential among the writers and journalists of the West Coast. He remained associated with Hearst Newspapers until 1906.

Bierce was considered a master of pure English by his contemporaries, and virtually everything that came from his pen was notable for its judicious wording and economy of style. He wrote in a variety of literary genres.

His short stories are held among the best of the 19th century, providing a popular following based on his roots. He wrote realistically of the terrible things he had seen in the war in such stories as "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", "The Boarded Window", "Killed at Resaca", and "Chickamauga".

In addition to his ghost and war stories, he also published several volumes of poetry. His Fantastic Fables anticipated the ironic style of grotesquerie that became a more common genre in the 20th century.

One of Bierce's most famous works is his much-quoted book, The Devil's Dictionary, originally an occasional newspaper item which was first published in book form in 1906 as The Cynic's Word Book. It consists of satirical definitions of English words whith lampoon and political double-talk.

Under the entry "leonine", meaning a single line of poetry with an internal rhyming scheme, he included an apocryphal couplet written by the fictitious "Bella Peeler Silcox" (i.e. Ella Wheeler Wilcox) in which an internal rhyme is achieved in both lines only by mispronouncing the rhyming words:

The electric light invades the dunnest deep of Hades.
Cries Pluto, 'twixt his snores: "O tempora! O mores!

Bierce's twelve-volume Collected Works were published in 1909, the seventh volume of which consists solely of The Devil's Dictionary, the title Bierce himself preferred to The Cynic's Word Book.

In October 1913 Bierce, then aged 71, departed Washington, D.C., for a tour of his old Civil War battlefields. By December he had passed through Louisiana and Texas, crossing by way of El Paso into Mexico, which was in the throes of revolution. In Ciudad Juárez he joined Pancho Villa's army as an observer, and in that role he witnessed the Battle of Tierra Blanca.

Pancho Villa
Bierce is known to have accompanied Villa's army as far as the city of Chihuahua. His last known communication with the world was a letter he wrote there to Blanche Partington, a close friend, dated December 26, 1913. After closing this letter by saying, "As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination," he vanished without a trace, becoming one of the most famous disappearances in American literary history. Skeptic Joe Nickell argued that such a letter had never been found. All that existed was a notebook belonging to his secretary and companion, Carrie Christiansen, containing a rough summary of a purported letter and her statement that the originals had been destroyed.

Oral tradition in Sierra Mojada, Coahuila, documented by the priest James Lienert, states that Bierce was executed by firing squad in the town cemetery there. Again, Nickell finds this story to be rather incredible. He quotes Bierce's friend and biographer Walter Neale as saying that in 1913, Bierce had not ridden for quite some time, was suffering from serious asthma, and had been severely critical of Pancho Villa. Neale concludes that it would have been highly unlikely for Bierce to have gone to Mexico and joined up with Villa.

All investigations into his fate have proven fruitless, and Nickell concedes that despite a lack of hard evidence that Bierce had gone to Mexico, there is also none that he had not. Therefore, despite an abundance of theories (including death by suicide), his end remains shrouded in mystery.

Ambrose Bierce was influenced by such writers as Jonathan Swift, Voltaire, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mark Twain. Birce influenced writers such as H.L. Mencken, William March, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Stephen Crane, and Ernest Hemingway.