Shortsighted: Bill Whittle A Bit Too Cheerful

These new age war tools are particularly attractive to a tyranny that views its subjects as domestic terrorists. Additionally, their existence reduces leaderhip risk by reducing personnel. As in the number who are equipped and might turn around and attack the tyrant. Like the soldiers at the Bastille did.

“Nice Place You’ve Got Here…”

See the rest at Ace of Spades comments – #299.

I’m back from Hamvention, the biggest gathering of amateur radio enthusiasts in the world. It took me one day just to catch up on sleep, and get my brain functioning again. On Tuesday, our beloved pooch was at the groomers, and had a seizure. It’s the second one this year. He checked out fine, but we are to keep a long of his health from now on. On the positive side, the vet said there is no reason that he cannot live a healthy life for at least a few years. He seems fine, if a bit tired – the heat has been in the high 80s and low 90s. That’s not bad for some of you, but we live on the North Coast, and it’s usually much cooler this time of year.

Today is dedicated to working on the house, unpacking, and clearing up paperwork. And waiting for a delivery of my two new antennas. MFJ is going out of business, and there was a sale. There are good portable antenna, as well as being usable around home. Each is a single band – 20 and 40 meters. So, as soon as they arrive, I’ll have access to HF (distance contacts).

I can’t wait.

Announcement

     I’m going to be away from Liberty’s Torch for a while…possibly a very long while. Recent events have persuaded me that for the present, there’s no point to my writing for the Web. A man of my age shouldn’t spend his time and energy shouting into the wind. So I’m going to take a break and look for one.

     Perhaps Linda, Dave, the Colonel, and the rest will keep our Gentle Readers amused. Readers with questions about site activities and policies should address them to Linda, my Co-Administrator. Meanwhile, enjoy the continuing decline and fall of the United States of America. It’s best viewed from a safe distance. I’m currently considering Tristan da Cunha.

     Regards,
     Fran

Anarchism

     [The following discourse on anarchism was an early attempt of mine to outline the nature and difficulties both of government and of the alternative – i.e., no government – rather than to advocate either of them. When I wrote it, I’d already come to disbelieve in “problems” and “solutions,” sociopolitically speaking. However, I had not yet abandoned the search for a political structure – with one possibility being no structure at all – that would “work” by the most common criteria.
     These essays first appeared at the old Palace of Reason in July and August of 2004 – FWP.]


Part 1: Anarchy And Anarchies.

     “Anarchy” merely means “the absence of a ruler.” Thus, the anarchist proposes that the State be done away with, and not allowed to return.

     Joseph Sobran has made the point that in any particular area of human conduct where political authority does not intrude, there is anarchy. This might best be called “situational” or “topical” anarchy, in contrast to the “general” anarchy of a completely Stateless society.

     In the United States, we have religious anarchy. One’s choice of a religion is unconstrained by political authority. Indeed, that was what lured a lot of the first immigrants to these shores. If we except “incitement to riot” and the odious McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act, we also have speech anarchy. One may say whatever one pleases without concern for legal penalty.

     In those markets untouched by regulation, there is commercial anarchy. Vendors may offer whatever product they please, under whatever conditions and at whatever price, to whomever has the desire and the means to buy it. Even within the strictures of regulation, there is a form of anarchy. Once a vendor has met the regulatory standard for a product, he is free to sell anything at all. (This is not an unmixed blessing. If you disagree, try Maxwell House Coffee, Libby’s Potted Meat Food Product, or a durian.)

     “Free.” I like that word, don’t you? For that is at the heart of the matter. Anarchy is just another word for freedom.

     No, I’m not headed where you think. Read on.

***

Context.

     The great questions of human relations are unchanging. The greatest of them all, how to get the benefits of a social order without sacrificing one’s individual freedom, is forever being “answered” by opinion-mongers of all stripes in a fashion that says more about their arrogance and intellectual conceit than it does about Man, liberty, or the nature of society.

     Having read that, you might well be thinking, “But he’s one of them, so how does he exempt himself?” You have every right.

     The Great Question above does not change only because the question, as stated, is meaningless. It lacks context. The possibility of freedom and the availability of society are both contextual matters.

     The “Robinson Crusoe” model, so often used to examine economic decision making in an entirely unconstrained situation, contains its own context. Crusoe was alone; there was no society to join, and no one to attempt to dictate to him. Neither freedom nor society had a relevant meaning in his circumstances.

     At the extreme opposite end, we could consider a nightmare scenario such as J. G. Ballard’s “Billennium,” where the human race has overpopulated the world to such an extent that each individual is allocated no more than three or four square yards of living space, and is packed in shoulder-to-shoulder with others whenever he leaves his domain. In such a situation, society is overwhelming; it swallows all possibility of freedom whether one’s fellows do anything to restrain him or not.

     By constraining what is possible, contexts delimit the meanings one can give to freedom and society. Therefore, we must assign a context before we can discuss anarchism, the merits and demerits of an anarchic order, and how they would compare to the available alternatives.

     I hope that last statement didn’t blow past too quickly. For, as David Bergland has said repeatedly, Utopia is not one of the options. When studying proposed sociopolitical systems, one must compare them to one another, not to some imagined ideal in which there’s no crime, no want, no interpersonal nor intergroup strife, and no one ever runs out of disk space.

     Context determines what alternatives are truly available. The “Billennium” context eliminates virtually all alternatives except rigid regimentation and rationing of all things; the “Crusoe” context eliminates all alternatives except total freedom and self-sufficiency. Since we live between those extremes, we must consider the alternatives available within our particular parishes, and not be misled by what we might be able to do “if only things were different.”

     Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t study ways to make things different, but that’s a separate topic.

***

Government In The American Milieu.

     The context of greatest interest to me, and, I would assume, to most Palace readers, is that of the United States as it stands today.

     Gross statistics and aggregates can be misleading, but we must nonetheless include them in our assessment of this context. America is a 3,000,000 square mile landmass with a population of approximately 300,000,000 people: about 100 people per square mile. (A more intimate way of stating our population density is one person for every six acres of land — and if you think that’s crowding, you’ve never had to mow an acre of land.) Its Gross Domestic Product for fiscal year 2002 was approximately $10.4 trillion, or an “indexed productivity” of about $35,000 for every man, woman and child. As only about 65% of the population participates in the labor force, it should more properly be given as $52,000 per worker.

     Americans come in all races, colors, ancestries, creeds, and sexual orientations. Members of some of those subgroups hate others “not of our kind” and want to do them harm. Of course, we also have plenty of “non-ideological” criminals, enough to fill 1.4 million state and federal prison billets.

     Quite a number of us, estimated from 80 to 120 million, possess firearms. A somewhat smaller subset of us, about 1,030,000 at the last tally, consists of lawyers admitted to the bar. Opinion varies as to which of those groups is more dangerous.

     The law books of the U.S. positively bulge. The Federal Register, which contains the “enactments” of federal regulatory agencies, alone sums to nearly 100,000 pages. The compendious United States Statutes At Large is a 220-volume collection that consumes 45 feet of shelf space. The various states and lesser political units all have their own legal milieus. Each of these laws compels or forbids the private citizen to do something, under the threat of punishments as light as a $5 fine or as heavy as death. However, few Americans actually know what the law requires of them in any given situation, with a few highly publicized exceptions.

     Despite all that law, there’s plenty of crime. Homicides alone average about twenty-three thousand per year. Crimes of violence totaled to 1,431,000 in calendar 1999. Crimes against property summed to a staggering 10,205,000 in the same year.

     Plenty of law, plenty of crime…and plenty of government. America’s 87,504 governmental units spent $2.8 trillion in 2000, the last year for which I have absolutely reliable figures at hand. That year, federal expenditures came to $1.8 trillion, and the lesser units spent the rest. This year, the federal budget extends to $2.5 trillion; if the states’ expenditures have risen in proportion, America’s governments will spend about $3.8 trillion in all. Spending that money is the principal function of more than 20 million federal, state, and local government employees.

***

An Eagle’s-Eye View Of Political Systems.

     Viewed coarsely, there are only three political systems:

  • Anarchy,
  • Popular sovereignty, whether direct or representative,
  • Government imposed without regard to the popular will (e.g., aristocracy, oligarchy, monarchy, or dictatorship).

     There are many ways to structure a non-anarchic political system. America is nominally a constitutional federated republic operated by elected legislators and executives. Britain is a non-constitutional parliamentary democracy hemmed in by various traditions, with a ceremonial monarch to provide continuity with her past. Switzerland is a complex federation with a titular monarch like Britain’s. Ireland decides public policy questions by competitive assassination. Italy is a madhouse. And so on.

     The overall consensus (if one omits the opinions of dictators and their beneficiaries) is that popular sovereignty is justifiable, whereas imposed government is not. However, these systems are not divided from one another by an impassable gulf. Indeed, the central question of all systems of popular sovereignty is how to keep them from degenerating into imposed governments, which they’ve shown a regrettable tendency to do over the centuries behind us.

     Strangely and ironically, this is also the most important question asked about anarchy.

***

Performance Is the Issue.

     Structural questions could validly be criticized as secondary. After all, “we” don’t erect a government because “we” expect it to grow to a certain size, or specifically because of the intrinsic value of constitutionalism, tradition, or oligarchic or monarchic rule. “We” do so because “we” expect it to provide us with certain services.

     The problem is that there’s a lot of variation concerning the services “we” want.

     The great majority of men would agree on the supreme importance of national defense and domestic justice. Most would agree on the high priority of public order and (properly circumscribed) the maintenance of a standard of public decency. A substantial subset would argue for “safety net” services, to prevent the corpses of the less fortunate from clogging up the streets. Others would clamor for the regulation of commerce, to insure that vendors’ offerings to the wider public will meet certain standards. A few would argue that the State ought to impose equal economic outcomes on all men, the supposed goal of Communism. And these are only the crudest observable divisions of opinion among us.

     A popular sovereignty must deal with these variations. It may choose to do so by majority rule, by apportionment, by rotation of power among the factions, by constitutional constraint, or other means, but it must deal with them. For practical purposes, it is impossible to have a polity in which all men are agreed on everything of public importance.

     The occasional praise heard for imposed governments, as for example “the best form of government is benevolent dictatorship — if you pick the right dictator,” is to the effect that these systems have sometimes maintained order — “quieted the factions” — and restrained their own excesses better than popular sovereignties. Indeed, in the early years of both Italian fascism and German National Socialism, much praise was lavished on both Mussolini and Hitler for imposing order on societies which had, according to the consensus of the time, become chaotic. Then there are modern autocracies such as Lee Kwan Yew’s Singapore, which advanced to the forefront of the Pacific community under his hard and unsparing hand. Despite his despotism, most Singaporeans regard him as the savior of their country.

     Even an anarchy would have to deal with such fragmentation of opinion at some level, for some groups would undoubtedly try to impose their desires on others, just as they do under all other schemes. Matters of property are where the most obvious occasions lie. In the absence of a State that defines property rights and the mechanisms for conveyance, what would prevent a sufficiently large and well armed group from expropriating anyone? In the wider view, how would we distinguish between legitimate defensive violence and illegitimate invasions of the rights of others?

     An anarchist must respond to such questions by refusing to answer them. But in what sort of context is acquiescence to such uncertainty, which most Americans would deem unacceptable, likely — or possible?

***

Possibilities And Plausibilities.

     To be thinkable in a particular context, anarchy would have to have a prospect of outperforming other political systems that might plausibly be applied to the same context. “Outperforming” has two facets:

  • Providing the services a dominant majority wants most urgently from its system;
  • Limiting the costs of participation in the system and the society that has adopted it.

     Believe it or not, all of political theory hinges on those two standards for evaluation. Political theory, like politics itself, is about the struggle for power: what sort of man will grope for it, what he’ll do or promise to get it, and how well or badly private citizens will tolerate what he does with it. Rights and rights theory, the fascinations of many who ponder politics and State action, are unimportant adjuncts to this set of dynamics. Though they’re often used to argue for alterations in the power structure, as a practical matter they would only influence the shape of the political system in times of true revolution, an event that’s become exceedingly rare.

     Political theory scholars call this the authoritarian allocation model. The phrase has two applications:

  1. The allocation of authority, backed by coercive force, to specific mechanisms within society;
  2. Authority’s allocation of licenses to particular individuals and groups.

     A license, of course, differs greatly from a right. It’s a frankly practical grant of legal latitude or property, made by political authority, to a particular licensee. The grant might be conditional. It can be withdrawn at any time. The licensee might have to pay for his license in some fashion. The whole affair might be accepted or opposed by other elements in society, with a huge range of possible results. Morality enters into it in no sense whatsoever. All that matters is whether the resulting alteration of the context is politically stable.

     Most Americans, even most who are deeply interested and involved in political thought, don’t reckon up the huge extent of licensure in our society. Only about a fifth of all government expenditures are for national defense or our domestic police-and-justice systems. The remainder is basically split between two functions: paying government employees and administering various schemes of licensure. Since licensure is an inverted “thou shalt not,” whereby non-licensees are forbidden to do the specified thing on pain of legal penalty, this amounts to a couple of trillion tax dollars per year being spent to reduce the freedom of American citizens.

     Two conclusions follow:

  • Americans could be a lot freer than they are, at least in theory.
  • If any significant fraction of government activity could be eliminated, and its cost returned to the citizenry, without upsetting an essential element of the national consensus, we’d be not merely freer but materially better off as well.

     Within this context, the question for the proponent of anarchy becomes: If the State were eliminated at this time, would the consequences, after some acceptable settling-out period, be better or worse in terms of Americans’ freedom, security, and the cost of the goods and services they desire?

     Always keep in mind that the anarchist does not have to guarantee Utopia; he merely has to assure an outcome better than the other systems that could be applied to the context.

***

The Alternatives And How They Might Be Approached.

     The generally low performance of the current American political system, as viewed by most freedom-oriented people, has given rise to much discussion of the available alternatives. The alternative most frequently discussed on the political Right is a return to strict constitutionalism, from which the country departed roughly ninety years ago.

     There’s no question that strict constitutionalism would outperform the current scheme. It did so for 125 years. No development this past century would invalidate the approach. But just as with anarchy, we must determine whether the constitutional system could be erected in our present context.

     This raises an important coordinated question: What does it mean to “return to strict constitutionalism”? Do we propose an incremental approach, peeling away State encroachments and usurpations one by one, or do we contemplate a drastic, all-at-once change and whatever consequences it would bring? In the first case, we wouldn’t really be proposing an outcome, but a process we expect to produce that outcome. In the second, we would be talking about a major disruption of the existing order, likely to cause great suffering over some settling-out interval whose duration and total casualty count would be very hard to predict.

     The major difficulty with incrementally restoring the strict constitutionalist system is the prevalence of interest groups. Each such group demands, and many receive, some special accommodation from the State. All such accommodations are anti-constitutional. Owing to ninety years of clever political maneuvering and the rise of an envy-based ethic of politics, virtually every American is a member of some such group. We are all robbing one another, through the agency of the State, and thinking that we’re coming out ahead.

     This irony gives rise to an appalling rigidity. Each of us would love to see everyone else lose his special accommodation. All of us fear to lose our own. For example, that standoff has kept an unbelievably complex, fundamentally unworkable and unfair system of income taxation in place for decades. Each of us agrees on the importance of eliminating the complexity of the system, but those who benefit from that complexity — the political class, the country’s highest earners, and the income tax preparation industry — are able to frighten us into submission by eliciting the fear that our own special subventions will be the ones to go, while everyone else gets to keep theirs.

     This makes an incremental reinvigoration of strict constitutionalism highly unlikely. The total overthrow of the system is actually more feasible. But the same is true for anarchy.

***

Impasse And Resolve.

     Despite the length of this essay, I’ve only scratched the surface of the subject. Anarchism has been advanced and defended by some very bright minds. Herbert Spencer, arguably the most penetrating political thinker of the Nineteenth Century, was of the opinion that one day, after centuries or millennia of social advance, the peoples of the world would throw off all government. Others, equally bright and passionate, have argued that the “necessary evil” of government arises from the flaws in human nature, and that a society which needed no government would be peopled by creatures we would not recognize as men.

     The central difficulty in comparing anarchy to any other proposed system of government is that it’s not a system of government at all, but the absence of one. At this point in the development of political and moral thought, very few persons can deal with a “system” whose only guarantee is that no man’s, and no group’s, assertion of the right to coerce others would be deemed legitimate, regardless of the reason. Our willingness to believe in human voluntary self-organization is too limited for that. So we continue to entertain concepts that implicitly grant legitimacy to the use of coercive force under certain conditions, by certain persons chosen by a certain process.

     He who endorses the necessity of government has a problem fully as difficult as the anarchist who claims that no government at all would be best: he must find a way to guarantee its performance. To this point, no scheme for doing so has been found.

     A good friend has suggested that in our present context, wherein some men are endlessly willing to coerce others, whether for a “good cause” or just for the hell of it, anarchy should be regarded as “the eternal loyal opposition:” the possibility that waits forever in the wings should we get just too disgusted with politics and government to continue them. From that perspective, the proper approach for the freedom-minded man is to turn the tables: to insist that all promoters of governmental schemes and seekers after the powers of the State somehow guarantee that their concepts would outperform anarchy. If they couldn’t do so, what reason would there be to trust them with power over us?

     One way or another, the discussion will continue.


Part 2: The Problem of Rights.

     The anarchist is never motivated by fundamentally utilitarian considerations. Even the great David Friedman, arguably the foremost anarcho-capitalist theorist now writing, who claims that the basis for his convictions is purely a matter of what works best, must at some point confront the question: “What do you mean by work?

     It’s insufficient to speak of economic efficiency. No one, however materially minded, would countenance a society in which all of us were rich at the expense of a single enslaved person who toiled to keep us that way.

     It’s insufficient to speak of a better adjusted production of public goods. Why are they “goods?” Why aren’t they “bads,” and how does one discriminate between the two?

     It’s insufficient to speak of a more objective or reliable administration of justice. You must first define justice, an enterprise with many traps and pitfalls. You must decide whether you’d prefer to defend a state of society, or a process with defined characteristics. Then you must tie your preference to a conception of rights.

***

     Anarchism, if it is to produce results preferable to those available from a limited government, appears to have some prerequisites:

  1. It requires a high and near-uniform degree of “buy-in.”
  2. To prevent the spawning of a new government, it requires a near-uniform distribution of lethal power.
  3. In keeping with the points above, it requires a near-uniform agreement on rights.

     There’s room for reasonable men to disagree about what would constitute sufficient unanimity of allegiance, or an adequately uniform distribution of the ability to wield force. However, under conditions of anarchy, the margin of tolerable dissent on what a right is and how it might justly be defended approaches zero.

***

     Regardless of all other considerations, there must be a definition for a right on which all participants will agree. The definition need not lay out a blueprint for discovering rights and discarding other sorts of claims, but it must delineate the objective distinction, as a society goes about its business, that it makes between accepted and rejected claims of rights. Only one definition fills the need:

A right is a claim whose acquisition or defense by force, up to and including lethal force, is accepted by the enveloping society.

     Thus, we have a bright line that divides accepted claims of rights from rejected ones. Society, acting through whatever mechanisms are available to it, will wield, or permit the individual to wield, lethal force to acquire or defend accepted rights. Conversely, it will wield, or permit the individual to wield, lethal force against claims it finds un-righteous.

     Rights theory, the body of thought that’s accumulated around the concept and its implementations, has three major outcroppings:

  1. Natural rights,
  2. Civil rights,
  3. Distributive rights.

     There are several disturbing conflicts among the consensuses in those three branches. For example, the Lockean natural rights scholium holds that the right to life is the source of all other just claims. From there, it elaborates a theory of property rights that’s logically inseparable from the right to life. However, starting from the very same right to life, the devotees of Distributivism, the tenets of which were first asserted in the nineteenth century by Proudhon and Louis Blanc, argue for a right to that which will sustain life — a claim which, if accepted, makes a hash out of all notions of property rights.

     Another irresolvable conflict arises when civil rights — those rights of procedure that obtain when one petitions government for some claim — fail to return the result that would objectively agree with natural or Distributive rights. For example, in the case of a jury trial, it is possible that the jury is swayed more powerfully by an attorney’s rhetoric than by the facts and merits of his case. Thus, it produces an unfair verdict, a miscarriage of justice. But the procedure itself is supposed to protect the rights of the parties to the controversy, whether civil or criminal, and indeed some procedure for settling incompatible claims must exist in any political order. To set it aside because of a specific verdict is to point a gun at the administration of justice.

     Things get messier when one considers neo-Distributivist theses such as that of John Rawls. Rawls is best known as the promoter of the Difference Principle, which asserts that gains that accrue to the best-off in society are only legitimate if they reduce the difference between the status of the best-off and that of the worst-off. Put another way, the elite shall not be permitted to profit as a group at the expense of the poor as a group. There’s absolutely no philosophical justification for such a stricture, yet it’s the practical premise of every social democracy on Earth. It makes individual claims of justice impossible to settle according to an objective standard, for a verdict that penalizes one man and rewards another might constitute a “gain to the best-off at the expense of the worst-off” counterbalanced by no other effect.

     For the purposes of achieving the necessary unanimity about rights, theory is worse than useless.

***

     The most enduring pragmatic conceptions of rights are:

  • What you can acquire and defend successfully (the “test of arms”),
  • What you can get away with (the “philosophy of power”).

     Their clarity and simplicity, however, is more apparent than real. Both neglect the element of time and those processes that require it for their development. Neither addresses the innate sense of justice, against which both would be pitted in an infinite number of cases.

     A third conception of rights originated with novelist Eric Harry, and appears in his novel Protect And Defend:

“Rights are an archist concept. Rights have no meaning except when confronted with superior power. They are what is left to the people after the government has taken all its wants. Your country’s Bill of Rights defines your most cherished freedoms how? By limiting the legal power of government to encroach upon them.”

     As the character arguing for this concept of rights is himself the leader of an anarchist uprising, one can easily discern the structure of thought behind it. In his view, rights are meaningless in a statist order, since whenever the State decides that our rights stand in its way, it will have the power to abridge them, and will do so to whatever degree it deems necessary.

     But there’s no need for a State to bring about massive, unopposable incursions upon rights in any formulation. All it takes is a gang with a coherent agenda and a preponderance of coercive force. That such a preponderance appears incompatible with one of anarchism’s other prerequisites does not guarantee that one wouldn’t arise of its own — especially since that’s how States arose in the first place.

***

     Under statist conditions, interest groups arise, formulate agendas, claim rights, and attempt to persuade the State to enforce them. Note that no interest group in America could enforce its will upon the country at large without the collaboration of the federal government. As matters stand, government’s overwhelming coercive power is indispensable to the creation of an assertive right — that is, a right whose fulfillment requires the active cooperation of others, rather than just their passive tolerance.

     Assertive rights don’t appear in the natural-rights formulation; indeed, they’re antithetical to it. But both civil rights and Distributive rights theorists allow them, and many, perhaps most, accept their existence. They’re frequently combined with theological exhortations of various kinds, such as the Christian doctrine that mandates charity toward the less fortunate. When they’ve been accepted widely enough, they become indistinguishable de facto from all other claims of rights.

     Anarchist theorists who hold to the natural-rights view see this as an argument in anarchism’s favor. They maintain that without the State to compel dissidents to bend to claims of assertive rights, such claims would get no consideration. But this is a case of affirming the consequent. The sole strong statement one could make is that, in the absence of a State, imposing assertive rights would require other coercive mechanisms. That doesn’t mean that such mechanisms would not become available.

     Political beliefs aren’t the only ones that guide human social behavior. Many are willing to put their private convictions above the pronouncements of political theory. How many free-market advocates have accepted government welfare or subsidies for one thing or another? How many nominally live-and-let-live types are incensed to the point of violence by drug abuse, prostitution, or pornography? Any such deviation from a strict Lockean ethic constitutes a willingness to abridge a defensive right in favor of an assertive one. Coercion-minded majorities have a way of forming around such positions.

     This makes it plain that the ability of a minority to resist such impositions is critical to the endurance of a Stateless society. But by definition, a minority is less numerous than the majority. Therefore, under uniform-distribution-of-force conditions, it will be less powerful, and possibly unable to resist a sufficiently large majority that’s convinced that justice is on its side.

     This is a problem for anarchist and limited-government advocates both, but it’s terribly unclear which system would come off better when powerful passions, such as that over drug abuse or abortion, rise to the top of society’s consciousness.

***

     The prospects for a convergence around a single conception of rights appear very poor. There’s no indication that a uniform understanding is possible through any of the logical paths put forward by rights theorists. There’s ample evidence that the incentives to seek rent from the political system, for instance by forming interest groups, are stronger than ever, certainly more than strong enough to divert politicians and jurists from pronouncing a State-mandated common code of rights. Though it sounds paradoxical, such an action by the State would be the best possible foundation for an anarchic future.

     Education is not the answer. Concepts of rights as we practice them have much more to do with the routines of ordinary human interaction, and the operation of our innate senses of justice and fellow-feeling, than with rights theory. Symmetry principles such as the Confucian and Golden Rules deserve more credit for our contemporary respect for rights, in any conception, than does any train of logic, Lockean, Rawlsian, or otherwise. In that sense, rights of any kind are an evolutionary product, a concomitant to other aspects of a society’s development. Though Americans pride themselves on our society’s respect for rights, and frequently point to that as the basis for our other achievements, it could well be more valid to say that our practical and material achievements are what make it possible to uphold any notion of rights.

     Evolution must be understood in the proper sense for this application. It doesn’t operate in a predictable or uniform fashion. How could it, when so many details of context affect what time will select for and what it will leave behind? If ideological evolution were deterministic despite context, the same conceptions of rights would have developed in Asia, Africa, and the Americas as emerged in Europe, but that was not the case. European ideas about rights, when they were imported to those other lands, were at violent odds with the prevailing beliefs there.

     Robert Axelrod has explored the evolution of rights-respecting behavior and has found it to be massively perturbed by slight changes in mores, or in the “profit margins” available through certain forms of antisocial action. Survival, and the protection of one’s family under difficult circumstances, will always trump any more abstract consideration.

     Since the prospects for acceptable anarchy are so tightly coupled to the prospects for a uniform understanding of rights, we must conclude that the preconditions for successful anarchy will not be met in the near or intermediate future. The dedicated anarchist can improve his chances of having the sort of political arrangements he prefers in one way only: getting away by himself, or perhaps with a bevy of the like-minded, where his convictions will be guaranteed to hold sway and his claims will be respected by his neighbors. Perhaps, when technology advances far enough to permit long-term-viable settlements on the other bodies in the Solar System, or perhaps in space itself, we will see anarchies of an attractive and enduring character. Don’t bet the rent on seeing them on crowded, quarrelsome, State-ridden Earth.

Further Symptoms Of Butkeritis-Induced Psychosis

     I believe this is called “living in their heads rent-free:”

     The Kansas City Star, a newspaper based in Kansas City, Missouri, ignited a fiery debate with its latest opinion piece, advocating for the Kansas City Chiefs to oust their star kicker, Harrison Butker, in favor of a female kicker.
     This radical suggestion follows Butker’s commencement speech at Benedictine College, which has drawn both acclaim and criticism.
     During the 2024 commencement ceremony at Benedictine, Butker took the podium with a robust defense of traditional values, emphasizing the dignity of life, the pivotal role of masculinity, and the sanctity of motherhood.
     His comments included critiques of Biden’s stance on abortion and gender identity issues, contrasting them sharply with traditional Catholic values.
     The editorial by Peter Hamm in the Kansas City Star didn’t just critique Butker’s “outdated” comments; it proposed a radical solution: replacing him with a female kicker.

     I love it. These…people are so lost in their fantasies, and so utterly unwilling to be contradicted, that they must “cancel” Butker and anathematize every word he said at a graduation ceremony at a small Catholic college!

     There are several factors at work here. First is the nature of Butker’s talk, which was utterly wholesome, entirely in line with Catholic doctrine on the sanctity of life. He emphasized the critical importance of marriage, motherhood, and family, a message diametrically opposed to the feminist cant that’s been slathered over young women from every major-media outlet. That alone would be enough to enrage the Left, even were it to come from a relative nonentity. But Harrison Butker is a star NFL football player. He has more reach, and commands more attention, than most commencement speakers. And to make matters worse – for the Left, that is – he walks it like he talks it. He’s the living embodiment of everything he said to those young graduates.

     The Left couldn’t let that go – not even at a small Catholic college. Butker must be destroyed! And so we’ve seen what’s followed.

     But they’re failing. They can rave and shriek, but they can’t bring him down.

     A moron at another site criticized Butker on the grounds that “women don’t like to be told how to live.” Geez, isn’t that what the feminists have been doing? Isn’t that what all the women’s talk shows have been doing? Isn’t that what Linda Hirshman did here?

     Women who want to have sex and children with men as well as good work in interesting jobs where they may occasionally wield real social power need guidance, and they need it early. Step one is simply to begin talking about flourishing. In so doing, feminism will be returning to its early, judgmental roots. This may anger some, but it should sound the alarm before the next generation winds up in the same situation. Next, feminists will have to start offering young women not choices and not utopian dreams but solutions they can enact on their own. Prying women out of their traditional roles is not going to be easy. It will require rules — rules like those in the widely derided book The Rules, which was never about dating but about behavior modification.
     There are three rules: Prepare yourself to qualify for good work, treat work seriously, and don’t put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry.

     It’s impossible to satirize the Left any longer. Leftists are all but uniformly caricatures. Nothing makes it more evident than when someone dares to differ with them, especially about such trivia as the sanctity of life and the overwhelming importance of marriage and family. In a way, it’s for the best. After all, if they weren’t constantly screaming Stalinist cant from their media perches, we might forget how vile they are.

Support Transparency In Government!

     Is further comment required?

Births And Rebirths

     Happy Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. On this day two millennia ago, the Apostles were granted the gift of the Holy Spirit, which emboldened and equipped them for the mission with which Christ had charged them:

     Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.
     And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

     [Matthew 28:16-20]

     Christ’s final promise to His Apostles was that He would send the Holy Spirit to them, that they might fulfill that mission. That promise was kept ten days after His Ascension. That was also how the Apostles finally gained the courage to leave their refuge and begin their public ministry.

     They needed courage. They had seen Him crucified. Were they to reveal themselves as His Apostles, would not the same fate befall them? And indeed, all but one of the Apostles were martyred in the course of their ministry. Only John, youngest of the Twelve, escaped that fate.

     And two millennia later, we confront a new age of disdain for Christ’s teachings and persecution of those who follow Him. It sometimes seems we have learned nothing from our trials and the sorrows of our forebears. But our enemies have learned something. They no longer crucify. Today they wield weapons far more formidable: ridicule and deceit.

***

     We were warned:

     Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. [Matthew 5:11-12]

     You don’t need to look very hard, or very far, to see that Christ spoke truly. Some of the abuse even comes from within our own number. Note what’s happened to Harrison Butker. You’ve heard about the talk he gave at Benedictine College’s graduation ceremony, haven’t you? Well, just in case you haven’t:

     I didn’t know the first thing about Butker before the contretemps over that talk erupted on the Web:

  • I didn’t know he’s an NFL placekicker;
  • I didn’t know he has two Super Bowl rings;
  • I didn’t know he’s a Catholic, or a married man, or the father of two children.

     Today I know all those things, and that he’s an admirable speaker as well. I also know this: he is currently experiencing exactly what Christ predicted:

     Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

     Do a Google search on Butker’s name. He’s been attacked from every point of the compass. His employer, the Kansas City Chiefs, is being attacked. His wife is being attacked. Benedictine College is being attacked for inviting him to give his talk. Perhaps worst of all, an order of supposedly Catholic nuns – indeed, the order that co-founded Benedictine College – has attacked his talk as “divisive:”

     The sisters of Mount St. Scholastica do not believe that Harrison Butker’s comments in his 2024 Benedictine College commencement address represent the Catholic, Benedictine, liberal arts college that our founders envisioned and in which we have been so invested.
     Instead of promoting unity in our church, our nation, and the world, his comments seem to have fostered division. One of our concerns was the assertion that being a homemaker is the highest calling for a woman. We sisters have dedicated our lives to God and God’s people, including the many women whom we have taught and influenced during the past 160 years. These women have made a tremendous difference in the world in their roles as wives and mothers and through their God-given gifts in leadership, scholarship, and their careers.
     Our community has taught young women and men not just how to be “homemakers” in a limited sense, but rather how to make a Gospel-centered, compassionate home within themselves where they can welcome others as Christ, empowering them to be the best versions of themselves. We reject a narrow definition of what it means to be Catholic. We are faithful members of the Catholic Church who embrace and promote the values of the Gospel, St. Benedict, and Vatican II and the teachings of Pope Francis.
     We want to be known as an inclusive, welcoming community, embracing Benedictine values that have endured for more than 1500 years and have spread through every continent and nation. We believe those values are the core of Benedictine College.

     I could hardly have believed it, were it not an official, public statement from the Daughters of St. Scholastica. That it misstates Butker’s speech in the sole objective criticism it makes is merely icing on an already distasteful cake. Clearly, that order of nuns has “gone woke.”

     Isabelle Butker stands staunchly behind her husband. You can read about her at several places on the Web. Her faith is as joyous as his, and just as undisguised:

     Much like Harrison, Isabelle was also a college athlete, playing women’s basketball at Rhodes College in Tennessee. According to her player bio, Isabelle played in 26 games and averaged seven minutes per game.”
     During his controversial speech, Harrison revealed that Isabelle converted to Catholicism after she began dating him. “I had a moment one day where I was asking God, you know, ‘OK, can you just show me what is the right path? Do I go this way or do I go with what Harrison’s doing? And it was weird in that moment, I actually felt like I was physically being embraced,’” Isabelle shared in a May 2019 interview with EWTN. “And we were at Mass at the time, and that was kind of the moment when I decided, ‘I want to be Catholic. This is real, this is the truth.’”
     Harrison and Isabelle tied the knot in 2018. “I will continue to pray for the strength and perseverance to sacrifice for you everyday [sic] of our marriage,” Harrison captioned photos from their big day via X in April 2018. “I love you Izzy!”
     The couple went on to welcome their son, James, in January 2019, followed by their daughter, whose birthday and name have not been publicly revealed. The couple are currently expecting their third child.

     The Butkers stand above all of the Sturm und Drang. They have something their attackers don’t: the gift the Apostles received on that first Pentecost, two millennia ago. In every individual who prays for and receives that gift, the Church is reborn.

***

     I’ll say it again, and in large font so that there’s no mistaking it:

We don’t need governments.
We need Christ.

     That’s what Harrison Butker and Isabelle have: a genuine, undisguised, Holy-Spirit-powered faith and the courage to live and proclaim it.

     What do their detractors have? What do they have to show that compares at all to the Butkers’ unconcealed joy in their marriage, their children, or their faith? What if they were to succeed in destroying him utterly? What joy would that bring them? Wouldn’t they just go hunting for new victims – more of Christ’s people to denigrate and destroy?

     C. S. Lewis called them “those who have not joy.” He was quite accurate in that, possibly more so than even he knew. Their pleasures come from destruction, like the apotheoses of O’Brien’s vision in 1984:

     “The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy everything. Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — for ever.”

     If you ever yearned to know toward what end, what ultimate satisfaction, the enemies of Christ are aimed, there it is. The label doesn’t matter. Socialist? Communist? Humanist? Atheist? Pagan? Satanist? Muslim? Environmentalist? Feminist? They all have that one thing in common: they want absolute and unbounded power over you: what you do, what you say, even what you think. Because it’s the firmest barrier against them, they hate the Church that was born on the Pentecost. And they will do anything whatsoever, including things no decent man could imagine, to tarnish and damage it.

***

     Today of all days, let the Church be reborn in you. Profess Christ. Embrace Him and His Gospel. Denominational differences fade in importance if you can do that one indispensable thing. For as He said to the Pharisees:

     “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” [Matthew 22:37-40]

     Let the Pentecost come upon you as it came upon the Apostles two millennia ago. And may God bless and keep you all.

We were right, and they were lying

Why yes, the National Institute of Health, led by Little Fascist Fauci, did fund gain of function research in Wuhan.

At this point, nobody should be shocked by this. I mean, after finding out that the US had upwards of 28 bio-labs in Ukraine?

Oops, not 28 biolabs, it’s FORTY SIX.

In a just world, Little Fascist Fauci, Peter Dazak, Francis Collins and everyone who had a hand in the creation of Covid-19 would be hanging from lamp-posts all up and down Pennsylvania Ave in D.C.

Remember, the difference between a conspiracy theory and the truth is about six months. We were right. They were lying.

To Prevent November Surprise

     Read the following two articles. They’ll provide you with all you need to know:

     Joseph R. Biden could not win an honest election for dogcatcher. (Watch for “revelations” that he was elected dogcatcher in his hometown at a record early age, and with the highest number of votes ever tallied.) He’s been revealed to be a purveyor of anti-American policies, a corruptocrat of the first echelon, a serial liar, a pedophile who molested his own daughter, the chief enabler of his drug-addicted son, and a dementia sufferer who must be led around by his wife even to find a men’s room. All of this is now a matter of public record, despite the mainstream media’s fervent attempts to keep it secret.

     Yet there’s a good chance that Biden will win re-election. David Krayden’s article enumerates what his campaign must do for him…and with him. From Gabe Kaminsky’s article, we learn that his handlers will add the powers of the federal government to those of Democrat-controlled Boards of Election nationwide to see to it. Moreover, there are vote-control tactics the Democrats are likely to use in November that were used lightly if at all in 2020.

     The serial destructions wrought by the Obama and Biden regimes are now plain to every American adult. The Democrats’ future is on the line – and they know it. If they lose in November, they could well be kept out of federal power for the next fifty years.

     Krayden remains optimistic:

     Americans wised up long ago to these already stale tactics and aren’t going to be taken again. They aren’t listening to MSNBC or the daily comedy skit hosted by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. They know the jig is up and it is damn apparent to them that Joe Biden should not be running for city council, let alone the presidency. Americans might be at the mercy of a deliberately debilitating open border; might be crushed by over $34 trillion of debt; and might be on the precipice of economic catastrophe.
     But they are going to have a free election and they are going to exercise their democratic rights.
     They won’t relinquish that, not yet anyway.

     I wish I could feel that way.

***

     I’m of two minds about the upcoming elections…no, make that three. On one hand, I’d like to see the Democrats expelled en masse from any and every position of public trust in these United States. It’s the mildest outcome they’ve earned. (As for what I really want to happen to them, maybe we shouldn’t go there. After all, I’d like to see it happen to the entire Establishment political class, regardless of the letter that follows their names. The nation was a lot more civilized when we had public hangings and “he needed killin’” was an accepted defense to a charge of murder.) On the other hand, I’ve lost all my faith in the ability of elected officials to prevail over the immense unelected “deep state” mechanisms that actually exercise power over us de facto. And on the gripping hand – thank you, Niven and Pournelle, for that useful motif – I no longer accept the validity of government itself. Show me a man fit to be a king, and I’ll follow him. Otherwise, mind your own business.

     It’s a heavy clash to resolve. Yes, I want to see Trump win and the Republicans recapture firm control of Congress. And I don’t think it will matter much if they do. And my ultimate druthers are to see the whole cancerous mess excised, thrown into a roaring fire, and replaced by…nothing.

     What, then, must we do?

     The best we can. Only that.

***

     There’s no way to an improved society that doesn’t start with improved individuals. I’ve written about this before. I’ve talked it up as widely as I could. People mostly shrug it off. “Too slow,” they say. “We want results now.

     But reality is indifferent to our preferences. A nation half-populated by the useless, the whiny, and the openly destructive is not a nation that can be swiftly or easily put on its proper course. The way we are today, God could send His own angels to govern us, and it would make no difference whatsoever.

     The true, all but intractable problem before us is that half-nation of useless, whiny, destructive types. Changes of government will not reform them. They will not reform themselves spontaneously. Nor is it likely that decent Americans can reform them against their wills.

     In the near term, they must be nullified. In the longer term, we must outnumber and outlast them. Neither course will be easy, inexpensive, or painless. And with that bit of melancholy, I’m off to other chores.

The Grinding Of The Axes

     If you enjoy theological and spiritual reading, as I do, you’re likely to run across the occasional dubious statement in the work of some writer overly ardent for his Cause. Religious writers have their agendas, as do we all. Occasionally their eagerness to advance those agendas moves them to say something that’s not quite right…and at other times, to distort an important part of history or Church teachings. Consider the following:

     Now we all know the harm and very serious results of anger. There is no example that makes clearer its ruinous effects than the Crucifixion of Our Lord… [from Rooting Out Hidden Faults]

     Does anyone really think the Sanhedrin wanted Christ crucified, and that the Roman occupation force executed Him, because they were angry at Him? He was a threat to their power, which was founded on the maintenance of Judaic orthodoxy. From the records, Pontius Pilate, the Roman executive who ordered the Crucifixion, did so to placate the Sanhedrin, whose cooperation was vital to maintaining Roman control of Judea. Anger had nothing to do with it.

     Yes, an uncontrolled propensity to anger is a fault, but let’s keep the records straight. Let’s not distort history in service to some unrelated agenda. What’s next? Opposing Christ’s teachings because they’d cost us votes? Oh, wait…

When You Cannot Argue

     “The fascists cannot argue, so they kill.” – Victor Marguerite

     The Left discovered some time ago that its ideas are incapable of prevailing against the evidence. Of course, an idea that requires us to dismiss or deny the evidence is always going to have a few little problems in debate. But that doesn’t unduly discourage the Left. It simply resorts to violence and intimidation.

     In political matters, that started some time ago. It became nationally visible in January 2017, when Donald Trump was inaugurated as president. It hasn’t slackened since then.

     The signs are accumulating that the many “protests” being whipped up on university campuses have elicited mainly disgust from decent persons. With that disgust has come a willingness to see those “protests” suppressed by force. That’s all to the good. However, the Left has decided to play the intimidation card:

     Anti-Israel masked men arrived at the homes of University of Michigan Board of Regents members before dawn on Wednesday to protest and demand the adoption of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) policies, according to the university and the regents.
     Regent Jordan B. Acker said on social media that “masked intruders” came to the door of his family residence, demanding the defunding of police. He expressed concern for the safety of his daughters, who were sleeping at the home.
     “This form of protest is not peaceful. Public officials should not be subject to this sort of intimidating conduct, and this behavior is unacceptable from any Michigan community member,” Acker wrote on X on Wednesday. “I will not be intimidated. In the wake of the 2020 election, public officials here in Michigan were subjected to threats from mobs of election deniers who engaged in similar conduct.”
     Regent Sarah Hubbard said that at dawn, a group of around thirty protesters came to her home on Wednesday and erected tents, and according to the university, placed fake corpses wrapped in bloodied sheets on her lawn.
     “Protesting at a public official’s private residence is unacceptable and will not move their cause forward in a satisfactory manner,” Hubbard stressed.
     She said the protesters used bullhorns, drums, and chants to disrupt the peace of her neighborhood and taped a list of demands to her front door.

     The University of Michigan is a state-chartered and state-supported institution. As such, harassment or attacks aimed at its regents constitute attacks on public officials. Thus the “protesters” have committed felonies under the laws of the State of Michigan and the United States. That’s why they were masked, of course. Such brave folks.

     Nevertheless, the message to Acker and Hubbard was clear: We can make your lives miserable. And in truth, they can. Unless the Michigan State Police provide round-the-clock security to them and their families, their immediate future will likely be unpleasant.

     There’s no deep meaning here. These incidents merely make plain that the Left in this country has no boundaries. It will flout all standards of decency in pursuit of its goals. Inasmuch as the “protesters” have the initiative, and therefore the choice of where and when to strike, merely playing defense is well-nigh impossible.

     It’s imperative to counterattack, but how? Without the identities of these “protesters,” how is anyone to visit consequences upon them? Can the University of Michigan compel them to display their faces when in public? If not, what are decent persons to do?

     One thing is clear: once the intimidation tactic has been deployed, argument is pointless. Not that there ever was much point in arguing with Leftists.

Power Positions

     Whether you’re writing exposition, opinion, or fiction, you want your prose to have power. There are a number of maxims about this, for example the dictum to prefer the active voice and strong, active verbs. Another is the advice to avoid overdecorating your sentences with modifiers and subordinate clauses – i.e., to let your chief nouns and verbs “do the work.” But another that’s often overlooked is respect for the power positions in your sentences, paragraphs, and scenes.

     In prose structures, the positions of greatest impact come at the end. In a way, this capitalizes on the reader’s tendency to hold most tightly to the last thing he reads. A sentence whose Sunday punch comes at the end is more likely to make the reader sit up and take notice. The same is true of a paragraph or a fictional scene.

     Another way of exploiting the end of a paragraph or scene is to make your final sentence brief. Brevity, coupled with strong sentence structure, enhances impact considerably. Consider this sentence, which comes at the end of a lengthy paragraph laden with assertions of troubling facts:

     The rule of law has drifted away from the rule of fact.

     Wham! That’s from the introduction to Peter Huber’s book Galileo’s Revenge: Junk Science in the Courtroom. Huber, an engineer who’s also a lawyer, hits the reader right between the eyes with that gem. It states the thesis of his book with maximum concision.

     Have another example, from a novel I edited for a friend some time ago. (No, you haven’t read it.) Serbian terrorists are attempting to penetrate a Croatian maximum-security prison:

     “Why wasn’t my ID badge checked at the front door, Sergeant? We practically walked right in here! Is this what you call a secured area? Where is your senior officer?” Divac scowled angrily. The sergeant looked over the colonel’s shoulder and cast an evil scowl at the corporal.
     “He’s below. In the vault, sir,” came the NCO’s reply.
     The sergeant moved aside as the colonel stepped past him. Divac whirled, put the silencer to the base of the sergeant’s skull and ended his watch with a single round.
     A nod to Usov, and the Serb slammed and locked the door behind him.
     They were in.

     The sentences get shorter and punchier to the end of the passage, amplifying the impact of the action described.

     This practice takes practice. Early in a writer’s odyssey, he’s apt to overlook opportunities of this sort. That’s especially the case for those of us who tend to overwrite. The best countermeasure is criticism from more experienced writers, coupled to a willingness to rewrite.

     If you have something important to say or a good story to tell – you do, don’t you? – making maximum use of the power positions in your prose is a good way to make it memorable…and, hopefully, convincing. Otherwise, why write at all?

Of Suppositions And Purple

     [I’m very tired, and the news is so monochromatically bleak that I can see no point in commenting on it. I did find one interesting article from Roger Kimball a few days back, but it’s long, dense, and deserves more time and thought than I’ve had available, so for now please read it and form your own conclusions. I promise to address it eventually.
     For now, “enjoy,” if that’s the right word, the following tirade I first posted in September 2017 at Liberty’s Torch V1.0. Apologies to poet Jenny Joseph, who I’m sure only meant well. And yes, I did do most of the things described below, at some point after I decided – oh, most reluctantly, I assure you – that I was “old.” — FWP]


     I’m beginning to wonder if I’m turning into “one of them.” You know, the old folks who seemingly can’t shut up, particularly the subvariety that expresses itself on the Web compulsively, on any and every imaginable subject. I’ve known others like that. They seem animated by consciousness that their time on Earth is running out. They fear that they might die with something left unsaid…perhaps by anyone ever.

     Well, if so, then so be it. I am what I am, to quote America’s most famous sailor. (I’m told God said something along those lines to Job, too.) Anyway, there are far too many developments and phenomena that deserve to be observed and commented on for me to slacken off now. I mean, it might be a cushy job, but someone has to do it.

***

Warning

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

[Jenny Joseph]

     The above poem gave rise to a social phenomenon: The Red Hat Society, which numbers over 40,000 local clubs throughout the English-speaking world. Though I’ve been familiar with the poem for quite a long time, I learned of the Red Hat Society and its satellite clubs just yesterday. The occasion was dinner out with the C.S.O.

     Well, of course it was because a chapter of the Red Hat Society was present at our chosen restaurant! I drew the C.S.O.’s attention to the table full of purple-garbed, red hatted ladies, and she informed me about the Society, its thousands of clubs, and her opinion that it was a rather superficial treatment of the sentiments in Jenny Joseph’s poem.

     But what are those sentiments? Clearly it’s not a sartorial prescription. Neither is it a sneer at society’s exhortations and conventions, at least as they apply to younger folks. The exhortations conduce to our individual betterment. They do, you know: Get your first serve in, don’t draw to an inside straight, do unto others and then run like hell…but I digress. The conventions help to preserve a state of public peace in which we can generally trust that we won’t be knifed, gang-raped, or besieged by life insurance salesmen on the way to the corner store for milk.

     It’s been on my mind intermittently since yesterday at the restaurant. It will probably be there for a while longer.

***

     There’s a dimension of latitude that comes to some of us with age. It would be a mislabeling to call it “freedom;” typically, an individual is just as free before he turns decrepit as afterward. It’s more about the lessening of some of one’s personal inhibitions. Other people’s opinions of us and our choices matter less. We no longer worry as much about “setting a good example for the children,” whether our own or those of other parents. Some of us get a little careless about a few things – vocabulary, associations, flirtations, certain indulgences we carefully limited in our younger years – and become rather insouciant about them.

     It’s certainly that way with me. (Send $20.00 and a stamped, self-addressed envelope for the details.) As I look a bit younger than I actually am, I draw a fair number of dubious looks and disapproving comments for it. My usual response to those bothered by my little ways is to shrug, smile, and say “Too bad for you!”

     Here’s an example: I sing along with the music in retail establishments, at least if I know the tune and the words. I can carry a tune, and I’m told my voice is decent, so I get some pleasure out of hearing something I know from years ago and joining in. The way other shoppers look at me is often enough to blister paint. Now and then, one will actually approach and upbraid me for it.

     The last time someone dared to castigate me about that practice, I waited until she’d run down, smiled, and said, “Suppose I’d been a black teen with a boom box, playing that garbage they call ‘rap music’ at pain-threshold levels. Would you have approached him?” Needless to say, there was no reply, so I tipped my nonexistent cap, wished her a pleasant afterlife, and passed on…still singing. It was refreshing.

     However, if you have a voice like a frog with a man stuck in his throat and can’t carry a tune with a forklift, you might want to suppress the habit. For the children, don’t y’know. Also, honesty compels me to admit that most of the retail establishments I’ve patronized in recent years now play the most godawful repetitive techno crap on their PA systems. No words, barely a recognizable tune, and it never BLEEP!ing changes or ends. More than coincidence? Your Curmudgeon reports; you decide.

***

     If there’s a theme to the above, it would be that other people’s suppositions about you are not binding. There are limits – no fondling the unwilling, no writing graffiti on other people’s fences, and for the love of God, aim before you spit and spit accurately! – but they’re looser than most think.

     So what if you’re sixty-five and look like the “before” side of a weight-loss commercial? Go to Carvel anyway. (Buy a six-pack of Flying Saucers. Buy two; you’ll get 25% off. It’s a real bargain.) How much longer do you have to enjoy what life has to offer? And do you really think your equally decrepit wife will regard you more amorously if you lose the potgut? Get serious.

     So what if “they” say that anime is only for kids? Order a set of xxxHolic and enjoy them. They actually have a lot to say, and the banter among the characters will remind you a great deal about young rivalries and young love.

     So what if “they” say a mature man who buys a red Corvette convertible is out to make a fool of himself? Flip ‘em the bird and buy the damned thing while you can still get into and out of it. Alternately, say “At least I’ll be doing it to myself. Who botched the job on you?” And make sure to wear a propeller beanie when you drive it with the top down.

     The above was written with absolutely no idea in mind…except purple.

Additions to Ace’s Skepticism

Disinformation Expert Ace posted the following: Biden “Accepts” Offer to Debate, With Special Conditions to Protect Biden; Trump, for Some Lunatic Reason, Accepts His Terms.

After each of the news items he offered up bits of doubt, sarcasm and skepticism. For instance

  • Your first offer is accepted without reservations! This guy wrote The Art of the Deal?
  • I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Chris Wallace did a lot to hurt Trump. The leftwing media is salivating to do that again, even harder this time.
  • Trump doesn’t even need these debates — Biden needs them. So Trump had all the leverage to set terms.
  • Instead, he let Biden set the terms. Trump will be debating CNN, CBS, and Telemundo more than Biden. They won’t let Trump engage with Biden and will answer on behalf of Biden at every turn.

So I posted my added observations that the gentle readers of Liberty’s Torch have seen portions of before.

223 In what ways exactly has Trump demonstrated he’s not a member of the Uniparty? He’s disappointed normals so many times that this is a legitimate question. As it stands he’s been the ruling class’ solution to open rebellion (there remains very many not yet fallen who still have it too good) in that “just one more time and we will finally reestablish rule of law working and stability returned.”

Yeah sure. Ever since Trump arrived on the scene the one thing truly accomplished was making the TEA Party movement a distant memory. Who did THAT help most?

European aristocrats used to war against each other and it was the peons whose blood was shed. How is the antiTrumpian war any different?

Trump looks like the answer. And W looked like the answer to Gore and Kerry.

Hmm. Scripture says not to put our trust in idols. Just maybe forgetting that has been and remains the problem.

Many may dismiss this as if it’s a recommendation for a Biden vote. No, it’s a way of pointing out how many of us know that we haven’t really been provided a legitimate choice via ballot box. What? How can I say that? Well, let me add this for a reminder that the status quo has not changed and neither party has acknowledged it.

Neither party has rectified it by bringing the culprits to justice.

Tolerable Diversity, Mandatory Unity

     That shibboleth word “diversity” just might have had its day. The myriad examples of what happens when a government attempts to compel “diversity” upon an institution or a society make it fairly plain that the notion is toxic. Resistance to such compulsion is mounting and will soon become insuperable.

     It’s been the case for some time that the sort of “diversity” its promoters seek to impose on us has no intrinsic value. What do we actually get – what benefit do we derive – from being forced to endure the company of “diverse” others? I’m not talking about “net” benefit here. Anyone who can present me with a clear benefit of any sort, even if it’s heavily outweighed by the detriments that come with it, is invited to do so.

     There have been no “diverse” societies that have enjoyed social harmony. Whether the “diversity” involved was racial, ethnic, linguistic, creedal, or any other sort, all have been accompanied by strife. Such societies often destroy themselves through internal conflict over the very divisions that make them “diverse.” Ours might do so yet.

     This presses upon us the question of what kind of “diversity” we can tolerate, and how much of it.

***

     The Peace of Westphalia, a term that comprises a series of treaties worked out in the early Seventeenth Century, is regarded by most historians as the origin of the modern nation-state. Those treaties ended two wars and recognized the dissolution of a failed continent-wide pseudo-state: the Holy Roman Empire. The ending of those wars and the termination of the Empire are regarded as the motivating forces behind the Peace. Yet it had a more significant impact that only came to be appreciated later on: it ended the religious wars that had ravaged Europe for more than a century.

     The core idea that ended armed religious conflict in Europe was – strange as it may seem to a modern reader – the precept that the sovereign over a nation-state should have sole jurisdiction over what religions may be taught and practiced in his realm: Cuius regio, eius religio. That halted the strife that had followed the Protestant Schism that followed Martin Luther’s publication of his “95 Theses” in 1517.

     What’s particularly interesting about those wars is that they were wars between Christian sects. Armies clashed and blood flowed over rituals and modest differences in theology. Yet all those Christians professed the same core faith, founded on the Two Great Commandments, the Ten Commandments of the Book of Exodus, and the teachings of Christ. For them to kill one another over their differences was insane.

     A heightened degree of peace prevailed in Europe for about a century and a half after the Westphalia treaties. Whether those treaties were the reason, or whether it was more a matter of sovereigns consolidating their control of their realms, is open to dispute. Despite the wars prosecuted by Louis XIV of France and Frederick II of Prussia, overall Europe knew a degree of stability that had eluded it for centuries.

     Napoleon shattered that peace, but after his defeat at Waterloo, the Congress of Vienna succeeded in reinstituting a prevailing degree of peace that lasted for a century. Yes, the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 marred it, as did the Crimean War that denied the Russian Empire access to the Black Sea. Yet until the outbreak of World War I in 1914, peace was otherwise prevalent throughout Christian Europe.

***

     There were some non-Christian minorities in Christian Europe during those intervals of peace. A small population of Muslims remained in southeastern Europe after King Jan Sobieski III defeated the Ottomans at Vienna. And of course there was a small European Jewish population as well. Those minorities were not troublesome or restive. They accepted their status and the prevailing norms.

     Europe’s acceptance of large-scale immigration from the Muslim Middle East and Muslim North Africa began in the late 1960s. It has completely destabilized European society. The major destabilizing influence is creedal: Islam is an aggressive, imperialistic creed that seeks to dominate the whole world. Where Islam goes, strife follows; it’s part of the creed’s dictates to its adherents that they will be at war with all other faiths until only Islam remains.

     Until about 1965 the great nations of North America, Canada and the United States, knew social stability and peace. But those nations, like the nations of Europe, have opened their gates too widely. Populations previously mostly European and Christian have begun to experience the tensions that accompany an Islamic influx. Whether coincidentally or otherwise, the start of large-scale Negro unrest in the U.S. and the start of large-scale illegal immigration to both countries also date to 1965. The prevailing ethical norms of both nations – Christian in both cases – came under assault, especially as regards public conduct. Little to nothing has been done to check the accompanying disorder.

     Yet these First-World nations, previously beacons of peace and prosperity to the world, have been barraged by propaganda to the effect that these disruptive influxes and influences are somehow to their betterment. “Diversity” is promoted as an absolute good and an end in itself. The resulting disharmony and disorder are therefore not weighed against it.

***

     When we hear or read creed, our natural reaction is to think religion. That’s both understandable and, in the majority of cases, appropriate. But societies have creeds of more than one kind. The one that determines whether it will enjoy relative social peace is its creed of public ethics.

     Over the two millennia behind us, societies’ ethical creeds have largely been derived from their dominant religions. Thus, in the First World nations of Europe and North America, an ethical creed derived from Christianity prevailed until recently in historical terms. That creed emphasizes non-violence, respect for property rights, general honesty, and fidelity to promises. Suffice it to say that a far different standard – or non-standard – for behavior has risen to challenge it. In consequence, our society is ever less stable and ever less safe.

     The correlation between population movements and the deterioration of social peace is striking, so persuasive as to be all but irrefutable. Yet populations have changed places before this without bringing about great social disruptions. What’s different this time is the refusal of the influxes to conform to the prevailing ethical norms. They bring with them creeds that dismiss the previous norms; creeds that tell them that self-assertion, regardless of the consequences, is their “right.”

     Other correlations remain to be examined: race, ethnicity, average intelligence, average propensity to aggression, and so forth. But the creedal connection, and the disorder that arises from dismissing the creed, is sufficient for today.

The Catastrophists Ride Again

     Say, does anyone else remember Eric Pianka?

     On March 2, 3, and 4 of this year, the Texas Academy of Sciences held its annual conclave, at which it awarded a certain Eric Pianka, a biologist at the University of Texas, with its Distinguished Texas Scientist Award. Whatever Dr. Pianka’s achievements as a researcher or educator might be, they were overshadowed, for the moment at least, by his proposition that 90% of the human race must die:

     “Every one of you who gets to survive has to bury nine,” Eric Pianka cautioned students and guests at St. Edward’s University on Friday. Pianka’s words are part of what he calls his “doomsday talk” — a 45-minute presentation outlining humanity’s ecological misdeeds and Pianka’s predictions about how nature, or perhaps humans themselves, will exterminate all but a fraction of civilization.

     Though his statements are admittedly bold, he’s not without abundant advocates. But what may set this revered biologist apart from other doomsday soothsayers is this: Humanity’s collapse is a notion he embraces.

     Indeed, his words deal, very literally, on a life-and-death scale, yet he smiles and jokes candidly throughout the lecture. Disseminating a message many would call morbid, Pianka’s warnings are centered upon awareness rather than fear.

     “This is really an exciting time,” he said Friday amid warnings of apocalypse, destruction and disease. Only minutes earlier he declared, “Death. This is what awaits us all. Death.” Reflecting on the so-called Ancient Chinese Curse, “May you live in interesting times,” he wore, surprisingly, a smile.

     So what’s at the heart of Pianka’s claim?

     6.5 billion humans is too many.

     In his estimation, “We’ve grown fat, apathetic and miserable,” all the while leaving the planet parched.

     The solution?

     A 90 percent reduction.

     That’s 5.8 billion lives — lives he says are turning the planet into “fat, human biomass.” He points to an 85 percent swell in the population during the last 25 years and insists civilization is on the brink of its downfall — likely at the hand of widespread disease.

     “[Disease] will control the scourge of humanity,” Pianka said. “We’re looking forward to a huge collapse.”

     That was an in-your-face endorsement of killing off 90% of Mankind. Pianka got a fair amount of notice out of it. Yet he was far from the first. I could name names. Sometimes I do. But for this morning, our attention will go to this…person:

     The kindest possible interpretation of McGuire’s tweet isn’t particularly kind. On the one hand: “catastrophic climate breakdown.” On the other: “culling of the human population by a pandemic with a very high fatality rate.” Do you really think McGuire hasn’t stated a preference here?

     This time around, the death cultist got his ass kicked. A few of McGuire’s fellow-travelers told him that they sympathized, they thought he’d been “misinterpreted,” but that he should delete his tweet anyway. You mustn’t wave the Cult’s flag too openly, Bill…yet.

     The sentiments of such persons are as black as the flag they wave.

***

     Time was, there was a lapel button, or a bumper sticker:

I Love Mankind.
It’s People I Can’t Stand.

     It was worth a chuckle, back then. Persons sporting it plainly didn’t mean it. People who really hate people are the luckiest people in the world… whoops! Apologies, Gentle Reader. I had a momentary attack of Streisand. I meant to say that they’re exceedingly rare. Even those who routinely posture as misanthropes for public purposes are nearly always going for the laughs, nothing more. Even an isolate like me is a social creature who must have some people contact to remain healthy… though it often consists solely of cursing at other motorists while embedded in Long Island traffic.

     Death Cultists aren’t like that. They’re a subcategory of Cause People. While their Cause is a little strange, they believe in it just as sincerely as the Nuke The Gay Whales For Jesus activists. Moreover, they mean to make you participate, like it or not.

     Pascal and I go on about this a bit. I’ve even compiled a few essays on the subject into a book. But we’re serious, as is the Death Cult phenomenon and those who partake in it. Dismiss them at your peril.

     That’s all for this morning. I may be back later with something more cheerful. Until then, enjoy your day. Reflect on the chagrin of Saint Matthias the Apostle whose feast day this is. While Matthias professed to be honored by being selected, he could not help but know that he had been chosen just to “make it a good Round Dozen.

Motherhood

     As virtually everyone in the Western Hemisphere knows by now, yesterday was Mothers’ Day, a holiday celebrated by mothers, grandmothers, greeting-card vendors, and Hallmark stockholders throughout the land. Why Mom gets only a single day, while Negroes and sexual deviants get a month each and governments get all of us year after year, I cannot say. But then, Dad gets only one day as well, so perhaps someone somewhere – a faceless, nameless figure whose gloved hands rest lightly on the levers of power – made a policy decision long ago and no one alive knows how to repeal it.

     Well, anyway. It struck me with peculiar force this morning that while yesterday was Mothers’ Day, today is Fatima Day:

     In 1917, World War I was raging across the length and breadth of Europe. Millions had already died; millions more would follow. The flower of European manhood would fall to the war and to the influenza pandemic that followed. Russia had fallen to Communism, with consequences that would impoverish and oppress three generations. The faith of the Old World had taken a terrible blow. For many, it seemed an illusion the war had disproved.

     On May 13th, 1917, at noon local time in Fatima, Portugal, Lucia dos Santos, Jacinta Marto, and Francisco Marto, three shepherd children innocent in every sense, were granted a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was the beginning of what is known today as the Miracle of Fatima: a series of Marian apparitions, each of which occurred on the 13th day of the calendar month. It culminated on October 13 with the Miracle of the Sun, a supernatural event witnessed by some 70,000 persons in which the Sun seemed to gyrate, dance across the sky, and as its finale dive menacingly near to the earth.

     It happened. It was not mass hypnosis, nor mass hallucination, nor some kind of enormous hoax. At Fatima, Portugal on October 13, 1917, seventy thousand onlookers witnessed what could only have been a manifestation of divine power: a miracle.

     The Miracle of Fatima brought millions to the Faith, and renewed the Faith in millions who had fallen away. God does this sort of thing when the world slips perilously close to the edge of the Great Abyss. And note: He doesn’t deliver it to kings or premiers, but to the lowest and humblest of our kind.

     There have been other miracles. Many have attracted scoffers certain that they could prove that nothing miraculous – that is, nothing inexplicable by what we think are the laws of nature – had occurred. But many alleged miracles have withstood every test the scoffers have rained on them. Including Fatima.

     The Miracle of Fatima is now more than a century in the past. Yet it continues to inspire men to faith…and to works of art and drama. Including producer-directors Ian and Dominic Higgins, who made of it a movie of exceptional beauty and emotion.

     Catholics call the Virgin Mary by many titles, but the one I have in mind just now is Blessed Mother. Yes, Mary of Nazareth was the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of Mankind. But in a sense metaphorical yet vital, she is also our mother. Her courage in accepting the role of the human mother of Christ made it possible for us to be redeemed. Jesus’s ministry, Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection allowed everyone who has ever lived and ever will access to salvation and potential eternal bliss in the nearness of God.

     Courage I said, and courage I meant. You do know that a pregnant but unmarried woman was liable to be stoned to death in First Century Judea, don’t you? There was also that little detail about her divine Son having to endure the cruelest death ever devised as the price of our redemption. A lot of mothers couldn’t face that.

     That degree of courage, that complete acceptance of the will of God, would have been extraordinary in a woman of mature years who already knew herself to be facing death. In a teenaged girl – Mary was somewhere between fourteen and sixteen years old when she experienced the Annunciation and the Incarnation – it’s beyond mortal comprehension. We cannot know what degree of fear and trembling that young girl felt as she pondered whether to assent to the role. We can only know what she said to Archangel Gabriel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word.”

     You want an example of true, unwavering dedication to motherhood? Consider Mary. You’ll never find a better one.

     Mary has many titles: the Blessed Virgin, the Immaculate Conception, Star of the Sea, Cause of Our Joy, Queen of Heaven, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Loreto, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, and so forth. Today that last one is most appropriate. But she is also, and always, the Blessed Mother: the woman whose courage and dedication set an insuperable standard for human women who contemplate accepting the blessings and burdens of motherhood.

     Pray the Rosary. And may God bless and keep you all.

Sensitive Single Men Of America…(UPDATED)

     …your quest for undying love has ended!

     [Applause to Concerned American at WRSA, whose quest for a new blog-home has ended, too.]

     UPDATE: The C.S.O. just reminded me about an earlier competitor for the title of “perfect woman:”

     I detect a certain similarity in Rebecca’s and Laurel’s claims. I wonder what would happen if they were to meet?

How It’s Done Dept.

     Some fiction writers consciously strive to keep their readers off-balance, groping for a purchase on what’s really happening in the story. This can be boiled down to an actual technique. The key, of course, is surprise.

     There are several kinds of surprise in fiction. There are plot surprises, where an event that seems at first completely disconnected from the story being told intrudes on the action and compels the characters to deviate sharply from their courses. There are character surprises, where a Marquee or an important Supporting Cast character suddenly reveals a motivation or a trait to which the author had given no previous hint. There are stylistic surprises, in which the author deliberately fractures his own writing simply to jar the reader into paying attention. (You might imagine that I detest stylistic surprises. You’d be right.)

     Then there are surprises of this sort:

     She always ground her own beans. She did not feel that her coffee tasted better because of this, she simply liked the process of grinding beans: the cool crumple of the bag from the freezer, the gentle rattle of beans across the countertop, the therapeutic release of pounding them into grounds with a hammer for several minutes.

     [Fink and Cranor, Welcome to Night Vale]

     I don’t have a name for that kind. It does sound therapeutic though, doesn’t it?

Small Lives

     [A short story for you this evening. Not everyone aspires to greatness. Quite a lot of us have no ambitions of that magnitude. But think about the children of a family of great wealth and power. Think about the pressures that might be put on them. Not all of them will respond the way their greatly accomplished and admired relatives would like. – FWP]


     Jack’s playing was as blazing as ever. The Black Grape crowd was mesmerized by the guitarist’s endless fresh improvisations. Rolf had backed him for three years, yet he was as impressed by the skills of Onyx’s star guitarist as he’d been at their first encounter. He strove to concentrate on his own role: keeping a steady, solid foundation with his Schecter six-string bass against which Jack could spin jazz-rock arabesques from his dazzling white Gibson Les Paul.
     Hal, at Rolf’s left, strove with equal effort to maintain the percussive thunder that undergirded the jam. It was just as invisible as Rolf’s bass, and just as vital to the support of Jack’s virtuosity.
     It was the trio’s two hundredth performance for a paying crowd, and it was special. They were locked together as tightly as if they were a single instrument. The crowd seemed to sense it just as sharply as Rolf did.
     The jam had been going on for nearly twenty minutes when Jack played the agreed-upon phrase that signaled the wind-down and the conclusion. Twelve bars more, and it ended to a thunder of applause. Onyx’s star stepped to the mike, said “we’ll be back in a little while,” unslung his guitar and set it down. Rolf and Hal did likewise. The three stepped off the dais with Jack in the lead.
     Hal ambled off to the men’s room, whether to relieve himself, have a smoke, or whatever. Rolf merely took a seat at the far corner of the bar and asked the bartender for a tap beer. He was sipping quietly mere moments later as the crowd converged on the guitarist for autographs, questions about appearance dates, or whatever.
     Bet there’s lots of whatever tonight. There were three girls up front who couldn’t tear their eyes from him. Two of them had wet spots in their jeans. Ten to one he doesn’t go home alone.
     “You look lonely.”
     The observation came from directly behind him. He set down his beer and half-turned to confront a tall, very pretty blonde who looked to be some years older than he. She wore a subtly probing look that was not at all invasive or threatening. Reflexively, he looked her up and down.
     A dress and heels? Here?
     “Good evening, Miss.” He extended a hand, and she shook it.
     “So far, anyway,” she said. She took the stool next to his and waved to the bartender. “White wine, please.” Presently the barman set a glass before her. She raised it to Rolf. “Skoal.”
     He grinned and hoisted his stein in reply. “Salud.” They clinked and sipped.
     “Sarah,” she said.
     “Rolf,” he replied.
     “Why no crowd of fans around you, Rolf?”
     He shrugged. “Sideman.” He nodded toward Jack and his cluster of admirers. “The star does the shining. Hal and I just bask in the glow.”
     It elicited a chuckle. “You’re all right with that?”
     “I couldn’t do what I do if I weren’t.”
     His phrasing seemed to pique her. “A man who knows his subjunctives!” She clapped perfunctorily.
     “Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week. Try the veal.”
     A second chuckle. “Yeah, right. So what do you do when you’re not backing up Mister Wonderful?”
     It was his turn to take particular note of her words. He looked her over a second time, more carefully.
     She carried herself with a relaxed, unaffected poise that seemed completely natural. It gave her a presence that went beyond mere good looks. Other women he’d known who shared her beauty and self-command had been more focused on their own images than on anything around them. Her attention was entirely on him.
     He took a moment to collect his thoughts.
     “Well,” he said, “not much of importance. I work in the lumber mill in Laurelton five days a week. I do yard cleanups on weekends for extra cash. Friday and Saturday nights I do this, if we can get a gig.”
     “Sounds…regular,” she said.
     He nodded. “Unexciting, but quiet.”
     “Like it that way?”
     “I do. It’s the life of a regular guy in a regular little New York backwater. Uncomplicated, undemanding. Pays the bills with a little left over. I can go on doing it as long I don’t slice off a finger or tick off my bosses. Maybe I’ll make supervisor someday and watch other guys slice off their fingers.”
     Her gaze flickered over to where Jack was entertaining his fans.
     “Like him?”
     He shrugged. “He’s okay. Pretty good guitarist.”
     “But you don’t pal around.”
     “Nah. There’s always a hubbub around him. I prefer the quiet.”
     Her smile quirked. “And yet,” she said, “you’re a rock musician who plays in noisy nightclubs and bars.”
     “I guess that’s how I fill my hubbub quota.” He finished his beer, rose, stretched, and reseated himself. “What about you? On your way to fortune and glory?”
     The smile vanished. “No, I’m sort of hiding from them.”
     It was curious enough to elicit a reciprocal probe. He wondered if it would be welcomed.
     Only one way to find out.
     “Are you—were you a performer too?”
     He could feel her gathering her courage.
     “No,” she said at last. “I’m a Forslund.”

#

     Throughout Onyx’s second set, Rolf felt compelled to split his attention between his bass and Sarah. She remained at the bar despite it putting her sideways to the dais. Her eyes remained upon him, not in a demanding way, but simply companion to companion. She seemed to have linked herself to him in some way that extended beyond their half-hour of conversation.
     He fancied he could feel the link. Its weight was simple and comfortable, like a handclasp.
     I like it.
     He forced himself not to think beyond the moment. He was there to play, not to preen or strut.
     Or fantasize.
     The duel in his head made a forty-five minute set seem three hours long.
     The crowd was just as appreciative as earlier. When they put down their instruments for the night, the swarm that followed Jack was as large and ardent as before. Rolf slipped through the crowd gracefully and beelined for the corner of the bar, where Sarah had remained.
     “Doing all right?” he said.
     She nodded. “Just enjoying the music. I’m glad you came back this way.”
     He smiled. “I’m glad you’re still here.”
     “Say, why a six-string bass?”
     “Well,” he said, “the extra range is nice, and Schecter makes a good one. But in my case it’s more that I started out as a guitarist. I tune the Schecter to a standard guitar tuning and play a sort of combined bass and rhythm guitar. Jack suggested it. He says it gives him a lot to work with. Besides, it fills in our sound.”
     “Do you and…Hal, you said?” He nodded. “Do you two always do what Jack wants?”
     He shrugged. “I guess. It keeps the tensions down. Besides, he’s the draw. No one comes to hear Hal and me.”
     “I have a lot of trouble with that.”
     “Hm? What part?”
     “Doing what I’m told.”
     That pricked his curiosity. He peered at her.
     Forslunds mostly tell other people what to do.
     “You never said what you do for a living,” he said.
     “I work at Albrecht’s.”
     “Doing what?”
     “Selling women’s clothes.”
     “Does it suit you?”
     “It’s fine.” Her smile twitched. “I run the department. Anyway, the Forslund Trust is the majority shareholder in the company.”
     He wondered at her offhanded consent to a position in a service industry.
     Her family’s wealth would allow her to do whatever she pleases.
     “What were you thinking just now?” she said.
     “Hm? Oh, just that you must enjoy it.”
     “I do,” she said. “It’s not a big deal, but I’m good at it, and it lets me live on my own instead of at Forslund Manor. Besides, I don’t get a lot of petty little orders from people with brassy titles.”
     Without thinking, he murmured “Or other people named Forslund.”
     Her eyes flared wide.
     “What?” he said. “Did I offend you?”
     “No,” she said, and looked a little away. “It’s just…I didn’t expect you to be so sharp.”
     He tried to lighten the tone. “Never underestimate a sideman. We could be just pretending while we await our moment to strike.”
     She looked him full in the eyes, her expression utterly serious. For a moment he became afraid.
     “Sarah…”
     “It’s okay,” she said. “It’s a long story, and it would probably bore you.”
     For a moment they sat in silence. He reflected on the strangeness of the encounter.
     A Forslund in a working-class bar. A beautiful woman worth a ton of money, all alone…except for me.
     Why me?
     “Rolf?”
     He turned to find Hal standing behind him.
     “Hm?”
     “Gleason wants us out. Jack told me to get our stuff into the van,” Hal said.
     “What, Jack doesn’t plan to be involved?” Rolf said. “Has he suddenly lost the use of his hands?”
     The drummer shrugged and indicated the guitarist with a nod. At the other side of the tap room, Jack was flirting aggressively with two very attractive brunettes. Each of the girls had an arm around the other, They looked enough like one another to be sisters, and neither seemed to be trying to edge out the other.
     He’s in for an interesting night.
     “Moment please, Hal.” He turned to Sarah. “Sarah, this is Onyx’s drummer Hal Fraser. Hal, this is Sarah Forslund.”
     Hal’s eyes went wide. Sarah extended a hand with perfect aplomb. Hal took it hesitantly.
     “Pleased to meet you, Miss Forslund. Apologies for interrupting your chat. Rolf, we’d better get busy. Gleason wants us out of here before midnight.”
     “Sarah,” Rolf said, “would you like to continue this conversation?” She nodded. “Then please wait here while I engage in a little manual labor. It shouldn’t take long.”
     “You’re coming back?” she said.
     “Yeah. Wasn’t that sort of implied?”
     She nodded. “Okay.”
     He slid off his stool and ambled toward the dais.
#

     Rolf shoved the last of the amplifiers into the van, closed and locked the twin doors, and wiped the dust from his hands. “Good gig, as always.”
     “Number two hundred,” Hal said.
     “Well, goodnight guys. See you tomorrow night for number two-oh-one.” Rolf started back toward the Black Grape.
     Jack looked at him curiously. “You’re not going back with Hal?”
     Rolf shook his head. “I’ll beg a ride from Sarah.”
     The guitarist looked at him levelly. “You know who that is, don’t you?”
     “She told me.”
     “So…then what if she says no?”
     “Onteora Taxi is still in business, isn’t it?”
     “Geez.” Jack shook his head in disbelief. “I thought I was doing well.” He glanced behind him at the brunettes who awaited his attentions.
     “You are,” Rolf said. “Have fun.” He returned to the bar.
#

     Rolf found Sarah where he’d left her.
     “Sorry, I didn’t think it would take that long,” he said. He remounted his stool. “Where were we?”
     She merely looked at him. Her expression was opaque, unreadable.
     “Sarah? Everything okay?”
     “What…” She paused and visibly gathered her forces. “Rolf, what do you want out of life?”
     He gaped.
     “Rolf?”
     “Yeah, I’m all right, just…give me a minute.”
     It’s not a question I spend a lot of time on.
     “Well,” he said after a few moments, “essentially, just to live it. Quietly. Peacefully. I want to be able to meet my bills and save a little. I want to keep getting better at what I do. But I don’t have any grand ambitions. I love music, but there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy that.” He waved at the dais, now cleared of Onyx’s trappings. “I’ll enjoy it while it lasts, but it’s bound to end pretty soon. Jack’s good, but he’s not Marquee quality. When it’s over, I’ll just…live.”
     “You’ll keep playing, won’t you?”
     “Well, yeah. Probably not the bass, though. If I’m with people I love who want to hear me play, I’ll play for them. Otherwise, I’ll play for myself.”
     She locked eyes with him again. “Would you play for me?”
     He held back the reflexive assent and studied her face.
     Of course I would, but…what else? What’s she really asking about?
     “Sarah,” he said deliberately, “what do you want out of life?”
     She closed her eyes and drew an audible breath. He waited.
     “I want,” she said at last, “what you want. What you already have. A quiet life. A small life. Inconspicuous. Unimportant to anyone but those who I love and who love me.”
     “That would…satisfy you?”
     She nodded.
     “From what you’ve told me,” he said, “it seems like you already have all of that.”
     “I do,” she said. “Except for one thing.”
     He closed his eyes and strove to slow his heart.
     “Sarah,” he said, “I will play for you whenever you ask.”
     She gazed at him for a long moment. Presently she nodded, stepped off her stool, and held out a hand.
     “Come home with me,” she said.

==<O>==

     Copyright © 2024 Francis W. Porretto. All rights reserved worldwide.

Load more