Looking at Some Maps of the World

I was reading some stories about the aggressive moves of China in the world – their attempts to impose cultural hegemony in the West, their moves to take over the waterways near them, how they use their market share like a club to get concessions from Western firms – and I realized that I needed to see a map that compared China and the West.

The USA is roughly at a similar latitude to China; the areas at high elevations aren’t that much different, if you include Alaska. So where is the push for expansion of their areas of influence coming from?

Arable land. China’s farmland is not all that extensive. Only the coastal areas are low enough to provide sufficient level land for large agricultural operations. And, those coastal areas are heavy with manufacturing and shipping.

Russia is in a similar pickle as far as elevation, but it’s complicated by high latitudes that make for a shorter growing season. The plains of Russia are better suited for cattle or other animal husbandry than grains.

And, both Russia and China suffer from lack of access to large quantities of fresh, unpolluted lake water. In the USA, we have the Great Lakes – approximately 1/5 of the WORLD’S fresh water supply. Never underestimate the power of these natural resources in influencing the politics of the world. In the Western part of the USA, the regular release of water from the Rockies makes the region habitable (at least until CA prioritized the non-producing population over the farmers for water access).

That access to water makes the USA a powerhouse in agricultural exports. Literally, we feed the world. Well, at least we did until the Democrats decided to favor the big agribusinesses over smaller operations. One major plus for the next president would be to elect someone with knowledge of farm policy, and a bias in favor of independent farmers vs. the multinational corporations.

Come to think of it, the last president with some knowledge of agriculture was Carter, and, like Hoover, he was sabotaged by Wall Street interests. You don’t think those high interest rates, which hit the agriculture community so hard, were an accident? Financial interests and Deep State combined to tip the scales (Yes, Carter was ineffectual and wrong about so many things. However, it is quite interesting that his strongest supporters – the farmers and associated businesses – just HAPPENED to be hardest hit by inflation).

But, we have some advantages today. We have more access to information today (despite labeling all who tell the unvarnished truth as “Fake News”). There is a reason they are clamping down so hard at present – they truly fear the consequences of our own Samizdata left to expose them. The recent push to silence us is all the more reason to stand up and shout – they are on the ropes. They fear loss of power, and the resulting public exposure of their actions – and, their vulnerability to criminal prosecution and loss of ill-gotten gains.

Why Your Facebook Friends are not Responding to You

It’s not complicated.

They fully recognize that the entire basis for their self-image of themselves – that they were rational, fair, and not partisan – is a lie. They twist into pretzels, trying to justify applying different standards to similar actions. Every time that they think they’ve escaped a logic trap, OOOPS, Biden does it again.

Despite a determination to ignore facts (like that dog who looks away from the evidence of his misdeeds, and feigns blindness), they know. They know Biden – now openly failing to handle even simple cognitive tasks – was ALWAYS an idiot and a liar. They know he was morally slippery and prone to say whatever came to mind. But, they tamped down that knowledge, eager to put forth SOME alternative to Trump that had a thin veneer of acceptability to the average voter.

And, a thin veneer it was – old, cracked, and cheap.

It helped that most of them were determinedly in a bubble – seldom interacting with anyone other than like-minded friends, engaging online only with other Trump-Haters, shunning contact with those who might try to break their soapy bubble, and engaging only with media that completely agreed with them, and would shelter them from reality.

It worked – well, sort of. Enough so that when evidence of election fraud surfaced, they could wrap their “Biden WON!” rationale over the muffled cries of their dissenting citizens. Enough that they could play pretend about a few protesters constituting the Advancing Troops of an Insurrection! They got more worked up than Lincoln and the federal government did about the first days of the Civil War.

So they had their Fake Inauguration, with 25,000 National Guard troops surrounding the empty streets, and the press held at a distance. They returned from their shelters, and prepared to bring back Monkey Business As Usual. And, they expected the furious masses to fall in line.

When they didn’t, they increased the penalties:

  • They took away Constitutional Rights for the political prisoners
    • Jailing them without access to lawyers for months.
    • Putting them all into 23 hour a day isolation, using COVID as an excuse (funny, that threat doesn’t seem to affect the OTHER inmates).
    • Refusing to grant bail, claiming that the jailed citizens represented a grave threat. Meanwhile, releasing actual criminals on compassionate grounds.
    • Slandering them in public, claiming violent actions, while refusing to provide the evidence.
    • Delaying release of exculpatory evidence (evidence that undercuts the prosecution’s claims), a direct violation of required procedure, that could result in acquittal on those grounds alone.
    • They forced the National Guard to shelter in unheated garages, provided them with cold, partially-cooked, or inedible food, and, only after Trump offered accommodations at his Washington hotel, allowed them back to the Capitol to sleep.

In the months following, they have covered for Biden, limiting press access, bringing the old guy out only for heavily staged appearances, and using remote speeches to compensate. Even those sheltered opportunities were beyond his diminished capabilities.

And, deep down, the non-crazed Left knows it’s fake. They know this is a sham.

So, they are emerging from their homes, to meet in wine bars, and reassure each other that this is the New Normal. They are cheering on the tawdry performances of their Show Business Elite (have you noticed how much of TV and cable is dedicated to Special Shows, designed to prop up a sagging Broadway, the latest releases of Hollywood, and the Fabulous Folks of the Famous Gays (yes, I could have continued the alliteration, but I’m not cruel), including their TOTALLY normal Fake Families. Oh, and the new TV season! Gotta puff that up, fer sure. All Fluffy Fluff.

Even the death of 13 US military, and the wounding of many more (and Afghanis, as well) didn’t stop their determination to ignore those “terrible events, really, but unavoidable”. The advisors that surround Biden were so happy to get him on his feet and looking normal at the ceremony that brought the coffins into the US, that they ignored the Biden’s action in repeatedly checking his watch. Pity that the proles have cameras on their cell phones – and, really ODD that the so-called professional press didn’t seem to catch that sign of inattention and lack of empathy.

Oh, well, I’m sure they all just HAPPENED to be looking the other way at those times.

And, now, it’s up to us – the Normals – to persist in pointing out that The King Has No Clothes!

Long, Long Ago…

     …back in the dark days before the Internet, there was a brilliantly scripted, star-studded movie, titled Network. It was scripted by Paddy Chayevsky and directed by Sidney Lumet. If you haven’t seen it, repent of your sins and beg, borrow, or buy the DVD. (If you don’t have a DVD player, buy one of those, too.) Because it is massively relevant to our time.

     Newscaster Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) has a break of sorts, says a few angry, outrageous things on the air…and becomes a major audience draw as a result:

     I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’ I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

     Upon noting the overwhelmingly positive popular response, network executive Diana Christensen (played by Faye Dunaway) spearheads Beale’s transformation into a network asset as “The Mad Prophet of the Airwaves:”

     Did you see the news this morning? Did you see the Times? We got press coverage on this you couldn’t buy for a million dollars. Frank, that dumb show jumped five rating points in one night. Tonight’s show is gonna be at least fifteen. We’ve just increased our audience by twenty or thirty million people in one night! And you’re not going to get something like this in your lap for the rest of your days and you can’t just piss it away. Howard Beale went up there last night and said what every American feels, that he’s tired of all the bullshit! He’s articulating the popular rage! I want that show, Frank. I can turn that show into the biggest smash on television.

     And for a while, Beale pulls ‘em in like nothing else on TV. But after he denounces a pending merger deal that would further enlarge an already giant corporation, resulting in tens of thousands of letters of protest to the Department of Commerce, the CEO of that corporation, Arthur Jensen (played by the sadly underappreciated Ned Beatty) calls Beale in for a little chat:

     You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it! Is that clear? You think you’ve merely stopped a business deal. That is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back! It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity! It is ecological balance! You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immanent, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU… WILL… ATONE! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state, Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that… perfect world… in which there’s no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock. All necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel.

     Many young Americans who have no idea what we in the Right are ranting about with our denunciations of the “globalists” and our “America First” slogan desperately need to see that brilliant, well-ahead-of-its-time movie. They need the sense of it: the steely determination of men in gray suits who command huge concentrations of wealth and commerce to supervene the nation-state in pursuit of ever greater profits, nations and cultures be damned. Those men think of themselves as the Twenty-First Century’s evolutionary replacements for governments, borders, and statesmen.

     I trust the message is clear. Have a nice day.

Every Era Of Music Has Its Standouts

     As the Disco era of the Seventies faded, new powers arose to make their mark in popular music. The guitar faded as a dominant instrument, supplanted – though only for a while – by the synthesizer. Some Eighties bands were as fleeting as the life of a mayfly. Others, such as the Pointer Sisters, showed some staying power. But the era, like the ones before it, had its hits. Some of them were as joyous and memorable as anything before or since.

     Wang Chung didn’t last. You might say they “shot their wad” rather quickly. But some of their tunes are among the best the Eighties have to offer. This is my favorite.

Nice to Know that ALL State Leaders Haven’t Lost Their Mind

Why do I write that?

Because 20 of the states, including 3 I have connections to (OH, WV, and SC), are part of a lawsuit of the Biden Administration to stop them from mandating Men in Women’s facilities.

It’s time for Americans to agree on at least ONE thing – that if an individual hold a fixed idea that is wildly at odds with actual reality, that is what, in a sane world, would be called crazy.

Such a crazy idea is the declaration that a person can FEEL like the opposite sex, and be reinforced in that delusion by medical, legal, and psychological providers. That people claiming to be a part of something called the Reality-Based Community see no contradiction in that assertion. And, that taxpayers are somehow responsible for paying for and facilitating those medical/surgical changes for the delusional wretch.

In other words, seriously WACK.

Saturday Miscellany

Political Donations by State.

I happened to find a link to Open Secrets, a site that tracks political donations by individual, party, political organization, and state. That last interested me, as I was wondering about the connection between money and voting patterns.

As you can see below, the outcomes in GA and MI appear to be as unlikely as has been suggested by those asserting Voter Fraud. GA’s donations to the GOP far exceeded the take by the Dems, and MI was essentially a dead heat. So, a huge victory by the Dems seems to be not backed up by verifiable data.

Similarly, the take for NC and AZ don’t match the REPORTED votes. Again, NC is essentially tied, and AZ is considerably in favor of the GOP.

WI numbers are similar to NC and MI – with so little difference between them, it doesn’t back up those lopsided numbers in the mail-in votes (those that were counted).

Iowa is the interesting one here – it’s political contributions are, like WI, NC, and MI, so close to tied that you might THINK they should have a similar outcome. But, no. They clearly preferred Trump.

So, why was IA so different in the final results?

I think it has to do with the fact that, in only ONE county, Johnson (south of Cedar Rapids), did the lopsidedly pro-Biden voting show up. In most other counties, the voting results were within normal ranges. But, in that county, the lopsidedness was striking.

A-ha! I may have found the reason for the disparity – a LOT of colleges nearby.

Given the propensity of the Dems to use the Young and Gullible to do their scutwork for them, I suspect this was a long-planned operation. It takes time to embed the poll workers, train them to cheat, and otherwise deliver the Fake Vote.

Why didn’t the Iowa Steal work? I blame the essential good-heartedness of Iowans. They exemplify Midwestern Nice and Honest.

Conversations

     There’s no way to predict in what direction a chat here at the Fortress of Crankitude will go. For example, recently the C.S.O. lamented the frequency of chicken in our dinner menu. Since that, she’s made a serious attempt to reduce the number of chicken occurrences per week. Knowing her proclivities as I do, I’ve made no attempt to redirect her. But this morning presented an opportunity for a little snark:

FWP: What do you have planned for dinner?
CSO: A salad.

FWP: Will it contain…chicken?
CSO: (surprised) Well, if you want. We have canned chicken, buffalo chicken strips, honey-barbecue chicken, or I could stop at the store after yoga and pick up a rotisserie chicken—

FWP: Never mind. Of course, there’s also pre-chicken.
CSO: Hard boiled eggs? I was planning to make egg salad for lunch.

FWP: Then go ahead with the egg salad. Though that does mean that the egg will come before the chicken, today at least.
CSO: (scowls)

     Yes, it is a silly household. What made you think otherwise?

Self-Unmaskings

     Now and then, your enemy will blatantly reveal himself to you, as if daring you to do anything about it:

     Noted True Conservative Rick Wilson of the Noted True Conservative North American Man-Boy Lincoln Association comes out breathing fire against Texas’ terrible terrible abortion law, trying to organize a boycott against any corporation that merely exists in Texas.

     See, if you base a company in Texas, you’re forcing women to work in an anti-abortion state.

     Here’s a thread about those Before Times when Noted Conservative Rick Wilson pretended to be against abortion.

     I’ve said this a million times but it keeps being more true: Conservative, Inc. has always been leftwing. Always.

     They’ve always misled actual conservatives into accepting liberal policy. “This isn’t the hill to die on.” “The optics on this aren’t good.” “We can’t pass this kind of bill now! We have an election coming up next year!”

     (Note: We literally always have a big national election coming up this year or next year. It’s a two year cycle.)

     They’re venomously, viciously angry at you because their old bullshit isn’t working anymore and you won’t listen to them any longer.

     So they hate your guts.

     Once again, Ace strikes the jugular.

     But wait: there’s more! Just about every time I’ve labeled abortion “the sacrament of the Left,” Leftists have poured their vitriol onto me. Nevertheless, it is so. Here’s the proof:

     Leftists turned on the feminist hero and women’s rights crusader, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, after the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, refused to block the implementation of Texas’ “heartbeat bill” on September 1st, effectively banning most abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected….

     Key to the ruling was Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who sits in the seat [Associate Justice Ruth Bader] Ginsburg vacated when she died.

     “In retrospect, maybe Ruth Bader Ginsburg should have stepped down from the Court in 2014,” one leftist commentator sneered.

     “Ruth Bader Ginsburg really, really should have stepped down,” another added. “When you are a leader of people, with their lives in your hands… you have to do what’s best for them, always. She didn’t.”

     When she was offered the opportunity to step down, she was 80 and Democrats had a comfortable majority in the Senate, allowing Obama to replace her with a dedicated liberal justice and without Republican input.

     “Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s categorical refusal to retire brought us here. So thanks you old dead white bitch,” sniffed a self-described “feminist” who later deleted her tweet.

     As our favorite Bookworm notes, abortion is far more important to the Left than the loss of American lives in Afghanistan:

     While my lefties are being pretty low-key, if you go to Twitchy, you’ll find post after post with leftists showing complete hysteria about the fact that one state is curtailing abortion. My favorite is Cori Bush who seems worried about homosexuals accidentally getting pregnant:

     I’m thinking about the Black, brown, low-income, queer, and young folks in Texas. The folks this abortion health care ban will disproportionately harm.

     Wealthy white folks will have the means to access abortion care. Our communities won’t.

     — Cori Bush (@CoriBush) September 1, 2021

     Whereas for the pseudo-conservatives of “Conservative, Inc,” there’s no such thing as “a hill to die on,” the Left will sacrifice any other issue and any number of lives and freedoms to protect the abortion sacrament. But then, sacrifice is what you do to uphold and defend a sacrament, isn’t it?

     There’s only so much one can say about this subject before succumbing to pointless repetition. However, the central point must not be missed: the commentators of “Conservative, Inc,” who are also called “NeverTrumpers,” are not friends to those of us who seek a return to Constitutional order and the norms of pre-World War II America. Something is more important to them than actual conservatism. It might be money. It might be acceptance by D.C. society. Or it might be their hope to be invited onto CNN or MSNBC as a “representative of the Right.” Whatever it is, it clearly outweighs the principles and values of the Right.

     Draw the moral, Gentle Reader. Don’t allow yourself to be misled by someone who has his eyes on a different prize.

Fifty Years Ago…

     …a musical prodigy named Todd Rundgren decided to stretch his wings further than he ever had before. This was the result:

I wanted to write you…
     …a beautiful, beautiful song
I wanted to write you…
     …a beautiful, beautiful song
A beautiful song
The kind that makes your memory
go sailing through the window
Like in a movie
And fly away, a million miles into space
And look down
And look down on the lights of the world
Like people were as nice as the sight of it all
Just you

I wanted to sing you…
     …a beautiful, beautiful song
I wanted to sing you…
     …a beautiful, beautiful song
But you know what a cynic I am
And my voice isn’t that good anyway
So all I can do…
     …is rave on…

— Todd Rundgren —

State Of Fear

     I apologize to the ghost of Michael Crichton for appropriating the title of one of his best novels for this piece. Sorry, Mike, but it just fits our milieu too well to pass up.

     The theme for a Liberty’s Torch piece often comes to me in the middle of reading something from another writer. In this case, the writer was Kurt Schlichter:

     Look, no one’s excited about the 25th Amendment putting Kamala Harris in office. The woman is as dumb as a post, which is a vile calumny to useful and honorable posts everywhere. But we can’t have the shaky, skeletal finger of a vacuum-skulled ninny hovering over the big red button. Our press may studiously ignore it, but our enemies see it and they are acting. The Taliban – or, as that goofy clown says, the “Tally-ban” – realized he would not do anything to stop them and we saw what that led to. The Chi Coms are elbowing Taiwan, saying “Hey, there’s your savior – wanna do this the easy way or the hard way?” And that fat Korean guy is firing up the old reactor again.

     There’s a lot of fear implicit in that paragraph. There’s also a question of overarching importance. Concerning the “presidency” of Joseph R. Biden, there are only two possibilities:

  1. He’s the one making the policy decisions for his Administration;
  2. He isn’t.

     That covers the whole Venn diagram, doesn’t it? Now for the question of overarching importance:

Which possibility do you fear more?

     The “big red button” image is a venerable, much-used one among those who seek to strike fear into the reader / listener / viewer. But there are other, more plausible things to be feared than a nuclear war. One high on my list is the possibility that the federal executive branch is no longer run, de facto, by the president. One higher still is that it’s no longer run by anyone.

     The Twentieth Century taught us to fear dictators: men in command of a mighty engine of oppression and violence, whose minions would go forth to commit whatever infamy he might order. We had a bunch of them to study, each with his own proclivities and record of depredations and slaughters. There are still some with us today. None of the recent ones have yet equaled the horrors of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, or Idi Amin, but the century is young.

     Such men and their lunacies are greatly to be feared, doubt it not. But there is something more fearful still, and it might already be upon us: a multitude of dictators operating concurrently, all of them nameless and faceless, none of them accountable to anyone.

     That is what a federal executive branch run by no one, Congress indisposed to attempt to discipline it, would mean to Americans.

     Of course, with many dictators operating at the same time, each would have only a modest sphere to which to dictate. Each might wield authority over some particular activity or condition. Why, one might dispatch and control the military, while another reigns over the schools. A third might rule on matters of health, while a fourth decides who may and may not fly, board a train, or take a bus. Then a fifth, possibly in collaboration with the others, might see to the suppression of dissidents.

     That, plus even more numerous “sub-dictators” free to implement policy as they see fit and be damned to anyone’s conceptions of rights or Constitutional constraints, is what I fear most. For it guarantees endless, variegated oppressions, plus the chaos characteristic of civil war: Samuel Francis’s concept of anarcho-tyranny painted in the brightest colors.

     Kurt Schlichter says “Biden must go.” I cannot argue the point. But what if Biden isn’t in charge? What if no one is? How could we know – and what could we do about it were we to discover it?

     A single, isolable dictator can be targeted and destroyed far more easily than a diffuse engine of tyranny with thousands or millions of components, none of which can be confidently named. To those who have scoffed at the “deep state” we in the Right have decried: Take heed. For whatever your particular occupation, avocation, pastime, or personal pleasure, there’s a federal micro-dictator whose hegemony it is – and he’s far more likely to find you than you are to find him.

     But do have a nice day.

If Strong Language Upsets You,…

DO NOT CLICK THIS LINK.

I’ve noticed the same sudden silence of the “You are so STUPID to back Trump!” crowd. After months of haranguing me and the rest of their social feed, it’s like they had been Raptured.

Gone. MIA. Quieter than a kidnap victim with a K-Bar to her throat.

Gee, I wonder why?

To Other Indie Writers: A Warning

     The scamsters are restless.

     A couple of evenings ago, I received a voicemail from a “Neil” who said he represents a company called ReadersMagnet. He said something boilerplate-ish about the “potential” of my book Innocents (first red flag) and suggested that his company could assist me in getting it to the attention of thousands of new readers (second red flag).

     It had been a while since I was last approached by such an outfit, and I’d never heard of this one. Rather than return Neil’s call during business hours, I did a Google search for ReadersMagnet. I discovered that it’s just one more organization that strives to exploit the hopes of indie writers for a mass audience. The pitch is largely undistinguished: “publishing services” and “marketing packages,” each of which comes at a substantial price (third red flag). A number of other indies reported having had very negative experiences with them as well. So tote it up as one more predatory organization, about as likely to get an indie writer a mass audience as I am to wake up next to Angelina Jolie.

     Remember the Prime Directive:

Money should always flow to the writer.

     Anyone who tries to shove his hand into your pocket while assuring you that he can “help you” is up to no good. Come to think of it, that applies to governments and their minions as well, doesn’t it?

Outrages To Be Watched For

     You may already have read about this story:

     As previously reported, Rebecca Firlit, a Chicago mother, said that a Cook County judge took away her parental rights for not getting the COVID vaccine – the judge then reversed the order after his decision garnered media attention.

     The 39-year-old mother said that the Illinois judge asked her whether or not she had gotten the COVID vaccine during an August 10 hearing.

     She responded by saying that she had not due to prior bad reactions with vaccines.

     Cook County Judge James Shapiro then stripped the mother of all her parenting time with her son.

     Now, Cook County, Illinois is America’s capital of legislative and judicial corruption. Nothing that could happen there could surprise me. But this Shapiro character has made a suggestion-in-passing to other left-inclined “jurists,” and we should not be surprised if they act upon it. In my best fake Rod Serling voice:

Imagine, if you will, a world in which Family Court judges can deprive parents of their parental rights for disagreeing with the “authorities” – or with the judge – about prophylactic medical treatments such as vaccinations – not when choosing them for their children, but for themselves.

     Family Courts are extra-constitutional. Their judges routinely ignore the Constitution and its constraints and get away with it. Stephen Baskerville has documented hundreds of such cases. He wrote about some of the most egregious in his book Taken Into Custody. It’s not unthinkable that activist judges might see Shapiro’s ruling as a signpost to be guided by.

     But do get a good night’s sleep.

Because We All Need To Be Blessed Now And Then

The wanderer has far to go
Humble must he constant be
Where the paths of wisdom lead
Distant is the shadow of the setting sun.

Bless the daytime
Bless the night
Bless the sun which gives us light
Bless the thunder
Bless the rain
Bless all those who cause us pain.

Yellow stars may lead the way
All diversions lead astray
While his resolution holds
Fortune and good will will surely follow him.

Bless the free man
Bless the slave
Bless the hero in his grave
Bless the soldier
Bless the saint
Bless all those whose hearts grow faint.

– David Cousins –

     And may God bless and keep you all!

What’s Up With Scott Adams?

I have enjoyed the Dilbert cartoons over the years. The cartoons have appealed to all of us who have been in the bowels of large companies/organizations, whether public or private, nonprofit or – allegedly – for profit. They are quirky, absurdist, and strangely appealing to the Everyman that lives with arbitrary rules, unfair employment practices, and seeing the underpinnings of the Peter Principle put into action.

Lately, however, Mr. Adams has wandered into scary territory – his podcast excusing and attempting to brush over Biden and his administration’s cluelessly incompetent yet airily self-congratulatory actions in the Afghanistan debacle is disturbing. Rather like seeing that kindly old uncle morph into super-villain right before your eyes.

It’s all the general’s fault? No. Like it or not, a leader needs to take the responsibility for failure. It does not have to be the end of a career – look at the Bay of Pigs disaster – JFK owned it, and didn’t spread the blame around.

Now, privately, he may have unleashed some whoop-a$$, but publicly, he took responsibility for the decision.

Not only is Biden incapable of accepting that the withdrawal failed, he is mentally incapable of handling the complexities of the overall process, and the analysis of where it all broke down.

Incompetent leadership doesn’t happen spontaneously. It occurs for several reasons:

  • Those in charge may not recognize who is a good leader – if all a person has to do is tick off boxes to be sent to the next level, that will weed out many competent people who are not of the ‘correct’ demographic or linked to favored others.
  • Short-term results will often act against the overall good of the organization, but are the metrics upon which promotion is built. This breeds ethical shortcuts, accounting tricks, bluster and B$, and favors the “Bungee Boss”
  • These types of organizations provide a long-term job only for the most passive, deceitful, lazy, and demoralized people. Anyone with spunk, initiative, and high moral standards leaves ASAP. Such people will essentially sell their soul for the promise of a continued paycheck. I don’t scorn them – I deeply pity them. Many of them have, through their own lack of character, spent themselves into HAVING to accept the deeply dysfunctional and corrupt environment as a norm. This leads to psychic distortions that cannot fathom leaving the quasi-safe environment for another job.

This leads me to Dilbert. I used to enjoy the comic. I had endured a few workplaces like that (for far longer than I wanted to), and the reality that I lived was reflected in the daily Dilbert. Misery loves company.

Why is Adams still drawing and writing Dilbert? He has been out of that environment for many years. What does it do to your soul to relive that experience, over and over again for all these years?

He could take chances – he could create another comic, this one dealing with the life of an independent business man, who has to deal with making payroll for himself and those who work for him, handling crazy government regulations and paperwork, spending time with the family who ask about “your little business” and ask for freebies, and other aspects of entrepreneurial life. I would think such a comic would appeal to his base, who may yearn for such an alternative to their own life. But, more importantly, it would give Adams a way to step away from his current focus on the most soul-deadening period in his own life.

His mindset is still that of a guy without options; someone who is a hopeless tool of others. He identifies with Biden, who is well and truly stuck. Not the guy I’d take political advice from. When he talked about the generals, whose only response to unrealistic demands to Get the Military OUT! was to ‘slow-walk’ their actions, it hit me:

That’s the typical Dilbert response.

Now, for a cartoon the was oddly prescient.

A Comment On Commentary

     Back in the heyday of blogging, everyone and his halfwit Uncle Herman had a blog. There were, at peak, over 50 million such sites. Most, of course, were of no broad consequence: little was posted there, and most of that was worthless. However, they gave their “proprietors” a sense that they could be listened to – that their lives and opinions might matter to others.

     Since then blogging has experienced a “consolidation.” Over 95% of those sites have closed, de jure or de facto. Yes, there are a lot of people on “social media” sites who once maintained blogs, but that’s not the same thing. Posting on Facebook or Minds doesn’t have the same potential for a global audience. Indeed, that’s built into the experience.

     Yet among the blogs that survive, only a tiny fraction of them are worth a thinking American’s time and attention. That’s my opinion, of course; but opinion is the greater part of what I write here. Hopefully it’s what brings you here, because we the Co-Conspirators of Liberty’s Torch don’t have much else to offer.

     This is really a special case of a general question:

Why Express Yourself?

     In particular, why go to the time and trouble to:

  1. Establish – possibly pay for – a blog;
  2. Master the software that manages it;
  3. Take time from your daily doings to write something for it;
  4. Post that something where others can see it;
  5. Read the reactions and possibly react to them?

     Think about that for a few seconds while I fetch more coffee.

***

     Hey, don’t look at me. Everyone knows I’m certifiable. A genuine, hairy-eyed bomb-throwing anarchist who thinks he knows something about the dynamic of power and those who love it above all else. Besides, I like to run on at the mouth keyboard. (It’s all that’s left to me after driving all my friends and acquaintances to earplugs these past seventy years.) Seventeen full-length novels and innumerable…okay, wait a sec…113 short stories should testify more than adequately to that. So my reasons for doing this crap should be considered off-axis.

     A thought on earplugs. Some forty years ago, when I was learning to fly – yes, yes, in an airplane – my instructor taught me something about earplugs: they help you to hear what you want to hear. Good earplugs are like noise-canceling headphones: they mute those sounds you’d rather not hear but let the rest through. That’s a much more valuable thing than merely imposing a condition of silence, especially for the pilot of a light aircraft.

     But of course, want and need express two different concepts. While people will argue endlessly about “what you need to know,” virtually all of us have a sense for it, at least for ourselves. If we’re sensible, we look for what we need before we turn to what we want.

     This applies to the reading of blogs quite as much as to anything else.

     What do blogs offer?

  • Some are informational: they (claim to) purvey facts. Whether you find those facts accurately reported and important determines whether you patronize that blog. A subdivision of informational blogging consists of aggregators: blogs that mainly round up (or provide links to) the offerings of other sources.
  • Some are instructional: they provide lessons in some subject that can be conveyed through the blogging medium. There aren’t as many of those as of the other sorts, but some are quite popular.
  • Some are analytical: they provide analyses of events – usually current events – that they proprietor believes will illuminate the forces behind those events.
  • Some are evangelical: They exhort the reader to look at this or that phenomenon in a certain way, or to form a certain opinion about the motives and causes behind a particular pattern of events. This is the essence of the “op-ed” blog. However, religious blogs, which promote a particular creed, also conform to this pattern.
  • Some are entertaining: they tell stories, or jokes, or offer recordings or videos whose point is merely to divert and amuse the reader.
  • And of course, some are marketing and sales blogs: they try to sell you goods and / or services.

     There are, of course, blogs that combine two or more of the above characteristics. Liberty’s Torch is one such.

     My highly astute Gentle Readers will surely have noticed that I’ve omitted a category: some blogs are self-indulgences. They exist solely to give their proprietor a place to vent, or some similar self-gratifying activity. Quite a lot of blogs that purport to perform one of the other functions are really just self-indulgences.

     You can find blogs of every sort in our sidebar, including a couple of the self-indulgent variety. (They amuse me. That’s all you need to know.) Which ones you prefer, whether you found them here or elsewhere, tells you what sort of material you seek on the Web. You might consider asking yourself whether you need or want what they purvey. That would tell you even more.

***

     It’s the “evangelical” or “op-ed” blog that piqued my attention this morning. I read widely, and am frequently struck by the obviousness of the opinions some supposedly intelligent op-ed bloggers provide. Quite a few of them hammer the reader with stuff he already knows, and conclusions about causes and motives that would be plain even to a microcephalic. One in particular, which commands the respect of a great many of my blogging colleagues, seems to me to be one such.

     Now, that difference of opinion might proceed from a difference in perspective. Some people do need to be brutally slapped across the face with the obvious. I’ve known a few such. I’ve even done some of the slapping, though I usually leave that chore to other people. So it might come down to audience selection…or taste.

     But just after I’d read the “highly respected” commentator of whom I spoke – and said to myself “Can there really be anyone of driving age who doesn’t already know all this?” – I read another, shorter piece, from a capable and intelligent man who possesses a frequently overlooked and underappreciated skill: the talent for asking the right question. His question was simply this:


We now know what we must do.
How the BLEEP! do we get started?

     His few hundred words struck me as the essence of penetration.

     Again, it might come down to a difference in audience selection, or personal taste, or – dare I say it? – the writer’s assessment of the acuity and intelligence of his readers. A writer who believes himself to be incomparably more observant and penetrating than his readers would be likely to “write down” to them. A writer who holds / expects his readers to be as observant and penetrating as he would not.

     I prefer the latter sort. The former set my teeth on edge.

***

     A final thought: The power of the “printed word” to move the reader arises from many factors. Thomas Paine, arguably the most important hortatory writer of his day, had mastered the rhythms and resonances of the English language to a degree few since him have equaled. Ayn Rand, an equally important hortatory writer, didn’t possess Paine’s stylistic grace, but did make use of another technique to great advantage: the fictional narrative. Both wrote about moral-ethical imperatives, and both were widely influential – but it is the storyteller who has the greater influence today, because he proves his insights in an entertaining format, with heroes whom the reader can admire.

     “There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story,” says Tyrion Lannister in the Game of Thrones finale, and he was absolutely correct. That’s why the much maligned Mainstream Media have something to teach us. It’s also why the Left has put so much effort into defaming traditional, heroic and Western-values-oriented fiction and denying it to today’s readers, especially young readers. He who shapes the dominant narrative will prevail in the struggle over the direction of the culture and its politics.

     It’s not enough to possess the facts. It’s not enough to grasp the causes behind the events of the day. It’s not even enough to write about them in a graceful and compelling fashion. You must unite your understanding with characters and personalities. Whether real or fictional, people need heroes. When we lack heroes to admire and strive to emulate, the deepest and strongest wellsprings of our passions remain sealed away.

     “Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love… true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.” – Hub McCall as played by Robert Duvall in Secondhand Lions

     I leave the implications and their consequences to my Gentle Readers.

Afghanistan: A Retrospective

     We were so sure of ourselves.

     What I originally thought would be a straight-up “justice / vengeance” mission for the 9/11 atrocities:

  1. Invade in force;
  2. Locate, close with, and destroy the al Qaeda / Taliban forces;
  3. Go home;

     …turned into yet another exercise in “nation building.” Whose idea was it? Unknown. But someone had to think the United States could succeed where the British and Soviet Empires had failed. Apparently someone was wrong.

     The reason for the debacle of the past few weeks is that Step #2 above was not prosecuted to completion. We permitted the Taliban to retreat to safe territories, to rebuild and rearm, and to come surging forth as American forces drew down. Clearly, the American effort in Afghanistan destroyed neither the Taliban’s will to fight nor its capacity to fight. Worse, rather than do what we could to repatriate American civilians and rescue cooperative Afghans, the feckless Usurpers currently in control of the federal government decided to drop their pants, bend over, and invite the Taliban to do what they like.

     While the Usurpers deserve full “credit” for the disastrous withdrawal and the loss of lives – present and future – it entails, let’s not be blinded by partisanry. This was a twenty-year debacle that enveloped three previous administrations. Only one – that of President Donald Trump – saw our continuing presence in Afghanistan as the pointless, fruitless exercise it was.

     And so, after twenty years of bloodshed and expenditure, the War in Afghanistan, originally known as Operation Enduring Freedom, has succeeded in replacing the Taliban by…a bigger, better armed Taliban.

***

     Concerning the withdrawal itself, the most telling of all peripheral phenomena is the unwillingness of the Departments of State and Defense to admit to what’s happened and what’s currently going on. The extent of the disaster, the sheer number of stranded Americans, the immense wealth of weaponry abandoned, and the appalling unwillingness of our remaining forces at HKIA Airport to cooperate with private efforts to rescue the American civilians still there have left their spokesmen unable to speak. Hearken to Nina Bookout:

     The Pentagon really doesn’t want us asking about Americans left in Afghanistan. By 3:30 pm Eastern time tomorrow, there pullout of our troops and diplomats will be complete. That does NOT include Americans nor the Afghan SIV’s. They will be left behind to fend for themselves….

     But please whatever you do, do NOT question our betters at the Pentagon! When asked about the exact number of Americans left behind, Pentagon spot John Kirby told the reporter to ask the folks at the State Department. Guess what? The LAST time the State Department held a briefing was on August 27th.

     We don’t know exact numbers, but by golly we used our plans to do all those fabulous evacuations in the last two weeks, so dammit, Please clap!

     State and Defense are claiming to know nothing and evading questions for a simple tactical reason: Sources on the ground in Kabul and at the HKIA airport are providing near-real-time reports on the situation there. Thus, State and Defense can’t tell us their preferred self-protecting lies. Any lie they could tell us would fall apart when challenged by evidence. The safest course, when you can’t face the truth and can’t lie credibly, is to keep silent.

     Note that Usurper-in-Chief Biden won’t answer questions, either.

***

     To close, Selwyn Duke at The New American has produced a scathing evaluation of the withdrawal disaster as of today. His gut punch:

     The Afghanistan withdrawal reflects either world-record incompetence or pure, unadulterated evil — or both. In fact, often ignored is that malevolence and incompetence to a degree go hand-in-hand. For bad people will rationalize their actions — bend reality for themselves — and when you do this habitually, year after year, you can lose touch with reality. You often then can’t find it even when you want to.

     Whether Joe Biden has been “in touch with reality” to any detectable degree these past two years is dubious. Nevertheless he is the face of the Usurper Administration. His handlers ought to prop him up well enough to take the odium for Afghanistan…not that he or they would do so willingly. It’s all President Trump’s fault don’t y’know. We say so, and you folks who say otherwise are just racists and terrorists-in-waiting anyway, so sit down and shut up.

     Any decent American, regardless of his political leanings or affiliation, should be deeply ashamed of what has occurred, and volcanically angry at the “leaders” who permitted it. We may rest assured that those “leaders” will never admit to error. Politicians and their “advisors” never do that, as it would be hazardous to their careers. But what about the many figures in the media and punditry that promoted the Usurpers during the 2020 campaign season and have praised and defended them ever since? What are the odds that we’ll ever get a muttered, qualified mea culpa from any of them?

     I know not what course others may take, but as for me, I shan’t hold my breath while I wait.

     Time to pray.

What We Can And What We Can’t

     At this morning’s Mass, our pastor, Monsignor Christopher Heller, reminded us in his homily of the reception that Mother Teresa of Calcutta received when she castigated the First World – the United States most emphatically included – for “sleeping soundly at night when there are people with nothing to eat.” It was unfriendly, to say the least. Especially here in the U.S., the most charitable nation in human history. But no one likes to be criticized, as Father Chris said (and we all know perfectly well).

     That includes Mother Teresa.

     Mother Teresa was a giant of compassion and selfless labor for the sake of others. There can be no criticism of that. However, to be maximally generous about it, she wasn’t economically well informed. She seems not to have known about the enormity of the problem of want, on a global scale.

     There are almost eight billion people alive on Earth today. The nations of the First World sum to a little more than a billion. If we were to take complete responsibility for the well-being of the other seven billion – placing the improvement of their immediate well-being above all other considerations – we could not even raise them to the level of the average American poor person. Not even by liquidating the entirety of our capital and distributing it uniformly among the peoples of the world – and after that, of course, nothing more would be produced. We would return to the savage conditions of the Neanderthals.

     Yes, First Worlders are better off than others. But how much better off? Yes, we have an abundance of food, clothing, shelter, and fuels. The margin we possess beyond what we pay for those things pays for our discretionary activities and our luxuries. But the margin falls well short of what it would take to remove the chains of poverty from all the rest of the world.

     I mentioned this to Father Chris. He was rather surprised by it; he’s not a devotee of economics, and I am. We concluded that while a given goal might be highly desirable…we might all agree on it, yearn for it, and work to bring it nearer…that’s far from a guarantee that it’s currently achievable.

     This is a part of what the great Thomas Sowell has called “the tragic vision.” He laid it out in stark contrast with what he called the vision of the anointed:

The Tragic Vision The Vision Of The Anointed
Human capability Severely and inherently limited for all Vast…for the anointed
Social possibilities Trade-offs that leave many “unmet needs” Solutions to problems
Social causation Systemic Deliberate
Freedom Exemption from the power of others Ability to achieve goals
Justice Process rules with just characteristics Equalized chances or results
Knowledge Consists largely of the unarticulated experiences of the many Consists largely of the articulated intelligence of the more educated few
Specialization Highly desirable Highly questionable
Motivation Incentives Dispositions
Process costs Crucial Incidental
Preferred decision-making mechanism Systemic processes that convey the experiences and revealed preferences of the many Deliberate plans that utilize the special talents and more advanced views of the few
Kinds of decisions preferred Incremental Categorical

     That’s quite an indictment of the “anointed.” It points up the great failing in the thinking of even those among the bien-pensants whose intentions are simon-pure and whose attitude towards others who disagree is merely that we’re misinformed. Not to be too blunt about it, they assume that any desirable outcome they can conceive is achievable…and possibly morally mandatory.

     But it is not so. It has never been so. Likely it never will be. Therein lies the tragedy to which Sowell alludes with the phrase “the tragic vision:” Our wants exceed our means and probably always will.

     That does not free the Christian from his part of the Christian mission: to love his neighbor as he loves himself. But it does allow that not all the people of the world, with all their miseries – many of which are artificial, often imposed by governments – must be counted among his neighbors.

     All the great inroads against human poverty have come from individual innovators, who might have had only their own profit in mind. Yet the “Green Revolution,” the movable-type printing press, the rotating magnetic field, and the process of fractional distillation are responsible for a greater degree of alleviation of human misery than the efforts of all the philanthropists known to history.

     The engineer’s mantra is “If it ain’t broke, don’t ‘fix’ it.” Surely we should “fix” what “broken things” we can. But we must also be humble enough to recognize that some “broken things” are beyond our power to fix. Not every saint in the hagiographies was sufficiently economically aware to know that…though we could reasonably expect them to understand human limitations. After all, it’s a tenet of our creed.

The Elite Have Thrown Down the Hammer

Kah-mah-la has delivered a smackdown to the proles that infest the Non-Elites in the Not-the-Coast.

“Christmas has come early for Washington’s enemies. Literally. Kackling Kamala Harris was dispatched to Singapore to assure our allies that the hyperpower was not a complete laughingstock. Instead, she told her hosts that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas is as kaput as the Karzai International gift shop:

‘If you want to have Christmas toys for your children, it might now be might be the time to start buying them, because the delay may be many, many months,’ she said.

Oh, my. Why would that be?

‘The climate crisis is fueling a lot of this. When we look at the stronger typhoons that have disrupted shipping lanes and sea level rise, which threatens port infrastructure as an example. So these are the many issues that are causing these disruptions.’

Get that? If you Plastic-Jesus-Worshippers (IRL, known as Christians) plan to buy your children (who, in a Just World, would be taken from their mouth-breathing biological owners to live with Truly Deserving Elites) any tacky presents to commemorate the alleged “birth” of that Baby Sky-God, you BETTER get started now. Because she knows that ALL them will be coming from China, and she would hate to see the supply chain stressed because those Awful People (tradmark pending) wait until they can afford them.

Challenge accepted.

I urge ALL Americans (and any other Freedom-Loving People who happen to live elsewhere) to strictly limit their purchases this year to American-made gifts. That would be the ones on this list – caution, many of the links don’t work well – that may improve as we get closer to Christmas), as well as those made by American craftspeople and sold locally. Yes, hit up the Christmas Craft Sales this year.

LL Bean – well-made, durable. I’m still wearing a 30-year old turtleneck – and, unlike those sold in Walmart, it DIDN’T shrink or stretch over that time.

Weathertech – Come on – you know you want that Cup-Fone holder!

Little Tykes – these folks, located in Hudson, OH (I’ve visited the place), have cornered the market on colorful, durable, appealing toys for the under 5 crowd. But, there are also toys for the older kids, including RC-vehicles, mini-trampolines, and backyard playsets (very nicely crafted, both that same durable plastic, and wood, too).

Liberty Flatware (not silverware, but stainless steel type) – what we’uns in the Flyover Country use when we’re not barbequeing.

My Pillow – don’t care what you think about Mike Lindell, but his products are Made in America. You know you’ll need a pillow sometime this year, why not try this one?

Original Mattress – made right in NC. Goes nicely with your My Pillow.

Kitchen Aid – although some of the products are made in other countries, including China, the principal product that we think of when we hear that name is the Tabletop Mixer – made in Greenville, OH. They are not cheap, but they are virtually indestructible, and the interchangability of the tools enables you to replace multiple items on your counter. I own one, my handy-in-the-kitchen daughter has one, and I would recommend it to anyone.

Multiple American Toy Manufacturers – everything from the Lincoln Logs of your childhood, to Slinkies.

Not American-Made, but made in England – Raspberry Pi computers. It’s not only a functional computer, but a learning experience, as well. I’ve owned 2 (3 B+ kit, and now 4). I’m planning to buy yet another to run my network in Lorain – they are cheap (base computer kit, less than $100), and, even with all the bells and whistles, seldom run more than $200-$300 total.

Vernier science probes and systems – made by a former Cleveland schools teacher, produced in Portland, OR (don’t hold that against them). Durable, able to be used from Elementary through College, and a good choice for a Home-schooler or Home-School network/pod. Good video instruction on setup and use, the lab books are a good add-on, and, if you get stuck in the learning process, shoot me an email, and I’ll be happy to send links/advice on how to get out of that loop.

While I do think many tech toys are over-rated, when it comes to science equipment, or tools to access online learning, you can’t beat Pi and Vernier. Worth the money – I’m still using equipment I bought in the 1980s. And, Vernier supports their legacy hardware still.

That’s just a short list of some of my favorites. Put your own suggestions in the comments.

The Last Of The Really Fluffy Towels

     I’m too sick of, with, and from current events to write about them. Sorry, Gentle Readers. Co-Conspirators Linda and the Colonel are doing enough of that, so please enjoy (?) their emissions while I flush the static out of my head.

     My sovereign remedy for “world is too much with me” syndrome is to retreat to writing fiction. However, in the aftermath of In Vino I’ve been drawing a blank. (Reviews badly needed. Hint! Hint!) It’s frustrating – what good is a writer who isn’t writing? – but there’s little to be done about it. My Muse, at least, is uninterested in my heartfelt pleas to get off her ass and can’t be bribed with dog biscuits.

     Still, there are ways to goose a story out of an idle writer. One of them is to pose him a challenge: “Bet you can’t write a story around this!” Such a challenge is responsible for the novelette “A Place of Our Own” in The Athene Academy Collection, and thus partly responsible for the whole Futanari Saga. So I decided to try challenging myself, in this fashion:

  1. Pick a really inane phrase;
  2. Make it the title of a story to be written;
  3. And get to work, hero!

     What follows is the result. Enjoy… if that’s the right word.

***

The Last Of The Really Fluffy Towels

     Alex Smith dried himself as best he could, scowled at the sandpaper texture of the burlap towel, wrapped it around his waist and cinched it, and headed to the bedroom to garb himself for the day. Maura looked up from her book. Her expression was curious, as if he’d done something not to be expected, possibly even unprecedented.
     Well, she doesn’t really know me yet.
     He smiled. “What’s the matter?”
     She shook her head minutely. “Oh, nothing.”
     “You’ve already seen me in all my Neanderthal glory, haven’t you?”
     She grimaced. “Of course. I was just wondering…no, forget it.”
     “Oh no!” he said. “Now you’ve piqued my curiosity. What was the look about?”
     “When I looked at you?”
     “Yeah, that look.”
     She hesitated. Her expression suggested that she’d taken a mouthful of something nasty.
     “Come on,” he said. “I know we’ve only been together for a night and a morning, but still…!”
     Her eyebrows rose. “Still what?”
     “Well, still you can trust that I won’t explode if you have something critical to say, can’t you?”
     “Yeah.” She looked a little away. “It was the towel.”
     “Hm?”
     “It was just…”
     “Yesssss…?”
     “You don’t have to, you know, conceal yourself from me,” she said. “As you’ve already observed, I have seen you naked.”
     “Oh.” He looked down at himself. “Habit, I suppose.”
     “You said you’d been alone here for years,” she said.
     “I have. So?”
     “So who’ve you been concealing yourself from?”
     He winced.
     Good point.
     “Well, yes,” he said after a moment. “But I wasn’t born here. I had parents and sisters. I got it drilled into me pretty early that it was unacceptable to parade around the house naked.”
     “Yeah,” she said. “I get it. But it’s not necessary now. And those towels…how can you stand to have one wrapped tight around you like that?”
     “Oh. Yeah, it is kinda scratchy.”
     Doesn’t dry very well, either.
     “So feel free to, ah, relieve yourself of it,” she said. She set her book aside, pulled back the bedcovers, rose and ambled toward him. “I like looking at you.”
     He admired her petite, trim form afresh as she put her fingers to where he’d cinched the towel at his waist, gently pulled it away, and let it fall to the floor. “And I don’t like the idea of Oscar and his side boys—” She glanced pointedly at his genitals “—of whom I’ve already grown fond, getting all scratched up for no good reason.”
     He grinned and took her hands. “You win.” He kissed her gently. “Would it have been an issue if the towel were nice and soft?”
     She made a who-knows gesture. “Less of one, I guess. I mean, I’d still like to look at you.”
     “Thank you.” He kissed her again. “May I offer you breakfast? I have a couple of soy cakes that aren’t too old, and an ounce or so of corn syrup for them.”
     “Okay. But,” she said with a mock-severe look, “I forbid you to eat your breakfast naked.”
     “Oh? Why is that?”
     “Because the splendor of you would impede my ability to savor so luxurious a repast.”
     He laughed and went to the closet for his robe.

#

     They sat at his tiny dinette table lingering over the meager meal, doing their best to prolong it into something worthy of the name. The thought irritated Alex briefly. He had nothing else to eat in the apartment. The emptiness of his cupboard griped him more than it would have had Maura not chosen to stay the night. If it weren’t that his new ration card was scheduled to arrive that morning, the little soy cake would be the last thing he would eat that day.
     “Alex?”
     He looked up from his plate. “Yes, dear?”
     “I know someone.”
     Her deliberate, gently emphasized full stop immediately piqued his interest.
     “Always good to know…people,” he said. “What brings whoever it is to mind?”
     She locked eyes with him. “Towels.”
     “Oh.” He carefully returned his gaze to his plate. “Who runs it?”
     She shook her head. “Not like that,” she said. “It’s just someone I know. His name is Phil Marsden.” She looked away. “He’s pretty old.”
     The unspoken word trader seemed to hang around her like a cloak of mist.
     Old people are getting to be few and a long way between.
     “Do you think he might need something?” he said.
     She shrugged. “Who doesn’t, these days?” But her eyes and voice said of course.
     And the regime has just cut rations for anyone over sixty to half of the standard allotment.
     “Well,” he said as casually as he could manage, “if there’s some way we can help him, I certainly wouldn’t be averse to it.”
     The entrance monitor chimed the tone that indicates that a delivery had just come through the slot. Alex stabbed the last fragment of his soy cake, mopped up the drops of syrup that remained, stuffed it into his mouth, chewed laboriously, and rose. “Two seconds.”
     A small brown envelope that lay on the floor behind the door. He stooped to pick it up. The return address announced the arrival of his coming week’s ration card.
     Thank God.
     He returned to the kitchenette and made to reseat himself.
     Maura said “Alex…”
     He froze, half seated. “Yes?”
     “I often don’t go all the way through my ration allotment in the course of the week.”
     “Really?” he said.
     But they hardly keep. The soy cakes were less than four days old and they were already almost too tough to eat.
     She didn’t need to say what she was doing with the uneaten portion, and he didn’t need to guess.
     She’s been giving whatever she doesn’t eat to Marsden.
     He glanced at the envelope that contained his new ration card, still clutched in his hand.
     “I think…” he said, and faltered.
     “Yes?”
     “I think we can help Mr. Marsden,” he said. “Do you think he might be able to help, ah, someone else?”
     She smiled. “Why don’t we pay him a visit and find out?”
#

     Phil Marsden was very tall, and very old. Alex estimated him to be about six feet four and in his early eighties, if not older still. He was emaciated, no longer able to fill out his clothes. His tunic hung from his shoulders like a tent. His trousers were held up by an elastic belt drawn frighteningly tight. But even if the spareness of his figure could be ignored or explained, his skeletal hands and arms and his skull-like face could not.
     He’s starving to death. Whatever Maura has denied herself to give him, it hasn’t been nearly enough.
     He was acutely aware of the fresh ration card in his pocket. A radical thought came unbidden and unwelcome.
     If he were careful, he could stretch my card and what Maura can spare into two weeks’ nutrition.
     Wait a minute: what would I eat?

     Yet the thought would not leave him alone.
     “I haven’t got much left,” the old man was saying. “Just my clothes, that love seat in the corner, and what my wife left behind when she passed. But it’s all on the table.”
     “Mr. Marsden,” Maura murmured, “did Mrs. Marsden maintain two sets of bath towels, by any chance?”
     Marsden’s eyes lit with a knowing light. “As a matter of fact, she did. I always wondered why. We didn’t need two sets. Just to wash one regularly every Saturday, which she did.” He rose from his battered leather armchair. “Get it for you if you’re interested.”
     “We are,” Maura said.”
     Ninety seconds later Marsden had trotted out a pair of large, fluffy bath sheets in a delicate pink. Alex fought back the urge to grab them and flee.
     Maura flashed an inquiring look at Alex.
     He hesitated, then nodded.
     “I can see that even with what I’ve been saving for you, you’re not getting enough to eat,” Maura said. “Would you consider a ration card—a standard allotment ration card—to be worth one of those towel sets?”
     Marsden tried to hem and haw and dicker, but he couldn’t keep the naked lust for calories out of his eyes.
     “Mr. Marsden,” Maura said, “it’s our one and only offer.”
     Marsden’s resistance crumbled. He held out the bath sheets like an offering of alms. Alex took them and handed the old man his new ration card.
     “Thank you,” Marsden whispered.
     Alex nodded. He and Maura made their exit.
#

     “I can’t go without eating for a whole week,” Alex said.
     “You won’t have to,” Maura said. She fondled the bath sheet in her lap and hummed with pleasure. “I can get by on half rations. You’ll get the rest.”
     Alex started to reply, checked himself.
     I guess we’re an item.
     The towel in his hands was the softest, fluffiest piece of fabric he’d ever encountered. The loops of terry stood out at least a half inch from the base weave. He could imagine having it wrapped around him after a shower, thirstily soaking up the moisture that lingered on his skin, and shivered with anticipation.
     Probably the last of its kind anywhere in the city.
     I’ll be pretty damned hungry after seven days on half rations, but I’ll live. Then it’ll be back to the previous regimen.
     It’ll be worth it.

     “All right,” he said. “I suppose you’ll want to keep one of these at your place.”
     “I would,” Maura said, “but it was your ration card we traded for them. So only if it’s all right with you. Or,” she said with a sudden lilt, “I could do my showering here.”
     He summoned his gallantry.
     “You could,” he said. “You’d be very welcome, always assuming the city doesn’t clamp restrictions on water usage. But even so, go ahead and take one home. I only need one, and we’ll get by well enough on one if you ever decide to stay the night again.”
     She smiled brightly. “Thank you, Alex.”
     He was in the process of framing a courtly demurrer when the apartment door burst open.
     The shattered doorframe revealed Alex’s worst nightmare: two large Community Monitors in full armor, including the blast-hardened full-face shields that guarded their identities while allowing them a hundred eighty degrees of outward vision. The two strode in, stun batons at the ready, to confront Alex and Maura.
     “Citizen,” the one poised before Alex droned, “a local informant has reported observing you entering this dwelling in possession of luxury textile goods unavailable from the government’s dispensaries.” He indicated the towel in Alex’s lap. “That was not acquired recently. Was it an inheritance?”
     Alex fought to control his shaking. “It was.”
     The Monitor snatched the towel from him and tossed it well behind him. “Then if, without looking at it, you can describe it accurately in all particulars, you will be permitted to keep it.”
     Alex darted a glance at Maura. The Monitor that stood before her had done the same.
     The end of a stun baton rose to prod the underside of his jaw. “Well, citizen?”
     Alex could only manage a quavering croak.
     “We’ll be confiscating them, then.” The Monitor turned and picked up the bath sheets. He and his partner marched out of the apartment, leaving it open and utterly violable.
     Alex turned eyes of woe to Maura. She appeared perfectly composed, far better in command of herself than was he.
     “I couldn’t—”
     She held up a hand.
     “I know. It’s all right.”
     He nodded, face crimson with humiliation and shame.
     They won’t turn them in for destruction. They’ll keep one each.
     “Alex?” she said. “Come stay with me tonight.”
     “You would have me, after this?”
     “Of course.” Her eyes were sad but understanding. “Everyone knows how unwise it is to resist them.”
     He rose. “Give me a minute.”
     He went to his bedroom, pulled a fresh shirt and a change of underwear out of his tiny bureau, stuffed them into a brown paper bag, and returned to the little living room. She rose as he approached.
     “Let’s go,” she said.
     He nodded, and they left.

==<O>==

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