Thursday, April 21, 2011

Survival Values

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. -- C.S. Lewis

I mentioned something along these lines a few posts back. We have to think of our survival as a method rather than a reason. Lack of purpose, lack of a reason for living will kill us quicker than hanging. If we need reminding, and oft we do, man cannot live on bread alone.

It seems to me that one of the ways we got into the mess in which we now are mired is that we forgot our history and lost our purpose. Somewhere along the way, our reason for existing has been reduced to accumulating the markers of worldly wealth and the symbols of power and status along with worldly and very temporary pleasures. We placed security, especially financial security, and ease above liberty and righteousness. We made this transit life the only thing that mattered. We decided that he who dies old, decrepit, rich, and drugged is the winner.

One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts. -- Psalm 145:4

The living, the living, he thanks You, as I do this day; the father makes known to the children Your faithfulness. -- Isaiah 38:19

I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders that He has done. – Psalm 78:2-4

Not only do we need to pass along to our children and our children’s children the skills and attitudes needed for a peaceful and prosperous physical existence, we must teach them the truths and necessity of honor and integrity, the values that make human life worthwhile.

A life without purpose is bad. A life with a false purpose is worse.

Sometimes we speculate what we would do if we were in charge, if we were president, or, better, king for a day. Let us think, instead -- not how we would mandate from the top down, but how we would build from the ground up.

…[ N]o one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid – that is, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).

Start with the basics, for even the most ardent atheist has to admit that western civilization has been built on a Judeo-Christian foundation. As a Christian, I don’t advocate sectarianism, intolerance or bigotry. I will accept truth where I find it. Nevertheless, Christ as seen in the New Testament gives us a plumb-line of attitude and behavior that allows us to build true and square. Without the perspective of the eternal and the absolute, I’m not sure how a culture can thrive.

Next is the family. Suppose a man works in a sawmill and one day gets his hand cut off such that it cannot be reattached. He is certainly still a man. He may learn new ways to do things, rebuild his skills and be perfectly functional -- which is good. However, no one in his right mind would suggest that a man with his hand cut off is the way a man should be – that is, an ideal man. A one-armed man can be noble, admirable, and honorable, but he would not advocate that everyone should be so disarmed.

So, too, a family should have a father and a mother. Things happen, and there are sometimes amputations, but we should avoid them if possible and certainly not encourage or idealize them. In building a community, a stable family unit is critical. If the family breaks down, the community must soon follow. Look at the Fifth Commandment from Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” God does not simply lay down a rule, He says that this rule is necessary in order for us to live “long” in the land we have been given. Normally we think of living a long life, which is correct, but the phrase “in the land” carries the thought of "our place". It speaks of our traditions and our community.

The community, rather than some arbitrary political unit, is probably about as far up as we can go in rebuilding. Beyond the extended family, the neighborhood, the local church or the parish, we have to move into politics and managing the interactions and collisions of non-homogeneous groups that are related only geographically. The neighborhood can still be built up from family units. The extreme mobility of the last seventy years has sundered the extended family chains in most places, yet we can still work with people of shared interest and shared faith. There must be more to it than maintaining neighborhood property values (“until I can sell this dump”). We need community cooperation for mutual protection and mutual enrichment. What we want to avoid is excessive centralization and control by an external power. We can even tolerate a tyrant so long as the tyrant is local and limited in power and influence.

Think of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. The film pitches the conflict mostly between George Bailey and Potter, but in reality, George alone is unable to cope. Only when the community rallies behind him in defiance of Potter’s attempt to destroy him is George victorious. George is merely the Everyman of the good community. He representative of the men and women who look out for their family, friends, and neighbors, who curb their own ambitions and invest themselves and their talents, even reluctantly, in the village, the town, or the neighborhood. Like George, you and I probably can't have a direct impact on national and international political trends, but we can impact our locality.

One of the great losses of the 20th Century was the reorganization and centralization of schools. As long as schools were truly neighborhood schools -- built, funded, and controlled by people living in close proximity with similar long-term goals, they preserved the flavor and temperament of the locality. Now they are government schools, indoctrination centers designed to mass-produce good little statist puppets. Taking back the education process by home-schooling or sending kids to Christian schools is a good place to start recovering our families and our values.

Localism has been under attack for a long time. Words like “provincial” or “parochial” are said as sneering insults. A restoration of localism means that we restore a sense of cohesion and purpose based on local values. This is true and good regardless of whether a person lives in Halfway or Hoboken, New York or New South Wales, Oklahoma or Okinawa.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The National Socialist Football League

There are many great rivalries in sports from the Cowboys and the Redskins to Auburn-Alabama to Texas and Oklahoma. My favorite is, of course, Missouri and Kansas. Gary Pinkel is the current football coach at Mizzou and commented last fall on the viciousness of the Kansas-Missouri rivalry. He has not been able to understand the intensity of that set of contests. In many ways, it is a continuation of 'Bleeding Kansas', the war between the states that took place before the War Between the States. My objection to Quantrill has to do with the raid on Lawrence: he failed to completely obliterate the snakepit.

The rivalry in football is one thing as Missouri usually fields a mediocre to decent football team that occasionally breaks into the top 25 and even more rarely into the top ten, while Kansas usually plays at a lower level — except for a brief shining moment of national recognition a couple of years ago. The real conflict is on the hardwood where KU is a perennially top-ranked program, and MU has frequently done quite well. The long-time coach of the Tigers, Norm Stewart, was always a potential Jayhawk nemesis whether playing in the regular season or in the Big 8/Big 12 Tournament. Stewart always managed to get the best out of his squad whenever KU came to town, or even in enemy territory over at Allen Fieldhouse.

Just imagine, during the best days of the Stewart-Roy Williams era, that KU was having a really good night against Mizzou. Let's say that ten minutes into the first half, nothing was going the Tigers' way. Their shots were clanging off the rim. The ball was getting away from them. They were falling and fouling at a disastrous pace. Meanwhile, the Jayhawk players simply could not miss. They were swishing in shots from near half-court. They were stealing and dealing with grace and ease and were leading already by an insurmountable score of 40 to nothing. At that point in this massacre, the referees call an official time-out and gather in a corner of the floor. They agree that this cannot be allowed to go on, and they agree on a solution. Coming back to the center of the court, the head referee announces to the teams and the crowd that for the remainder of the half, Kansas will be allowed only three men on the court while Missouri will have the full complement of five. Stunned silence is followed by a near-riot as fans, players, and coaches vent their wrath upon this ridiculous decision.

It does not matter much whether this imaginary game is being played in Lawrence or in Columbia. Naturally, the KU players, coaches and fans would be outraged, but so would the Missouri side. As a Mizzou fan and alum, I would be deeply offended. No Missouri player or coach would accept such a handicap being placed on an opposing team. Not only would it be contrary to the rules and the very spirit of fair play and competition, it would be an insult to the team which was supposed to benefit from it. Now I can imagine a gentlemanly coach like Roy or Norm, as the clock ran down, putting in the second-string players, possibly even telling his team to "go a little easier", but that's up to the teams and the coaches. No official has the right or responsibility to do such a thing.

The referee's job is to make sure that the game is played by the rules and played fairly. His job is not to determine the outcome or the final score. He can't call fouls just because one team is much better than the other. In baseball, the umpire cannot make the strike zone larger for one team than the other. Speaking of Missouri sports history, the St. Louis Cardinals won the 6th game of the 1985 World Series against the Royals. I was watching the game and saw the final out — except the first base umpire called the runner safe. It was a completely bogus call that cost the Cards a World Championship, since, if they had been allowed to win the sixth game, there would not have been a seventh game. The umpire later admitted that he made the call knowing it was wrong.

We would not stand for such a thing in sports even if it favored our favorites. For some strange reason, however, it is apparently perfectly acceptable to do the same thing in politics and the economy. Government should function as an umpire or a referee. Government's job is to make sure that people play "by the rules", that they do not take unfair advantage of insider information, that they do not run scams on the uninformed, that people be able to trust the information they do receive, that deception gets punished, and that risky practices be fully disclosed.

Of course life is more important than sports. When we are talking about government action, we are typically dealing with serious issues of health, welfare, and justice. While I am willing to acknowledge that the circumstances and outcomes are much more serious, I question whether we can discard the principles and philosophy of fair play with regard to government.

Like a referee, government should not be beholden to one side or the other. There should be no collusion between referees and players. Yet this is not the case with government. “Players” on Wall Street move from private enterprise to government regulatory positions and back again. There exist quasi-government entities like the Federal Reserve, the Federal National Mortgage Association, and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation have made their officers and friends wealthy at taxpayer expense.

On the one hand, government favors corporations, big banks and financial institutions, while on the other hand they favor unions. That might seem to balance, but that is not how it works out in reality. Government goes from one side to the other, pandering to voting blocs, buying votes with bloated, high-cost projects or initiatives. Every state should be a right-to-work state.

Government needs to be made honest. The only way to do that is to limit the areas over which government has control. We did this once. They called it the Constitution. The Constitution gives the government very little and very limited power. The Declaration of Independence, the foundation of the Constitution, clearly states that the rights of individuals are not derived from the government but are God-given (or natural, if you prefer).

I have heard people say that the government should guarantee equal opportunity but not equal outcomes. Certainly there should be no guarantee on the part of government for equal outcomes – though the redistribution of wealth is an ongoing attempt to do just that. However, the government cannot even guarantee equal opportunity specifically. That is, government cannot determine that a child be born to caring, decent parents, which is the single most important factor in determining success in life. Give a child a mother and a father who love one another and love their offspring and who stay married and that child can overcome almost any difficulty in life without any help from the government.

Yet government policies to “fight poverty” have served to destabilize families, to encourage promiscuity and out-of-wedlock births. The government has, for many women, become the “daddy” and “liberated” women from the constraints of marriage.

Government attempts to provide better housing for the poor resulted in the destruction of neighborhoods and the uprooting of individuals from functional communities. Urban renewal resulted in the creation of “the projects”. The projects became breeding grounds for crime and drug abuse – which the government then also had to fight.

The thing to do is to reduce the size and scope of government to constitutional limits, to return the government to doing a reasonable job of fairly calling balls and strikes rather than trying to get the game to end in a tie.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Please Read Denninger Today

Please read this Market Ticker post from Karl Denninger. This is the truth, simple, easy to understand, not, perhaps, so easy to accept. The Tea Party stuff is a little extraneous to the more critical point that America must experience a contraction in GDP.

One of the comments says we need an "Anakin Skywalker" to restore balance. That is exactly what we need. We need a one-term president to follow Obama who will sacrifice his or her political career to serve this country. I don't know who that might be. The person will be vilified worse than Hoover, Carter, and Obama combined. The state run media will destroy the person. He or she could be impeached by the House, but the deed has to be done. Somebody has to stand up and tell people the truth.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dollars to Donuts

I am no expert in these areas. I don't have a degree in economics, voodoo, or meteorology. Still, I am interested in thinking how things might work and the direction the world might go.

There for a few days we were hearing about silver's record highs. Today it's hitting $40, and there is not much being said. Gold is edging toward $1500, and oil is around $120 +/- at my last check. To top it off, the euro is surging against the dollar. There are still people saying that it is "only commodities", which is true (I would drop the "only"). Yesterday I saw a blurb about housing "officially" double-dipping. I think it was more like housing was clinging desperately to a branch on the edge of a cliff, and the branch just broke off. But, anyway, housing prices are not recovering.

Here's the really simple point to keep in mind. The federal government cannot afford deflation. The Federal Reserve bank is not officially part of government, but only "not officially". The central banks in the U.S. and Europe determine government monetary policy. They do it whether there is a conservative government or a liberal government. The goal of central banking is to consolidate as much of the wealth and property of a given nation-state as possible into the fewest hands possible. That is not, by the way, a conspiracy theory so much as it is a simple and observable fact. To the bankers, this makes perfect sense. I do not see it as necessarily malicious or intentional evil. What else would bankers do?

To this end, bankers prefer fiat currency issued by a stong central government. They like a government that will borrow money to fund extensive entitlement programs while providing a guaranteed stream of income for those holding government bonds. The bankers and their affiliates can lobby a central government for statute and regulatory changes that will enable this plutocracy to further enhance its wealth accumulation. A central bank's symbiotic relationship with a central government is one of the reasons the Founders were reluctant to have a central bank and stipulated in the Constitution that only Congress could coin money.

Since the dollar was floated relative to gold (under the Nixon administration), the Fed has been able to manipulate the value of our fiat currency. This has worked fairly well in some cases, not so well in others. Again, for the most part, this is not malicious, it's just stupid. Politics get too involved and people are harder to control than the bankers imagine. Communication modes change. Information becomes more easily accessible and more, if you will, feral. Still, the central banks have done a good job of convincing people that paper dollars are something of sound and lasting value instead of token markers in a vast and often uncontrollable game.

(Parenthetically, if I were a conspiracy theorist, I would make predict rampant inflation going into the 2012 election with continuing high unemployment and growing unrest. I would predict the rise of a third party candidate to draw off center-left "moderate" voters unhappy with Obama but unwilling to vote for a social and/or fiscal conservative. I would predict the rise of a Republican candidate who is just enough outside the establishment to appeal to the Tea Party folks. I would predict the Republicans holding onto the House and gaining enough votes in the Senate to give them a majority which they will then proceed to lose in 2014. The reason the Senate will go back the Republican in 2014 is because interest rates will have been raised dramatically in the face of run-away inflation. But I'm not a conspiracy theorist, and the people who would be behind any such conspiracy are not that good or that smart. The last time that scenario worked out all right because the percentage of productive workers was higher than it is today.)

The Federal Reserve works at the creating and sustaining of economic bubbles through its monetary policy. As long as there is an industrial base and a majority of the people in a given political region producing what we might call "capital" goods in the form of energy resources, ores, and productivity-enhancing equipment along with foodstuff, the central bankers can do well enough. When the number of non-productive people, e.g., financial services workers, government workers, and welfare recipients, grows to too large a percentage of the population, the central bank seeks to expand the central government's influence and sphere of control. In Europe, this meant the creation of the EU. In North America, NAFTA may have been a symptom. Now we have the WTO and the IMF. I don't think the UN itself is organized enough to be really involved but it does provide something of a loose framework.

Again, this is not some world-wide, ancient conspiracy. It is ancient, but it is mere self-interest magnified. It makes sense to the financiers who are able to pull these various strings. People simply have a tendency to use the power that is available to them. Fiat currency and political consolidation are powerful tools.

The Federal Reserve and its sister central banks wish to continue to plunder the remaining affluence of the American taxpayer. Taxpayers are still a slight majority in this country so there is still opportunity for rapine. Fearful of resistance if taxes are increased too much, the federal government and its central bank have hit upon an insidious alternative — inflation, which in the context of a huge federal deficit, becomes a massive tax increase. Last night on the news from a nearby city, the mayor was boasting that sales tax revenues are up. Well, hell, yes, they are. If a loaf of bread that used to cost $2.00 is now $3.00, the city collects another few cents per loaf. So even if fewer loaves are purchased, an increase in revenues can be seen. The same is true of "record profits". Never trust any measurement made with an elastic tape.

The end result is that the average person has less money to spend on goods and services apart from taxes, utilities, food, and fuel.

That is the reason I have questioned and still question the deflationist's reasoning. It's still possible that, as I have said before, somebody perfects some new technology that completely alters the situation. If there is such a thing as cold fusion, and it could be discovered and perfected quickly, we would all be out of this mess in five years. Aside from that, there is the "good business" of war, which daily seems more acceptable and even appealing to the previously anti-war left.

I would like to remind those who think war might be an option that the Four Horsemen are a package deal.

Monday, April 4, 2011

CRKT Crawford Kasper Review

A few weeks ago I bought a Columbia River Knife & Tool (CRKT) Crawford Kasper folder. It was an impulse purchase made despite the fact that I needed another knife in about the same way my 16-year-old granddaughter needs another pair of shoes. Nevertheless, it was only about twenty bucks, and it was larger than most of my folders. I have two or three other CRKT products that have impressed me as well-made, reasonably-priced production pieces.

The scales on the Kasper are dark gray. They appear to be made of some sort of polymer. Except for the linerlock cutout, the steel liner perfectly undergirds the scales so I’m not too worried about chipping or cracking. The texture is smooth but not slippery. Heavy use of the Kasper as a camp knife is unlikely to cause any scalding or blistering of the bare hand. It has an appropriately placed lanyard hole.

Now what I really like about this knife is the size of the grip. The blade is only 3.5 inches long and single-edged – no chance for legal trouble in the mere carrying of it. The haft, though, is 5.25 inches long, and it is designed so that my relatively wide hand is contained between the pseudo-guard and the pommel. The knife is flat-side and only about half an inch wide across the back, but since it is around an inch deep, it fills the hand nicely while not being too bulky in a front pocket. It might not be the knife to carry in your church pants, but it will be reasonably unobtrusive in most casual or work attire. Of course it has the pocket/belt clip which is removable – though I can’t see any point in removing it. As it is I carry it in my front pocket mostly, but it rides very nicely in the right hip pocket of my jeans. If I put it on my belt, I keep it more toward the back for comfort when sitting and bending.

The grip is grooved for the index finger (assuming a hammer hold) which facilitates operating the linerlock as well as enhancing control, retention, and indexing. A smooth lip at the pommel end braces the pinky and helps keep the hand in place. The butt slopes away to the spine creating a rounded projecting end that would be effective in a backhand strike. There are thumb ridges on the spine at the base of the blade to allow for more controlled blade-ward pressure in cutting. At the same point on the spine there is a simple but effective “safety” which, when pushed forward with an open blade, prevents the linerlock from being disengaged. The safety has to be pushed back toward the butt to allow the blade to close. It is probably not necessary, but it is not a bad feature. Most importantly the position of the safety has no effect on a closed blade. The knife will open in every case.

Speaking of opening, I think I had the impression that this was an assisted-opening knife. There is really no special mechanical assistance, though. The blade has the usual thumb stud. To open, the regular motion is employed. What is different is that the design of the haft and the weight and shape of the blade enable the knife to open with a snap of the wrist. A little push on the thumbstub, up more than out really, coupled with a slight wrist movement locks the blade authoritatively into place.

As far as the blade itself, in keeping the depth of the scales, it is deep as well. I have noted already that the length is 3.5 inches. Picture the business end of most Bowie knives, and you have the blade geometry of the Kasper. The false edge on top is almost as long as the cutting edge. The blade is thicker in the middle and back toward the base. I suppose a person could sharpen the false edge, but that would mean an exposed cutting surface when the knife is folded. Besides even at the point the top edge is close to a tenth of an inch wide and flat. Finally, the very tactical-looking blade is covered in a subdued coat of gray.

All it all it is a well-designed and good-looking knife.

I have not had a chance to do much field work with it. After some experimentation, I was able to get it decently sharp using a diamond hone and a ceramic one. It is not quite up to my standard of scary sharp yet, but it will certainly shave hair and pass the paper cutting test. I used it to do a little pruning of rogue shoots and branches, and it performed well. For a folder, the Kasper is a fair chopper. It is helped by the weight and substance of the blade and butt. I wouldn’t want to take down a big hickory with it, but it will handle some modest chopping if the situation calls for it.

Keeping in mind my oft-repeated caveat that I know nothing about and do not believe in knife-fighting, the Kasper appears to be a good weapon should it ever be pressed into emergency self-defense service. Again, the size, weight and design of this knife work to its advantage. In the standard grip, the blade will work well for slashing or thrusting. The pommel, as mentioned earlier, will serve in striking. Gripping the knife will multiple the force of a punch while protecting the hand. If the user prefers a reverse grip, the Kasper lends itself to that, providing a very secure feel that inspires confidence.

No, I didn’t need another knife, especially yet another tactical folder, but the Kasper is riding in my pocket more and more, and my twenty bucks looks to have been well-spent.

Read my follow-up here.