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More Civilization

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Civilization is a choice, a habit, a line in the . . . sand.

For modern, prosperous society to progress, to grow more healthy and wealthy and wise, most of us have to agree on a small set of principles. Mostly, we must agree not to rush to violence at the merest provocation.

There has to be a lot of negotiation to get anything done. At least, in a free and open civilized society.

Terrorism is the repudiation of this principle.

The main perpetrators of terrorism these days hail from Muslim peoples. But there are non-Muslim terrorists, too. Many of the “school shootings” and similar violent acts in America and even in Europe rarely get listed as terrorism, though they certainly look terroristic. And most don’t have anything to do with Islam.

Even when Muslims are the ones committing the terrorism, their victims are often also Muslim.

Some folks estimate that as many as 95 out of a hundred terrorist victims are Muslim. Why? Because so much of this violence goes on in countries like Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

While this estimate is probably too high, the fact that Muslims themselves are the most common victims of Muslim violence suggests that the underlying problem is the lack of institutions in those lands that hold to the choice — the habit — of civilization.

So, yes: tyranny is at the root of the problem.

Americans, if we want fewer terrorists, might want to restrain our governments from propping up or closely allying ourselves to “Muslim” dictatorships, then.

This is something we can control.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Wanted: Armed Satirists

Monday, January 12th, 2015

I have a suggestion. Bear arms.

Commenting on the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, a Reason.com reader points to a profile of Henry Jarvis Raymond (1820-1869) at the website of Green-Wood cemetery.

At the moment, the most urgently relevant detail of Green-Wood’s profile is not Raymond’s co-founding of The New York Times, his politics or his friendship with Abraham Lincoln, but how he defended his paper against threat of assault.

“During the ‘high tide’ of the Confederacy . . . Raymond fought to rally public opinion in favor of the Union. When draft rioting mobs approached the offices of The New York Times in July 1863, Henry Raymond held them off with three Gatling guns he had obtained from the army.”

Charlie Hebdo has been attacked by Islamo-terrorists before. In 2011, its Paris office was badly damaged by a firebomb unleashed in reply to a “Charia Hebdo” issue of the satirical magazine.

At least since that attack, then, the risk to Charlie Hebdo staff for ridiculing Islam, Islamism and/or Muhammad* has not been merely theoretical. I applaud the fact that they have fearlessly persisted in their satiric mission despite what happened — and are fearlessly persisting now despite a much steeper cost.

But if you’re in that situation, please don’t just brave the odds. Even the odds. Ensure that personnel are well-trained in the use of firearms, and that these weapons are easily accessible at all times.

And if you’re a government, make bearing arms easy.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.


* It may be worthwhile pointing out — as many have — that the satirists were not narrowly ridiculing one culture, that of Muslims; they have been and are across-the-board satirists, mocking politicians, clerics and partisans of most (if not all) stripes. Further, though widely considered a left-wing magazine, its editorial policy has never fallen into the lefty rut of blaming only the West and bending backward to defend foreign criminals and tyrants.

Don’t Aid and Abet

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Some countries are ratcheting up their regulation of foreign Internet companies. These efforts, a New York Times article explains, “increasingly” oblige firms like Google, Facebook and Twitter to mull “which laws and orders to comply with,” which to resist.

The juggling act is nothing new. Cyber-companies have always wrung their hands about which tyrannical demands to obey.

On the one hand, we have such praiseworthy examples as Google’s eventual decision, in 2010, to stop censoring its search results in China. In consequence, the Chinese government kicked Google off its Internet.

More recently, Turkey sought to prevent leaked documents from being distributed via Twitter, demanding that Twitter block posts providing access to those documents. When Twitter refused, the Turkish government blocked its service. But it then lost a court battle over the issue even as users found ways to skirt the ban.

Also heartening is the fact that, so far, American tech firms seem determined to reject a new Russian imperative that they store user information on Russian servers.

But the firms do sometimes obey demands — saying they must abide by laws that, however lamentable, are verifiably on the books — and such obedience does amount to abetting repressive efforts.

Here’s what I suggest, instead: always say No.

Never agree to help violate the rights of users, even if your services are formally banned as a result. Instead, use your ingenuity and resources to help people end-run the obstacles to free expression that governments keep imposing.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Charity T-Tissue

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

As the year unrolls, maybe we should take some time to celebrate the little things in life that matter so much.

For reasons I am sure we can all understand, we don’t talk about toilet tissue much. But it is, nevertheless, one of the great products of our civilization.

Can you imagine living without it?

Well, for many poor people, and certainly for the vast throngs of unemployed in our ever-lengthening depression, sometimes it’s hard to afford even a little nicety/necessity like that.

Danny Westneat, writing in the Seattle Times, tells us of Leon Delong, who for the last 15 years has been collecting unused, “stub” rolls of toilet tissue from the janitors of the Evergreen City’s toniest skyscrapers, and giving them to food banks and pantries. For charity.

The ritzier places dare not risk a toilet roll running out. So the janitorial staff at these office buildings replace rolls every night. And were left with half-used/three-quarters-used tissue rolls.

Perfectly usable. But not suitable for those businesses that feared leaving any single restroom customer in an uncomfortably tissue-less condition. First rule: Avoid panic-inducing situations.

So, after retiring, Delong collected these stub rolls and made it his vocation to deliver them to the charities — where they went like “T-bone steaks.”

He’s now retiring from this charitable work, for health reasons, but can take pride in his moniker, “The Toilet Paper Guy.”

Others plan to fill his role.

It goes to show: There are many opportunities out there to do good. Some quite unexpected.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Common-Sense Canine

Monday, December 29th, 2014

If at first you don’t succeed . . .

Persistence. That’s the lesson of an animal rescue shown in a video of unknown provenance, most likely recorded in Southeast Asia, that appeared on the Internet toward the end of 2014.

As the video opens, we see that a small tawny-haired, yelping dog had somehow fallen into a well. Rescuers are lowering a rope into the water. The pooch has only one way to escape — by grabbing the rope with her teeth. Which she does.

Nine out of ten times, though, she can’t hold on long enough for a rescuer to grab her and pull her out. She keeps dropping back into the water.

Discouraging.

But the tenth time proves the charm. Some combination of dog-learning and human-learning results at last in a successful retrieval. The dog has done the only thing it could do to save itself, and kept doing it until it worked.

The advice to “keep trying” is regularly balanced with the advice to know when to “cut your losses.” But, often, it’s neither possible nor advisable to cut our losses no matter how tough things get. Switch strategies, maybe. But not give up.

We can’t conclude, for example, that “this U.S. government thing is not working out, let’s cut our losses.” We just have to keep working to reform its institutions and policies no matter how often we get flung back into the well. It’s the only way we win.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Rand Paul Raises Banner

Friday, December 26th, 2014

Last weekend, 60 Minutes offered up a fascinating profile of outgoing Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma). Coburn has prostate cancer, and is leaving Washington for his home state before his term is up.

My trouble with the segment? It didn’t mention Coburn’s views on term limits, or make any point about him leaving early, other than, well, cancer. But it is worth mentioning that many, many politicians die in office. Coburn retains enough of his views to exit the political stage at an appropriate time.

He’s not clinging on to power as if he were Gollum at the Crack of Doom.

Thankfully, not all of Coburn’s projects will languish. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) is planning to re-introduce a piece of legislation that Coburn had developed, a plan to halt the federal practice of sending “military-grade equipment to local police departments.”

It’s a typically Coburn-esque notion.

Though Occupier folks may have some trouble understanding where Coburn is coming from, or in what direction he wishes the country to go, Coburn’s Tea Party constituencies get the idea. And, if they had misunderstandings, Rand Paul made the limited-government perspective clear in August with his Time op-ed arguing against the militarization of America’s police forces.

The revived bill will still allow (too much) federal taxpayer money go to local departments. But it will (fortunately) stop the distribution of “vehicles and weapons used by the U.S. armed forces” to police.

No better tribute to Tom Coburn could be found than Rand Paul’s taking up his banner on this important issue.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Madness Method?

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

To those nattering nabobs of negativity who don’t trust government to do the right thing, or even to stop doing the wrong thing once discovered, I just want to say: “You’re right.”

Again.

Last April, a Washington Post exposé about a bizarrely tyrannical debt collection program caused the Social Security Administration (SAA) to publicly promise it would cease and desist from said program. The Social Security bureaucracy had been snatching the tax refunds of grown children — $75 million from roughly 400,000 victims — whose parents, many decades ago, had allegedly been sent excess money by this same incompetent outfit.

Due process? The SSA didn’t go before a judge to prove these people owed a valid debt, nor even bother to inform folks that their income tax refunds were being seized. Instead, the Social Security gang just flat-out took the money . . . surreptitiously, like a thief.

In some cases, the SSA wasn’t certain who exactly owed the money. In one case, the agency went after a child even when they could find the mother who supposedly owed the money. Why? The mother had already beaten them in court.

The SSA flouted more than common sense and decency. Children should not be held legally responsible for the debts of their parents.

Hasn’t this been settled law for at least the last couple of centuries?

After publicity back in April, the agency’s commissioner announced it would stop. Yet, now the Social Security Administration is right back at it, claiming Congress has given it the legal power to collect debts “as it sees fit.”

You see why governments need limits. Because they take liberties.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.