Monday, November 30, 2009



I think that John Mayer is not only the greatest Blues guitarist of all time, but also that he is the most intelligent, sexiest and most eloquent man ever to have lived. I further believe that Mr. Mayer's new album--"Battle Studies"--is the greatest musical work ever committed to a tangible medium. Finally, I believe that John Mayer's genius for the Blues stems from his challenging formative years as a wage laborer in suburban Connecticut, where he faced systematic racial discrimination, violence, heartbreak and emotional turmoil due to his socio-economic status in a segregated community.

Mr. J. Burton Panner
Senior Culture Critic
Reason, Commerce, Justice & Free Beer




By: Mr. E.G. O'Miner, President and Chief Spokesman; Chairman of the Board of Directors, O'Miner Property Acquisition & Development Co., Inc., a Delaware Corporation Specializing in Real Estate Hedges; Profilee, Fortune Magazine's Gold 100 (March 2007); Author, "It's Mine : Stop Apologizing for Your Money" N.Y. Times Bestseller for 24 consecutive weeks; Married subject to prenuptial contract.

No one ever got anywhere in this country helping others. Rather, our ancestors achieved success by focusing on themselves. There is no shame in being selfish when being selfish buys you a house. There is no shame in being selfish when you get the job and the bonus. Just think of it this way: If you stopped to help the other guy, you might not have gotten the job or the bonus. Where would you be then? I assure you, you wouldn't like it.

Yet somehow it has become fashionable in the United States to deprecate wealth. Even really rich people learn that it is rude to mention incomes, portfolios and real estate holdings in public. They even open themselves up to ridicule when they refuse to give money to charitable foundations. Put simply, successful Americans feel increasing pressure to express shame for their success, even though they have realized the American dream.

This is outrageous. We believe it is time to stop feeling guilty for our money and our success. As successful Americans with substantial property holdings and minimal financial worry, we refuse to be modest any longer. We refuse to flagellate ourselves for achieving precisely what everyone sets out to achieve in this country. Rather, we want the world to know what it takes to be successful. We want to step out and say: "It's All About Me." And we're going to be honest, too. We're also going to say from the top of our lungs: "Screw Everybody Else."

I started the It's All About Me Party (And Screw Everybody Else) because I got sick and tired of all the public recriminations about wealth. I started the party because I want to be honest about success. Look, you can't become a millionaire by giving money to others. Being a millionaire requires a decidedly self-centered mental outlook. You need to think about yourself if you want to possess money and property. You can't put together favorable business deals, meaningful commercial contacts or cash large checks unless you adopt a relatively egotistical approach to life. I say to you: It's OK. Don't give yourself "permission." Don't apologize. Rather, say: "It's all about me and I don't give a good two shits what anyone else thinks of me."

Let the moralists complain and call you selfish. You'll be the one laughing in a Bentley while they're talking to themselves in a used Honda.

Let me explain what I mean by "It's All About Me." Being selfish is a lifestyle. It is a commitment, too. When you say "It's All About Me," you take an oath to live for yourself and yourself alone. You tell everyone else to fuck off because if they're not making money for you, they're not worth being around. True, it takes courage to live for yourself; everyone from day one has told you that it's wrong to eat the whole cake without sharing. But you can do it. Be strong. If you really want to be a millionaire, you need to think unconventionally. Don't apologize. Don't share. Take it all for yourself. And be happy doing it.

When it's all about you, you use the word "mine" a lot. Don't be afraid to think about "my house," "my money," "my wife," "my beach home," "my portfolio," "my cars," "my coin collection" and "my inheritance." This stuff belongs to you. You worked hard for it. Why should you give it away? Stop punishing yourself for caring about "mine." Sure, your parents and teachers always scolded you for shouting "mine mine mine" when you refused to let some brat share your toys. But they didn't know what the hell they were talking about. Rebel against convention. Stop the guilt. Go ahead and scream "MINE MINE MINE MINE" without a shred of shame. After all, who's the one with the mansion?

You can do this. You can finally make yourself the center of your world. No matter how much you have been brainwashed to care about others, you must dare to see through the lies. If you crave success, you must penetrate the deception. Make yourself the star of the show. Put your needs first, not your paraplegic uncle's. Pleasure yourself, not your spouse. Keep your money in a high-yield account; forget about the charity fund. Screw your brother; he can make it on his own. The minute you start worrying about other people is the minute you veer off the path to success. When it's all about you, you enrich yourself and you even feel good about it. Don't be weak. Don't be conflicted. When it's all about you, there is no conflict: It's just you, my man.

We stand for freedom. We stand for liberty from guilt, self-doubt, pity and compassion. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you only think about yourself all the time. Although we also believe in telling people to "screw off," we do not think that it is a bad thing. After all, putting yourself first means screwing everyone else. It's all part of the ball game. The trick is shedding all those compassionate impulses you learned since birth. If you really want to make a name for yourself, you need the courage to tell everyone else: "Screw you and your problems; it's all about me."

Our opponents say that we live unvirtuous lives. They say we are cruel, unforgiving, heartless and superficial. They can call us all the bad names they want. We're the ones with the big jobs, the big houses and the big cars. We're the ones who get the hot chicks and go on the ritzy vacations. We feel no shame for serving ourselves, because selfish people make the world turn. We don't think "selfish" is a bad word because selfishness creates jobs for all the people who live to share. Put simply, when we say "It's All About Me," we drive the economy. So in a weird way, we share a lot more by refusing to share than we would if we lived to share. And not just that: Virtue doesn't buy villas or hire hot whores; selfishness does.

Be a man. Do yourself a favor and drop the guilt, will you? Join the It's All About Me Party (And Screw Everybody Else). Liberate yourself from bloodsuckers and annoying relatives. Make money without shame. Spend it on yourself, not greedy dependent children, beggars and wives. Because when you permit yourself to be a selfish, greedy, arrogant rapacious pig, you drive this Nation to prosperity. Plus you get a really nice house and a bulging stock portfolio. And that, my friend, is the surest chick magnet on earth.

So shut the fuck up with this "sharing" business. Because when you share, you cheat yourself. And there's no "share" in the phrase "It's All About Me."

Be different. Be selfish. Be strong. Be yourself.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Most people don't mind their "daily routines" during Thanksgiving, so I'm going to conserve my energy until Monday. I don't mind playing to an empty theatre, but for my own good I won't this time.

I've been reading an old nemesis for the last couple days: Aristotle. When I was in college, I used to define my personal philosophy against Aristotle. After all, Aristotle--as the father of modern "analysis" and a consummate biologist--believed that everything on earth had a "purpose." But the "purposes" that Aristotle ascribed to everything really were simply assumptions that carried no intrinsic weight, even if they sounded "right." Aristotle also originated the modern notion of "categorization," which is also artificial despite its organizational usefulness. It sounds great to say: "There are four kinds of goodness." Yet even momentary reflection reveals that it is preposterous to narrow something as amorphous as "good" into four absolutely rigid subdivisions.

Aristotle's methods seem suspect to a natural renegade like me. But I don't deny their influence on Western thought. I venture that Aristotle is probably the most influential secular philosopher of all time. His conclusions and observations--while replete with unjustified assumptions--nonetheless set the standard for everyone who came after him. His analytical and categorical processes remain intact in science, law, mathematics and even the arts. While we might disagree with Aristotle's judgments on some subjects, we nonetheless continue to apply his methods when "dissecting" any question into its "component parts" (analysis... literally "taking apart the whole and examining its parts").

It's worthwhile to re-read such an influential philosopher. Aristotle wrote about everything, from marine biology, to singing, to procreation, to politics, to geometry, to ethics, to law and even to drama. I like comprehensive intellects. Aristotle was definitely a comprehensive intellect who learned because he enjoyed it. He might have been wrong about many things, but I respect his contributions to knowledge. I just don't like metaphysical assumptions and assertions that "absolute truth" exists in life.

I will take up some of Aristotle's points in later essays. For now, I'm going to rest.

See you all next week!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009



Yesterday I saw the movie Doubt. In it, Meryl Streep plays a cantankerous Catholic schoolmaster who is determined to unseat the new parish priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) because she thinks he is abusing a troubled student. She has no direct evidence for her crusade. She has seen him hug the student in the hallway. But everyone else says there is nothing inappropriate about the relationship. The priest says that love is essential to the Christian spirit; he said he hugged the boy because he was enduring ridicule from classmates. In the end, the schoolmaster confronts the priest by claiming that she "spoke to his former parish" about his "history." This leads the priest to leave his post.

Ironically, the schoolmaster later admits to a friend that she never called the priest's former employer. The friend is horrified that her austere confidante would ever lie, even when pursuing a just end. She responds: "In the pursuit of wrongdoing, one naturally steps away from God."

What an incredible line. It made me think about proof and truth, as well as investigations into others' personal history. It also made me think about prosecutors. After all, prosecutions involve the "quest for truth" while "pursuing wrongdoing" through "investigation." Yet that quest--despite its good intentions--often leads prosecutors into serious ethical quandaries, just as it did to the schoolmaster in Doubt. And beyond ethics, investigating people for supposed "wrongs" often brings out the worst in everyone involved.

We all have histories. When someone wants to dig into them, he will always uncover something unpraiseworthy, embarrassing, scandalous or simply ugly.

Meryl Streep's character in Doubt represented a familiar "type:" The self-righteous investigator who wants to find evil in a person's past. Such types do not just appear in Catholic schools or District Attorneys' offices. Rather, they appear everywhere in our society. Whenever a person assumes a morally superior position above another and launches an "investigation" into that person for some "official" purpose, he or she effectively becomes the schoolmaster in Doubt. I have encountered them in private employment, in law practice, in academics and in State licensure boards. There is an inherent condescension in their work: They hold the power; they assemble the knowledge; and they pronounce a judgment on another person's history. All the while, they never acknowledge that they, too, may have "skeletons in the closet."

It is uncomfortable to undergo investigation. When I applied for admission to practice law in Illinois, I had to submit to a grueling "Character and Fitness" inquiry. For months, an entire committee combed through my past. They made me fill out an exhaustive "personal history" questionnaire in which I had to disclose all my addresses over the past ten years, as well as confess any disciplinary infractions, criminal convictions, criminal charges, debts and basically anything else "bad" I had done in my life up to that point. They also deeply wanted to know whether I had ever lied under oath or otherwise been "dishonest" when "investigated in an official capacity." Every question seemed to lay a trap: Should you answer fully? Should you answer everything? Should you try to get away with an omission? It was as if the committee wanted you to think they knew everything, but perhaps might overlook something. Every question radiated mistrust, as if inviting you to risk a lie. The whole process seemed designed to make you feel inferior and minuscule. It left you feeling like a specimen under a microscope. And it was your "character" on the block: You either had to confess or they would find out the "truth" by some other means.

Private employers do similar things when "vetting" potential employees. They want references. They want work history. They run credit checks and peruse public records. They compare your resume to other sources to see if you're lying. They even call former employers to get "outside impressions" about the "kind of person you are." Just as the Bar Committee ruthlessly investigates applicants, so too do private employers subject hopeful workers to a suspicion-laden process in an effort to "certify" them. They get to judge personal histories; it is a one-way street. They might be total scoundrels themselves, but they're not the ones applying.

But sometimes we need investigations, don't we? After all, we want to find out bad things about people so we can punish them, or at least prevent them from working, right? Of course we do. Still, that does not mean that investigations are noble. In fact, as the schoolmaster said in Doubt, the "pursuit of wrongdoing" moves us "away from God." In other words, it is somehow undignified to grub in the ground for bad facts about people. It leads to uncomfortable inconsistencies, awkward explanations and outright embarrassment. And taken to the extreme, it leads the investigator to employ dishonest means to accomplish his "honest" ends. Put simply, the quest to affix "truth" to an individual can quickly degenerate into an obsessive witch hunt. When that happens, we should wonder whether the value of "truth" about people is worth the ethical leaps we perpetrate to find it.

I mention all this because truth interests me. We cannot talk about investigation without talking about truth, because investigation aims to produce "truth." Yet it makes no sense to talk about truth without analyzing the concept. After all, truth is about human knowledge. Human knowledge, in turn, stems from human sense. There are comparatively few things in this world that an individual can sense, and those are the only things that he can really "know as true." We know the sky is blue because we see it; we know we are angry because we feel anger in our stomachs. But how do we know about others' pasts? We are limited to our own senses for knowledge and truth. If we do not see a person act "badly," what proves to us that they are truly "bad?"

Investigators set about assembling all the circumstantial facts that produce the impression that a person is "bad" or has "done wrong," even if we personally know nothing about it. That takes real effort--and it takes a lot of scavenging. That "scavenging" takes us "away from God." Scavenging is dirty; that's what pigs and vultures do. Yet this is also what investigators do, even when they have the best intentions.

Theologians say that only God knows the "truth" about other people. In that light, any human attempt to find it seems a hopelessly imperfect enterprise.

Leaving God to one side, modern-day investigations merely reflect power. The investigator sits back, asks questions, assembles facts and makes a judgment about a person based on his "past." The investigator has a past, too. But he need not answer for it. He's the one doing the investigating. He has his own truth; he keeps it comfortably concealed in his memory. But he gets to affix truth to someone else.

It is, after all, an immense power to declare the truth about others.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009



I don't like telephones. If I'm not expecting a call, I can't stand it when the phone rings. Basically, I don't like interruptions. I like focusing on things. I like dedicating my energy fully to a project and getting it done as well as I can. When some fool calls me about new cable service or a municipal election, it breaks my concentration. I don't like small talk, either. I don't like reporting what "I've been doing lately," "how things are going with me," "what I'm doing this weekend" or "how the job search is turning out." I would just rather read and write in peace.

Telephones used to terrorize me in law practice. My bosses expected me to be on the phone all the time: Call the client; call opposing counsel; call me; call your colleague; call the court; call the expert; call the printing service. All meaningless, vacuous, unstimulating calls. Either that or confrontations over the phone: "Give us the Get this done I'm going to sanction you for this...go ahead; see if I care." Nasty, nasty shit.

Telephones allow people to attend to business without "actually being there." In many ways, this is advantageous. But when people try to do too much every day, they abuse the telephone. It gets ridiculous when you make and take 1000 calls a day trying to get everything accomplished from afar. I mean, how much can you really do over a phone line? Good old-fashioned face-to-face contact is a gravely underestimated commodity these days. I think excessive telephone use cheapens human exchange. And telephones cause unreal stress when abused. You can run away from a person. But you can't run from a person with a phone. In a word, telephones can take away your peace if you let them.

And I'm just talking about regular land lines. Cell phones made matters worse. As hard as it is to field phone calls from behind a desk, in the old days at least you could go home and escape the dreaded rings. Once you left the office, the phone could ring all it wanted; you couldn't hear it. As recently as the early 1990s, people had more peace in their lives because they didn't carry their phones with them everywhere they went. Now, everyone and their brother has a cell phone. You can't escape your phone now, even if you want to. Even you leave your house for a moment to buy a gallon of milk, someone can ring your cell phone. You are always on call. You must answer. How can you experience peace if you're worried about who might call you every minute?

American society is obsessed with contact. People don't want to be isolated from others even for an instant. They need to know what others are doing all the time. They need to reach them at any moment. While this might yield some "real-time" benefits, I argue that our society's obsession with constant communicative contact makes it more difficult to find peace than it was only 20 years ago. Some call me an "old soul" because I shut myself in a room for several hours every morning and pull the phone line out of the wall. But I just want some peace. I like the idea that I have time to myself each day when no one can reach me, even in an emergency. If something horrible happens, I'll find out about it when I'm ready. Yet in most cases, if someone calls me, it won't be an emergency. It will be a sales call or a pollster. Screw them. I don't want to hear it. Thank God for caller ID.

I understand that I am a mighty rare bird. I have always relished outdated communicative means. I write handwritten notes. I like meeting people in person. I like face-to-face conversations. I embrace technology to the extent that it makes my daily routine easier. But I do not dive headlong into real-time contact with everyone all the time. I joined Facebook mainly as a free forum for my writing and to learn about old friends. I've had a cell phone since 2000 because sometimes I need to let people know where I am. But I don't update my status every 20 seconds, nor do I make random calls to everyone in my contacts folder. No, I want peace.

I just can't understand why so many people want to know "what's going on with everyone" all the time. For example, I cannot ride the elevator in my apartment building without seeing some well-dressed woman on a mobile device furiously typing something. Strangely, it's always a woman, and always white. I see them on the weekends, early in the morning, at night, in the evening, you name it. What are they writing about? Why? To whom? It can't just be about work: You don't write work emails at 11 PM on Saturday, do you? I can't figure it out, but that's because I'm Balthazar Oesterhoudt, an antiquated man who likes reading, peace and quiet. Can someone tell me what these women are scribbling? What the hell is so important? Can't it wait until they get where they're going? Why couldn't they write the message before leaving the apartment? Why try to do four things at once? These questions perplex me; and they make me question my place in this linked-in society: Do I even belong in this century?

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a polemic called "Uncontemporary Observations." He dared to criticize beliefs and trends that most people in his day simply assumed to be valid. I continue that tradition. I do not like this linked-in society and I find it quite disturbing. I like privacy. More and more, our society willingly cedes its privacy in order to "let everyone else know what's going on with us all the time." Sadly, even professional success now depends on "how many people you know" and "how well you communicate with lots people in your 'network.'" That, in turn, engendered an entirely new--and distinctly American--concept in the English language: "NETWORKING."

I don't "network." I maintain human relationships with as many people as I can. I do not cultivate relationships that I know won't go anywhere. And I certainly do not calculate relationships in order to win petty career advancement. I don't like using people for selfish ends. Yet this is precisely what "networking" demands. I am not "successful" in the linked-in world because I do not like exploiting others for my own gain. I actually take pride in that. If I fail because I do not properly "network," I consider that a compliment.

But again, I am a mighty rare bird. I take my time when I speak, read and write. I don't stop reading something because it's over a sentence long. I relish life as it comes; I don't try to manipulate it according to a plan or expectation.

People who "network" don't have time for that. Every conversation must yield a tangible benefit; every contact must have a "purpose" that leads closer to a "goal." If you write something, it had better be short because these folks are in a hurry. There is never enough time for them. And that's why there is no peace in the linked-in society. You have peace when you have enough time each day to meaningfully pursue your own heart. If finding peace means turning off your cell phone for a few hours, I say do it.

Speak when you want to, not because you must. That will bring you some peace. Unplug yourself for a while. It is quite rewarding. Who knows: You might actually feel human again.

Monday, November 23, 2009



By : Mr. J. Curtis Hinckley, Official Party Spokesman; Ph. D., Yale University (Business Communications); Former Chairman, Conrad, Killrath & Wedgeworth, P.C., A Professional Corporation Serving Professional Corporations in Professional Matters Professionally; Member, The United States Guild of Tax Examiners; Crossword Puzzle Expert; Married; Real Estate Owner (free and clear of all liens and encumbrances); Senior Partner; South Florida Responsibility Association; Untroubled Man.

Some people have it. Some don't. Some people grew up in stable households with good parents. Others frittered away and went off track. Basically, some people have problems and can't move on.

It takes some skill and good fortune to achieve success in America. We are happy to say that we are both skillful and fortunate. We are successful men and women. We never faced life-threatening illnesses, financial misfortunes or even the occasional insult during childhood. Rather, we had it pretty easy all the way through: We got jobs, we advanced, we made money and here we are at the top of the heap. Our parents always helped us. And they didn't die until we were good and ready for them to.

Life is not that difficult as long as problems don't materialize. It takes stability to achieve success, and problems make stability impossible. For example, it's impossible to get good grades all the way through high school, college, professional school and beyond if your mother falls ill and no one can take care of her. And without good grades, you can kiss a good job goodbye. Stability is essential to success. Yet it's so easy to experience problems. But when you have your eyes on the prize, you can't let yourself get bogged down in illnesses, love affairs, obsessions or far-flung emotions. You need to focus in and get the job done.

As successful people who never experienced significant problems, we find it extremely tiresome to hear about people with problems. After all, we made it. We could really care less whether someone else makes it. And in most cases, we are quite certain that other people don't make it because they are just not smart enough to overcome their problems. For a long time, we simply kept to ourselves and enjoyed our success. But we've had enough listening to others whine about their troubles. That is why we came together to form the National Association of Heartless Fortunate Pricks Committed to Solving Everyone Else's Problems with Condescending Platitudes and Rude Quips. If people want to complain about difficulty in their lives, we are ready to help out with glib, dismissive, smug and mean offhand comments.

Look: We don't have anything to worry about. We pay our bills. We get along fine at our jobs. We have stable families. That gives us a unique insight into others' lives. When we see others with problems, we can sit back and identify what's wrong. Then we can pronounce a cursory judgment about what to do. True, not everyone can enjoy a problem-free life. But we are happy to lend our one-line wisdom to everyone who is doomed to struggle in this world.

Let us start with unemployed people who are looking for work. They say they have been searching for months. They say they attend job fairs and troll internet postings. They say they have circulated resumes to hundreds of potential employers. They say that no one is hiring. They say that they are even willing to work for lesser pay and no benefits. They say they can no longer collect State unemployment insurance. They don't know anyone who can find them a job. They are worried to death because they have families to feed and rent to pay.

We have a simple answer for job-seekers: "Get a job." We are Heartless Fortunate Pricks. We are not unemployed. It's too bad that you don't have a job. But hey, you just need to try harder. Just get up and get a job. It's not rocket science. You can do it if you try hard enough. If you've already been trying for over a year, well, sorry. Gotta dig a little deeper there, pal.

Frankly, we find all these complaints so tiresome. After all, we never had to worry about getting a job. We had jobs waiting for us from day one. It is inconceivable to us how a person could not have a job. That is why we say: Just go get a job, already. How hard can it be? For goodness sakes, just go do it.

Let us move on to people with health problems. Some people do not achieve success because they come down with some debilitating illness. Some people get cancer and give up on life. Some people develop mental disorders, like depression and anxiety. Others suffer horrible accidents that leave them paralyzed or maimed. Still others have chronic diabetes, HIV, liver problems, kidney difficulty and even carpal tunnel. No matter what ailment plagues them, their complaint is always the same: I can't achieve my goals because I am sick and I am in pain.

Sick? In pain? So what? Success comes to those who work at it, whether they are sick or not. As Heartless Fortunate Pricks, we have a platitude for these folks: "Keep your chin up." Sure, you might call that a dumb thing to say, but who really cares? We still have our houses and jobs while you're staring death in the face. We even get to have sex four times a week while you're bed-ridden and eating through a nose-tube. Too bad for you. Look, we're trying to help you out here. Just keep your chin up and you'll be fine. You've got nothing to worry about. And for all those people who say they are "depressed," we have something else to say: "It's all in your mind." We don't really understand what you're going through, but from our perspective it all looks pretty silly. Just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get on with it.

We are healthy. We have really good lives. We don't feel pain every day, nor do we suffer from life-altering disabilities. We have all our limbs and we even urinate comfortably. We don't catch diseases and we are not about to die. We don't even know anyone who suffers from heart trouble. As Heartless Fortunate Pricks, we live in a contented world. That is why we are uniquely situated to pass judgment on your problems. We are pleased to offer you Rude Quips and Condescending Platitudes to help you make it through your adversity.

Next we consider people who claim that "family problems" make it hard for them to cope with everyday life. These problems include abusive husbands who browbeat and whip their wives every night with a belt. Or a mother who struggles to raise 10 mentally-handicapped children without a partner or an income. It might even include a child who grows up in a broken home surrounded by drugs, crime, violence and despair.

These folks say that they are "emotionally disturbed" because they have no "peace at home." Without peace at home, they cannot focus on schoolwork, careers or advancement. Put simply, because they do not have stable family lives, they cannot achieve success.

We have advice for people with "family troubles." To the wife with an abusive husband, we say: "Stand up to him and be tough." To the mother who struggles to raise 10 mentally-handicapped children without a partner or income, we say: "Hold the course; you'll make it." And to the child living in a broken home, we say: "Don't blame your family for your own shortcomings."

In all honesty, we find these "family problems" to be poor excuses for failure in life. Just because a husband abuses his wife does not excuse the wife from earning a living or winning a promotion. A strong woman can persevere through everything, even daily beatings. Success is there for the taking; strong people take it no matter what challenges they face. And just because a mother tries to raise "special needs" kids without an income does not entitle her to sympathy for failure in life. After all, she's healthy and strong. If she really had the desire, she could change diapers, buy clothes, clean the house, manage medications, take the kids to doctor visits during the week, commute, cook meals AND hold down four full-time jobs in two States.

What's stopping her? "I'm so stressed out," she wails. Bullshit. She's just flat-out lazy.

There's nothing wrong with our families. We've never dealt with violence or drug use in the home. We've never had to care for "special needs" kids or mentally-handicapped midgets. We have obedient wives, good kids and plenty of money to pay the bills. Everyone has health insurance in our house. Everyone follows a predictable daily schedule. We know how to live. We don't have "family problems," and they don't distract us from giving our all at work. That is why we simply do not understand how so many people can complain about their "family lives." From our perspective, they just need to dust themselves off and get a grip.

You can solve your problems. In America, it's your responsibility to manage your own life. If you can't hack it, that's your problem. Don't look to others for help. No one has an obligation to help his neighbor in this country. Still, although we are Heartless Fortunate Pricks, we are happy to provide Condescending Platitudes and Rude Quips to help you through your toughest times. We don't claim to understand your issues. But we are prepared to minimalize, trivialize and ridicule them for your own good.

So for the last time, we say to everyone who has problems in the world: "Just get out there, get up, get a job, work harder, move on, feel better and do it right."

Trust us. You'll be fine. There are plenty of people who have it worse than you. But we don't.

Friday, November 20, 2009



I tried to answer this question during a conversation I had with one of my best friends. We often talk about philosophy and power, and we both agreed that "shame" and "guilt" are "kindred spirits." They are both strongly negative words. No one likes to feel guilty or shameful. They both imply that you have done "wrong." But are they really the same? That's the question.

Both "shame" and "guilt" flow from an acknowledgment of power. We only feel shameful or guilty when we recognize that we have failed to conform to a standard that we probably did not make. Someone else made the standard, someone we recognize as "superior" to us. In this sense, both guilt and shame emanate from below; the person who makes the rules that induce guilt or shame at most feels "disappointed" that his "subject" broke a rule. Shame and guilt, then, are for those who occupy an inferior power position. This is why Nietzsche called shame and guilt Sklavenmoral--Slaves' Morality. The rule-maker (or "master") does not feel them. Rather, he causes others to feel them because they do not adhere to his standards. They solidify his grasp over them.

But this does not mean that a single "superior person" causes others to feel guilt or shame. While a "superior person" may have originally laid down external standards, in most cases today external standards proceed from institutions. After all, power is deeply entrenched. It emanates from manifold places. It operates in virtually every conceivable manner, whether subtle or overt. Power radiates in families, in schools, in laws, in social settings and in professional relationships. It exists in commerce and in property. Most relationships involve a party with advantages and a party without them. That disparity provides an opportunity for dominance by one party over the other. And this is the setting in which guilt and shame flourish.

Guilt is more extrinsic that shame. Although both guilt and shame flow from an acknowledgment of power, the power that induces guilt is predominantly external. When we feel guilty, we feel bad because we know we have transgressed against some common rule or understanding. Our negative emotion springs from our awareness that we have violated an external expectation. This includes everything from the criminal law (an external authority about which we are conscious) to our parents (an external authority whose commands we respect). A person feels guilty when he steals or when he knowingly fails to attend a dinner he promised his parents he would attend. In both cases, the person knew he was obligated to do something by some external authority, yet he failed to adhere to the obligation. That conscious failure creates guilt.

With guilt, then, the inquiry is external. We feel guilty only when we acknowledge that some external authority holds power over us. When we break its rules, we feel guilt to the extent that we deviate from the "expected standard." Guilt requires an acquiescence to "superior" people or ideas. It necessarily makes the subject "inferior" to the standard he violates. And unlike shame, it can be objectively measured: The "superior" party can declare a subject "guilty" because the subject verifiably deviated from an external standard. This is why the law uses the term "guilt" rather than "shame." Guilt is a conclusion as well as an emotion. You just need to see whether a person met the standard.

Not so with shame. Although shame might feel similar to guilt, it flows from an entirely different conceptual source. Shame has internal origins. A person feels ashamed when he fails to meet a standard that he expects from himself, not a standard some external authority set for him. An external authority might encourage a person to expect certain behavior from himself. But in the final analysis, only an individual can decide whether to adhere to certain principles or beliefs. In this sense, shame intertwines with honor. An honorable person swears to himself that he will not act in a certain way to achieve certain results. He expects certain behavior from himself. He commits himself to certain principles and beliefs. When he fails to act in the way he expects, he feels shame, not guilt. He failed to meet his own standard, not an external one.

Consider a man who commits himself to respecting others and telling the truth. He makes these commitments because he personally believes that respect and truth are honorable principles. If one day he lies and disrespects a competitor to win a job, he deviates from his own standard. If he truly has honor, he would feel ashamed for breaking his own commitments to good principles. He might also be guilty of violating some external standard against perjury or untruthfulness, but that has nothing to do with his own internal transgression. And that internal violation creates shame. In short, shame is ethical (internal), while guilt is legal (external).

But shame still requires an "inferior" mental outlook. Although an honorable person decides for himself whether to believe in certain principles, in many cases he does not decide freely. The decision whether to believe certain things often depends on social circumstance and expectation. An external rulemaker has as great an interest in creating strong internal shame in his subjects as he does in crushing them under external guilt. A rulemaker wants his subjects to decide to believe in principles that could induce individual shame. All this inures to his benefit. For example, a person learns to believe that "it is good to respect private property." He also learns that it is "illegal to steal." If he steals something, he suffers both shame and guilt: On the one hand, he failed to meet his own internal standard about respecting private property; on the other, he knowingly violated the external command not to steal others' property.

Both emotions are negative. They flow from different sources. But in the end, they both serve to reinforce the "superior rulemaker's" control over his subjects. Guilty and shameful people are easier to manage than willful ones.

Shame seems purer than guilt. It is more individual than guilt because it depends on the individual's own moral ordering. But if a person's own moral ordering is not voluntary--and if individual moral ordering merely substitutes for external rulemaking--then the net effect of shame is no different than guilt: They both reinforce dominant values by inducing negative emotions in those bold enough to "transgress."

Thursday, November 19, 2009



When I studied property law, I learned the word "externality." Before law school, I understood the word to mean what it says: "external to something else." But I soon found out that in the law, words do not always mean what they say in plain English. No, they function as shorthand for other concepts. And sometimes those concepts bear no relationship at all to the word that signifies them.

In both legal and economic terms, an "externality" refers to the effect on others when two people conduct a lawful transaction. It also refers to the effect on others when one person lawfully uses his land. To be blunt, "externalities" mean the shit everyone else has to endure because others act within their legal rights. After all, the law empowers certain people to act in more sweeping ways than others. An oil company has much more power to act in sweeping ways than some private farmer next door. And when more powerful people act within their rights, they can produce an enormous--though not intentional--effect on others' lives.

In property law, "externalities" are both obvious and subtle. As a general rule, our society holds up land ownership as a talisman. Everyone strives to own his own patch of earth to do as he wills with it. Yet by "doing what he wills" with his own land, our archetypal landowner may unintentionally injure someone else. How can this be? Well, what if he wants to open an industrial tannery on his land? He's master of his land, right? He wants to make money on his land, right? Isn't that what we're supposed to do in America, make as much money as possible from our land?

If he opens a tannery, he exercises his rights as a property owner. Yet he makes noise, produces foul odors and makes life miserable for everyone else around him. Those are externalities that flow from his lawful land use.

He's not breaking the law; he's living the American dream. Problem is, when some people live their American dream, they give people around them nightmares. That's what externalities are all about.

But I'm not writing today to put down property owners. As a cynic, I am prepared to believe that most people will use their land only to enrich themselves. If they make everyone else's life difficult in the process, they could care less. As long as they don't face a nuisance suit for using their land as they wish (ie, that would cost more money than merely continuing the objectionable land use), they will keep on using it in a way that brings in the most cash. That's American life: Cost-benefit analysis. Effects on others rarely come into the equation unless those effects would result in greater costs than benefits. Even courts subscribe to this view. They won't let a few poor neighbors complain about pollution from a nearby auto plant because the auto plant keeps people employed. Sure, the land use might be horrible--and it might make the neighbors' existence miserable--but their suffering is a "bearable cost" given the "ultimate benefits" that flow from it. Shutting down the auto plant might solve the neighbors' ills, but it would cost hundreds more their jobs. So the law lets the more powerful landowner use his land as he pleases, externalities or not. That's just the way our society values things.

But externalities do not just exist in property law. They are all over our lives. After all, we are consuming animals. There are not enough resources to go around. By living well for ourselves--even innocently--we might deny others the chance to live well. For example, if a person gets sick, he becomes an externality on everyone who must care for him. His life drags others down with it. It imposes costs. It strains emotions. By living his life, he makes it difficult for others to live theirs.

In essence, sometimes just staying alive on this planet produces a burdensome effect on others. Every time one person enjoys a meal, he eats food that will not go to someone else who needs it. Every time one person falls in love with another, he denies that person's love to someone else who wants it. Every time one person gets a job offer, someone else had to get a rejection letter. Every time a corporate board awards bonuses to its members, it reduces the available funds for employee raises. Whenever a child is born, it imposes a staggering financial, emotional and social burden on the family.

These are all perfectly lawful things to do. Yet they produce negative effects on others' lives. People don't mean to produce these effects on others. People are simply trying to survive in a world that requires consumption. But these effects are inevitable because resources are limited. When one person succeeds, another must fail. When one person relaxes, another must toil.

Yet where would we be if we constantly worried about externalities? I think we must merely accept the fact that our continued existence will impose substantial difficulty on many people, both far and wide. To some extent, we must resort to selfishness in order to feed ourselves and to secure our bodily health. This may sound bleak. But if you think about it, human bodily existence is quite bleak. There is nothing grandiose about our biological processes: We eat, excrete, grow hair, breathe, make money, buy things, strive to experience positive emotions, have sex, groom ourselves and do our best to avoid pain. These are our "goals" as living creatures. And when we fulfill them, we necessarily impose costs on others. For every goal we reach, someone else did not make it.

True, we rarely want to make others suffer by pleasing ourselves. But that is the price of survival in a world of limited resources. We must simply accept the fact that our own quest for comfort and happiness in life impacts many other people.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Last night I started sniffling, coughing and sneezing, so I took some cold meds. They knocked me out quite effectively: I was asleep by 9:30. My mind is still not clear, so I think I'll take a day off from writing to rest. I tried to sit down and write a piece this morning, but I found my mind wandering all over the place. Antihistamines make you think the strangest things. So the writing will have to wait until tomorrow.

I feel better than yesterday, though, so that's a good sign.

I am just glad that my ideas keep flowing and my creativity is still intact. I can handle a cold now and then, but I'd be really upset if I lost my inspiration. Thankfully, that's not something that dies easily.

See you very soon.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009



By : Colonel Harold F. Ehrenkranz, United States Army, 443rd Infantry Regiment, Kabul, Afghanistan

We are winning the war. We easily defeated Saddam Hussein in 2003 and we drove Osama bin Laden like a rat from his cave. No matter what the critics back home say, the United States military has kicked terrorist ass no matter where it has dared to bare itself.

And why shouldn't we? After all, the United States military has advanced equipment. We know where the insurgents are before we attack them. We have unmanned reconnaissance drones. We have helicopter gunships with laser tracking devices. We even have C-130 assault planes that circle above terrorist camps and blast them with a 75mm airborne artillery cannon. Come on, people, how can we really lose once these buggers come out and fight? Yeah, we've lost a few GIs because the terrorists fight like cowards. But when push comes to shove, we napalm their brown butts before they can say: "Allah, Akbar."

But our battlefield superiority has sparked critics to complain: "It's not a fair fight." They say that it's dishonorable for the United States to use laser-guided bombs, choppers, night-vision scopes and 50-caliber machine guns against goatherds armed with pikes and shovels. Although we acknowledge that our enemies do not enjoy the same technological advantages that we do, we must point out that military operations are not supposed to be fair. Fairness means you give the other fellow an ample opportunity to win. Fairness means he has roughly the same training and equipment as you. Well, that doesn't make sense in war. It's better to fight unfairly and win than to fight fairly and lose. Hey, it's not our problem that Iraq doesn't have an air force.

Still, as soldiers we do not like the implication that we are cheaters. Honor is very important to a soldier. Although we want to win our battles, we feel somehow cheap when we obliterate our opponents with overwhelming modern firepower. I mean, there's not much honor in calling down a chopper strike on a house filled with 5 camel-herders armed with bolt-action rifles. Sure, it's an easy win, but what did we prove as soldiers? We did not prove our superior training. We simply proved that we have greater technology and we can kill without risk to ourselves.

As an honorable United States Army officer, I am prepared to meet any challenge to my honor. I am prepared to say that American soldiers are tougher, better trained and deadlier than any insurgent on earth. We don't need fancy night-vision goggles, airpower or laser-scopes to beat turban-wearing shepherds. We can take them blindfolded with one hand tied behind our backs. We are better men than these cowardly terrorists. That's why I am proud to announce that my regiment will drop all its modern weapons next month and fight the terrorists at an intentional disadvantage.

Next month will be "Redcoat Month" in the 443rd Infantry Regiment. In order to show that American troops are better men than these lousy insurgents, we commit to fighting in the open. We commit to refusing all air support. We even commit to dropping our khaki camouflage uniforms and donning 18th Century British red uniforms. We will not even use modern weapons. We are so confident that we are better soldiers than these pitiful rebels that we will use only flintlock muskets with bayonets.

We'll see who's more honorable next month. We won't even follow modern battlefield protocol or tactics. We will march in line formation in daylight through enemy-controlled sectors flying flags and singing American songs. When the insurgents attack, we will hold the line and present disciplined musket fire against them. If they fight from cover, we will call them dishonorable cowards. And we will win because we are tougher soldiers who prefer honorable death to dishonorable victory.

Just let these scrappers try to ambush us. We don't need cover. We can shoot better than any Afghan farmer, even with smoothbore muskets that take 30 seconds to reload. But just in case the battle goes poorly, we reserve the right to call in our dragoons and muzzle-loading 8-pound cannons. We'll see who's tougher when the Afghan militia comes face to face with honorable American horse-drawn field guns! Just look at them. Be afraid, Mullah Omar, be VERY afraid:

We will win the war because we are Americans. We are better than the Afghanis and Iraqis not because we have superior military equipment, air power and advanced recon drones with satellite-driven global positioning capability. We are better because we are true soldiers. We can win this war without newfangled technological contraptions. Give just one American a musket and a bayonet and he can beat any disorganized Arab mob.

President Obama, you don't need to send reinforcements. We have the situation well in hand. We swear to bring honor to you and the United States by defeating these rebel scum on fair terms in open combat. Forget about the air force. We refuse to sully our honor by letting pilots do our work. No, Mr. President, we will bring you the Afghan warlords' heads in a sack after we defeat their forces with muskets and pistols. Never fear; every American boy will make it home. These devious terrorists can't hurt us. Even if we march in parade step in bright red uniforms against their AK-47s and RPGs, we will prevail because we are Americans.

This is Redcoat Month. The United States will win a great and honorable victory in Afghanistan. And we will do it with a handicap. Let's see what the critics say about us then.

Monday, November 16, 2009



On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would try several key al-Qaeda suspects for their alleged role in the 9/11 attacks. That was big news; under President Bush's direction, the Justice Department deferred exclusively to the military for handling so-called "enemy combatants" captured in the "War on Terror." Unlike President Bush, Obama decided to heed the United States Constitution and prosecute these suspects before U.S. civilian courts. After all, these detainees are not "soldiers captured in War" under the Geneva Convention, because al-Qaeda did not sign the treaty. Yet American authorities hold them on American territory for breaking American laws. In such circumstances, there is only one lawful alternative: Try them in domestic courts.

This was a significant step. But the Justice Department announced something even more significant: It would try the suspects in New York.

From a legal perspective, it makes little difference where the sovereign chooses to try a criminal defendant for violating the law. Here, the United States seeks to convict terrorists for plotting to attack the World Trade Center and ultimately destroy it. As long as the sovereign holds the defendant in his realm, he can prosecute him under the ancient principle of "personal jurisdiction over the body." If you are present in a country and you commit a crime there, you can be prosecuted for it in that country--it is very simple.

It also makes sense to try 9/11 conspirators in New York from a practical perspective. In criminal trials, venue is proper when it is easy for witnesses to get to the courthouse. Certain districts have a greater interest in trying a case than others, especially when all the "sources of proof" lie in those districts. Venue is also proper when the crime has a direct connection to the locale. Even the United States Constitution says: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed." U.S. Const. Amd. VI. This makes common sense as well as constitutional sense. It is practical--and somehow just--to try cases in the places where the crimes happened. Every jurisdiction has a public interest in punishing wrongdoing in its own borders.

Yet there are times in which it does not make sense to try cases in the most logical places. New York seems the most fitting place to try those accused of destroying the World Trade Center. All the witnesses are there, and obviously New York has a burning local interest in punishing those who caused such havoc in its borders.

But these practical advantages spawn larger concerns. After all, the Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants "a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury." U.S. Const. Amd. VI. It is also guarantees that "no State shall deny any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Id. at Amd. IV, s. 1 The Supreme Court has held repeatedly that a State deprives "a person" of "due process of law" if it does not afford him a "fair trial." For obvious reasons, 9/11 conspirators may not get a "fair trial" by an "impartial jury" in New York. That is why it might not make sense to hold the trial there.

How can any New York jury be impartial about 9/11? Daily newspapers routinely run stories about "dangerous Muslims." Bitter memory about 9/11 runs deep. Many people knew individuals who died in the attacks, or they know their families. 9/11 is a focal point for national anger; and it burns hottest in New York.

These are the people who will sit in the "New York jury pool" when the conspirators step into court in New York. Can they be impartial? Can they render a judgment free from passion, excitement, resentment, anger or emotion? Trials are fair when they are based on evidence admitted under law in open court. They are not fair when they are based on emotional reaction, prejudice or bias.

And how can New Yorkers insulate themselves from pervasive press coverage about the trial? As soon as the Justice Department announced that it would try the suspects in New York, the New York Post published a blaring headline: "NOW DIE! 9/11 Fiends Coming Back to New York for Trial--Next Stop Hell."

That headline reminded me about the famous Supreme Court case about trial publicity and Due Process: Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333 (1966). Sheppard held that every criminal defendant has a right to a "fair trial free from massive, pervasive and prejudicial news coverage" that is "reasonably likely" to lead the jury to find against him based on inadmissible evidence and emotion. The case also concluded that the trial judge has a duty to control press access to the trial, and to monitor every juryman's out-of-court attention to news comment about the case. After all, according to the Court, the State provides trials in order to "adjudicate controversies, both civil and criminal, in the calmness and solemnity of the courtroom according to legal procedures." Id. at 350, 351, quoting Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 559, 583 (1965). Those "legal procedures" include the requirement that the jury base its conclusions on evidence admitted in court, not on outside sources or emotion. Id. Prejudicial and pervasive press coverage undermines these goals when it poisons an entire population against a criminal defendant. And it undermines another key goal in our justice system: Fairness.

Many people discount fairness in legal questions. Law professors used to scoff at me when I suggested that certain results in cases were "unfair" or that legal forms resulted in "unfairness." After all, the law attempts to introduce scientific certainty into the maelstrom of human existence. It attempts to govern the ungovernable. In many ways, humans are ungovernable because nothing can control their emotions. Emotions are not reasonable; they are intuitive. Sometimes they flow from perceptible evidence. At times they do not. Legal formalism fails when it refuses to accept just how important emotion and intuition are to the human mind. Like emotion, it is difficult to quantify fairness. We know it when we feel it. We know when a process is unfair, even if we cannot articulate why. Fairness is important to the law, even if it draws ridicule from law professors. And sometimes even the law recognizes how important it is. In more hopeful moments, even the Supreme Court sees that no legal rule can survive unless it comports with intuitive fairness: "[O]ur system of law has endeavored to prevent even the probability of unfairness." Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 353 (1966), quoting In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136 (1955).

I doubt whether the 9/11 suspects will receive a "fair trial" anywhere in the United States. But I am certain they will not receive a fair trial in New York. The fact that the New York Post blared a headline telling the suspects (who are not convicted) to "Go Die" and mentioned "hell" indicates how New Yorkers feel about the case. True, not everyone reads the Post. But it voices a very popular sentiment, and it is almost impossible to avoid seeing such headlines each day. And these are the people who will receive jury duty summonses. Can we expect them to be "unbiased, calm and serene" as they consider "only evidence produced in court" in this case? I think not.

All this begs a question: Why even bother holding a trial at all for these suspects? In theory, the State and the individual should be equally matched at trial. The State attempts to divine the "truth" about the individual's "criminal act," while the individual--whom our system presumes innocent--is free to cast doubt on all the State's claims. As long as he produces a reasonable doubt about his guilt, he must go free.

But this is all theory. Few Americans presume everyday criminal suspects innocent, let alone the 9/11 conspirators. These men have been demonized in the press for over eight years. They have been held in orange jumpsuits at Guantanamo Bay. We have all seen the pictures. Can any American truly presume them innocent? Can any American reflect on them without bias or prejudice? Yet we now expect Americans--in New York, no less--to put aside all their emotions about 9/11, as well as all the negative publicity they have heard about it for the past eight years. We now expect that they will calmly and serenely reflect solely on evidence produced in court. We expect them to drop all their emotions, preconceptions and prejudices. We expect them to magically forget all the horrible things they have been told in the press since 2001. And we even expect them to respond to a judge's command to "exclude any information I deem inadmissible," including confessions induced by torture.

If our jury actually acts in the way the law expects, the 9/11 suspects will get the "fair trial" to which the Constitution entitles them. But people do not simply shut off their bias or emotion. Nor can they erase a fact from their memory simply because a judge says: "Disregard that fact, please." In short, national hysteria surrounding 9/11 for the last decade has so inflamed the American public that there is no way the 9/11 conspirators will get anything approaching a fair trial.

In this case, emotion, prejudice and a rabid press have already made the decision.

As guilty as the conspirators may be, we should step back and ask ourselves how "fair" our process truly is. And while we're at it, perhaps we should wonder whether we even want "fairness" for "monsters."

But if we sacrifice fairness in one case, what happens in the next one?

Friday, November 13, 2009



On November 28, 2008, the Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, N.Y. braced itself for "Black Friday," the notorious shopping frenzy the day after Thanksgiving. It hired temporary employees to work longer hours. It also planned to open earlier and close later. Still, that was not enough to placate a mob of predawn shoppers who assembled at the front door long before the slated 5 AM opening time. These shoppers did not want to wait until 5 AM, so they smashed down the door and stampeded through the entrance. In the process, they trampled a temporary employee to death.

I presume they went straight to the discount aisles and did not even notice what they did.

I read about this story in the New York Daily News. See N.Y. Daily News, Wal-Mart set for shopper frenzy, Nov. 12, 2009 at p. 6. The News reported that Wal-Mart faced prosecution for its "wanton and willful disregard" for its employees' safety. Rather than face crippling fines, however, Wal-Mart struck a deal with prosecutors. It promised to implement better "crowd control measures" this year than it did last year.

This story interested me for two reasons. First, it confirmed to me how truly violent people can be when engaging in commerce. Second, it reminded me that the criminal law does things beyond merely punishing human bodies and individual bank accounts.

I felt genuine horror when I reflected on these rabid shoppers. Why does commerce lead people to behave like this? I have written that commercial language is "warlike:" the words "bargain," "purchase" and "haggle" all derive from violent etymological roots. But language alone does not explain why people smash down doors and crush hapless employees underfoot on their way to bargain bins. Something else is at work here. While language may reveal commerce as a warlike enterprise, the activity itself lends itself to contentiousness, strife, cruelty, selfishness and violence.

What was so important to these shoppers? Why was it so important to buy a few Holiday trinkets before the other guy? What emotions did they feel as they battered down the door and heard the employee struggling to escape from under their feet? Put simply, what did commerce do to these people? When they woke up that morning, they were law-abiding middle class drones. But by 5 AM they had transformed into a stampeding horde indifferent to life and death.

Human beings are acquisitive creatures. They like laying their hands on as many objects as possible and calling them "mine." Capitalist apologists even say that this "impulse to own" gives us the greatest economy the world has ever seen. They say it is pointless to deny it, and that communist countries fell because they tried to meddle with humankind's natural propensity to "competitively strive for ownership."

Property law also taps into this maniacal human urge. It proceeds on the reasoning that people will only work hard in society if they know their toils will translate into more "stuff" to call "mine." John Locke called this "The Labour Theory."

Maybe human acquisitiveness does give us the greatest economy in the world. Maybe it does lead people to work harder. Maybe it leads to innovation and greater good for all. But boiled down to its core, it is pretty damn ugly. It leads to scenes like the scene at Wal-Mart last year. I am not saying that human acquisitiveness does not bring direct benefits to society. I am merely saying that there is nothing noble or even attractive about it. The idea that people are prepared to smash down doors and trample others for a few Holiday savings is proof enough that commerce brings out some pretty horrible impulses in our human fellows.

On the second question, I found it interesting that no one went to jail for this outrage. After all, who was really liable? Everyone pointed the finger at Wal-Mart. But Wal-Mart is not a living human being; it is a noncorporeal corporation, a fanciful "legal person" with intangible rights and responsibilities. In the popular understanding, criminal law inflicts pain on "bad people" as "social revenge" for some dastardly choice they made. But how do you inflict pain on a non-human--even non-biological--entity? Corporations cannot be imprisoned, or tortured, or executed. They cannot even feel scared or anxious. Only living things can feel emotions.

So why did the prosecutor pursue Wal-Mart for the stampede? What could the criminal law do to inflict pain on a corporation? Interestingly enough, the criminal law has other, more subtle powers than merely inflicting bodily pain on humans. It can also target property, and corporations really like property. Corporations are private profit-making machines; they exist solely to enrich the people who own shares in the entity. To make profits--and to fulfill their raison d'etre--corporations need to earn more income than they lose in liabilities. The criminal law can impose fines on a corporation. Fines are "liabilities." If a fine is large enough, it could gravely impact the "income/liability" ratio and lead (gasp) to a quarterly loss.

In this case, Wal-Mart's management obviously did not want to suffer a loss. After all, corporate managers lose their jobs--and fat Christmas bonuses--if they report losses. They knew that a criminal fine would lead to a loss, so they bargained with the prosecutor to avoid that fate. The prosecutor took the opportunity to wring some public good from Wal-Mart's private misdeeds, so he insisted that Wal-Mart "implement greater safety controls next time." Thus, by threatening the corporation's monetary lifeblood, the prosecutor extracted a public benefit from Wal-Mart's transgression.

In this example, we see how the criminal law does more than merely punish individual bodies to vent social revenge. Rather, it can threaten corporations, too. In so doing, it can force corporations to take action that leads to greater safety and accountability. That is a public benefit. And because the criminal law is a public function, we should be glad that it has the power to achieve goals like this.

If we can't hang corporations or throw them in prison, we can at least force them to "do better" by threatening their precious "income/liability" ratios. Such public actions may not be as emotionally satisfying as electrocuting a half-insane child killer or lethally injecting a dubious home invader who had a court-appointed lawyer, but at least it's something.

Human beings respond to threats. So do "noncorporeal" entities like corporations. Humans adjust their behavior if they believe the criminal law will hurt their bodies or take away their money. Corporations will adjust their behavior if they believe the criminal law will impact their bottom lines and cause quarterly losses.

Everyone fears pain. Corporations fear fiscal pain. So that's the pain the criminal law threatens to inflict on them.

I say: "Whatever works."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009



Yesterday I read an article about the health care reform bill that narrowly passed the House. The author said the bill faced a "hard time" in the Senate. Just a few votes could decide the issue. Not surprisingly, Obama is now "courting" those few votes, including some "moderate Republican woman from Maine." In essence, then, this means that health care reform for all Americans hinges on the individual proclivities of one or two wealthy Senators.

I call this "horse-trading" democracy. When a political system is as divided as ours today, something truly pernicious happens: A few "swing voters" wind up holding all the power. These "swing voters" know that they hold the key to legislative victory, so they exploit their unique "middle" position to wring concessions from both sides. In essence, they have "really good horses," so they can go to market and really get a good price.

This is not public service. This is crass individual power play.

Some say that American government has persisted for so long because it has a "genius for compromise." They say that real progress flows not from imposing one vision over another, but rather from reasonable dialogue among several visions. That dialogue, in turn, transforms legislative bombast into modest, deliberate action for the Nation as a whole. Compromise, so the wisdom goes, trims radicalism and results in the greatest good for all.

All that may have been true at earlier times in our history. But today the national debate is hopelessly splintered. Democrats don't agree with Republicans. Republicans would rather die than give Obama anything he wants, even in a compromised form. By the same token, Democrats would have rather died than have given Bush anything he wanted when he was President, even in a compromised form. Both sides lambaste and criticize one another with hellish vitriol. Both sides claim that the world will end if "the other side" prevails. It is neither reasonable nor even collegial. In such a poisonous atmosphere, there is no room for genuine dialogue. That is why "real compromise" is an impossibility in modern American government. The two ideological camps are too well entrenched. Nobody budges for the "public good" anymore.

This is not good for the country. Reform suffocates amid compromise and party infighting. Real reform requires a hard look at old problems with new eyes. Yet modern Washington politics rule out any fresh ideas on old problems. Unless a solution fits party-line ideological demands, no one will support it. In the end, this leads to two possible outcomes: "Tyranny by a small majority over a large minority;" or compromise. In either situation, truly sweeping reform cannot prevail. In the first case, the small majority (51%) imposes its will against ferocious opposition; the large minority (49%) then becomes so outraged that it actively undermines the reform's function. In the second case, reform loses its character as reform, because compromise necessarily dilutes its force through myriad concessions.

And then there is horse-trading. To get health care reform through the Senate, Obama must "play ball" with the tiny number of Senators who have not already declared their allegiance on the issue. These "swing voters" not only have an opportunity to enrich their constituents, but also to shape the bill's substance. In essence, "horse-traders" like the "moderate Republican from Maine" get the final say on a momentous national issue. They get to say not only whether the bill passes; they also get to dictate what the law says. After all, they have the horses. They won't sell if they don't get the price they want. So they name the price and everyone else has to follow along. At the same time, horse traders can pander to the opposition by refusing to support the bill. They can achieve advantages from that stance, too.

What does all this have to do with meaningful reform? What does all this petty power posturing have to do with substantial change in a modern world? Nothing.

I don't like compromise government. Yet for better or worse, modern American government has degenerated into an acrimonious two-player game. One side believes the opposite of the other, and one or two individuals on either side can tip the balance one way or the other. In such circumstances, it is impossible to govern by principle or even by popular will. While Congressmen are supposed to represent the people, in the final analysis they are individuals. They can do what they please when voting for bills. In a democracy as splintered as ours, that means a few individuals can block legislative initiatives that millions dearly want. Or they can demand concessions or compromises that gut a hopeful bill's reform effort.

Compromise government never delivers hot or cold; it only delivers mild. Yet life at times demands hot or cold; mild water does not boil tea, nor does it make ice. And when both parties in government cannot reasonably talk to each other, it opens the door to horse-trading. In sum, this entrusts all authority over public issues to a few lucky Senators who are neither hot nor cold.

I do not call this "the genius of compromise government." I call it theoretical weakness and mediocrity. And at a moment when America needs hot or cold, this government will deliver mild at best--if anything at all.

But at least the "moderate Republican from Maine" will get something from the deal. And who cares about what everyone else wants?

Monday, November 9, 2009




By : Mr. Herbert G. Scheuche, Bureau Commissioner and Press Secretary

We regret to inform the American public that the situation is critical. Based upon credible reports, it appears that our Nation has never faced as grave a crisis as the one it faces today. Although national security protocols prevent us from disclosing precisely how this crisis is developing, we can tell you that it is very serious. We urge you to stay alert as you go about your daily routine. Nonetheless, we admonish everyone to remain afraid, because this is no hoax. We are in the crosshairs. Our society teeters on the brink of ruin. We simply cannot describe how.

Our children are in mortal danger. At any moment, a terrible health threat could cause untold carnage among young people between 4 and 24. We are informed that a lethal virus exists. We are also informed that it can cause death. For these reasons, we urge all parents to keep their doors locked. Wear face masks. Do not take chances; this is a life-threatening situation. We will do our best to tell you more details. But for the moment, we ask that you merely remember that this is a crisis and you must be afraid. Only constant fear and terror will save you and your children from imminent death.

America faces numerous crises. They are all critical. Last week, Halloween candy sales proved that there is a very real threat to pediatric dental health nationwide. Americans bought more than 500,000 tons of candy last week, more than they have ever bought in a single week since our Founding. That unleashed a devastating amount of sugar into American diets. In a Nation already hobbled by diabetes, the sugar menace presents a genuine danger. Not only will children require increased dental care, but elderly Americans now face perhaps the most critical health crisis since the Spanish Influenza of 1918. Sugar kills. And it is everywhere.

President Barack Obama has also led this country into crisis. Yesterday, the United States House of Representatives passed a sweeping health care reform bill that threatens to change health care as we know it. This is a mortal danger. We warn all Americans to expect the worst. By reforming health care, President Obama has created both an economic and medical emergency. The bill will drive billions of Americans into bankruptcy. It will cause employers to cut jobs. Worse, it will cause health insurance companies to lose quarterly profits. These are unprecedented dangers. We must be afraid.

We must remain afraid no matter what anyone says. Our Nation gets nowhere when it denies dangers. Danger is everywhere. President Obama tells us that we must "keep hope alive" and "live positively." But this is a recipe for disaster. Fear and suspicion are the only things that will keep us safe, not health care reform or hopeful rhetoric about "change." No matter what Obama says, we have a duty to tremble in terror every day. We betray our obligations when we suddenly feel good about the future.

We urge Americans not to be fooled. We must remember that we face unspeakable calamities from every corner. In times of crisis, we cannot afford to feel good about the future. Rather, we must shrink down and wait for official word about what to do. Here at the Office of Overstatement, Alarmism and Baseless Fear-Mongering, we are committed to providing vague, official statements to guide Americans through their daily terror. Occasionally we have good news. But even good news carries with it new admonishments and qualifications. For example, if we report that we captured a dangerous terrorist, we will always mention that his accomplice is still at large. Or if an earthquake does not destroy a city, we mention that it is still on a fault line. Put simply, we will always remind you that we are still in a crisis.

We can achieve great things when we are afraid. When we are afraid, our adrenaline flows. And when our adrenaline flows, we can accomplish things we never thought we had the strength to accomplish. Our Nation benefits from fear and exaggeration. It also benefits from confusion, misinformation, mutual distrust and malice. That is why we are committed to disseminating the most terrifying yet vague reports we can possibly broadcast. Just when it looks like we might get out of the woods on one crisis, we always mention another one to keep you guessing.

We are in trouble. Osama bin Laden is still alive. True, we have killed many al-Qaeda operatives over the years. But terrorists still lurk among us. Worse, our educational system is in shambles. And we have received disturbing information from scientists that the swine flu is mutating into a deadly airborne plague. If we do not all retreat into our homes now, we could face the most critical crisis America has ever encountered. We would like to tell you more, but our commitment to inspecific vagueness prevents us from fully dispelling your fears. Suffice it to say, the danger is very real and you should be afraid. Because when you are scared, you can do anything.

Rest assured that we here at the Office for Overstatement, Alarmism and Baseless Fear-Mongering will do everything in our power to keep you just informed enough to be terrified, suspicious and agitated. Yes, we face untold crisis and danger on a colossal scale. But as long as we have just enough information to react irrationally, we can prevail.

Beware. America has never faced more violent crime than it does today. Prisoners are escaping from prison in huge numbers, although we cannot say where. Additionally, we have just received word that the U.S. Customs Service failed to prevent a highly toxic Chinese tree from entering an undisclosed American port. According to Bureau doctors, this tree has already released deadly spores that could have already infected several thousand Americans somewhere. Put simply, we face botanical crisis on an unimaginable scale.

Until further notice, we urge you to lock your doors, buy a gas mask, don't answer the phone and stay tuned for further bulletins. Don't trust anyone, including your relatives and spouse. Avoid contact with plants and trees. We will provide more information as we receive it. Until that time, make sure your heart rate stays elevated and maintain a suitably high anxiety level. That is the only way to deal with crisis. And when we deal with crisis, we show our strength.

Don't be a hero. Cower and wait for instructions.

Friday, November 6, 2009



Before the "conflict" in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s, America had a hearty appetite for war. In the decades before Vietnam, Americans had waged several very successful wars against traditional opponents in Europe and Asia. They used their overwhelming industrial might to grind their enemies into submission. And because they always waged war far from home, these wars never directly impacted the civilian population. American cities never burned, nor did rampaging armies rape American women. In short, America had an appetite for war because it won them with comparatively little sacrifice.

But Vietnam tempered America's appetite for war because it was "unwinnable." Unlike the world wars, Vietnam was a civil war between ideological enemies in the same country. The "enemy" did not fight along traditional lines; they fought a dispersed war. They made it difficult for America to leverage its massive industrial might against them. Despite America's massive technological and material advantages, the North Vietnamese continued to resist. They never fought pitched battles with the Americans. They used hit-and-run tactics, preserved their forces and vanished into the jungle. No matter how many B-52 bombers or helicopters the Americans threw at them, they always managed to reappear. For a country accustomed to obliterating its enemies in open combat, this was a rude awakening.

America called Vietnam a "quagmire" because it could not crush its enemies in a single campaign. America does not like "quagmires" for the same reason it does not like unprofitable businesses: If you can't deliver success quick, people lose interest and close you down. America likes quick wins, not protracted struggles. Vietnam was a protracted struggle. When it appeared that no measure of carpet bombing or napalm would bring the North Vietnamese to heel, the American people simply lost interest and gave up.

This was a sobering moment in American history. Ragtag communist rebels turned away the world's most advanced army. The North Vietnamese never defeated the Americans in the field, but they successfully protracted the war long enough to deprive America's will for further combat. In this sense, they did not inflict a "military defeat" on the United States. But they prevented the United States from "achieving victory." That was a first in American history. And it disheartened many Americans.

Disbelief and frustration over the "unsatisfactory result" in Vietnam colored American public opinion about war for decades. During the buildup to the First Gulf War in 1990, President George H.W. Bush reassured the public that the coming conflict in Kuwait would result in "decisive victory." He invoked the "quagmire" in Southeast Asia when he said: "This will not be another Vietnam." He knew that Americans would not tolerate a protracted struggle. So he set his goal modestly: Destroy the Iraqi army, liberate Kuwait and go home. It was an achievable goal. He accomplished it. Unlike Vietnam, the First Gulf War was not a "quagmire" because it had a limited scope. Americans were happy with the outcome.

But the Second Gulf War did not have a limited scope. Unlike his father, President George W. Bush did not set achievable goals when he planned to invade Iraq in 2003. He said he wanted to "find weapons of mass destruction" and "remove Saddam Hussein from power." Yet any novice policy adviser knew that occupying a Middle Eastern country would entail a much broader involvement than merely liberating one Nation from another. Sure enough, this is exactly what happened. After ousting Saddam, American forces assumed a "police role" in Iraq. By removing Saddam, they unleashed a power vacuum that triggered a civil war. American troops found themselves in the crossfire between two warring factions. Casualties mounted. There was no end in sight.

We are still there: Another quagmire.

Both the Second Gulf War and Vietnam represent low points in American history. They both represent moments in which America questions its ability to wage successful wars. They both caused immense dissent at home. But I venture that the "Iraqi adventure" is a lower point in American history than the Vietnam war. I say this because there is a key distinction in motivation between them. I judge history by the intentions of those who animate it. And by that standard, Iraq appears a more unethical struggle than Vietnam.

Although both Vietnam and Iraq resulted in military "quagmires," America had a much purer purpose in Vietnam than it did in Iraq. For better or worse, America involved itself in Vietnam for an almost naive ideological reason: To halt the spread of its philosophical nemesis: Communism. America did not have any particular loyalty to the South Vietnamese government, nor did it have vested commercial interests in Southeast Asia. Instead, it embroiled itself in a bloody civil war 10,000 miles away solely to show that it did not like communism. No matter what you think about communism, you cannot fault the United States for believing in its "principles" in Vietnam. It had a clear philosophical "purpose" in fighting that war. It may have been the wrong purpose, but at least America believed in something to justify its sacrifice.

In short, America's motivations were apparent in Vietnam. And they were based in philosophical disagreement. Vietnam, then, represented America's belief in its own economic system over another. It was a "battle of principles."

But America's motivations for war in Iraq were far less naive. Despite Bush's rhetoric about "delivering democracy to Iraq" and "freeing Iraqis from tyranny," no one really believed those explanations. No, any reasonable person could see that America had massive commercial interests in an oil-producing country like Iraq. Even the Vice President owned shares in a company that stood to greatly benefit from any military involvement in the Middle East.

Worse, America took a dishonest course in shuffling toward war in 2003. President Bush used public hysteria about Islamic terrorism to forge a fanciful link between Osama bin Laden and Iraq. He even exaggerated stories about Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" to deceive Americans into thinking that invading Iraq was necessary for "self-defense." He presented false testimony to the United Nations and the American public to garner support for military action. All the while, he failed to mention the crude commercial reasons why war in Iraq would benefit industrial interests.

America's "quagmire" in Iraq is not just a military fiasco. It is also the culmination of unethical behavior and dishonesty on an international scale. That is why I think it warrants greater condemnation than American involvement in Vietnam. As bad as Vietnam was, at least the President did not deceive both the international community and his own people to launch an unjust war. In Vietnam, America fought honestly to combat a philosophy it rejected. Everyone was relatively clear about that. But in Iraq, America fought--and still fights--an unnecessary war born in ignorance and deception. Worst, even a mild cynic can see that America has a direct interest in seizing territory in the oil-rich Middle East. And the commercial explanation renders all other explanations disingenuous. There was no such commercial explanation for war in Vietnam.

In sum, both Vietnam and Iraq stand out as bleak moments in American history. Both drove America into social turmoil because they did not result in "quick wins." But because America resorted to dishonesty to garner support for war in Iraq, I conclude that our experience in Iraq is a more embarrassing national humiliation than Vietnam. Unlike our naive--and foolishly misguided--motivations for war in Vietnam, our motivations for war in Iraq were simply crass, greedy and dishonorable. And we even had to lie and cheat to gain popular approval for action.

That is just unethical and shocking.