Saturday, December 26, 2009


I debated whether to pursue my usual writing routine this week. Ultimately, I decided to take a year-end break. I'm going to be on the road for the next few days anyway, so it makes sense for me to pause. Looking back, I've written about 300 posts in 2009 totaling 800 pages. Even a 17th Century Protestant banker would give himself a break after so much toil.

It has been quite a year for me. Yes, I've written a mountain. But more importantly I am finding myself. Every time I put my thoughts into writing, I add a piece to my personal testament. I started this blog to illuminate my philosophy on the world and its vexing ironies. I have learned a lot about myself simply by committing my views to paper. It is strangely satisfying to see what I think about so many issues. Unlike thought, writing is visible. Twenty years from now, I will be able to return to these pages to see what I thought in 2009. That is exciting.

If you need a Reason, Commerce or Justice fix before New Year's, feel free to raid my archives. Until 2010, I will rest my mind, read and reflect. I will check in every morning to answer comments, but I think I will hold off on posting. Of course, I reserve the right to post if something truly extraordinary occurs to me. And that happens without notice.

Thank you so much to all my readers. You keep me going. As long as you're here, I'll be here, too. Knowing that people read my blog has been my Christmas present this year.

Here's my best--and completely non-satirical--wishes for a peaceful and relaxing Holiday.


Thursday, December 24, 2009




WASHINGTON, D.C.--In a mildly surprising development, President Barack Hussein Obama resigned the Presidency at 8:03 AM today, shortly after learning that the United States Senate passed health care reform.

"This Christmas, I have decided to put America first," Mr. Obama explained. "The fact of the matter is that the Republicans don't like me. They say they have better ideas for the country. They even show up to my Presidential appearances with guns. I get the message. I'm listening. You guys have better ideas than I do. Rush Limbaugh even says I have no idea what I'm doing. He knows what he's talking about. For those reasons, I hereby cede the Presidency to Senator John McCain of Arizona."

Democrats protested President Obama's decision. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton begged the Chief Executive to stay the course. She pointed out that President Obama commanded substantial majorities in the House and Senate. She also said that the country overwhelmingly voted for his message of hope in 2008. She pointed out that Hollywood celebrities and even Oprah Winfrey adored him. "People love you," she said.

President Obama disagreed. He cited several FOX News channel polls showing that most Americans did not approve of the way he was leading the country. He also referenced a Mission Statement from the Tea Party Association of America claiming that he was "worse than Hitler" because he supported health care reform, executive compensation caps and postal service wage increases. "It is apparent to me that most people do not like the way I am doing the job. If I'm worse than Hitler, it would be best for the country if I simply step down and let bygones be bygones."

Concerning Oprah Winfrey, President Obama said: "I am grateful for Ms. Winfrey's steadfast support. But the Republicans have Rush Limbaugh. More people listen to Rush than Oprah, and more Rush listeners have rifles than Oprah listeners. I am prudent enough to know who's more important."

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told the President: "We outnumber the Republicans 60 to 39. We outnumber them in the House. We have an opportunity to bring real change to America. We just passed health care reform. We can do anything we want in Congress."

President Obama thanked Mr. Reid for his efforts in the Senate. "It's great that you passed health care reform," he said. "But Orrin Hatch said the bill was 'mortally flawed.' All 39 Republicans voted against it. I have to listen to them. They say I am destroying the country and that I am turning the United States into a Soviet Republic. Sarah Palin even said that I am going to kill her grandparents and pets. Given these cogent criticisms, I have no choice but to resign and allow the Republicans to lead America. They obviously have a much better vision--and a stronger grasp on reality--than I do."

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called the President's decision "premature." In a phone call, Mr. Geithner asked the President to reconsider. "You must give financial reform more time. We have only begun implementing regulations on Wall Street that will make the financial industry more accountable. As you recall, unregulated securities and lending markets created the financial crisis. If we let the Republicans back into power, we could see the whole process repeat itself."

"Tim, I appreciate your concern," Mr. Obama responded. "But Bill O'Reilly called my attempts to reform the financial industry 'ludicrous.' Shepard Smith called me a 'bloodthirsty communist determined to abolish private property.' And Rush Limbaugh said I deserved to be lynched for redistributing hard-earned Wall Street money to Hurricane Katrina victims. How can I ignore these complaints? They are too intelligent for me to ignore. I obviously made the wrong decision to target runaway banks and predatory lending houses. After all, they have a right to the American dream, too. I am man enough to admit I was wrong to pursue justice."

President Obama also explained that there was no practical point in resisting the Republicans. "The bottom line is that you can't disagree with Rush, Bill O'Reilly or Greta van Susteren. And you certainly can't disagree with Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn or Kay Bailey Hutchinson. When Republicans make up their minds, there's nothing you can say to convince them otherwise. It doesn't matter that they only hold a minority in Congress; they know what they are talking about--and they have lots of guns. I have tried to introduce collegiality and bipartisanship into American government. But it is a hopeless crusade. Every time I try to extend my hand, they label me a rabble-rousing negro socialist magician. Religious leaders even call me a godless tyrant. I'm a lawyer by trade. How can I hold a reasoned dialogue with these voices? It's just no use. It is easier just to give up and let John McCain handle our problems."

"I am not afraid to listen to Republicans," President Obama said. "I have listened carefully to them. They said that my Middle East tour was 'useless play-acting.' They called my commitment to troop reductions in Iraq 'Muslim treason.' They said it was 'hypocritical' for me to increase our military presence in Afghanistan. And they called my attendance at the Copenhagen Climate Conference an 'active stance against private property in the United States.' They repeatedly point out that I live in a fantasy land, that I misunderstand the facts and that I am not really an American citizen. They claim I am all talk and no substance, and that all I can really do is give a speech and pardon turkeys."

"Put simply, I must listen to these compelling complaints. Neither the country nor I get anywhere when we ignore the Republicans. Like it or not, the Republicans speak reason and sense. True, America voted against the Republicans in 2006 and 2008. But listen to them now. They say everything that is wrong with America is my fault. People believe them. Now the American people blame me for the financial crisis and the War in Iraq. They are angry that they still can't find a job. The Republicans understand that anger; and they channel it right at me. Well, it worked. I'm done."

President Obama expressed confidence that his successors would solve all the problems he could not. "I have little doubt that John McCain will easily overcome the financial crisis and create jobs for America. As long as John listens closely to Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, there is no way he can do wrong. Sure, he might draw criticism from Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper…but a lot of good their praise did me. People like Rush and Bill because they are men's men. Wolf and Anderson are, well, a little too froofy for the average American."

"America, we tried," Mr. Obama said. "Last year, I said 'Yes We Can.' But it turns out that the Republicans can, not us. It’s time to let them put their successful ideas into practice. It is the right thing to do for America."

President Obama continued: "I have always believed in democracy. When the people want unregulated markets, inaccessible health care, torture, foreign wars, reduced civil liberty, gross class disparities, merciless credit exploitation, cultural intolerance and irresponsible corporate government, I say let them have it."

Reacting to President Obama's announcement, Sarah Palin was overjoyed: "Is this the best Christmas present a mom from Alaska could wish for? Oh, you betcha! It's a great day in America when a person like Hitler gives up. Now we can get to work and get this tea party on the road."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009



Several days ago, I saw a curious poster alongside the usual commercial garbage on 22nd Street. Next to a print ad for Lady Gaga's new album and a placard about McDonald's meal deals stood this message: "The Legal Drinking Age is 21. Do Your Part This Christmas. Don't Give Alcohol to Teens." The poster showed a wine glass with a Ghostbusters-style red circle around it; a red diagonal line crossed out the glass. On the bottom appeared the following slogan in stern capital letters: "Serving Alcohol to Teens : It's Unsafe. It's Illegal. It's Irresponsible."

What made this "ad" so curious? Several things. First, it was not a commercial message. Most "ads" are crass commercial messages that aim to excite an urge to buy in the viewer. They communicate selective information intended to entice a person to spend money and enrich the speaker. In short, advertising is about making money. It is morally indifferent. In fact, it is morally destitute. Morality and commerce have little to do with one another. A dirty dollar is still a dollar. And people with more dollars are stronger than those with fewer dollars, dirty or not.

In traditional terms, then, this message against underage drinking was not an "ad" at all. It did not aim to excite an urge to buy in the passing viewer. No, it aimed to evoke a moral impulse; it beseeched people not to buy alcohol for people under 21. It asked people to refrain from commercial activity. If an advertising firm came up with a campaign that asked people to refrain from buying the product, it would go out of business faster than you can say: "Madison Avenue." In that sense, this message to stop underage drinking was not an "ad." It was an anti-ad.

But what good is an "ad" if it does not propose a commercial transaction? Can "ads" also promote morality? This one certainly tried. As long as an organization coughs up cash to buy posters or airtime, they can say basically whatever they want. It is their choice whether to say something that will generate no profit. Advertisers generally only advertise commercial stuff because it has the potential to create profits. And no one does anything in business that does not attempt to make money. Morality does not create profits. You can't buy it and it's not very exciting. Face it: It's easier to sell Dewar's than chastity.

In this light, we can conclude that some nonprofit organization paid for this message. It did not intend to make money with its speech. Rather, it aimed to foster public morality. Of course, the poster never uses the word "morality." In fact, everyone who supports underage drinking laws rarely speaks the word. Rather, they couch the issue in legal terms. The poster, for example, references the law twice: "The legal drinking age is 21;" "It's illegal to give alcohol to teens." It is easy to make a law; you just need a majority vote at the State house. But the underlying message here is moral, not legal. And it plays upon the popular confusion between law and morality.

People always mistake the law for morality. Morality existed among human beings before law. Morality refers to the average man's sense that something is disgusting or intuitively objectionable. It has more to do with popular social values than reason or abstract truth. Men created laws to embody their moral judgments, but law never could--and never will--supplant morality. In fact, the law is supposed to be morally neutral. It is supposed to operate according to pure reason and extrinsic evidence. Morality, by contrast, appeals to deep-seated intuitive prejudice against particular conduct within the dominant value system. When enough people in a society think something is disgusting, they call it "immoral." And that judgment passes down across generations. They don't need to verify it. They just need to feel it.

Still, people have more outward respect for the law than morality. It sounds more official. After all, the law has sovereign power behind it. It can attach bank accounts, imprison bodies and garnish wages. People fear those consequences. Morality, by contrast, is more basic than that. Morality informs almost everything a society does. Law simply represents the society's effort to assure a minimum baseline of behavior consistent with the dominant moral code.

Law enforces morality. The sovereign enforces the law with penalties on the body and property. But unlike morality, there are practical problems associated with enforcing the law. The sovereign cannot punish everyone for every illegal or immoral act that occurs. And there are some immoral acts that are not even illegal. The law must verify acts before it can punish them. That is not always easy.

Why, then, did the underage drinking poster harp on "illegality" in connection with serving alcohol to teens? After all, the overall message was a moral one. On a basic level, Americans have a troubled--and borderline schizophrenic--relationship with alcohol due to their cultural and religious heritage. The same cultural forces that culminated in Prohibition remain at work today in American society. Hostility toward alcohol is a moral judgment; it has to do with social values and disgust, not reason. Americans have always embodied their moral judgments about alcohol in law. The law gives official expression to their traditional moral queasiness on the subject. But to be abundantly clear, hostility toward alcohol--especially when coupled with children--is a uniquely American moral judgment.

Consider the interplay between law and morality in the poster. Even without understanding America's long history with regard to morally-nuanced alcohol regulations, the poster's own language reveals the connection. It says: " Serving Alcohol to Teens : It's Unsafe. It's Illegal. It's Irresponsible." It draws a linguistic connection between "illegality" and "irresponsibility." Strictly speaking, it is not "illegal" to be irresponsible. In American cultural parlance, however, "responsibility" is a sweeping moral judgment. It refers to "proper living" according to dominant social morals. That means acting and thinking in a certain way, especially when it comes to recognizing obligations and power relationships.

But "legality" is a technical inquiry. Unlike morality, the law must be specific in its prohibitions. Any aggrieved mother can complain that her child is "irresponsible" because he is not "living correctly." Yet that does not mean the child is acting "illegally." Legal violations must match specific language. They must be investigated and proved according to objective procedures. Yes, it might be irresponsible to violate the law. But not all "irresponsibility" is illegal. If it were, virtually everyone would be a criminal.

It is significant that the poster equated legality with responsibility. It forges a direct thematic connection between law and morality. In most cases, the average viewer has no idea that the two concepts are distinct. He simply assumes that all laws are moral, and that moral people are responsible. That assumption is false. Yet the law benefits from the false assumption because morality acts as a sort of "self-executing enforcement mechanism." After all, people stop themselves from acting in a particular fashion when they think it is "immoral." No law constrains them. Rather, innate cultural conditioning influences their decisions. If the law can harness that innate cultural conditioning, it can successfully thwart certain behavior before it happens. And from the law's perspective, whenever someone refrains from prohibited behavior, it has done its job. If morality helps enforcement, then the law will appeal to morality. It does not matter that the law has no power to shape individual morals.

At this point, however, a substantial problem arises: What is so immoral about serving alcohol to a 20-year-old? Or even a 14-year-old? This suggestion might arouse revulsion in the typical American listener. But that shows once again that underage drinking is essentially a moral issue. After all, Americans somehow feel queasy when they think that children are drinking alcohol. That reaction is a cultural. It has survived for generations.

And it is not a universal reaction. People in European Nations, for instance, do not flinch to serve alcohol to teenagers. There is no dominant public rhetoric that equates underage drinking with illegality, irresponsibility and "evil." Quite the contrary, life goes on in Germany, France, England and Holland quite well, even when 16-year-olds sip beer--even in public. Society does not collapse. The sky does not fall. And religious leaders do not spread hellfire for it.

In my mind, this illustrates the point that American concerns over underage drinking are essentially moral concerns. No matter how much public rhetoric couches the debate in legal terms, the fact remains that Americans just don't feel culturally comfortable with the idea that teenagers are drinking. It is a question of cultural heritage, not wise policy.

Of course, those who support widespread bans on underage drinking will never say that morality motivates them. In fact, they probably do not even realize that it does. Instead, they point to safety statistics and other supposedly "neutral" indicia to show a "practical" reason why teenagers should not drink. Because fewer teens die in alcohol-related accidents, they say, underage drinking bans are good laws.

I think this is a dishonest argument. If safety were really the main objection to alcohol, Prohibition should still be in effect. Alcohol causes untold damage to countless lives every year, not just among teenagers. It causes thousands of accidents. It ruins families. It leads to violence, disruption and turmoil. Why protect only children from those hazards? If a legislator identifies negative social consequences that flow from a particular behavior, he should ban that behavior in toto. Only a fool would argue that alcohol does not cause myriad social problems. Yet for some reason Americans tolerate those consequences among adults, but refuse to tolerate them among children.

At this juncture, it is hard to escape identifying some hypocrisy in the clamor over underage drinking. After all, the essential argument against underage drinking is to ensure safety. But if safety were the ultimate goal, then all alcohol should be banned, not just some. Yet despite Americans' moral qualms about underage drinking, they sure love to drink. So all their talk about safety goes out the window because they want to keep drinking. They can be "responsible" with their drinking, even though experience shows that alcohol continues to ruin lives on a daily basis. Yet they have the gall to label underage drinking "immoral." Immoral for some, but not for them? This is deeply problematic. And it renders all opposition to underage drinking disingenuous.

Let's be honest about alcohol. Everyone likes it. But there is a cultural tradition in America that teaches against it. That tradition forms a moral baseline that enables Americans to say with a straight face that underage drinking is bad, while "legal" drinking is good. All drinking creates pernicious social consequences. Yet legislators--and popular moralists--only ban it among children. In my view, this makes little sense. If you identify a social problem, you should root it out wherever it appears, not just in a subset.

But I ask too much. American morality is a complicated thing; there's no sense applying logic to sort it out. Let's just try to separate it from law. No matter how much we hear about "legal" drinking in America, the whole debate is really just a moral battle. And moral battles are never logical.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009



By : Mrs. Georgette F. Dickerson, Esq., Chairperson; Attorney at Law, Standish Savings & Loan Co., Inc. (a leading bank specializing in stable investments), Des Moines, Iowa; University of Minnesota School of Law (J.D. 1982); Senior Actuary, Stickman, Schuhschnurr & Wedgeworth, P.C. (1983-1998); Adviser to the Board, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Missouri (1998-2002); Author, Be Brave--Save, a Best-Selling Financial Management Guide; Lead Consultant, Parents United to Curtail Juvenile Enjoyment (2004-present); Mother of Five.

Our country confronts financial crisis on an unprecedented scale. Both the Federal government and State governments struggle to balance their budgets. Some States--including New York and California--are bankrupt. Unemployment arcs ever higher. Tax revenues are down. Inflation is up. Christmas shopping is off. The dollar's buying power steadily diminishes as foreign currency floods American markets. There appears to be no end in sight, despite President Obama's promise to rescue the economy with "stimulus packages."

We face hard times. We all need to tighten our belts. But there is a reason why our Nation continues to slip into financial ruin: We are spending too much money.

There are two things you can do with money: You can spend it or save it. If you spend money, you ostensibly get something in return. But in almost every case, you wind up suffering a loss. After all, it is simply smarter to hold onto $1,400 than to buy a comfortable new Ottoman for your living room. Additionally, if you buy an Ottoman, you might have a nice piece of new furniture. But you no longer have $1,400 to pay bills and live responsibly. That is why spending money is rarely a smart alternative.

Saving, however, is always a good idea. Rather than indulging on comfortable furniture, you could put that $1,400 in a low-interest-bearing money market account. You could open a trust with diversified, guaranteed holdings. You could put your money to work rather than fritter it away on transient pleasures. That is the smart thing to do. Sure, you might have to continue sitting on a moth-eaten couch rather than a brand new Ottoman. But wouldn’t you rather get some interest back on your $1,400 than merely toss it away for red plush and velvet?

Yet Americans have committed financial sin. For decades, they elected to spend rather than save. For decades, they poured their money into movie houses, car dealerships, grocery stores, jewelry boutiques, home improvement depots and other frivolous retail outlets. They even mortgaged their property in order to get their hands on more cash to spend. In short, Americans engaged in an unbridled spending orgy. They saved nothing. True, they might have enjoyed themselves at the time. But look where they've landed us now--in a depression.

Still, it is no answer to say that Americans like spending money. It is more complicated than that. Spending is a disease. It gives the spender a high. People who spend money lust for the moment they hand over a credit card to some petty sales associate. They want a full shopping bag. They want more and more "stuff." They don't care about the money; they want to feel good about buying things they want. In short, spending is a drug worse than any street narcotic. People squander their whole lives seeking their next spending fix. In the process, they ruin themselves and their families.

We, the Parsimonious Protestant Penny-Pinchers for Anally-Retentive Treasury Management and Financial Discipline in All Things, offer a solution to America's spending addiction: We must stop all spending at once. We will not save this country from financial crisis with "stimulus packages" and "health care bills." Those are just spending orgies on a governmental scale. President Obama gravely erred when he thought he could save America by spending money. Spending money does not solve problems; it just creates more.

We need financial discipline in America. Financial discipline begins with waging war on enjoyment. For far too long, Americans have equated money with pleasure and fun. That is the psychological impetus for dangerous spending. We must begin inculcating financial virtue in every American. We can no longer tolerate unnecessary grocery shopping or gift binging. We must learn to say "No" to the shopping urge. It is time to put away the credit card. It is time to put that money in a bank and scrimp. It is time to forestall enjoyment. It is time to stop having fun. Fun got us in this mess. And as Protestant Penny-Pinchers, we say: "NO MORE."

We would rather have money saved tomorrow than a good time tonight. Our current financial crisis is more than a debate about money. It is also a debate about morality. After all, unchecked spending leads to enjoyment. Unchecked enjoyment leads to gluttony. Gluttony leads to social decay. And social decay destroys empires.

We refuse to allow fun-loving spenders to destroy the country we love. We demand a return our ancestors' financial virtues. Our wise Protestant ancestors did not build the greatest country on earth by buying plasma screen TVs and 24-inch rotating rims for their SUVs. Rather, they wore staid black shawls, scowled all day, worked hard in sparse shops, sang hymns, saved their nickels and had approximately two orgasms per calendar year. Those virtues reflected a commitment to both financial management and healthy living. When our ancestors died, they left behind huge sums in banks, credit bureaus, negotiable instruments and other financial protection devices. Those sums allowed their descendants to capitalize on their hard work, leading the country ever higher. In short, by suppressing enjoyment and saving money, our Protestant forebears built a mighty Nation. They did not enjoy themselves; in fact, they were mean, cold, domineering, loveless tyrants who would have rather died than spend $5.00 extra for anything.

But somehow we lost our way. Now, we want to enjoy our money as soon as we make it. We want video game consoles, huge homes, boats and designer bathrooms. We want Gucci bags, Rolex® watches and useless gold baubles. We even want Dom Peringnon champagne and $500 steak dinners. In short, we want to have a great time before we die.

We have no right to a good time before death. Our insistence on fun has wrecked this country. We have a responsibility to be disciplined. That means we must stop all spending NOW. We must tell our children: "No, you may not have another piece of cake." We must tell ourselves: "No, you may not buy that car." Put simply, we must learn to curtail our corrosive spending urges. Only then will we save this Nation from certain financial doom.

Financial virtue begins at the top. Our government must stop acting like the individual spendthrifts who created the problem in the first place. We will get nowhere by spending money on health care, welfare, the military, green energy, salaries, the postal service and various bureaus. We must halt our dependence on spending. Our Nation has become addicted to spending. We must break the addiction by simply going cold turkey on spending. From now on, our government must hold on to its money. We must learn a new paradigm: "Income good. Spending bad. Saving good." In a word, it's time to start saving, scowling and living totally unfulfilling--but financially disciplined--lives.

If you're disgusted with inefficiency in Washington, put a party in power that will return this country to solvency. If you're sick and tired of runaway spending and decadence, put a party in power that promises saving, not enjoyment. If you care about discipline, virtue and our children, you will vote for Protestant Penny Pinchers. Let us join together to teach our children that spending is evil. Let us learn together that there is joy in saving money and earning interest. We can defeat this economic slump if we commit to reforming ourselves. We can break our addiction to spending if we step back and recognize what is at stake.

We are Americans. We can do without. When we earn a dollar, we can put it straight into a piggy bank, not into a cash register at Best Buy. We can make do with less. If we care about our Nation and our children, we will do the right thing. We will stop enjoying ourselves today. We will stop spending. We can do it. As soon as we become heartless, unhappy, unrequited, coldblooded skinflints, we will know the country is safe from financial catastrophe.

President Obama, not one penny more! We are Protestant Penny-Pinchers. From today on, we refuse to spend a single cent. Saving is better than spending. Because when we save, we win.

Burn your credit card. Stay away from that mall. Ignore your children's pleas for toys. Cook your own meals. Sew your own clothing.

Get disciplined. Stop enjoying yourself. It is the only way to defeat this Depression.

Monday, December 21, 2009



Sometimes I wish I weren't so cynical. Cynicism is my life philosophy. Although it almost invariably leads me to the truth, I don't really like it. Although it has predicted the future for me more than once, I wish it hadn't. After all, cynicism assumes that everyone has selfish motives and will ultimately take action to satisfy their own interests. That is a pretty bleak view. Yet in our obligation-filled commercial world, it is a consummately realistic one.

I wish I weren't so cynical because I want to believe that everyone does not have a price. Whenever I think about cynicism, I inevitably struggle with principles. After all, a principle stands at odds with expediency. Self-interested people are always "expedient" when it is necessary to fulfill their aims. Principles, by contrast, are inflexible; they do not bend to expediency. Yet all too often in history we hear about "principled" men who stood up for larger ideas to a point, then caved in order to enrich themselves. In other words, every man--and every principle--has a price. The question is merely how much money it takes to convince a man to abandon what he believes.

As a cynic, I find it almost axiomatic that men sell their principles for the "right price." If human beings truly have innately selfish motivations and act ultimately to satisfy their own interests, then no larger idea could ever induce them to ignore themselves. It is natural to expect men to sell out or betray their beliefs when enough gold appears on the table. Although popular mythology teaches us to revile men who do this (the Judas story is the classic Biblical example), we are never surprised when it happens. We live in a difficult world. No one wants to go hungry or die. If it came between adhering to principle and eating, how can we blame a man for simply "betraying what he believes?" It is easier to revile a man who sells out simply to profit. But sometimes men sell their beliefs just to eat or sleep--or to save their families.

Yet we admire men who refuse to compromise their principles for a price. We admire them precisely because they are so rare. Again, cynicism provides a good way to understand why we deify "martyrs" like Jesus Christ and Saint Thomas More. Both men died because they refused to abandon their principles despite pressure. Both had opportunities to take payment and shut up. Both knew they would die for refusing to renounce their beliefs. And they still refused.

From a cynical perspective, we assume that men will always sacrifice their principles for personal gain or to save themselves. Overwhelmingly in human experience, that is what happens. But when it does not happen, we immortalize the person who resisted the impulse to be selfish. Put another way, when a person defies the cynical expectation to act only for himself, he becomes a saint-like figure--or a saint outright. This is what happens when men adhere to their principles. It leads to eternal honor. And that explains why both saints and honor are rare. Everyone has a price: But those who don't become legends.

But I'm not writing about legends today. I'm writing about everyone else who does have a price. And while it might be pathetic to have a price, I argue that it is completely forgivable.

Why is it forgivable to be a dishonorable person who abandons principle whenever profit beckons? It is forgivable because we inhabit a world that expects us to value profit more than honor. No one pays our way in this life. We learn early that we must make our way through the commercial thicket by any means necessary. Without money, we are finished. We can't pay our rent, we can't feed our children and we can't eat. We spend our lives struggling to find ways that yield money; and we never get enough. We learn that profit is good because profit protects us from hardship. When we profit, we stave off bill collectors, bankers and landlords. We feed our children. We increase our comfort and avoid worry. We stay warm. By eliminating a key source for worry, we actually gain the capacity to enjoy ourselves--at least in theory. We are only human; we have bodies. Profit protects our bodies from ruin. If it comes between preserving our bodies from ruin and adhering to a principle that could cost us our bodily comfort, the natural human response is to preserve our bodies.

Only saints spite their bodies for their beliefs. For everyone else, a price will suffice to buy belief.

Some people require less enticement than others. Potential profits not only dissuade men from adhering to principle. They also encourage men to brutalize their fellow man. Profit underlies criminal motivations crime as well as dishonorable ones. In the movie Fargo, for example, two ex-cons agree to kidnap a man's wife for $40,000. Various difficulties intervene and they murder three people in the process. Due to these "unforeseen complications," they demand $80,000 rather than $40,000. Before the drama ends, another two people die and no one makes a dime. The detective who arrests the killer--exceptionally played by Frances McDormand--then says: "All that for a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little bit of money, you know."

That may be so. But money motivates just about everything that people do, even murder. Contract killings have price. Lives--like everything else in the free market-- have a price, too. How much does it take to encourage someone to kill another? Is $40,000 too much? Some people in American society make $40,000 a year; others make it in one day. How about $10,000? $1,000?

This might all seem macabre. Still, the fact remains that potential profits bring out the worst in people. As bad as that is, however, I still think there is a good explanation for it: People in our society learn to be desperate for profit. Without it, they think they will come to ruin. So for those closer to ruin, there is a greater motivation to do unspeakable things for relatively little money. There might be more to life than money. But try telling that to those who don't have much. They are willing to do just about anything for what seems a pittance to others.

How much potential profit would it take to convince the average person to commit murder? How about lying? How about sacrificing integrity or honor? How about acting in a way that clashes with one's conscience? What if a job requires a person to violate his conscience, but if he loses the job, he loses his livelihood? How much does a conscience cost?

Against this background, can anyone resist a sufficient price? Is anyone noble enough to ignore themselves? That's my real question. All I can say is this: Cynicism tells me, as a general matter, that people can be bought. But there are a few extremely rare cases in which they cannot. I find this sad because it really does not take much for a stronger person to cast aside a weaker person's beliefs. Beliefs and conscience are individual. They are subjective. They belong to the person who holds them and no other. If a "little bit of money" is all it takes to sweep them away, what does that say about the value of individuality in our society? Where are the courageous people? Where are the people who will not abandon their beliefs for a price?

All I know is that they are not in the United States Congress.

Friday, December 18, 2009



Last summer, I wrote an essay arguing that the United States military is essentially a socialistic institution. I made that conclusion because American military authorities "care about men under their command" both in war and peace. I pointed out that soldiers live a "rarefied" existence insulated from harsh commercial reality. That insulation allows them to focus on larger ideals, like "honor" and "political missions." Soldiers also receive free medical care, housing and living necessities from the government. As a whole, these characteristics led me to conclude that the military is "socialistic," even if its armed service protects a capitalistic society that condemns "socialism."

I continue to believe that the American military is a socialistic institution. In fact, I believe it more now than I ever did. When I wrote my previous essay, I focused primarily on larger themes to identify socialistic currents in American military life. But the military is not just abstractly socialistic; it is socialistic right down to the men themselves. It is socialistic in spirit as well as action.

To be clear, when I say "socialistic," I mean that the military provides a comprehensive security net for everyone under its control. But this means far more than merely providing tangible benefits. It also means that people in the military regard their fellow man differently than the way comparable civilians regard others. In commercial American civilian life, other human beings represent potential profits. Civilians have to think this way. Unlike soldiers, they do not get free rent, free health insurance or free child care. They have to fend for themselves. They cannot worry about their fellows too much or they will lose their own commercial struggle.

In the military, however, soldiers must care about each other. In combat, men treasure each other. They do not simply abandon their buddies when they get hurt. They are never indifferent. They put themselves in harm's way to ensure that their comrades survive. They even risk death to retrieve the bodies of friends killed in action.

I find this especially socialistic. Care for one's fellow man is a bedrock in socialist philosophy. In the military, individual soldiers practice that care every day. It is not obligatory care: Soldiers are not related by blood or even bound to each other by contract. No, they are simply comrades in arms. They refuse to allow ill to befall their fellows and they risk all to save them from it. The emphasis lies on one's fellow man, not on oneself. That marks a key distinction between both the military and civilian life, as well as between socialism and capitalism.

Karl Marx criticized capitalism because it tended to separate human beings from one another. When every man must selfishly pursue his own economic fortune in a free market system, he naturally begins to regard his fellow man as a commercial instrument, not as a human being with equal dignity. Although Marx wrote at length about economic esoterica, his main criticism was humanitarian: Capitalism distances human beings from one another and leads to human exploitation.

But in the military, soldiers learn to live with each other and depend on each other to an extent almost unrecognizable in civilian life. They do not distance themselves from each other; they come closer together. While such tight cooperation might reflect the most effective way to accomplish military missions, it also reflects a fundamentally humanitarian outlook. In the movie Black Hawk Down, for instance, one character echoes many "real" American soldiers when he explains why men serve in the military: "We're in this for the guy next to us." In other words, military life leads to a deep care for one's fellow man, no matter what the ultimate political objective may be. In fact, for individual soldiers in combat, "the guy next to us" is everything.

This is no Hollywood sentiment. This is really how soldiers think. They always have, and not just in the United States. Soldiers sign up for additional tours not because they care about the geopolitical ramifications of their deployment, but because they do not want to abandon their friends. They care that much. They care so much that they willingly face death in order to make sure their friends will not face death alone. "We're in this for the guy next to us."

That is a noble motivation. And that is why it is distinctly un-American. In American civilian life, no one really lives "for the guy next to us." No, most people live for "me." Think about catchphrases that encapsulate success in American civilian life: "It's all about me;" "I'm gonna do what I gotta do to make it;" "I need to think about Number One." These phrases might describe effective ways to achieve success in a capitalistic society. They might even yield riches and fame. But there is nothing noble about them. "The guy next to you" is irrelevant to the man who says "It's all about me." Yet that's what it takes to succeed in a society committed to individual profit. And that's the attitude people must take toward their fellows in order to survive. In the end, the motivation necessary for success in American civilian life leads precisely to the danger that concerned Marx: Human alienation and exploitation.

There is a strange irony in all this. Americans praise the military all the time. They thank soldiers for their service. They ascribe immensely positive results to their work. But military life could not be more different from the civilian society soldiers protect. It takes a fundamentally different outlook to be a soldier than it does to be an entrepreneur. What motivates a soldier does not motivate an entrepreneur. What matters to a civilian does not matter to a soldier. Strangely enough, conservatives are the first ones to talk about a "strong military," yet reject socialism across the board. If they just looked at the way military personnel think about their fellow men, they would see the foolishness in that position. The military does not just practice "economic socialism" by ensuring material welfare for its men. It also practices "individual socialism" by inculcating a spirit of concern in every man for the well-being of his fellows. Those sentiments should enrage an American conservative. Yet they keep on saying: "God bless our troops."

God bless those socialists? What a laugh.

In sum, there is more to socialism than tangible social welfare programs. Socialism means true respect for one's fellow man. A socialist does not just concern himself with spending money on people who ostensibly "don't deserve it." A socialist also thinks a certain way about other human beings. He refuses to leave anyone behind or let his neighbor suffer. He does not view him as a potential profit, but rather as a friend who needs help. There is a motivational element to socialism that is--in essence--very noble. There is nothing "evil" about it, no matter how much we learn that "socialism" is a "dirty word." After all, how could something be "un-American" if our own soldiers practice it?

Socialism is about caring for others. Capitalism is about caring for oneself. There are essential motivational differences. When a soldier says: "I'm in this for the guy next to me," his motivation is clear: It's not about him. It's about the other guy.

Why is this a bad sentiment? It might be socialistic. But it's also Christian. And noble, too.

Thursday, December 17, 2009



By : Dr. D. Medford Kornblatt, Ph. D., Princeton University (Joint Degree in Oral Studies and Comparative Mining Technique); Founder, Brotherhood of American Nincompoops for Social Justice and Equal Intelligence (1982); Senior Technology Consultant, Cornelius J. Hyman Prophylactic Pharmaceutical Development Corporation (1978-1993); Consulting Director and Senior Test Writer, Higher Education Measurement Test Company (1990-present); Musician and Hobbyist (with an emphasis in Bagpipe Freestyle); Fitness Model, Scientific American Magazine (Cover Spot June 1988).

Idiots have always had a substantial presence in American life. We go by many names: Fools, dunderheads, imbeciles, nincompoops, morons, dolts, dimwits, asswipes…among many others unfit for print. But we all have one thing in common: We all have contributed great things to American civilization and government. We believe that idiots deserve recognition equal to their significance in American life. That is why we founded The National Association of Complete Idiots (NACI).

Idiots deserve recognition because we are everywhere. We run universities, Senate subcommittees, courts, national security institutes, police headquarters, major corporations and State houses all over the country. We administer tests, grade exams and educate children. We market wildly successful products and manage huge property portfolios. Yet for too long we have been unable to live openly. For the longest time, idiots like me have been forced to deny their identities. We have been forced to call ourselves something other than what we really are, like "Doctor," "Dean," "Chairman," "Boss," "Senator," "Representative," "Your Honor" or "General." Well, it is time to stop living in denial. From now on, we insist on living honestly. We want to be called what we really are: Morons with our heads up our asses. Even homosexuals can live openly now. Why can't idiots? This is America: It's time for equality.

Not everyone can be a total moron. Only blundering fools like us can rise through the ranks to assume the most influential positions in society. Bright young people who think independently don't succeed because they are not smart enough to be idiots. We, on the other hand, had the foresight to learn imbecility at an early age. We achieved success because we were stupid enough to follow the rules. Contrary to popular rhetoric, stupidity is a virtue. And our outstanding stupidity brought us untold rewards. After all, only complete idiots can rise to prominence in business. Anyone with a head on their shoulders would never want to be a corporate leader. That is why--in the end--only the idiots survive.

There is no reason why we should hide our colors any longer. As any psychiatrist can tell you, it is unhealthy to repress your identity. It is hard to live in the closet. For centuries, idiots, morons and total loser-putzes had to publicly deny their own stupidity. This caused unbelievable psychological damage. But those days are over. There are far more idiots in our society than most people think. There are people who belong to the National Association of Complete Idiots and do not even know it. We urge idiots all over the country to relax and be free. Do not be ashamed to live stupidly. Be who you are. And look where our stupidity got us: To the highest level in commerce, business, government, the military, academia and even the arts. It's OK to be an idiot. Don't play the smart man's game. Being smart never got anyone anywhere. Let go and be yourself. Be a total, recalcitrant, uncompromising, shockingly stupid ignoramus who doesn’t care to know a goddamn thing. You'll be amazed how far you'll travel.

Idiots drive this country forward. It's about time that people started to recognize that. Our country could not survive if everyone cared about the other guy's well-being or equal dignity. No, our country needs short-sighted, blithering imbeciles to blunder their way toward myopically selfish ends. We don't need independent thinkers or dreamers. We don't need selfless idealists or martyrs. We need idiotic drones who follow the instruction sheet, not their conscience. Only idiocy will rescue this country from feigned intelligence. Only stupidity will restore our focus. It's time to start acting like the morons we are, not the wise men we claim to be.

Mind-numbing stupidity is a virtue. We must learn to cultivate it from birth. Our children must learn to be dumb from as early an age as possible. We need to stop forcing our children to think about college when they are 5. We need to stop teaching them to read when they are 1. And we must not be afraid when our children still can't utter an intelligible sentence when they are 16. No, we must spot stupidity early and nurture it. When our children spit on their classmates or defecate on the kindergarten floor, we must praise them, not scold them. When they consistently misspell their names or incorrectly add 2 and 2 to make 5, we must single them out for special honors, not "special ed." Contrary to all the rhetoric, stupid children wind up achieving the greatest success in the United States. That is why we must vigilantly breed moronic habits in our children from the earliest age possible.

It is time to stop praising good spellers at spelling bees. Rather, we should give First Prize to the total idiot who can't even shape the letter "I" with a crayon at age 10. That's a future diplomat. It is time to stop giving gold stars to students who write thoughtful essays. Rather, we should give gold stars to the violent, ignorant fool who uses pencils to stab classmates, not write with them. That's a future commodities trader.

In sum, idiots outnumber everyone else in this country. Yet we teach our children that it is bad to be stupid. This is simply unfair. As the National Association of Complete Idiots, we demand a place in society consistent with our influence and population size. We also demand that current idiots live freely and proudly as the brain-dead nitwits they are. Idiots do not deserve to feel shame for their success. After all, idiots hold on to their jobs much better than smart people. Idiots receive promotions at a much higher rate than their so-called "smart contemporaries." And idiots master asinine procedures with far greater precision than more intelligent people. Asinine procedures are the key to success in America. Idiots follow procedures without asking questions, even if the procedures make no sense whatsoever. Why should we be ashamed of that? Our slavish dedication to totally dumb rules and regulations led us to unparalleled dominance in every field.

Idiots also know how to listen to other idiots. Smart people think they are better than idiots, so they tend to disrespect idiots who give them orders. But idiots don't care who gives them an order; they just do it and shut up. Success in our society requires obedience much more than intelligence; that is why smart people do not achieve as much success as idiots. While smart people complain about the idiot who commands them, fellow idiots just do what they're told. Who do you think will advance up the ladder? Idiots look out for their own.

In this light, idiots should no longer live in shame. We have already ruled this country for generations, yet only now have we found the courage to live openly. It is time for idiots to unite and take the place they deserve in American society. It is time to stop thinking that "idiot" and "stupid" are bad words. To the contrary, "idiot" and "stupid" should be honor badges, because stupid idiots are the ones who always make it to the top in the United States. Why should we renounce our own identities? No, it is time to be proud idiots. We shouldn't change into something we're not. No, it is time to be dumb, happy and successful.

Stop the pretense. It is time to break the myth of intelligence in America. It is time to recognize once and for all that idiots matter in this country. We are the most numerous and influential demographic majority by a wide margin. It's about time we started acting like it.

Join us. Start acting like the total idiot you are. It's OK. You will make it. For generations, idiots have achieved unbelievable success in this country simply by acting like themselves. You can do it, too. Have the courage to be stupid. Join the National Association of Complete Idiots today. Together, we can stop the delusion of intelligence in America and return this country to the people who truly populate it: Irretrievable, intransigent and unforgivably patriotic morons.

Are you proud to be a complete idiot? I am. And so should you.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009



I like fairness. I always have. Even when I was a kid, I couldn't stand it when people got preferential treatment when it appeared to me they didn't deserve it. I didn't like it when other kids cheated at games, or when I saw that some kids' parents had more money than mine. "That's not fair," I complained. When I was young, I earnestly believed that everyone should have an equal chance to succeed at things. And I believed that success had something to do with merit. For me, fairness expressed whether a situation was fundamentally right or wrong. It was intuitive. I even thought that our government cared about fairness.

My understanding about fairness changed over time. I learned that fairness had two dimensions, one substantive, the other procedural. "Substantive" fairness referred to the intuitive judgment whether a situation was right or wrong. "Procedural" fairness referred to the technical circumstances that either gave or withheld an equal chance to achieve a particular result. For example, racial realities in America reflect "substantive unfairness" for black people because their economic social situation is largely worse than that for comparable white Americans. On the other hand, court rules and contract terms might reflect "procedural unfairness" because they tilt technical rules to favor one party over another in a dispute. Substantive fairness is basically a "justice" inquiry. Procedural fairness is more technical. But both imply a confrontation between opposing forces with "something at stake."

In law school, I cared about both substantive and procedural fairness. I used to complain about results in particular cases because they were "unfair" to one side or the other. This amused my professors. Slowly, I learned that while the law professes to supply "procedural fairness" to both sides in a legal dispute in an effort to assure "substantive fairness" (AKA "justice"), the reality is that fairness does not really matter. Procedure and form are more important than substance in the law. The side with greater resources and greater procedural tact will win. One motion beats another motion. A dismissal beats a complaint. A judgment beats a plea. Papers must be filed properly or they will be rejected, no matter how cogent their arguments. Sometimes these procedural results lead to "substantive fairness." But it is really irrelevant. Judges simply look to see whether the lawyers' behavior matches the rulebook. Legal officiating, then, is really just a technical exercise; it is not necessary that both sides have equal procedural opportunities. And it certainly is not necessary that the ultimate result be "substantively fair."

And how could it be? After all, fairness only enters the analysis when two sides confront one another. Fairness comes into play not just in the law, but also in fistfights, football games and poker tournaments. When two sides compete for a result under common rules, fairness rears its head. When something is at stake, fairness matters. Children scream "No fair" only after investing themselves in a game that offers some reward; without confrontation, fairness does not really matter. People want fairness when they strive to obtain a result that will favor them and disfavor someone else. They want to know that they had every opportunity to vindicate their desire to win. In legal terms, litigants want to know that they had every chance to advance their interests, or to protect them if they are threatened.

This creates a dilemma. After all, lawyers in our legal system--like rabid children vying for victory in a game--badly want particular results. They are not neutral guardians committed to abstract principles like "procedural fairness." Rather, they are biased advocates determined to win. In fact, they take an oath to "zealously" represent their clients' legal interests, and that means pulling out all the stops to prevail. This is problematic because fairness and bias do not go hand in hand. If fairness means giving the other side exactly the same opportunity to win as you, then fairness reduces your chances to win. As a biased advocate, you must increase your chances to win, not reduce them. In that sense, lawyering and fairness appear antithetical to one another.

Still, lawyers inevitably say that they just want "fairness" for their clients. But here they confuse their terms. Yes, they certainly want "substantive fairness," namely, a biased result that intuitively pleases the client. But they do not want "procedural fairness," namely, giving the other guy an equal chance to win. Additionally, lawyers misuse the word "fairness" all the time. They say they care about fairness, but they really mean "favorable results for me." If they win, they say the process has been "fair." If they lose, though, they say they were treated "unfairly." This has nothing to do with abstract fairness. This is mere bias and disappointment.

We should not be surprised that lawsuits are brutally acrimonious affairs because we follow the adversarial system in the United States. That means we basically allow two diametrically opposed, biased parties to battle it out to determine various property and liberty rights. One side gains; the other loses. It is always a zero-sum game. As such, advocacy is essential. The lawyers must go for the throat or their clients lose everything. Courts praise the adversarial system because they say it leads to greater "truth." After all, according to the apologists, the "truth" will inevitably come out as two sworn enemies struggle to gain an advantage over each other. And when money is at stake, they will stop at nothing to win. Truth, then, is the "collateral fallout" from biased adversary confrontations.

And here again arises the dilemma. How can fairness matter in bitter confrontations like this? Will either side in a lawsuit value fairness to the other when they are sworn to ruin each other? That is like asking NFL teams to ensure that their opponents get all the favorable flag calls they deserve. In other words, it is sheer fantasy. When two sides confront each other and stand to lose all if they do not win, fairness to the other guy is the last thing on their minds.

I mention all this because our legal system professes respect for fairness. Everyone in court says they are either "aggrieved" or "wrongly accused." They say they just want an opportunity to be heard in a fair forum. Yet during that opportunity to be heard, they want to treat the other side as unfairly as possible in order to win the fight. No one really cares about securing "ultimate fairness." Individual litigants--and their lawyers--just want biased results.

Judges should care about fairness. But as merely technical stewards committed to determining whether lawyers meet the standards set out in motion rulebooks, they have little power to reflect on power disparities between the parties--or unfairness in the rules themselves. Court rules and civil procedure protocols present fairness problems in their own right. Judges do not have the authority or discretion to deeply think about larger fairness issues. Their job is technical, not philosophical or ethical. Behavior either falls within the rule or without. Sometimes the result is fair, sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it's "fair" to bar an injured person from filing a lawsuit because he missed the date by one day. Sometimes it isn't. But from the judge's perspective, rules are rules. And that ends the judge's role.

This is why so many legal cases arouse disgust in neutral onlookers. From a detached perspective, it appears that fairness means nothing in the average lawsuit. Rather, it appears that mere compliance with rules and deadlines takes precedence over the question whether each side has a fair shot at a particular result. And lawyers do their best to belittle, degrade and discount everything their opponents say in court. This gives the impression that they would be just as satisfied if they won unfairly as if they won fairly--just so long as they win. Fairness seems the last thing on their minds. Indeed, they only mention "fairness" if they lose a point, in which case they say the result is "unfair."

In truth, we cannot blame lawyers for acting this way: They are biased advocates in an adversary system. They are trained to exploit rules in order to obtain private results, not to ensure that abstract fairness flows from every confrontation under the law. Lawyers are not philosophers or ethicists; they are employees hired to do a job. And employees are biased toward their employers because they receive pay to act only in their interest.

Bias and fairness are mutually exclusive. That is why I think it is extremely difficult--if not impossible--for our legal system to consistently deliver fair results. That is not to say that biased advocacy does not sometimes lead to abstract fairness. But that is a side effect at best, not an intentional result.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009



By : Mr. Henry B. Henker, Esq., Legal Counsel to the Office of the Prosecutor, Austin, Texas (2006- present); Former Commercial Litigator, Henker, Haudegen & Daggett, LLP, a Fortune 250 Law Firm Specializing in Complex Financing Transactions (1994-2006); Contributing Author, Humanity Weekly (1987-present); Charter Donation Manager, UNICEF (1986-1997); Annual Keynote Speaker, The Dignity Association of Eastern Texas (1990-2003); Christian; Humanitarian; Married; Republican.

Capital punishment evokes strong emotions in America. Many Americans believe that States should not execute convicted criminals. Others believe that dangerous felons deserve to die for certain outrageous offenses. Still others believe that capital punishment should be applied on a wider basis against all kinds of criminals, from credit card scammers to double parkers. But no matter where we stand on the issue, capital punishment requires us to grapple with momentous issues involving State power, individual rights, liberty, dignity and history.

No one can really debate that the State has power over life and death. Western law functions on the premise that the sovereign decides who lives and who dies. When the American colonies broke from England in 1776, that sovereign power descended to the States. The States, in turn, yielded some of that power to the new Federal government. Still, the State's power to allow life and proclaim death remained intact. States executed people in 1776 and they execute people today. No one can really contend that the sovereign right to kill lawbreakers is "new." In fact, it is as about traditional a power as you can find in our system. Even our Constitution says that both the States and the Federal government have the power to "deprive life" as long as they afford Due Process of law. See, e.g, U.S. Const. Amendments V; XIV § 1.

Nonetheless, it is silly to think we have not changed as a people since 1776. We have electricity and cars now. We have the internet and movie theaters. We have even changed the way we think about core issues in our democracy. For instance, we allow women to vote now. We freed the slaves in 1863 and we enacted Civil Rights laws in 1964. These things would have been unheard-of in our forefathers' time. Simply put, our society is constantly evolving. In that light, it is only natural that we have begun to think differently about capital punishment, too.

At the outset, we must remember that Americans like to punish criminals. When a criminal commits a shocking offense against public sensibilities, we like to see him suffer. How else would we affirm our commitment to law if we did not harshly punish those who break it? How else would we express our common morality and decency if we did not harshly punish those who act immorally and indecently? Additionally, criminal punishment is revenge, and revenge is natural. When some vagrant kills our spouse, it is only natural to want to kill him, too. In this sense, capital punishment both upholds the law and quenches our natural thirst for revenge. Thankfully, killing criminals also prevents them from killing again. And it sends a message to would-be killers that they, too, will die if they try anything cute.

Still, we respect human dignity in America, too. In the past, we used to hang criminals by the neck until dead. In 1676, our English forebears even disemboweled a traitor alive then carved him up in Rhode Island. Until the 19th Century, we even publicly displayed executed criminals until the crows picked them clean. For better or worse, we decided as a society that such execution methods expressed insufficient respect for the criminal's dignity. Although these methods legitimately fulfilled the State's right to punish criminals, we decided that we were too humane to subject our fellow citizens to such horrible pain before death.

As Americans, we believe in dignity and humanity. Although we have no tolerance for criminals, we are progressive people. When we execute people today, we ensure that we use only the most humane methods possible. Lethal injection represents our society's balance between respect for law and respect for a criminal's dignity. In theory, lethal injection simply extinguishes life without inflicting additional pain or terror on the criminal. Once the chemicals flow into the criminal's body, he simply loses consciousness and justice is done.

For decades now, our society has largely accepted lethal injection. Many Americans are comfortable in the knowledge that lethal injection both adequately punishes lawbreakers while maintaining their dignity and ensuring our own humanity. After all, we do not butcher people anymore; we simply "put them to sleep," just like unwanted animals. This is humane. True, it does not make for a very satisfying spectacle. But it adequately strikes a balance between law enforcement and individual dignity.

Or so it seems. Recent research suggests that lethal injection may not be as dignified or humane as we once believed. After all, current protocols for lethal injection involve three discrete drugs: One sedates the criminal, the second paralyzes him and the third terminates heart and pulmonary function. Death does not occur until the third dose. We cannot know whether the prisoner suffers while tranquilized or paralyzed; after all, the paralytic agent renders it impossible for him to speak or move. It is entirely conceivable that he is writhing in horrible agony before paramedics administer the final dose. Furthermore, there are many documented cases in which death does not occur for more than two hours after the initial dose. There are even more cases in which paramedics cannot locate suitable veins for intravenous linkage. Sometimes the intravenous connections are faulty, causing corrosive chemicals to flow under the prisoner's skin, prolonging the procedure. That, in turn, prolongs the agony and anxiety. Put simply, lethal injection may not be as humane and dignified as we like to believe.

But there is a solution to these problems. As a society, we can reaffirm our commitment to law and dignity by simply blowing up convicted criminals with explosives.

Explosives would solve many of the nagging problems associated with lethal injection. By strapping four pounds of C4 plastic explosive to a convicted criminal, we can assure a quick and relatively painless death. Once detonated, the explosives will literally tear the offender apart in a heartbeat. Unlike lethal injection, it will not take hours for the offender to die. In one instant, the prisoner gets blown to pieces: There he is; there he goes. Done. That resolves the deeply problematic issues surrounding unnecessary pain and suffering in the lethal injection procedure. I mean, it can't really hurt to get vaporized, can it? You don't really have to time to reflect on it. It's just: BAM! Game Over. In my view, that reflects admirable concern for the prisoner's dignity and humanity: It is humane to blow people up.

Explosive executions offer many advantages over lethal injection and other methods. There is no way to botch an explosive execution. No one can survive four pounds of C4. And if the detonator fails, nothing happens. A technician can easily replace the detonator and get on with the show. This eliminates the troublesome medical issues relating to lethal injection. After all, doctors would be best suited to ensure that a person dies from lethal injection. Yet doctors' Hippocratic oath prevents them from participating in executions. This increases the likelihood of a botched execution. With explosive executions, however, you don't need doctors. You just need a guy to press a button. That is not very technical, and it certainly does not require 10 years of medical school to get it right. Even a high-school dropout can push a button. Hell, even a dog can.

Despite these advantages, there are some drawbacks to explosive executions. For one, they are messy. No one likes clean-up. Blowing up a person scatters shredded clothing, intestines, bone fragments, burned hair, eyeballs, fingers and charred kneecaps all over the place. Additionally, it scalds the room and deposits blood-crusted soot over a considerable radius. It takes time to clean up such a mess; plus it smells unpleasant. Not only that, but it also can be difficult to assemble the prisoner's remains for burial. It is much easier to bury a prisoner executed by lethal injection. You just unstrap him from the gurney and throw him in a pine box. But not so for a criminal executed by explosives. You need to spend twelve hours scouring through wreckage for burned pieces. That's neither fun nor dignified.

Explosive executions also require different witness accommodations than those appropriate for lethal injections. It would be both impracticable and dangerous to allow witnesses to watch an explosive execution from the room next door. To effectively and safely blow up a criminal, witnesses would have to watch remotely, perhaps by closed-circuit television. Additionally, the execution chamber would have to be significantly larger than chambers used to conduct lethal injections. Detonating explosives requires space; and many prisons do not have much extra space on hand. In that light, States would have to either build large new exploding chambers or conduct explosive executions outdoors. The first alternative would be quite expensive. The second would be somehow inappropriate. And both would deny witnesses the chance to get close to the execution scene. For better or worse, witnesses traditionally enjoy looking their tormentors in the eye before they die. That will not be possible in explosive executions.

We acknowledge these drawbacks to explosive executions. On balance, however, we conclude that explosives reflect a much better way to execute criminals than lethal injection. Although it will cost money to construct new exploding chambers, we believe it will prove a valuable investment given their ultimate benefits. And although witnesses have an interest in watching criminals suffer up close, we must remember that capital punishment is about the prisoner and the State: Witnesses are secondary. In a word, explosive executions fulfill both the prisoner's interest in a quick, painless death and the State's interest in punishing crime. Blowing criminals up is simply the most efficacious manner currently available. The fact that explosive executions are dignified and humane only increases their appeal for State governments nationwide.

We also acknowledge that victims and their families have an interest in securing justice for their pain. We understand that victims and their families want to see their tormentors suffer in the same way they suffered. We understand that victims and their families might worry that blowing up a criminal might be "going too easy" on them. After all, if a murderer slowly flayed a child to death with a scalpel, it might seem unfair to reward him with an instantaneous, explosive end.

We know how much victims matter. But we suggest that blowing up a criminal is quite satisfying, even if it is quick. True, victims and their families will have to watch the criminal explode by television. But it is amazing what modern-day camera techniques can show. Victims and their families not only get to hear the big BANG of the initial blast, but will also be able to watch slow motion instant replays of the criminal exploding from various angles. They will also receive complimentary Blu-Ray discs featuring all footage associated with the execution, including commentary, production notes and a musical score.

Considering these advantages, we believe that explosive executions will please victims and their families, despite their limited duration. On the whole, then, explosive executions will please everyone: The State, the victims and the prisoner.

It is an easy choice. We must start blowing up criminals immediately.

Monday, December 14, 2009



Americans learn to revere the word "democracy." In public school, they learn that the American government is "democratic." They take pride in "democracy" because "democracy" is a "free" form of government that is "better" than other governments. After all, when students learn about the American Revolution, they inevitably hear that our Framers established a "democracy." And "democracy" is "better" than the unjust "monarchy" that led them to revolt. Applying these indoctrinated ideals, Americans claim that they never believe in "family distinctions," "aristocracy" or other "elitism" based on inherited titles.

I venture that this is all nonsense. The United States is not--and certainly never was--a democracy. And Americans believe in aristocracy far more than they like to publicly admit: The truth is that both democracy and equality are American myths.

I first doubted the rhetoric about American democracy when I read history books about ancient Greece. In those books, I learned that pure "democracy" imposed no limitation on a person's participation in government. Every voice was equal. Everyone could vote and every decision required majority approval by all. There was no "representative body" that made decisions "in the people's name." No, in pure democracy, the people rule--literally. Everyone has an equal say in policy, from the richest landowner to the lowliest beggar.

Democracy sounds like a wonderful idea. After all, don't we all want to be equal to one another? Should we not all have an equal right to decide on important public questions? Isn't it somehow reassuring to know that the government works for you, and that you have a real chance to influence it? Of course it sounds great. Democracy is idealistic. It lends itself to myths. And like all myths, it does not really exist.

Lately, I've been re-reading Aristotle's Politics. As the world's first real political scientist, he presaged almost every significant political debate that came after him. By categorizing governmental forms, he created the vocabulary of modern political discussion. And Aristotle's text gives me immense support for my contention that the United States is no democracy--not even close. Rather, the United States is an oligarchy.

In criticizing Plato's Laws, Aristotle makes some cogent observations about voting. Americans learn that "democracy" is all about voting. They learn that "going to the polls" proves that "everybody means something" in our political system. There is a theme in American voting rhetoric about equality and dignity. Because we all can supposedly vote, that makes us all equally powerful and worthy. But Aristotle says: "The practice of selection by lot from a number chosen by election is common to both oligarchy and democracy; but to impose upon the richer citizens, and upon them only, the obligation to be members of the Assembly, to vote for office-bearers and do any other duty that falls upon a citizen--that is oligarchical." The Politics, Book II, ch. vi, § 1266a5.

In early America, only white men with sufficient landholdings could vote for representatives. In other words, the "obligation to be members of the Assembly" and "vote for office-bearers" fell solely upon the "richer citizens." Women, slaves and the vast majority of white men had no say whatsoever in government. They could not even go to the polls. Although voting restrictions have certainly diminished over time, it is still no easy thing to vote in the United States. State laws impose numerous handicaps on citizens' right to vote. And in a good year, we're lucky if 50% of the eligible voters actually show up to cast their ballots. Other State laws completely disable people from voting. For example, if you commit a felony--even a relatively minor one, like writing a bad check--you might lose the right to vote for the rest of your life.

In this light, America has historically been far more "oligarchical" than "democratic." If this were a true democracy, everyone would have been able to actively participate in government from the outset. We know this is not the case. Americans have never actively participated in their government. Rather, they elect "particularly distinguished people" from "particular social strata" to rule for them. This, too, is oligarchical. Think about where the Representatives and Senators come from. They are all generally wealthy, white and well-educated. They do not represent a fair cross-section of American society. If anything, they resemble the "richer citizens" Aristotle mentions in The Politics. Just look at Congress. These are not typical Americans: They are 535 people who are far more powerful and wealthy than the people who elected them. And for over a century in this country, they were exclusively landed white males.

Aristotle provides further support for the conclusion that the United States has been--and in many ways, still is--an oligarchy. Concerning oligarchy, he writes: "So also is the attempt to secure that a majority of the office-holders should come from among the wealthy, and that highest offices should be filled by those from the highest property-classes." The Politics, Book II, ch. vi § 1266a5.

What a striking insight. It is as if Aristotle predicted what the United States government would look like 2000 years later. Think about the "majority of the office-holders" in American government. What social class do they represent? You guessed it: They largely come from the "highest property-classes," or at least act like they do. Even President Obama made quite a bit of money as a lawyer and law professor before diving into politics. The fact that there are only two political parties reinforces the oligarchical nature of American government. Unlike European parliamentary systems, Americans have only two choices: Liberal rich guy #1 (the Democrat) or Conservative rich guy #2 (the Republican). There are no "Greens," "Socialists," "Labor Men," "Women for Animals' Rights" or "Christian Theologues." In the American system, every "high office holder" is basically the same: A wealthy believer in free market capitalism who owns significant amounts of property. That is oligarchy.

In the final analysis, it is clear that people from the "highest property-classes" run the American government. They always have, and they always will. Let's just be honest about our terminology: This is an oligarchy, not a democracy. It is simply false to call our system a "democracy," no matter how many people can technically vote. Despite this, it works in the government's favor to identify itself as a "democracy." After all, "democracy" has a magical ring to it. It conjures all kinds of hopeful ideals. It also fools the people into believing that they actually have a say in policy. History shows that people revolt when they feel they are powerless. But when they think their government actually speaks for them, they refrain from revolution. In that sense, calling America a "democracy" maintains social control, even if it is untrue. Calling America a "democracy" keeps things quiet. And that's just how oligarchs like it: It lets them continue to hold all the power.

Oligarchy proceeds on the premise that only a few hold political power. It implies inequality. Democracy, on the other hand, proceeds on the premise that everyone holds political power. It implies equality. Yet a quick look at inequalities in the American political system beginning in 1787 reveals just how absurd it is to call the United States a "democracy." And a quick look at the "kind of people" who have held high office in the United States over the years--Presidents, Senators, Supreme Court justices--merely confirms Aristotle's analysis: These guys (well, almost all guys) all came from the "highest property-classes."

In this light, it is simply disingenuous to delude our children into thinking that they live in a democracy. If they do not come from "high property-classes," they stand a much lower chance to ever influence government. That does not mean that they cannot rise into a "high property-class." It simply means that they must first obtain wealth before even thinking about politics. After all, it wouldn't be an oligarchy if poor folks suddenly held all the high government jobs.

In truth, no country can ever be fully democratic. Could a country in good faith entrust its most pressing concerns to half-fed beggars, idiots and wage laborers? Certainly not. It is reasonable to put political power into "competent" hands. And generally the wealthy are those most competent to administer the State. I simply believe we must be honest in the way we think about our government. That means dropping all aspirations to "equality" and "dignity." The sad fact is that perfect equality is a very bad idea when it comes to government. It would be better if we simply acknowledged that and stopped perpetuating myths that "everyone is equal" in American society. That is not the goal, nor can it ever be. Yet even the oligarchs in power circulate meaningless rhetoric about democratic opportunity and equality for all in America.

We are oligarchs; why not just admit it? Let's at least stop lying to our children about democracy.

Friday, December 11, 2009



At Reason, Commerce, Justice and Free Beer, we care about your well being. We understand that in tough economic times like these, even hard-working citizens find it difficult to secure basic necessities. Housing is a particularly difficult issue for many Americans. As employment shrinks, so too does the opportunity to locate affordable housing. For centuries, buying a home was the American dream. And now it is getting more and more difficult to realize that dream.

We understand that it is simply not possible to buy a home anymore. You need a lot of ready money to buy a home. And when you do not have a job, you don't have ready money. With unemployment now hovering around 20% nationwide, new homebuyers are virtually non-existent these days. Renting is the only way to go. In that light, we are pleased to offer our readers special information about rental properties.

We are committed to helping you survive this crisis. We encourage you to keep looking for work even if you've submitted 750 resumes since last fall and no one interviews you. We all need to dig deeper. We all need to cut expenses and save. We need to start hoarding coupons and looking for deals. When money is scarce, we need to adapt. That is why we are happy to provide some inside information about affordable housing deals. After all, you can't look for a job if you're homeless. You can't revise your resume if you live in a garbage can and spend all your time scrounging for discarded restaurant food.

Today, we are proud to associate with brokers from New York City's Manhattan Happy Homes Co., Inc. Like us, Happy Homes is committed to helping you find the home of your dreams--on a budget. Below, Happy Homes lists five excellent deals on New York rental properties. This is an exclusive offer. You--our readers--are getting a special first look at them before Happy Homes opens them to the public.

We are honored that Happy Homes cares about our readers. We sincerely hope that you will find a home today. And good luck on your job search! Keep your chin up. If you are determined, you will get a job, even on the 1000th try. Winners don't give up. From all of us here at Reason, Commerce, Justice and Free Beer, we salute our readers for their determination and resolve as they make their way through the storm.

Best wishes--and happy home hunting.


You won't get space like this very often in New York! This is a must-see converted loft space for the adventurous tenant. It's a charming prewar building with reliable running water and optional heat. You will LOVE the period windows and high ceilings. Great ventilation and lighting from all sides, including skylights. Space is available for dishwasher, washing machine and dryer. Your friends will love the old-fashioned wall fixtures. Original flooring will blow you away. A little work will help. Wiring and plumbing negotiable. You even get FREE WATER! This is real, gritty New York living at its best. Pet-friendly building! And for $17,500 a month, it's a steal. Call today--it will be gone soon! (Two months' security, plus credit check, bank verification and board approval required for lease signing).


Now THIS is a deal! Cozy Chelsea studio in a beautiful modern building complete with functioning elevator and lighting. Great neighborhood near nightlife, schools, transit, bars, buses and grocery stores. AMAZING SQUARE FOOTAGE : Plenty of room for furniture and appliances, too. Simple design with great potential for decoration and entertainment. Electricity included in rent! Pets allowed! A perfect bachelor pad or first apartment for new college grads. Best of all, it's a budget apartment: Only $8600 a month!!! That's right, only $8600 a month!!! You won't get a great price like this ever again to live in such a hot neighborhood. Isn't it time to treat yourself? Come on down and live in one of New York's HOTTEST areas in a HOT apartment--all for a bargain price (Full employment history must be submitted along with application, plus four months' rent and a blood sample. Landlord reserves right to reject African tenants, financial ability notwithstanding).


Isn't it about time you went green? Well now you can with this UNBELIEVABLE rental smack dab in Central Park. Great views and lighting at all times. Heating optional (wood is available nearby for fires). Homemade plumbing system and spacious rooms make this apartment a MUST-SEE. Windows are original and charming. Pet friendly! Your dog will LOVE IT HERE! No worries about walk-ups here; it's all on the ground floor. This home is a MUST for culture and nature lovers. Plus you're just a stone's throw from the Guggenheim, 5th Avenue and all the bus lines. If you are committed to the environment AND you're chic, this is the apartment for you. Central Park address... does it get any better than that? And what a deal: It's yours for just $24,940 a month!!! Rent-stabilized!!! Call today. Don't let this one get away. (Tenant must replace all thatch, mud and dirt. Tenant is responsible for digging own privy. No exceptions. Only tenants with verifiable income over $450,000 per year (net) need apply).


Incredible East Village one-bedroom in TOTALLY HAPPENING tenement building near Tompkins Square park. If you want cool, you've come to the right place. All original staircases, windows, fixtures and plumbing. FREE walls and FREE doors. We're talking EAST VILLAGE HIP here, baby. Steps from AWESOME coffee shops, thrift stores and wine bars. Not far from train lines, grocery store and pharmacy. A little work would make this classic New York apartment EVEN BETTER. Perfect for the working professional with demanding standards. Perfect for dinner parties, guests and business meetings. If you're ready to GET ON THE VILLAGE SCENE, look no further. It gets no better than this. And all for a measly $11,500 per month!!! Believe me, you WILL NOT find a rent this low ANYWHERE else in the village. Do it now. Don't lose out. (Subject to board approval. Only applicants with credit scores over 900 will be considered. No unemployed people. No homosexuals unless they agree to pay two years' rent upfront and indemnify landlord against property damage arising from homosexual activity (including unauthorized decorating)).


You will LOVE this cute and CAVERNOUS two-bedroom right off Bryant Park. Steps from 6th Avenue and Times Square. STUNNING all-granite countertops, modern kitchen and bath make this beauty a STEAL. Amazing West views provide great sunlight. Some electrical work needed, but not much. Original, modern flooring with a twist of natural charm. Your friends will LOVE the quaint lighting and brand new appliances. FREE running groundwater. Pets ALLOWED! Stalactites offer INCREDIBLE and UNIQUE decorating opportunities. Take it from us--when it comes to midtown, you will NOT find value like this for the money. When you're ready to dig your own hole in Manhattan, THIS IS IT. It's yours for just $37,000 a month. Don't wait! Call today! (Bathrooms and doors not included. Underground lake provides free plumbing. Tenant agrees to generate own electricity. Tenant agrees to hold landlord harmless for injuries resulting from cave collapse, falling rocks or subterranean animal attacks--no exceptions. Six months' security plus criminal background check required. Signed lease grants landlord right to sleep with anyone in tenant's household subject to notice. Failure to honor such right will result in material breach of lease and render tenant liable for full outstanding lease amount, plus treble damages. Tenant agrees never to bring any legal action against Landlord for any dispute arising out of this Lease for any reason whatsoever, including death).