Month: March 2016

How Government Subverts Social Norms

Arnold Kling observes that

humans have a fundamental rule of social morality, which is: Reward cooperators; punish defectors. The use of this rule is what enables humans to work effectively with strangers, making possible sophisticated economies and civilizations….

Generally, a cooperator is someone who obeys social norms without requiring coercion. A defector is someone who takes advantage of others by disobeying social norms.

Along come “activists”: persons who seek to advance a particular cause or group of persons, usually without regard for the effects on social comity and often for the sheer pleasure of “sticking it to the man,” Obama-like. Through the use of courts and legislatures, these “activists” reshape legal norms — welfare as a right, capital punishment (for murder) as a wrong, abortion (murder) as a right, wealth accumulation as (somehow) anti-social, homosexual “marriage” as just another form of marriage, and on and on.

The vast, wishy-washy middle is easily influenced. Ensconced in the relative comfort of the nanny-welfare state, the middle too often acquiesces in the edicts of the state to which it (falsely) attributes its relative comfort. When the minions of the state speak, the wishy-washy middle listens.

The sole exception of which I am aware has been widespread resistance to legalized abortion, a movement that has found backing in the GOP-controlled legislatures of several States. Dislike of Obamacare, on the other hand, has resulted in only some minor victories for religious freedom, while public opinion slowly warms to the prospect of “free” medical care and more generous drug benefits.

The general wishy-washiness that greets governmental subversion of long-standing, civilizing norms is a symptom of the capitalist paradox: The successes of capitalism separate people from the lessons that served them well when life was more fraught and survival depended more heavily on social comity. (The idea that “social media” bonds mere acquaintances and total strangers is laughable.)

Britain is the model for social disintegration and the economic stagnation that accompanies it. A polite, hardworking, law-abiding “nation of shopkeepers” has been transformed into a nation of loud, dole-demanding, beer-swilling, rib-kicking yobs — male and female.

On the evidence of news reports and what passes for entertainment these days, the U.S. is following in Britain’s footsteps. And most of the blame belongs to the “activists” and elites who have worked so hard to subvert long-standing social norms.

 

Assuming a Pretzel-Like Shape

Will Wilkinson — of whom I’ve written many times (e.g., here) — twists his brain into a pretzel-like shape while trying to reconcile libertarianism with what he calls neoclassical liberalism. In essence, Wilkinson and his ideological allies have concocted an after-the-fact justification for the past 80 years of governance in the United States. That is to say, they prefer a fascistic nanny state to a truly libertarian regime, but can’t bring themselves to admit it. So they concoct “libertarian” arguments for “positive liberty” and “social justice,” which necessarily require the state to shrink the zone of true liberty — negative liberty — until it vanishes.

My War on the Misuse of Probability

In the preceding post I say that “the problem with history is that the future isn’t part of it.” That is subtle criticism of the too-frequent practice of attributing a probability to the occurrence of a future event — especially a unique event, such as a war here or a terrorist attack there.

A probability is a statement about a very large number of like events, each of which has an unpredictable (random) outcome. Probability, properly understood, says nothing about the outcome of an individual event. It certainly says nothing about what will happen next.

A fair coin comes up heads with a probability of 0.5, and comes up tails with the same probability. But those aren’t statements about the outcome of the next coin toss. No, they’re statements about the approximate frequencies of the occurrence of heads and tails in a large number of tosses. The next coin toss will eventuate in heads or tails, but not 0.5 heads and 0.5 tails (except in the rare and unpredictable case of a coin landing on edge and staying there).

There’s a vast gap between routine processes of the kind to which probabilities attach — coin tosses, for example — and the complexities of human activity. Human activity is too complex and dependent on intentions and willful actions to be characterized (properly) by statements about the probability of this or that action.

It is fatuous to say, for example, that a war on the scale of World War II is improbable because such a war has occurred only once in human history. By that reasoning, one could have said confidently in 1938 that a war on the scale of World War II could never occur because there had been no such war in human history.

(Inspired by Bryan Caplan’s fatuous post, “So Far.”)

The Old Normal

The recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and Lahore might lead the impressionable to conclude that the world is falling apart. I submit that terrorist attacks shock because they occur against a backdrop of relative peacefulness. Yes, there are wars here and there, but they are mere skirmishes — albeit with tragic consequences for many — compared with what happened in the twentieth century.

From 1914 to 1973 — a span of two generations — World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the genocides presided over by Stalin, Hitler, and Mao produced casualties on a scale never attained before or since.  Despite subsequent events — the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Gulf War, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and dozens of terror attacks, large and small in scale — the world today is more quiescent than it has been in more than a century.

But the problem with history is that the future isn’t part of it. It is fatuous to suggest, as some have, that the better angels of our nature have conquered violence on a twentieth-century scale. That was the prevailing view in Europe for several years before the outbreak of World War I.

Violence is in fact an essential, ineradicable component of human nature. There will always be armed conflict, and sometimes it will involve the forces of many nations. The proximate causes and timing of war are unpredictable. Conciliatory gestures can be just as provocative as saber-rattling; the former can be taken as as sign of weakness and unpreparedness, the latter as a sign of resolve and preparedness.

If history holds any lesson regarding war, it is this one: Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. This is a lesson that American leftists seem dead set on ignoring.

The Answer to Judicial Supremacy

This long post, which seems to violate my resolve to avoid long posts, was almost complete when I began my blogging hiatus in August 2015. I took a bit of time today to finish it.

INTRODUCTION

I begin with the supposed similarity of Kim Davis’s refusal to issue same-sex “marriage” licenses and George Wallace’s anti-integration “stand in the schoolhouse door.” The similarity, some would say, is that both acts of defiance against rulings of the Supreme Court were acts intended to deny “equal protection of the laws” to certain groups (namely, homosexuals and blacks). But “equal protection” has too often been the Court’s tool for imposing on Americans the social preferences of its members (or a majority of them). The Court hasn’t just used its constitutional power to resolve “cases and controversies”; it has assumed law-making power. That power arises from “judicial supremacy,” which was conceived in Marbury v. Madison (1803) and attained maturity in Cooper v. Aaron (1958). Judicial supremacy is unconstitutional. Secession is a legal (constitutional) remedy for judicial supremacy — and much else that is rotten in the state of the union.

HOW ARE THESE THINGS THE SAME?

“What is the difference,” Timothy Sandefur asks rhetorically, between a county clerk in Kentucky defying the Supreme Court by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and George Wallace defying the Supreme Court by refusing to integrate the public schools of Alabama?

I take this as Sandefur’s point: There is no difference. In both instances, government officials defied the “law of the land” and denied “equal protection of the laws” to members of an “identity group” because of their membership in that group.

There is another similarity, which is omitted from Sandefur’s liberaltarian view of such acts of defiance. In both the segregation and same-sex “marriage” cases, the “law of the land” was peremptorily established by the Supreme Court, not by the passage of bills duly signed into law by the president of the United States or a governor of a State.

JEFFERSON’S PREMONITION

This raises the issue of judicial supremacy: the supposed power of the Supreme Court to enforce the Constitution for the other branches of the central government and the States. The truth of the matter was expressed more than 200 years ago, in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams:

You seem to think it devolved on the judges to decide the constitutionality of the sedition law [the Alien and Sedition Acts, which Jefferson opposed] . But nothing in the Constitution has given them the right to decide for the Executive, more than the Executive to decide for them. Both magistracies are equally independent in the sphere of action assigned to them. The judges, believing the law constitutional, had a right to pass a sentence of fine and imprisonment; because that power was placed in their hands by the Constitution. But the Executive, believing the law to be unconstitutional, was bound to remit the execution of it; because that power was placed in their hands by the Constitution. That instrument meant that its co-ordinate branches should be checks on each other. But the opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional, and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action, but for the Legislature & Executive also, in their spheres, would make of the judiciary a despotic branch. [Quoted by Michael and Luke Paulsen in The Constitution: An Introduction, p. 136.]

(Jefferson was right to fear judicial despotism.)

Jefferson went further and proclaimed that the States, as the parties to the constitutional “compact” (his word), were the supreme arbiters of the Constitution. James Madison — father of the Constitution — sided with Jefferson at the time (though he back-tracked later in his life).

Michael Stokes Paulsen and Luke Paulsen, while characterizing Jefferson and Madison’s assertion of State supremacy as “inconsistent with the Constitution’s design,” say this:

Madison and Jefferson were right that state authorities have the right and duty to resist unconstitutional actions of the national government. Thus, the proper answer is that state government actors are legitimate constitutional interpreters, but not supreme ones. State officials, no less than federal officials, swear an oath to support the Constitution. And the structure of federalism, as we have seen in Chapter 2, makes states and state officials independent checks on the national government. It is therefore not at all outlandish to think that officers and instrumentalities of state governments possess an independent power of faithful constitutional interpretation— the power to interpret the Constitution (to borrow President Jackson’s words on a later occasion) as they understand it, “not as it is understood by others.” As demonstrated by Virginia’s and Kentucky’s resistance to the Alien and Sedition Acts, that power sometimes can be a valuable check on unconstitutional action by the national government.

But there is an important constitutional limit to this independent state interpretive power— a boundary that Madison defined inconsistently, that Jefferson disregarded entirely, and that (as we shall see) nullification and secession would attempt to breach violently: independent state power to interpret the Constitution does not mean state supremacy over the Constitution. No state, group of states, or state actor within them has the power to interpret the US Constitution in a way that binds the nation as a whole. Just as states are not literally “bound” by the federal government’s interpretations of the document, the federal government cannot be controlled in its actions by the interpretations of the state. The two levels of government operate as checks on each other, just as the several branches of the national government check one another. [Op. cit., pp. 135-136.]

I am satisfied by the Paulsens’ formulation. It should go without saying that a single State or group of them cannot dictate to all States. But it should also go without saying that the Supreme Court’s power is limited to deciding particular “cases and controversies” (Constitution, Article III, Clause 1), not to making law.

JUDICIAL LAW-MAKING AND THE “EQUAL PROTECTION” RACKET

But making law is precisely what the Supreme Court does when its members (or a majority of them) torture the Constitution to suit their political aims. And that’s what happened in Brown v. Board of Education and Obergefell v. Hodges.

Brown wasn’t decided on the basis of the Constitution, but by deference to Kenneth and Mamie Clark‘s phonydoll experiments.” This was clearly a stretch to justify the Court’s emotional disdain for Southern segregation. As Justice Clarence Thomas later put it:

Brown I [the name later applied to Brown v. Board of Education] did not say that “racially isolated” schools were inherently inferior; the harm that it identified was tied purely to de jure segregation, not de facto segregation. Indeed, Brown I itself did not need to rely upon any psychological or social-science research in order to announce the simple, yet fundamental truth that the Government cannot discriminate among its citizens on the basis of race…. At the heart of this interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause lies the principle that the Government must treat citizens as individuals, and not as members of racial, ethnic or religious groups. [Missouri v. Jenkins, 1995]

Separateness — voluntary economic and social segregation — is an inexorable force. Most of the segregation that existed in the nation, North and South, was voluntary and based on socioeconomic differences between the races. (Witness the gradual resegregation of public schools since the hay-day of the “Civil Rights Era” in the 1960s and 1970s.) It follows that Court-ordered integration (like State-ordered segregation) couldn’t be implemented without infringing on freedom of association, a right implicitly recognized by the Ninth Amendment. But infringement on freedom of association — along with violence and heightened racial animosity — predictably followed Brown. Brown III, for example, resulted in tests of “racial balance” (i.e. quotas). Brown also set the stage for the revocation of property rights ten years later, in the name of “public accommodations.”

The majority in Obergefell likewise relied on “equal protection.” But there the resemblance ends, pace Sandefur. The form of segregation targeted specifically by the Brown Court was government-enforced and thus also a denial of freedom of association, if not “equal protection.” The form of marriage targeted specifically by the Obergefell majority was a traditional religious and civil relationship that has been commandeered by government. Its heterosexual character was natural, not discriminatory, having arisen and endured because of the stabilizing social value of heterosexual attachments and the familial bonds that accompany them.

The Court’s resort to “equal protection” in Obergefell (and elsewhere) is a sham:

By the “logic” of [proponents of the legalization of same-sex “marriage”], it is unconstitutional to discriminate on any basis. Thus no one should be found unfit for a particular job (that saves Carpenter and Walker); no one should be found unfit for admission to a university; there should be no minimum age at which one is permitted to drink, drive, wed, or join the armed forces; there should be no prohibition of marriage between siblings; churches should be required to ordain atheists; and on and on.

Above all — by the same “logic” — the laws should not have any basis in morality. Because the imposition of morality results in “discrimination” against persons who cheat, beat, steal from, rape, and murder other persons. [“Getting ‘Equal Protection’ Right,” Politics & Prosperity, November 23, 2014]

THE MYTH OF “JUDICIAL SUPREMACY”

In any event, Brown and Obergefell are among the hundreds of cases in which the Supreme Court has made law, unconstitutionally. I say that will all due respect for Chief Justice John Marshall, who asserted that

[i]t is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each…. So if a law be in opposition to the constitution: if both the law and the constitution apply to a particular case, so that the court must either decide that case conformably to the law, disregarding the constitution; or conformably to the constitution, disregarding the law: the court must determine which of these conflicting rules governs the case. This is of the very essence of judicial duty.

If then the courts are to regard the constitution; and the constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature; the constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply.

Those then who controvert the principle that the constitution is to be considered, in court, as a paramount law, are reduced to the necessity of maintaining that courts must close their eyes on the constitution, and see only the law.

This doctrine would subvert the very foundation of all written constitutions. It would declare that an act, which, according to the principles and theory of our government, is entirely void, is yet, in practice, completely obligatory. It would declare, that if the legislature shall do what is expressly forbidden, such act, notwithstanding the express prohibition, is in reality effectual. It would be giving to the legislature a practical and real omnipotence with the same breath which professes to restrict their powers within narrow limits. It is prescribing limits, and declaring that those limits may be passed at pleasure….

The judicial power of the United States is extended to all cases arising under the constitution…. Could it be the intention of those who gave this power, to say that, in using it, the constitution should not be looked into? That a case arising under the constitution should be decided without examining the instrument under which it arises?

This is too extravagant to be maintained.

In some cases then, the constitution must be looked into by the judges. And if they can open it at all, what part of it are they forbidden to read, or to obey?…

[I]t is apparent, that the framers of the constitution contemplated that instrument as a rule for the government of courts, as well as of the legislature.Why otherwise does it direct the judges to take an oath to support it? This oath certainly applies, in an especial manner, to their conduct in their official character. How immoral to impose it on them, if they were to be used as the instruments, and the knowing instruments, for violating what they swear to support!

The oath of office, too, imposed by the legislature, is completely demonstrative of the legislative opinion on this subject. It is in these words: ‘I do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich; and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties incumbent on me as according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the constitution and laws of the United States.’

Why does a judge swear to discharge his duties agreeably to the constitution of the United States, if that constitution forms no rule for his government? if it is closed upon him and cannot be inspected by him.

If such be the real state of things, this is worse than solemn mockery. To prescribe, or to take this oath, becomes equally a crime.

It is also not entirely unworthy of observation, that in declaring what shall be the supreme law of the land, the constitution itself is first mentioned; and not the laws of the United States generally, but those only which shall be made in pursuance of the constitution, have that rank.

Thus, the particular phraseology of the constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the constitution is void, and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument. [Marbury v. Madison, 1803]

Marshall’s one-sided analysis omits the very real possibility that the courts will err (deliberately or not) in their interpretation of the Constitution.

Marbury led eventually to Cooper v. Aaron (1958), in which a unanimous Court

held that since the Supremacy Clause of Article VI made the US Constitution the supreme law of the land and Marbury v. Madison made the Supreme Court the final interpreter of the Constitution….

This is rather like a batter presuming to call balls and strikes for himself.

THE MYTH EXPOSED

But Marbury did not make the Supreme Court the final arbiter of the Constitution. I return to the Paulsens:

The Constitution’s words and structure do not set up one single, authoritative interpreter of the Constitution— contrary to the myth that has grown up around the often misunderstood case of Marbury v. Madison. The Constitution does not establish judicial supremacy, but constitutional supremacy: the supremacy of the document itself. And the Constitution’s system of separation of powers and even federalism set up a framework in which multiple actors— presidents, legislators, juries, and voters, as well as judges— each have a legitimate role to play in giving the Constitution practical effect and in checking the errors of the others. No one branch or institution has the sole power of constitutional interpretation. The Supreme Court did not write the Constitution, does not own the Constitution, and has not always correctly interpreted the Constitution. Our constitutional system has worked best when each and every government official and citizen has taken a full, active, faithful role in interpreting the Constitution. [Op. cit., pp. 320-322]

That is only the conclusion of a long, compelling analysis. I urge you to read it for yourself. Though you will be forgiven if you disagree with the Paulsens’ nationalistic view of the Constitution. I disagree with it, vehemently. (See this post, for example.)

NO WAY OUT?

The problem is that Congress — even when its majorities oppose the Court’s decisions — has failed to use (or to use often enough) the constitutional tools at its disposal: impeachment, jurisdiction-stripping, and outright defiance. Alexander Hamilton was unduly optimistic (or just trying to sell nationalization of the States) when he wrote this:

It may … be observed that the supposed danger of judiciary encroachments on the legislative authority, which has been upon many occasions reiterated, is in reality a phantom. Particular misconstructions and contraventions of the will of the legislature may now and then happen; but they can never be so extensive as to amount to an inconvenience, or in any sensible degree to affect the order of the political system. This may be inferred with certainty, from the general nature of the judicial power, from the objects to which it relates, from the manner in which it is exercised, from its comparative weakness, and from its total incapacity to support its usurpations by force. And the inference is greatly fortified by the consideration of the important constitutional check which the power of instituting impeachments in one part of the legislative body, and of determining upon them in the other, would give to that body upon the members of the judicial department. This is alone a complete security. There never can be danger that the judges, by a series of deliberate usurpations on the authority of the legislature, would hazard the united resentment of the body intrusted with it, while this body was possessed of the means of punishing their presumption, by degrading them from their stations. While this ought to remove all apprehensions on the subject, it affords, at the same time, a cogent argument for constituting the Senate a court for the trial of impeachments. [Federalist No. 81]

Hamilton’s misplaced faith in the Constitution’s checks and balances (if it was that) is an example of what I have called the Framers’ fatal error:

The Framers underestimated the will to power that animates office-holders. The Constitution’s wonderful design — horizontal and vertical separation of powers — which worked rather well until the late 1800s, cracked under the strain of populism, as the central government began to impose national economic regulation at the behest of muckrakers and do-gooders. The Framers’ design then broke under the burden of the Great Depression, as the Supreme Court of the 1930s (and since) has enabled the central government to impose its will at will. The Framers’ fundamental error can be found in Madison’s Federalist No. 51. Madison was correct in this:

…It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure….

But Madison then made the error of assuming that, under a central government, liberty is guarded by a diversity of interests:

[One method] of providing against this evil [is] … by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable…. [This] method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.

In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government. This view of the subject must particularly recommend a proper federal system to all the sincere and considerate friends of republican government, since it shows that in exact proportion as the territory of the Union may be formed into more circumscribed Confederacies, or States oppressive combinations of a majority will be facilitated: the best security, under the republican forms, for the rights of every class of citizens, will be diminished: and consequently the stability and independence of some member of the government, the only other security, must be proportionately increased….

Madison then went on to contradict what he said in Federalist No. 46 about the States being a bulwark of liberty:

It can be little doubted that if the State of Rhode Island was separated from the Confederacy and left to itself, the insecurity of rights under the popular form of government within such narrow limits would be displayed by such reiterated oppressions of factious majorities that some power altogether independent of the people would soon be called for by the voice of the very factions whose misrule had proved the necessity of it. In the extended republic of the United States, and among the great variety of interests, parties, and sects which it embraces, a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good; whilst there being thus less danger to a minor from the will of a major party, there must be less pretext, also, to provide for the security of the former, by introducing into the government a will not dependent on the latter, or, in other words, a will independent of the society itself. It is no less certain than it is important, notwithstanding the contrary opinions which have been entertained, that the larger the society, provided it lie within a practical sphere, the more duly capable it will be of self-government. And happily for the REPUBLICAN CAUSE, the practicable sphere may be carried to a very great extent, by a judicious modification and mixture of the FEDERAL PRINCIPLE.

Madison understood that a majority can tyrannize a minority. He understood that the States are better able to prevent the rise of tyranny if the powers of the central government are circumscribed. But he then assumed … that the States themselves could not resist tyranny within their own borders. Madison overlooked the importance of exit as the ultimate check on tyranny. He assumed (or asserted) that, in creating a new central government with powers greatly exceeding those of the Confederacy, a majority of States would not tyrannize the minority and that minorities with overlapping interests would not concert to tyrannize the majority. Madison was so anxious to see the Constitution ratified that he oversold himself (possibly) and the States’ ratifying conventions (certainly) on the ability of the central government to hold itself in check. Thus the Constitution was lamentably silent on nullification and secession.

What has been done by presidents, Congresses, and courts will be very hard to undo. Too many interests are vested in the regulatory-welfare state that has usurped the Framers’ noble vision. Democracy (that is, vote-selling) and log-rolling are more powerful than words on paper. Even a Supreme Court majority of “strict constructionists” probably would decline to roll back the New Deal and most of what has come in its wake. [“Liberty and Federalism,” Liberty Corner, March 12, 2006]

THE CONSTITUTION AS A USEFUL TOOL

It is no wonder that I have come to view the Constitution cynically:

1. The Constitution was a contract, but not a contract between “the people.” It was a contract drawn by a small fraction of the populace of twelve States, and put into effect by a small fraction of the populace of nine States….

2. Despite their status as “representatives of the people,” the various fractions of the populace that drafted and ratified the Constitution had no moral authority to bind all of their peers, and certainly no moral authority to bind future generations….

3. The Constitution was and is binding only in the way that a debt to a gangster who demands “protection money” is binding. It was and is binding because state actors have the power to enforce it, as they see fit to interpret it….

4. The Constitution contains provisions that can be and sometimes have been applied to advance liberty. But such applications have depended on the aims and whims of those then in positions of power.

5. It is convenient to appeal to the Constitution in the cause of liberty, … but that doesn’t change the fact that the Constitution was not and never will be a law enacted by “the people” of the United States or any State thereof.

6. Any person and any government in the United States may therefore, in principle, reject the statutes, executive orders, and judicial holdings of the United States government (or any government) as non-binding.

7. Secession is one legitimate form of rejection, though the preceding discussion clearly implies that secession by a State government is morally binding only on those who assent to the act of secession.

8. An  act of secession may be put down — through legal process or force of arms — but that doesn’t alter the (limited) legitimacy of the act.

9. Given the preceding, any act of secession is no less legitimate than was the adoption of the Constitution.

10. The legitimacy of an act of secession isn’t colored by its proximate cause, whether that cause is a desire to preserve slavery, or to escape oppressive taxation and regulation by the central government, or to live in a civil society that is governed by the Golden Rule. The proximate cause must be evaluated on its own merits, or lack thereof. [“How Libertarians Ought to Think About the Constitution,” Politics and Prosperity, February 22, 2014]

There is, in sum, a strong legal case for secession, pace the Paulsens, who (strangely) view the Civil War — a war mind you — as legally dispositive. I have spelled out the legal case for secession (and the legal irrelevance of the Civil War) in several posts at Politics & Prosperity, including “Secession” (April 17, 2009), “Secession Redux” (July 2, 2009), “A Declaration of Independence” (March 30, 2010), and “The States and the Constitution” (September 6, 2014). I recommend that you read all of the posts (and the ones linked to within them), but if you don’t have the time to do that, consider this passage from “The States and the Constitution”:

Finally, in The Federalist No. 39, which informed the debates in the various States about ratification,  Madison says that

the Constitution is to be founded on the assent and ratification of the people of America, given by deputies elected for the special purpose; but, on the other, that this assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong. It is to be the assent and ratification of the several States, derived from the supreme authority in each State, the authority of the people themselves….

That it will be a federal and not a national act, as these terms are understood by the objectors; the act of the people, as forming so many independent States, not as forming one aggregate nation, is obvious from this single consideration, that it is to result neither from the decision of a majority of the people of the Union, nor from that of a majority of the States. It must result from the unanimous assent of the several States that are parties to it, differing no otherwise from their ordinary assent than in its being expressed, not by the legislative authority, but by that of the people themselves. Were the people regarded in this transaction as forming one nation, the will of the majority of the whole people of the United States would bind the minority, in the same manner as the majority in each State must bind the minority; and the will of the majority must be determined either by a comparison of the individual votes, or by considering the will of the majority of the States as evidence of the will of a majority of the people of the United States. Neither of these rules have been adopted. Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act…. [underlining added]

As each State was free to ratify the Constitution (or not), so is each State legally free to withdraw its ratification, that is, to secede.

THE ONLY WAY OUT

When all is said and done, the only escape from the judicial tyranny that has arisen under the Constitution is to withdraw from the union it represents. Though an act of secession cannot represent the will of all the people of a State, it would almost certainly represent the wishes of a vast majority of the people of the seceding State. Given the impossibility of unanimous consent, I would gladly side with the pro-liberty secessionist forces of my State. The alternative is to march in lockstep to the incessant drumbeat that measures America’s descent into “soft” despotism.

A Dose of Reality

Gregory Cochran writes about “safe spaces”:

The more I think about it, the more I suspect that a lot of our present and future ‘elites’ would develop some valuable perspective from having someone beat the living crap out of them. Certainly worth a try.

Collegians’ demands for “safe spaces” and their refusals to brook alternative points of view are symptoms of a deeper problem. Some have called it the capitalist paradox. It is capitalism — really a regime of (relatively) free markets — not government, that has liberated most Americans (and most Westerners) from the Hobbesian fate of a poor, nasty, brutish, and short life. The most “liberated” are those who are the furthest removed from the realities of everyday life (such as being kicked in the ribs by yobs): collegians, ex-collegian academicians who propagandize collegians, ex-collegian teachers who propagandize public-school students, ex-collegian pundits and so-called journalists who have absorbed enough academic theorizing to have developed a distorted view of reality, and ex-collegian politicians and high-ranking bureaucrats who eagerly adopt pseudo-intellectual justifications for the various collectivist schemes that serve their power-lust.

This is a roundabout way of agreeing with Cochran. The functional equivalent of having someone beat the living crap out of cosseted elites, would be to slash appropriations for tax-funded universities, and especially for the so-called liberal arts. The possessors of soft minds and bodies would soon learn about real life, and be forced to live it alongside the proles whom they profess to love but actually disdain.

The currently fashionable notion of “free” college for everyone — well, fashionable on the anti-capitalist left — is exactly 180 degrees wrong. There are already far too many numbskulls (students and professors) on college campuses, as there were when I was a collegian almost 60 years ago. College isn’t for everyone; it’s for the brightest, or it should be.

“Cheerful” Thoughts

Fred Reed ends a recent column with this:

America is no longer “one nation under God” (who is, I suppose, an undocumented alien). It is an unhappy land of warring tribes, of peoples who have nothing in common and do not like each other. Blacks, whites, browns, Syrians, Somalis, Southerners, Yankees, Christians, mostly detesting each other. The battle lines are drawn. The question is what kind of battle it will be.

I agree with Reed’s “warring tribes” characterization. But mutual detestation will not lead to combat. It will lead to an increasing fragmentation of America into mutually loathing identity groups.

And, as Trumpania makes clear, one result will be more government, not less. Whichever coalition of warring groups is in power, government will expand to fulfill the wishes of that coalition. And the ascension to power of different coalitions will simply lead to the further expansion of government, without any shrinkage of the functions added under previous coalitions.

As I have written elsewhere, the aggrandizement of government in the United States can be characterized by three metaphors: the slippery slope, the ratchet effect, and the death-spiral (of liberty). The Tea Party movement is effectively dead; the true lovers of liberty are a minuscule fraction of the electorate; the thought police are at the door; and with diminished defenses and expanded welfare programs, America is a hair’s-breadth from an economically stagnant, morally bankrupt European-style “social democracy.”

The next administration — or the next one, at most — will finish the job of fundamentally transforming America. Barack Obama certainly did his part, but the transformation has been a long time in the making. And it seems irreversible.

America’s Political Profile

This is a long post, contrary to my new blogging style, but much of it is quoted material.

REVISED 03/26/16 to incorporate the 9-question survey from Arnold Kling’s book, The Three Languages of Politics. The item linked in the earlier version of this post was an older, 10-question version of the survey, which doesn’t match the scoring key in Kling’s book that’s reproduced here.

Here is the estimable Arnold Kling, writing in The Three Languages of Politics:

I claim that progressives [Ps*], conservatives [Cs], and libertarians [Ls] each use a different heuristic. Because they use different heuristics, they speak different languages.

Each heuristic sets up an axis of favorable and unfavorable. Ps use the heuristic of the oppressed-oppressor axis. Ps view most favorably those groups who can be regarded as oppressed or standing with the oppressed. They view most unfavorably those groups who can be regarded as oppressors. Cs use the heuristic of the civilization-barbarism axis. Cs view most favorably the institutions that they believe constrain and guide people toward civilized behavior, and they view most unfavorably those people who they see as trying to tear down such institutions. Ls use the heuristic of the freedom-coercion axis. Ls view most favorably those who defer to decisions that are made on the basis of personal choice and voluntary agreement, and they view most unfavorably those people who favor government interventions that restrict personal choice.

I find a lot to like in Kling’s trichotomy. If you wonder where you stand, take Kling’s survey. Here it is, followed by a discussion of the scoring key and the key itself:

1. Late in 2012, in Newtown Connecticut, about two dozen school children were murdered in a shooting incident. What this indicates is

a) the need for teachers to be empowered and armed to fight back

b) the need for society to exert more control over the mentally ill

c) the need to reduce the power of the gun lobby 2. In the latter half of 2012, UN Ambassador Susan Rice went on news programs as an Administration spokesperson and described the deaths of Americans

2. In the latter half of 2012, UN Ambassador Susan Rice went on news programs as an Administration spokesperson and described the deaths of Americans at the Libyan consulate in Benghazi as resulting from a protest demonstration. The media should have assigned more significance to the fact that

a) Islamic militants were to blame for the murders

b) Politicians were seeking to assign or deflect blame

c) Susan Rice is a female African-American

3. In the 1940s, ordinary Germans participated in atrocities against Jews. This shows us

a) The dangers of a totalitarian system of government

b) The dangers of a collapse of moral values when a country’s institutions have failed

c) The dangers of anti-Semitism

4. When the issue of changing the tax code comes up, what question is most important?

a) how will the change affect the reward that people get for hard work and thrift?

b) does the government spend money more wisely than individuals?

c) how will the change affect inequality?

5. What is notable about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is that

a) Israelis share American values much more than do Palestinians

b) Palestinians are an oppressed people

c) The government of Israel, Arab governments, the governments of other nations, and the UN are all at fault.

6. In 1992, a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found a high rejection rate for mortgage applications by African-Americans. What explains this?

a) racial discrimination

b) African-Americans were more likely to have poor credit histories or insufficient incomes to qualify for mortgages

c) the officials who directed the study had an agenda

7. The wave of mortgage defaults known as the “sub-prime crisis” was caused by mortgage loans that were

a) given to unqualified and undeserving borrowers

b) government-induced

c) predatory

8. The large number of unwed mothers with low income reflects

a) lack of economic opportunities, education, and access to birth control

b) cultural decay, which over-values sexual gratification and undervalues marital responsibility

c) incentives built into our tax and welfare system

9. Since 9/ 11, Presidents have employed controversial powers, such as warrantless surveillance and targeted killing. What do you think of the use of these powers?

a) Because Islamist terrorism is such a difficult and dangerous problem, I support the use of these powers to protect the American people.

b) I am totally against the use of these powers.

c) I am not sure about these powers, but I definitely trust the Obama-Biden administration to use them more judiciously than the Bush-Cheney administration.

Before we score the quiz and interpret your score, please answer one more question. Remember, the answer is not how you would respond. Instead, have in mind someone who agrees with you on many political issues. Which of the following paragraphs best describes how this person feels?

X) My heroes are people who have stood up for the underprivileged. The people I cannot stand are people who do not seem to care about the oppression of working people, minorities, and women.

Y) My heroes are people who have stood up for Western values. The people I cannot stand are the people who do not seem to mind the assault on the moral virtues and traditions that are the foundation for our civilization.

Z) My heroes are people who have stood up for the individual’s right to his or her own choices. The people I cannot stand are people who want government to impose their value system on everyone….

The first dominant heuristic is the one I associate with progressives (henceforth Ps). Ps, who are likely to respond X to the basic question, are most comfortable with language that frames political issues in terms of oppressors and oppressed.

The second dominant heuristic is one I associate with conservatives (henceforth Cs). Cs, who are likely to respond Y to the basic question, are most comfortable with language that frames political issues in terms of civilization and barbarism.

The third dominant heuristic is one I associate with libertarians (henceforth Ls). Ls, who are likely to respond Z to the basic question, are most comfortable with language that frames political issues in terms of freedom and coercion.

In short, my hypothesis is that someone who picked X on the basic question will tend to give corresponding progressive answers to the other nine questions. Someone who picked Y will tend to give conservative answers. Someone who picked Z will tend to pick libertarian answers. Now, go back and score your quiz to find out how many Ps, Cs, and Ls you picked. Match your answers as indicated below.

Give yourself one P for each of the following: 1c, 2c, 3c, 4c, 5b, 6b, 7c, 8a, 9c.

Give yourself one C for each of the following: 1b, 2a, 3b, 4a, 5a, 6c, 7a, 8b, 9a.

Give yourself one L for each of the following: 1a, 2b, 3a, 4b, 5c, 6a, 7b, 8c, 9b.

My guess is that progressives will have at least 6 Ps. My guess is that conservatives will have at least 4 Cs and fewer than 3 Ps. My guess is that libertarians will have at least 4 Ls and fewer than 3 Ps.

You may not agree in every case with Kling’s alignment of an answer with a political point of view (I don’t), but the overall result is probably in the ballpark. I chose Y for the basic question, and scored 6 Cs, 2 Ls, and 1 P (which I attribute to an error in Kling’s scoring scale); my actual score is 7 Cs and 2 Ls.** Inasmuch as traditional conservatism (my brand) is tantamount to true libertarianism (e.g., this post), I’m pleased to be classified as a conservative with libertarian leanings.

As for sorting progressives, conservatives, and libertarians, here’s my take: Someone with a lot of (i.e., 6 or more) Cs is unlikely to have even 1 P. (I don’t, really.) Someone with a lot of Ps is unlikely to have even 1 C, though he might have a few Ls. Someone with a lot of Ls is more likely to have some Ps, than some Cs.

But Kling’s survey is unlikely to be encountered by a more typical denizen of the United States. Such a person doesn’t think deeply or consistently about politics, but is more likely to be preoccupied with paying a mortgage or the rent, raising children or ignoring them to the extent possible, boozing with buddies (male and/or female), reading trashy novels (if anything), watching TV fare on a par with Dancing with the Stars, and so on. Such a person would probably weigh in with a mix of Cs, Ps, and Ls — and would prefer to give more than one answer to most of the questions. Such a person would be an adherent of America’s dominant political strain, which I call wishy-washy.

In short, I think the political landscape boils down to this:

  • A fringe of true Conservatives, some of them with a libertarian streak
  • A larger fringe of all-out progressives
  • A minuscule fringe of all-out libertarians
  • A microscopic fringe of left-libertarians, whose oxymoronic belief in libertarian communitarianism leads them to sympathize with progressives rather than conservatives
  • The wishy-washy masses in the vast middle, who go with what seems “nice” or “in style.” (Some wishy-washiers like to call themselves “centrists,” which is the verbal equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig.)

Conservatives and progressives are irreconcilable, as are conservatives and all-out libertarians. I also see no way of reconciling left-libertarians with all-out libertarians or conservatives.

But none of that matters much. Wishy-washiness dominates, which is why election outcomes seem to careen from one extreme to the other.
__________
* “Progressive” and its variants set my teeth on edge. There’s nothing progressive about so-called liberalism. I suspect that Kling uses “progressive” instead of “liberal” because he would otherwise have L for liberal and L for libertarian. I follow his usage here only to avoid confusion.

** Regarding question 6, Kling says that answer a) is libertarian, but pinning the blame on racial discrimination strikes me as progressive (racial discrimination is a kind of oppression, and blacks are victims of it). Kling says that answer b) is progressive, but answer b) — my answer — is a realistic but unfavorable  appraisal of the economic status of blacks, which strikes me as conservative (i.e., attributing to blacks an “uncivilized” or negative trait that stems from their generally lower intelligence and greater dependence on the welfare state). Kling says that answer c) is conservative, but it really pins the blame on government, which is a libertarian response. My two libertarian responses were to items 1 and 7.

Time and Reality

There’s an argument that time is an illusion. There’s nothing but the present — the now — or, rather, an infinite number of nows. In the conventional view, one now succeeds another, which creates the illusion of the passage of time. In the view of some physicists, all nows exist at once, and we merely perceive them sequentially (or so it seems).

A problem with the conventional view is that not everyone perceives the same now, according to Einstein’s special theory of relativity. A problem with the view that all nows exist at once (known as the many-worlds view), is that it’s purely a mathematical concoction.

Oh, wait, that’s also true of the special theory of relativity, though the underpinnings of the theory have been proven experimentally. But, as I understand it, the Lorentz transformation enables one to reconcile the various nows of special relativity, that is, to stand in the place of an omniscient observer. So, in effect, there really is a now — or an infinite series of nows, perceived sequentially.

This leads to the question of what distinguishes one now from another now. The answer is change. If things didn’t change, there would be only a now, not an infinite series of them.

What happens between one now and the next now? Change, not the passage of time. What we think of as the passage of time is really an artifact of change.

Time is really nothing more than the counting of events that supposedly occur at set intervals — the “ticking” of an atomic clock, for example. I say supposedly because there’s no absolute measure of time against which one can calibrate the “ticking” of an atomic clock, or any other kind of clock. (See Einstein’s special theory of relativity.)

In summary: Clocks don’t measure time. Clocks merely change (e.g., “tick”) at supposedly regular intervals, and those intervals are used in the representation of other things, such as the speed of an automobile or the duration of a 100-yard dash.

Time is an illusion. Change is real. But change in what — of what does reality consist?

There are two basic views of reality. One of them, according to Bishop Berkeley and his followers, is that the only reality is that which goes on in one’s own mind. The other basic view, held by most people (including most scientists), is that there is an objective reality out there, beyond the confines one’s mind. How, after all, can so many people agree about the existence of certain things (e.g., Cleveland) unless there’s something out there?

Over the ages, scientists have been able to describe objective reality in ever-increasing, ever-minute detail. But what is it? What is the stuff of which it consists? No one knows or is likely ever to know. All we know is that stuff changes, and those changes give rise to what we call time.

Pardon my seriousness. Someone must have put something in my soup.

 

 

 

 

Kasich, the Man in the Middle

Trump’s closing in on the nomination, but Rubio’s out, which is probably better for Cruz than for Trump. (If all of Rubio’s votes had gone to Cruz in today’s primaries, Cruz would have won North Carolina and Missouri, and tied Illinois.)

What happens if Rubio’s departure prevents Trump from amassing a majority of delegates before the GOP convention? A movement toward Kasich as a compromise between Trump and Cruz? I wouldn’t rule it out. In fact, it’s probably what Kasich has been hoping for all along.

For a lot of people, a Kasich-Clinton election would be much more palatable than a Trump-Clinton election. I would even vote for Kasich, RINO that he is on many issues — just to vote against Clinton. But I could never bring myself to vote for Trump if he were running against the Devil.

Food for thought.

P.S. Another scenario that I’ve entertained — and should have mentioned — is that a deadlocked convention turns to Paul Ryan. Much more to my liking.

Daylight Saving Time

There are only three things wrong with it:

  1. It leaves me tired for a few days after my clocks spring forward.
  2. Moving clocks forward by an hour isn’t enough. It should be at least two hours for those of us who (a) aren’t morning persons and (b) hate to see the sun go down before 9 p.m.
  3. It isn’t permanent. If it were, problem #1 would disappear.

Cutting the Cord

If you haven’t already cut the cord (i.e., rid yourself of cable or satellite TV service), you’ve probably dreamed of doing it. I just cut the cord, and it makes me feel good all over.

Cable companies had it good for a long time — armed as they were with government-granted monopolies on access to channels that can’t be captured by an antenna. Enter satellite TV providers, whose offerings helped to keep cable companies in check, but who maximized profits by adopting the same bundling strategy as cable companies.

Then along came internet-based alternatives, centered on smart TVs, streaming devices like Roku, and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Video. A lot of consumers — like me — can watch just about anything they want to watch, and at a much lower cost, by switching to streaming devices and services. The missing ingredient is usually access to local TV broadcasts of news and weather.

That’s where the antenna comes in, in particular, an indoor antenna that doesn’t require roof-climbing and still delivers a sharp signal. Specifically, this antenna: ClearStream Eclipse Indoor HDTV Antenna with Sure Grip Technology – 25 Mile Range, for which I paid $39.99. (There are also amplified versions if you live more than 25 miles from a transmission tower or your line of sight is obstructed by terrain or tall buildings.) The high ratings at Amazon.com pushed me toward the ClearStream; this review at The WireCutter convinced me.

And I wasn’t disappointed — quite the opposite, in fact. Within 15 minutes after opening the package, I had crystal-clear reception of 32 channels (only four of which are of use to me). Most of the time was taken up by programming my TV for local channels, which as a long-time cable/satellite TV customer victim, I hadn’t done before. Installation might have taken longer if I’d had to move the antenna around to get better reception, but I didn’t have to do that. I placed it where I thought it would get a strong signal, and it did.

I enjoyed my new freedom from satellite TV for a few days — watching local news and weather via my antenna and watching House of Cards on Netflix streaming video. Then I called DirecTV this morning to cancel my satellite TV service. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

The writing is on the wall for cable and satellite TV providers. And they’ve begun to move in the direction of customized service. AT&T U-verse, for example, has a local-channels-only option — but if you can get what you need with an easy-to-install $40 antenna, why pay a $199 installation fee and about $30 for monthly service? Cable companies have similar “basic” options, but the one offered in my area by Time-Warner cost almost $40 a month the last time I looked at it.

Yes, cable and satellite TV companies are beginning to offer consumers greater flexibility in choosing from among the thousands of channels on offer. And that will help the companies stay in business for a while. There are a lot of consumers who just don’t want to spend the time and effort it takes to save hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. They’d rather keep on doing what they’re doing.  So cable and satellite TV companies will survive for another decade or two on sucker business. Then they’ll go the way of the CRT television set — into the dustbin of history.

And I have done my little bit to help make it happen.

A Burst of Productivity?

Some readers may notice that this blog has 39 more posts today than it had yesterday. There’s a simple explanation: In February I resumed blogging, but in a somewhat different style — shorter, less-data driven and research-heavy posts, and more humor.

And I chose a new venue for the new style. But it seems to be hard for a new blog to attract many readers. So I’ve imported the posts from the new blog to this one. And from now on I’ll blog here — but in my new style. (I will re-post at the new blog, for the benefit of its few followers.)

A Colloquy on the Constitution

Q: What is the provenance of the Constitution of the United States of America?

A. In its original form, it was an agreement among the States (i.e., governing bodies of certain geographical areas formerly known as colonies). Each State that ratified (agreed to) the Constitution did so because a majority (however slight) of a small fraction of the State’s residents voted to approve the Constitution.

Q. So the Constitution is binding on all Americans because of the actions of a small fraction of the residents of America in 1787-1790?

A. Approximately. It’s really binding on all Americans because the governments of the States and the central government have the power to make it binding. More importantly those governments have the power enforce statutes, regulations, and judicial decrees, whether or not they actually conform to the Constitutions of the United States or any State. However, there was a time when certain groups of people, known as Indians, were treated as if their tribes and nations weren’t subject to the jurisdiction of American governments, Rather, they were treated as if they were foreign nations, even though their territories were within the boundaries of the United States. Accordingly, they weren’t even taxed by American governments.

Q. So allegiance to the Constitution, etc., is discretionary?

A. Yes, but it’s governmental discretion, not the choice of individuals or groups.

Q. Yet the preamble to the Constitution says that it was established by “the People.”

A. Yes, a few of them.

Q. If that’s the case, why do so many people seem to respect the Constitution and invoke it?

A. Most people who claim to respect the Constitution do so because (a) it’s a symbol of Americanism (whatever that is, these days), or (b) it can be read in a way that supports their political views and preferences. The reading can be literal, which is the way written constitutions are meant to be read, or strained, in which case it involves a “living Constitution” (i.e, make it up as you go along) with “emanations” and “penumbras” (i.e., inferences piled on unsubstantiated interpretations). The Constitution, in brief, is a kind of club to be carried into political battles.

Q. To sum it up: The Constitution is binding because of the power of government to make it binding. But government uses it mainly as an excuse to enforce the wishes of those who control government, regardless of what the Constitution actually says.

A. That’s about it.

Q. Well, then, truth in packaging demands a more accurate preamble. Here it is:

We the minuscule minority who lived a long time ago hereby ratify this document so that a bunch of politicians, bureaucrats, and judges can mention it when they jerk you around and pick your pockets — Indians excluded.

A. Almost. But Indians are no longer excluded, in reality, regardless of the treaties they co-signed with the big chiefs in Washington, D.C.

Q. Spreading the misery is the American way.

A Phrase for Our Time

Near the end of the presidential election campaign of 1884, the Rev. Samuel D. Burchard, a supporter of Republican candidate James G. Blaine, proclaimed the Democrat Party the party of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.” It is believed that Burchard’s statement inflamed enough drinkers, Catholics, and Southerners to swing the election to the Democrat candidate, (Stephen) Grover Cleveland.

Regardless of the truth or falsity of the belief that the election of 1884 turned on an inflammatory phrase, there was a lot of truth in that phrase. How would a contemporary phrase-maker characterize today’s Democrat Party? Here’s my offering:

Repression, Handouts, and Appeasement

P.S. Examples of repression abound — from taxing success to regulatory micro-management to siccing the IRS on conservative groups to the denial of property rights and freedom of association — but this takes the proverbial cake.

From Each According to His Ability…

…to each according to his need. So goes Marx’s vision of pure communism — when capitalism is no more. Unfettered labor will then produce economic goods in such great abundance that there is no question of some taking from others. All will feed at an ever-filling and overflowing public trough.

There are many holes in the Marxian argument. Here’s the bottom line: It’s an impossible dream that flouts human nature.

Capital accrues and markets arise spontaneously (where not distorted and suppressed by lawlessness, government, and lawless government) because they foster mutually beneficial exchanges of economic goods (e.g., labor for manufactured items)

Communism has failed to catch on, as a sustained and widespread phenomenon, because it rejects capitalism and assumes the inexorability of economic progress in the absence of incentives (e.g., the possibility of great rewards for taking great risks and the investment of time and resources). It is telling that “to each his own need” (or an approximation of it) has been achieved on a broad scale only by force, and only by penalizing success and slowing economic progress.

If the state were to wither to nightwatchman status, the result would be the greatest outpouring of economic goods in human history. Everyone would be better off — rich and (relatively) poor alike. Only the envious and economic ignoramuses would be miserable, and then only in their own minds.

If Marx and his intellectual predecessors and successors were capable of thinking straight, they would have come up with the winning formula:

From each according to his ability and effort,
to each according to the market value of his output,
plus whatever voluntary contributions may come his way.

Whither Francis Underwood?

If you’re addicted to the Netflix version of the House of Cards, you’re probably wondering whether and how President Francis Underwood will get his comeuppance. I have long guessed that he will meet a fate similar to that of his British counterpart, Prime Minister Francis Urquhart (pronounced urk-ert), of the BBC’s House of Cards trilogy. (SPOILER WARNING: Don’t follow the links in the preceding sentence if you haven’t seen the BBC series and don’t want to know how it ended.)

I base my guess on the many parallels between the main characters of the BBC and Netflix series; for example, their initials are FU, both have a right-hand man named Stamper, both are murderers, both have Lady Macbeth-like wives, and both rose to power by arranging the disgrace and resignation of their predecessors.

There’s another crucial similarity: Francis Urquhart is staunchly conservative in his rhetoric, and his evil ways are obviously meant to discredit conservatism and the British Conservative Party. Francis Underwood is a Democrat, but a nowadays rare Southern Democrat who sometimes deploys conservative rhetoric. Many viewers and most Democrats will be happy if FU II shares the fate of FU I.

By the way, I’m not binge-watching HOC IV. It may be a few weeks before I finish the series. So if HOC IV turns out to be the final series and you already know the fate of FU II, please don’t reveal it in a comment.

Downton Done

Well, that’s that — I think. Everyone lives happily ever after, or for a while longer (in an imaginary world).

Well, not quite everyone. Remember the tenant farmer, Mr. Drewe, and his wife, who was insanely attached to Marigold, illegitimate daughter of Lady Edith, who had stashed Marigold with the Drewes when she was pretending that she hadn’t borne a child out of wedlock? (Whew, that’s a long sentence. And “illegitimate” is such an old-fashioned, judgmental word that I’m bound to get comments from the with-it, non-judgmental crowd.) Anyway, Mrs. Drewe’s attempt to snatch Marigold led to the demise of Mr. Drewe’s tenancy. So it wasn’t happily ever after for the Drewes.

Mr. Carson’s palsy, which suddenly emerged in the final episode, is probably a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. Given the state of medical science in 1926, Carson probably would be doomed to live only a few more years, and those not pleasant ones.

Mrs. Hughes-Carson presumably would be saddled with the care of her curmudgeonly husband, whose suffering probably would make him all the more curmudgeonly and less bearable (if such a thing were possible).

And how would the tattered remnants of Downton’s staff bear up under the butlership of Thomas Barrow? Was he really a reformed man, or would he revert to nasty type and become a less lovable version of Mr. Carson (if such a thing were possible)?

The final season was even more soap-operatic and definitely more perfunctory than its predecessors. But it was great fun while it lasted. (And I must admit that I liked Carson’s steadfast principles and sense of honor.) Better to have ended with (almost) all of the loose ends tied up (mostly happily) than to have ended in vagueness like a French film or in gloom like a Russian one.

I have long wished that I could have been an Englishman in the 1920s — an aristocrat, of course. Even as the aristocracy was crumbling under the assault of envious rabble-rouses, many of its denizens could afford the most stylish clothing, the most stylish automobiles, and the best popular music of any era before or since. Downton Abbey wonderfully captured those aspects of the 1920s.

Microsoft: The Windows-10 Nazis

If your PC runs Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, you may wind up with Windows 10, whether or not you want it. And if you don’t have it by now, you probably don’t want it for good reasons.

Last August, I upgraded my PC from Windows 7 to Windows 10, just to see what all the fuss was about. Here’s what I learned from that experience:

  • It adds no functionality that’s of use to me — and I’m a heavy PC user (but not a gamer or developer).
  • It took a lot of tweaking of my privacy settings to ensure that I wasn’t sharing information that I don’t want to share (e.g., passwords).
  • Settings in general are harder to navigate than the settings in Windows 7, where Control Panel is configured much as it was in earlier versions of Windows.
  • In some instances Windows 10 doesn’t believe that I’m the administrator of my own PC, and won’t allow me to move certain files directly from one location to another. There’s a work-around, but it’s time-consuming and inconvenient.

There’s more, but the bottom line is that I learned enough about Windows 10 that I chose not to install it on my wife’s PC. And I recommended to others that they not bother.

Then I learned that if a Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 PC is set up to download and install Windows updates automatically, it will become a Windows 10 PC — like it or not. Yes, there’s a way to reverse the “upgrade,” but why should anyone have to undo what they didn’t choose to do in the first place?

I’m sure that Microsoft’s arrogant action is legally justified by the fine print in the license that almost no one reads when they buy and install a computer. But it’s the kind of action that leads people to seek out alternatives. Alternatives are already at hand (e.g., Mac, Linux, Chrome), and more will surface when the blood of Windows is in the water.

You’d think that Microsoft would have learned a lesson from the precipitous decline in the use of Internet Explorer relative to other web browsers, the rise of alternatives to Microsoft Office, and stiffer competition in other software markets.

It may be a long time before Windows is no longer the dominant operating system for PCs, but its dominance will end if Microsoft doesn’t stop acting like it owns the market. It doesn’t.