It’s Time to Calm Down about Russian Meddling

As the Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy theory has, via lack of evidence, all but withered away, it is time to set the record straight on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. What many dramatically refer to as an attack on our democracy or even an act of war was actually closer to a non-event that US foreign policy is to blame for. Instead of fear, anger, or hostility, we should react to Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 election with empathy, pity, and national self-reflection.

In an ideal world, the Kremlin and the US federal government would be mutually respectful allies, and American and Russian people would engage in commerce with each other freely. But we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world in which choices made by contemporary governments and individuals as well those made in the past (along with circumstances outside of anyone’s control) have inculcated Americans and Russians with different languages, cultures, values, and fears. Because of this, it may be impossible for the US and Russia to ever eliminate hostilities wholesale and create a live-and-let-live type of atmosphere.

Even so, I feel that a Washingtonian/Jeffersonian foreign policy is our best and safest bet. Instead of getting caught up in entangling alliances, we should seek to make the best of an imperfect world by accepting countries for what they are and allowing their and our people to seek legitimate and independent roads to happiness and prosperity when they see fit.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson summed up what I believe to be the core of good foreign policy in each’s farewell and inaugural addresses respectively:

“It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world…Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest.” -George Washington

“Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.” -Thomas Jefferson

Instead of sanctioning Russia and allowing NATO to usurp our national interests, we should knock down any roadblocks in our trade routes that we have the power to. If Russia reciprocates, great. If they don’t, our liberal policies will serve to the betterment of all anyway. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

I empathize with the heart of neoconservative foreign policy which, the way I see it, refuses to stand idly by as nations are invaded or as genocides and other human rights violations occur. There is virtue in universal recognition of the individualist philosophy preached by our Forefathers and in seeking to approach foreign affairs this way. One problem, however, with this foreign policy is that it can create a hammer-without-a-nail mindset. What may actually be an internal dispute that the US has no business getting involved in can appear to be a simple conflict of good vs. evil from the outside. Histories that are external to American consciousness, when they are acted out or avenged in real time, do not reveal their depth to our media or intelligence agencies. Here again, President Washington provides wisdom:

“Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”

Despite my awareness of the complexity of history and geopolitics (which is another way of saying my awareness of my infinite ignorance) as well as my strong non-interventionist leanings, I am still sympathetic to the notion that the US must treat Russia with an exceptionally strong level of distrust. I can even rationalize our massive military presence blockading what was once the epicenter of the Soviet Union. The map I have created below (and I apologize ahead of time for my computer graphics inadequacies) shows Russia, the United States, and the countries/regions surrounding Russia that are occupied by at least 5,000 US troops from a top-of-the-world point of view:

Russia Blockade

Whether you support the Neoconservative tendency towards caution or the Libertarian preference for sovereignty, such an immense military presence around Russia is going to have consequences. These may include, but are not limited to, intimidating military exercises, expansion of territory via brute force, increased centralized control over the flow of information internally, and a greater focus on collecting intelligence from adversaries. It should be no surprise that the Russian government engages in all of these defensive practices.

The counter to this claim could be that the consequences of the US and its NATO allies easing up would be ever worse. One might say that the only reason Russia has been so meek in its hostilities is because of the current robust military presence.

This is a chicken or the egg dilemma that I cannot solve, but, for the sake of argument, I will give the benefit of the doubt to the neocons and concede that western military might in some form is needed to keep Russia at bay. Accordingly, we must accept the consequences of this choice, one of which is Russian intelligence agencies seeking information and causing disruptions, i.e. their involvement in the 2016 US election.

From what I understand, the extent of Russia’s “meddling” in the 2016 US election does not amount to much. Based on the latest indictments brought by the Mueller investigation, Russian military intelligence operatives may have tried to hack the DNC’s server to expose information about Hillary Clinton. Previous indictments allege that Russians may have purchased Facebook ads aimed at sowing discord within the American public (not simply backing Donald Trump for president, as many lazy and/or biased media outlets continue to assert).

On hacking, I am not convinced that the Russians are responsible. As the race in the Democratic Party between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was extremely divisive and contentious, it would be unsurprising to find out that various pro-Bernie members of the DNC with access to various servers decided to leak damaging documents about Clinton and her campaign. The motivation makes sense, and so do the logistics. It would have been far easier to get inside and download files at close proximity than from Russia (or, for that matter, Romania).

Patrick Lawrence, in a summary of a memo released by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), writes in The Nation:

“On the evening of July 5, 2016, 1,976 megabytes of data were downloaded from the DNC’s server. The operation took 87 seconds. This yields a transfer rate of 22.7 megabytes per second.

“These statistics are matters of record and essential to disproving the hack theory. No Internet service provider, such as a hacker would have had to use in mid-2016, was capable of downloading data at this speed. Compounding this contradiction, Guccifer claimed to have run his hack from Romania, which, for numerous reasons technically called delivery overheads, would slow down the speed of a hack even further from maximum achievable speeds.

“What is the maximum achievable speed? Forensicator recently ran a test download of a comparable data volume (and using a server speed not available in 2016) 40 miles from his computer via a server 20 miles away and came up with a speed of 11.8 megabytes per second—half what the DNC operation would need were it a hack.”

This forensic evidence combined with Occam’s Razor makes it difficult for me accept the accusation of Russian hacking at all, no matter how many US intelligence agencies say otherwise. I am not saying that the Seth Rich conspiracy theory is likely to be true, but I find it equally as persuasive as the Russian hacking theory.

The indictments of the Russian operatives accused of hacking the DNC server will not result in extradition or trial, so the accusations will never be tested in a court of law. And some of the most fundamental pillars of reason, liberty, and the Bill of Rights dictate that we cannot accept claims ad verecundiam. In fact, it is assertions from those in power, like the FBI and NSA, we must cast the most doubt upon. The indicted Russians are not guilty until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It would be nice to have civil libertarian organization like the ACLU actively reminding us of these things, but identity politics and Trump hatred have resulted in many such groups losing their way.

Beyond all this, the documents released by Wikileaks provided the public with more truthful information, which is most certainly a positive development for the democratic process. For those who purport to care about an informed public determining their destinies via the vote, it would be quite hypocritical to claim otherwise.

Even if it were irrefutably the Russians who hacked the DNC server, the US has no moral high ground when it comes to intervening in foreign elections (or intervening militarily for that matter). The map below highlights the nations that have faced election interference from the US since the end of WWII (a total of at least 80 instances):

Bringing these facts to light in the current climate can result in accusations of treason as Senator Rand Paul has been subjected to. While this is to be expected when it comes to warmongering neoconservatives, hearing it from self-described Liberals has a chilling effect. This sort of with-us-or-against-us, pseudo-Patriotism is far more reminiscent of Nazism than the enforcement of immigration law.

To once again be extremely generous to the opposition, let’s accept three premises:

1) That the US must take extreme measures to contain Russia

2) That Russia directly hacked the DNC server at least partially as a means of promoting Trump’s campaign

3) That the US does not have to practice what it preaches in terms of respecting the right to self-determination of foreign peoples

Even with all of this accepted as fact, there continues to be zero proof that Russian “meddling” changed anyone’s vote. And there are monstrous hurdles one must overcome to prove the positive claim that Russia successfully influenced the 2016 election.

The first is that the amount of money Russia allegedly spent on influencing the election is a drop in a bucket at the bottom of a massive sea of campaign financing and media coverage. Unbiased America illustrates the incredible disparity between Russian spending and other spending in the image below:

And even without juxtaposing the amounts spent to influence the election, there is no scientific proof that voters can be persuaded via campaign contact or advertisements in the first place. In a study published by Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in 2017, researches concluded that “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero.” In other words, if you are looking to alter someone’s vote, it is going to take more than slogans, attack ads, and memes to do so.

I imagine that the way to get voters on your side is to stump for policies they prefer and to create some kind of unified identity. Trump ran on making America great again, draining the swamp, defeating the establishment, protectionist economic policy, restricting immigration, non-interventionism, lowering taxes without lowering welfare spending, and owning the libs. I imagine this formula is what put him over the top, not these crude supposedly Russian-made memes:

screen_shot_20171101_at_3.36.21_pm

screen_shot_20171101_at_3.37.07_pm

To sum up, any genuine hysteria over Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election is misguided. There is no reason to believe Russia affected the US election in any way of their own volition, nor that they broke any laws. Freedom of speech is a human right, not one reserved for everyone except those who have some distant connection to the Russian government. Any attempts to impact the election were impeded by human nature and far greater influences. And Russian meddling in US affairs is a small price to pay for containing them (or, in my opinion, bullying and threatening them).

What should be of far greater concern to all Americans are reactions to the Trump-Russia narrative by individuals, the media, and especially the US government. Sanctions against Russia will harm the Russian people and strengthen it’s government. Already suffering from a lackluster economy, sanctions will further thin out their opportunities. On a global scale, sanctions and other barriers to trade create an invisible domino effect that hits sectors of economic activity around the world too. Growing economic anxiety and economic hostility from NATO combined with a global media that paints Trump as Russia’s lapdog will inevitably guide the Russian people deeper into the protecting arms of Vladimir Putin.

Many members of the public and in congress have called for increased regulation of the internet and social media as a way to prevent Russia from “meddling” in future elections, a dangerous undermining of free speech and expression no American should tolerate.

Instead of making peace and harmony with Russia more difficult, we should accept the minor consequences of containing Russia, or be done with NATO and leave Russia be. The men who fought off a bullying foreign nation to found the United States of America would have preferred the latter option.

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It’s Time to Calm Down about Russian Meddling

The Pledge of Allegiance is Commie Gobbledygook

Image result for pledge of allegiance students

The first semester of the Thai school year is a few weeks from completion. Unlike the US, the Thai school calendar is divided into two college-like semesters. The first begins in mid-May and runs through September. After an October recess, the second term starts around November 1st, and the school year culminates in early March.

This has been one of my least favorite aspects of my seven years teaching English in Thailand. As it takes place in the middle of the first semester, I have not had the pleasure of coming home for an American summer since residing abroad. The same goes for Thanksgiving and all but one Christmas. This is beginning to weigh on me, and plans for my wife and I to transition home for good are in the works.

Another aspect of teaching in Thailand that I dislike (though I mostly love what I do) is my students’ morning ritual. When the 2nd or 3rd attendance bell rings (depending on the school), the entire student body stands in rows (either in the halls or an assembly area), sings the national anthem, chants a few Buddhist prayers, and sings or repeats a jingle or hymn unique to each school.

Each step of this routine is undertaken mindlessly and unwillingly by the average student. Social pressures and faculty commands guarantee that they stand in line without protest, and the Buddhist prayers are spoken in Sanskrit that few people, let alone children, even understand. And ever since the Royal Thai Army’s 2014 coup d’etat, I’ve noticed an even greater dip in enthusiasm.

As the US school year is set to be underway, I am reminded of my own mindless chanting as an American schoolboy. Every morning, I put my hand over my heart and pledged allegiance without ever thinking about what pledging or allegiance even mean. I was not persuaded to stand through reason or understanding, but instead through the same social pressures and faculty commands that my students in Thailand are subject to. I do not recall any instances of a fellow student declining to stand, but I know I would have hated that student for doing so. I embodied the social pressure I was subjected to.

Now 12 years removed from high school and 7 years removed from university, I have had ample time to begin my education. And as a now somewhat-educated critical thinker, I can look back at the words I was all but forced to say throughout my youth and see them for what they truly are: bullshit.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America

A free country like the United States should be above archaic symbols like flags, monuments, and other images of state worship, so pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth (especially one whose design has been altered several times throughout US history) is a backwards idea from the start.

Admittedly, I often get teary eyed when I see the stars and stripes waving in the wind as our national anthem plays before a baseball game. But I want that feeling for myself, not as a part of an obligatory chant among an unthinking cult.

If anything, we should pledge allegiance to the Constitution or, better yet, to the individual human rights and constraints on government it espouses. And we should do it when we feel like it, not force the youth do it in a supposedly educational setting.

And to the republic for which it stands

As the Constitution lays out a framework for a republic (and certainly not a democracy), I am least butthurt over this line.

Pledging allegiance to the republic itself, however, contradicts the character of a free country. If our so-called republic veers off course by, say, plunging its people $21 trillion in debt, establishing a destructive interventionist empire abroad, founding an alphabet soup of unauthorized federal agencies, and imprisoning 2 million of its own people often for victimless crimes, should we continue to commit ourselves to its agenda?

Again, pledging allegiance to our Constitution or our rights would be a more unconditionally honorable promise. The state should commit itself to us, not the other way around.

One nation

The United States of America is not meant to be one nation as much as it is meant to be 50 states. The United States in singular form represents what was intended to be a small legislative body that manages the few, constitutionally-enumerated responsibilities the 50 states are unfit to manage independently.

In plural form, the United States are Alabama, Wyoming, and everything in between. The states are supposed to have tremendous authority as they are far more aware of what is best for their inhabitants than a faraway field of castles in Washington DC. Instead of recognizing one nation, we should recognize the 50 sovereign states.

Under God

God is a subjectively manifested concept that each of us has the liberty to deal with in our own way. I was once an Atheist who scoffed at religion, and I had that right. I am now far more open-minded to the existence of God and have gained some respect for religious discipline and spirituality. But that’s up to me.

Instead of under God, we should exclaim that our nation is subservient to each of our natural, individual human rights: one nation, under us.

Indivisible

This is just plain wrong. Although the process is not easy, states are free to leave the union if they so choose. We should remind ourselves that unification is a choice (which, if you ask me, continues to be a wise decision despite the gross encroachments made by the feds), not that secession is impossible.

Instead of pledging allegiance to enslavement of the states by an out of control federal government, we should pledge allegiance to our free will to remain in the union or leave in accordance with what suits our preferences.

With Liberty and Justice for all

I certainly love the sentiment here, but it is simply not true. Compared to other nations in modern times and throughout history, the liberty and justice that exists in America is arguably on the more preferable end of the spectrum. But this is only in a relative sense and often a result of technological advancements, not good government.

Wholesale liberty and justice do not exist in America, and we should stop saying that they do. The more you say an unaccomplished goal is accomplished, the more you believe it is accomplished, and less energy you put into accomplishing it. A better alternative would be to say that we intend to establish liberty and justice for all or that liberty and justice are a work in progress.

Though it certainly fails to flow off the tongue, here is my revised Pledge of Allegiance for the 2018-2019 American school year:

I pledge allegiance,

To the Constitution,

Of the United States of America,

And to the inalienable rights of myself and my fellow man,

For which it stands,

50 Sovereign States,

Under their people,

Striving for Liberty and Justice for all.

Feel free to comment with a catchier version, and have a great school year!

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The Pledge of Allegiance is Commie Gobbledygook

Medicare-for-All would be that Damn Expensive… and then Some

Medicine Money

The Libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center at George Mason University has recently released a study which concludes that the federal government would have to spend an additional $32 trillion over ten years to cover the cost of a Bernie-Sanders-envisioned Medicare-for-all healthcare program. Conservative and Libertarian media outlets immediately reported on the study’s findings (which match estimates made by a left-leaning think tank from just a few years ago) to persuade their audiences that this plan is too expensive to even consider. Many left-wing and mainstream media outlets have countered this claim by saying that the $32 trillion cost of medicare-for-all could actually amount to overall savings in healthcare spending. The latter outlets are wrong.

The George Mason study only tells us how much it would cost to provide Medicare-for-all if all Americans were using Medicare as their sole means of healthcare financing. What the study does not mention (something we should be able to figure out ourselves) is that 90% of Medicare recipients receive supplemental health coverage from their employers, the private sector, additional federal programs, and other areas. In other words, Medicare does not get the job done. If the $32 trillion were spent on Medicare-for-all, the vast majority of Americans would be spending more on top of that if they actually wanted sufficient healthcare.

However, it is unlikely that supplemental healthcare would even be available. Medicare-for-all would increase the demand for healthcare (when people have health insurance, they use it more often whether they need it or not) without adding any new doctors, nurses, hospitals, medical equipment, medicines, or anything else patients need. When demand increases and supply does not, prices rise. And what do socialists propose when price increases are looming? Price controls! In other words, removing the incentive for doctors and nurses to work harder and doing the same for companies that invest in new medicines and medical procedures (the US is the world’s leader BY FAR in healthcare innovation… Medicare-for-all would cut it down to size).

Finally, if we throw economics and unintended consequences out the window and accept the left-wing line that we’d actually save a few trillion dollars with Medicare-for-all, you have to consider who we is. To pay for Medicare-for-all, doubling income taxes and the corporate tax rate would not even cover the federal government’s costs. And only about half the country definitely pays federal income taxes. This means that a little over half the country’s taxes would be doubled to pay for everyone’s healthcare. Those who pay no federal income taxes would be putting zero skin in the game and reaping all the rewards. With respect to those who are physically unable to provide for themselves, the most productive Americans would shoulder a greater burden while the least productive would have their check-ups paid for.

In short, Medicare-for-all would only save money if everyone accepts the quality of care provided by Medicare now. Americans would also have to accept the fact that alternative options would be in shorter supply, meaning they would be far more expensive. As Medicare-for-all would increase demand for healthcare without increasing the supply of healthcare providers, medicine, or equipment, costs would rise and/or incentives to provide healthcare would disappear (and access would be rationed further than it is now). Lastly, only some Americans would be on the hook to pay for all of this… and it would be a big hook at least twice the size of the one they are on now.

Want a better alternative? Let’s throw out the insurance model altogether. Have health insurance cover only medical expenses in which life or limb are in jeopardy and pay out of pocket for everything else. Let states and municipalities manage Medicare, Medicaid, and other government healthcare programs, so there is more room for experimentation and greater ability for local populations to make changes that work for them. Reduce the FDA’s role in drug approval, so patients and healthcare providers can have more options faster. Knock down trade barriers between American consumers and foreign medical suppliers, so domestic merchants have to face more competition. Legalize marijuana, so it can be used a cheap and non-deadly pain treatment. And lower taxes and spending in general, so Americans can keep more of their money and spend it on healthcare for themselves and their loved ones however they see fit.

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Medicare-for-All would be that Damn Expensive… and then Some

Rand Paul is in a Bind

It’s the rainy season in Thailand, which means commuters like me are primed to get wet on our way to and from work. To me, the worst thing about this is constantly having rain-soaked shoes. There are few worse ways to start your day than feeling yesterday’s rain water seep through a fresh pair of socks as you place your feet in shoes that have not had time to dry.

As bad as monsoon shoes are, I’d take them over Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s shoes any day of the week.

President Trump has recently nominated Brett Kavanaugh from the United States Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. Unlike Justice Neil Gorsuch, Kavanaugh’s brand of constitutional originalism does not show much respect for the 4th Amendment. For those who do not know, the 4th Amendment intends to protect Americans against unwarranted searches and seizures. Without this amendment, police and other law enforcement officials may not be legally barred from rummaging through or confiscating our property, private documents, or even our bodies without just cause.

If you want to know more about Kavanaugh’s unfortunate history with the 4th Amendment, you can listen to Judge Andrew Napolitano, maybe the most pro-liberty judge in American history, discuss it with Tom Woods here.

Rand Paul, a 4A diehard and the 50th of the GOP’s 50-49 senator majority (John McCain, who is currently unable to vote for health reasons, would make 51) finds himself in an extremely tough situation as his vote may ultimately determine whether or not Kavanaugh is confirmed. The following are what I consider to be the most probable potential outcomes depending on the choice Rand makes.

The Sellout Scenario

If Rand votes in favor of Kavanaugh, he will almost certainly become a SCOTUS justice, which could put all of our 4th Amendment rights on the line for decades to come. In the process, Rand would lose plenty of pro-Constitution credibility. The Liberty movement would pile on with accusations that Rand Paul lacks the gumption his father Ron Paul possessed, and is just a slightly better version of the swamp creatures lurking throughout Washington.

From a political standpoint, Rand would likely secure his position in the senate if he decides to run for reelection in 2022. I imagine that the typical Republican voter is far more concerned with making sure a Liberal justice does not take the place of Anthony Kennedy than he is with the technicalities of what the 4th Amendment entails, which means Rand’s seat in the senate, unlike his credibility, would likely be safe.

In the long run, keeping Rand’s vote in the senate for years to come could serve as more valuable than having a perfectly originalist justice on the bench as Gorsuch and the four liberal justices (a majority) seem to be on Rand’s side when it comes to 4A. In other words, Kavanaugh’s impact on the 4th Amendment may be minimal anyway.

The Swamp Scenario

If Rand votes against Kavanaugh, he may still be confirmed via red state Democrats. At least three or four senators up for reelection in November are Democrats in Trump country. These senators are often forced to part ways with their party in order to maintain their positions in congress. Due to their sticky situation, Rand’s decision may not ultimately matter in the confirmation process.

Voting against Kavanaugh would preserve Rand’s pro-Constitution credibility, and would likely have little effect on his reelection prospects as his choice to stand is ground would cost Trump and establishment Republicans nothing.

The Hero Scenario

If Rand votes against Kavanaugh, he may not be confirmed. However, this could work out beautifully for Rand in the end.

By blocking Kavanaugh’s nomination, Rand would help preserve the 4th Amendment (at least temporarily) and bolster his Libertarian credentials. And although he would defy Trump and rain on Republicans’ parade in the short run, sunnier skies could be on the horizon.

If the GOP retains control of the senate after this year’s midterms (and they are expected to do so), Trump will be be given another chance to nominate a more pro-4A justice. If Trump’s next choice winds up being more Gorsuchian, Rand will have taken a massive political risk and won big for the country as well as himself.

The Scapegoat Scenario

If Rand votes against Kavanaugh, he is not confirmed, and the GOP loses the senate, Trump may not get another chance to nominate a SCOTUS justice as president. If a Democrat beats Trump in 2020, and Democrats retain control of the senate, you can bet that a “living document” justice will be placed on the SCOTUS bench, probably resulting in a liberal majority for years to come.

Under these conditions, Rand may succeed in preserving the 4th Amendment. Conversely, the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 9th, 10th, and many other rights guaranteed by the Constitution could fall by the wayside.

Rand would have committed political suicide in the process, and a future reelection bid could result in comical defeat.

Let’s hope for the best.

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Rand Paul is in a Bind

The Errors of the Second Amendment

Note: This is my first new blog entry in nearly two months. The new Thai school year began in early May, and I have been a bit too overwhelmed with work to focus on completing any publishable material. I hope to return to my weekly-ish publishing pace soon. In the meantime, please check out my podcast which has several new episodes recorded during my blogging hiatus.

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I have previously expressed gratitude towards gun control activists who accept the meaning of the Second Amendment for what it is and honestly call for its repeal or alteration. While I disagree with these individuals politically, I have great respect for their intellectual rigor and honesty.

I have no respect for those who are too ignorant to grasp the meaning of the Second Amendment. And I hold those who intentionally misrepresent it in the worst kind of contempt.

A common result of ignorant or intentional misreadings of the Second Amendment is the argument that the phrase “well regulated” refers to guns or gun ownership. Another is that “the right… to keep and bear arms” is that of the militia, not average civilians. Some of those who make these fallacious arguments conclude that the Second Amendment is poorly written and should be treated as obsolete.

I will concede that the Second Amendment is poorly written. However, this will not be to the delight of gun control activists. The problems with the Second Amendment are not in its meaning or purpose, but in its punctuation. Using some of the knowledge I have accrued over the years as an ESL teacher, I will explain what is wrong with the Second Amendment’s grammar.

First, let’s take a look at 2A to refresh our memories:

Image result for 2nd amendment text

The Second Amendment is often spoken of in terms of clauses. In a grammatical sense, this is erroneous from the get-go as there is only one clause in the Second Amendment.

The first half of the Second Amendment (from “A” to “state”) is not a clause at all, but something called an absolute phrase. An absolute phrase is a noun or noun phrase (a group of words used to denote one person, place, or thing) followed by a participle and attached modifiers. The noun phrase is “a well regulated militia.” The participle is “being necessary,” a present participle of the verb phrase to be necessary. The attached modifier is “to the security of a free state,” a pair of prepositional phrases. “To the security” functions as an adverb, modifying the adjective “necessary.” “Security,” a noun, is modified by “of a free state,” which means this last prepositional phrase functions as an adjective.

Absolute phrases function as parenthetical adjectives that modify entire main clauses. Parenthetical elements are not essential to the main clause of a sentence. They give further details or explanations, but they do not alter the meaning of the main clause.

Here are a few other examples of sentences with parenthetical elements (in bold font):

The fossa, a large, weasel-like creature, preys on lemurs in Madagascar.

Jonathan’s kidneys, which would have fetched $600 an ounce on the Swiss black market, were stolen by a public relations firm.

If we remove the parenthetical elements, the fossa still preys on lemurs, and John’s kidneys are still in the hands of a company with a very strange business model. The main clauses do not depend on the parenthetical elements. It is the other way around.

The main clause of the Second Amendment is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The subject of the sentence is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” The predicate is “shall not be infringed.” All clauses have a subject and predicate, which is why the second half of 2A is a clause and the first half is a phrase.

Here are a few examples of main clauses that follow absolute phrases with some color coding.

(The absolute phrases are underlined. The main clauses are in bold. The phrases or noun phrases of the absolute phrases are in red. The participles and attached modifiers of the absolute phrases are in green. The subjects of the main clauses are in blue.  The predicates and attached modifiers of the main clauses are in pink.)

A spotted pterodactyl whizzing past her head, the exotic dancer dropped to the earth in the fetal position.

Another night’s sleep stolen by his LSD-induced nightmares, Gregory groggily got ready for work.

A putrid aroma serving as the prime attraction of hagfish stew, the chef added three tablespoons of burnt hair to the culinary disaster before him.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

What you will notice by looking at only the blue and pink halves of each sentence is that the exotic dancer fell to the ground whether or not we know about the pterodactyl. Regardless of his drug habits, Greg was not feeling great when he brushed his teeth and tied his tie. The chef garnished his stew with burnt hair no matter why people enjoy hagfish. And the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed… period.

The absolute phrase in the Second Amendment tells us why we cannot be deprived of our right to own or carry guns. It does not tell us the conditions or circumstances that must arise for this entitlement to kick in because there are none. If conditions applied, you would be able to find subordinating conjunctions like if or when.

Something else you may notice is that the Second Amendment has two commas that the other three sentences I have written do not. To the chagrin of James Madison, these commas are both comma splices, unwarranted uses of the comma.

“A well regulated militia” and “being necessary to the security of a free state” are part of the same parenthetical element. There is no reason to divide them with a comma.

Even worse is the comma between “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” and “shall not be infringed.” Splitting the subject of a clause from its predicate is a mistake that my students in Thailand rarely make. I do not know how this got past the other Founding Fathers and the original  states as they ratified the Bill or Rights.

Unlike French, there is no central authority on the English language, so technically there is no right or wrong. The English language is unregulated and subject to the whims of the public. English speakers are free to preserve the linguistic conventions they prefer and to alter the ones they do not.

This goes to show that gun rights supporters who are burdened with keeping the flame of liberty alight should be stubborn and unwavering when it comes to language. Progressive and authoritarian attacks on the English language (especially from left-wing neomarxists on college campuses and right-wing neoconservative hawks) will never cease from threatening the rights that our philosophy deems self-evident.

Ultimately, the Second Amendment doesn’t matter. It could be removed from the Constitution entirely tomorrow. What matters is that we stay true to our beliefs (from gun rights to free speech and beyond) and stand up to our dissenters relentlessly.

***

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The Errors of the Second Amendment

The Free Market is the Unsung Hero of North Korea

As you may know already, North Korean dictator Kim Jung-Un has expressed interest in meeting with President Trump, and has already met with South Korean president Moon Jae-In to begin brokering a peace deal to formally end the Korean War, eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons stockpile, and attempt to unite the peninsula as one Korea. The two Korean leaders met at the DMZ line and engaged in a symbolic sequence of gestures to signify the progress being made to the entire world. Un also met with newly-confirmed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a few weeks earlier.

If everything works out (and that is a gargantuan if), we could be looking at the most important world peace event since the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Threats of nuclear apocalypse could subside for the foreseeable future, and an ensuing economic boom in North Korea could have wonderful effects for the North Korean people and markets throughout the world. Of course, a step towards freedom and prosperity for the prisoners of the North Korean concentration camp (i.e. everyone who lives there) would be the greatest victory of all.

This brings me to a point that I have not seen raised much yet: while it can be argued that President Trump deserves heaps of credit and maybe even a share of the Nobel Peace Prize should real advancement towards peace be achieved, the real reason North Korea is ready to open up to the world is the free market itself.

Before I make the case for crediting Capitalism, I’ll share my thoughts on Trump’s role in getting the wheels rolling in Korea.

I think Trump’s brash and unorthodox tone prevalent at his rallies and on his Twitter feed is extremely effective in creating international peace. Comedian and impressionist Dana Carvey burlesqued President Obama and President Trump in order to show why Trump’s method might be working where Obama’s failed:

Regardless of whether or not Trump’s technique is calculated cunning or accidental impulsivity, I think there is logic behind the notion that speaking loudly and carrying a big stick is effective diplomacy when dealing with dictators like Kim Jung-Un.

Years ago, I heard a clip of Adam Carolla ranting about the right way to deal with dictators and terrorist groups in the Middle East. While some may dismiss Carolla as a simple layman who’s grown a bit too big for his britches, I think he has wisdom and common sense on his side. Carolla believes that playing nice is the wrong way to go. Instead of being patient and measured a la Obama, Carolla says letting the US’s enemies (particularly those who are more bullying than reasonable) know that we are capable of military destruction unlike any nation in world history is the best way to great through to them.

Carolla recently had General Michael Hayden as a guest on his podcast and asked for his opinion on the current situation in Korea. While Carolla reiterated his own view, Hayden, predictably, renounced Trump’s tweets and rhetoric, but credited the administration’s military demonstrations and sanctions for producing hopeful results.

On Twitter, Ian Bremmer, president of political consulting firm Eurasia Group, and possibly the most perfect caricature of a globalist in a derogatory, populist-envisioned sense, echoed Hayden’s analysis by noting that the Trump team persuaded China to actually enforce sanctions against North Korea:

My problem with Hayden and Bremmer’s takes is that sanctions generally do not accomplish their goals. To exemplify this, sanctions have not done much to make progress in Cuba, Russia, Iran, or North Korea up until now. How could it make sense that a new set of sanctions is suddenly succeeding after decades of sanctions have failed? As Oxford research fellow and international relations expert Professor Adam Roberts says, “There are very few cases where you can definitely identify sanctions as having had a success, except sometimes in combination with other factors.” In other words, even on the rare occasions where sanctions appear to lead to change, correlation does not equal causation.

The last thing I’ll say before making my case for the free market is that Barack Obama should not be blamed entirely for missing out on an opportunity to make progress with Kim Jung-Un if it existed while he was in office. Unlike the Republican congress under Trump’s thumb, GOP lawmakers would have pitched a hissy fit of epic proportions had Obama acted as Trump is acting now. They would have accused Obama of cozying up to dictators and obstructed any positive steps his administration may have liked to take. Now neutered by Trump, the GOP congress has shed their phony principles and does as their master commands.

I think talking to dictators is smart and ethical, whether via tweets or backchannels. The world is a complicated place, and government is inherently violent. If we kill all the sinners, we’ll all wind up dead, so making the best of a bad situation is the right way to go. It’s better to see oppressed people freed than oppressors hanged. This manner of foreign policy should be accepted across party lines.

There is also a case to be made that Trump’s apparent role in negotiations with North Korea are, like most economic sanctions, purely coincidental. Behind the optical illusions of rhetoric and diplomacy, the gears of innovation and production continue to turn. How one deals with a tribe that has invented the spear matters less than the fact the spear is now in play. Tariffs on raw materials do not matter if the raw materials aren’t there. Individuals and industries make the world more inhabitable for mankind, and governments must adapt or be left behind.

Several quasi-free-market factors could be the real hero on the Korean Peninsula. The first is that the isolated, centrally-planned economic model of North Korea is unsustainable. In fact, it’s miraculous that misery and starvation levels in the country aren’t higher. In the market of economic systems, the best options are in the laissez-faire-leaning aisle. Kim Jung-Un might be making a choice to eschew some of his responsibilities and at the same time bring greater prosperity to North Korea and an easier life for himself. With international investors like McDonald’s and 711 on the menu, Un would probably regret resisting the temptation of effortless access forever.

If North Korea opens up, an economic boom like no other will almost certainly take place. As the image below demonstrates, North Korea has immense potential for economic development:

Korea Map

The GDP numbers Un could tout to the world and his people would make him look like an enormous success. Juxtapose being remembered as the man who liberated North Korea with being written into the history books as an evil tyrant who starved his people, and then think about which role you’d rather play.

The World Wide Web is another free market wonder that may be forcing Kim Jung Un’s hand. At the moment, press and internet freedom in North Korea is abysmal. It’s hard to imagine living in a world with such limited flow of information.

But the internet has proven to be something of a tyranny deterrent. My guess is that the Kim Jung Un regime will have a difficult time suppressing the information superhighway for much longer. Whether accomplished internally or via interventions from the outside, more and more North Koreans will wind up online. This is largely due to the forces of the free market, which have decided that the internet shall be the economic foundation of nearly all things.

The more access North Koreans have to the internet, the harder it will be for Un to keep his propaganda intact. Instead of waiting for things to boil over, easing into less-restrictive access to information is probably the better option.

Obviously, I do not know what is going to happen in Korea, nor do I know if or why anything is taking place right now. These are theories based on very limited knowledge of the world.

My advice to all is to remain skeptical of everything you hear and to hope for the best. North Korea may not open up to the rest of the world in any of our lifetimes. But if it does, it could be the event that restores optimism to the world.

***

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The Free Market is the Unsung Hero of North Korea

Reflections on Japan: A Libertarian Perspective

I recently had the pleasure of spending six days in Tokyo, Japan. My wife, who works for a Japanese company in Bangkok, Thailand, was summoned for a business trip, and, being a teacher on summer break, I decided to tag along. It was an unexpected adventure and a worthwhile experience.

Although I have lived abroad in Thailand for the past seven years and essentially lived abroad in Hawaii the two years prior, I am not much of a world traveler. I have seen sights far beyond the beaten path throughout Thailand, but, through my years here, I have only ventured outside The Land of Smiles once: a 2-night guided tour to neighboring Cambodia. Other than that, my international travel experience is limited to a few family trips to the Caribbean when I was a kid.

To me, being a tourist is often more hassle than pleasure. I find the language barrier, the awkwardness of attempting to do as the Romans do, and the patronizing, inauthentic nature of tourist attractions to be a bit of a turn off. By the time you start to get into the swing of things, it’s already time to go home.

The worldliness I seek is gained from settling down in a new location for a lengthy stay and being subjected to cultural immersion. Immersion in Thailand has made me feel like a local. As odd as it may sound, I often feel more out of place when I come home to the US than I do in Thailand.

It must be made clear that my understanding of Japan, unlike my understanding of Thailand, is largely superficial. The account I am going to provide is one of first impressions, and first impressions are often misguided. Please take my observations with a grain of salt.

My overall impression of Japan is that it is more of a Conservative paradise than a Libertarian one, and most Libertarian aspects of Japan would also be present under Conservative guidance.

***

Before visiting, I had heard the phrase Ethno-Nationalism used to describe the structure of Japan. I find this to be accurate.

98.5% of Japan’s population is ethnically Japanese, and it shows. Tourists aside, I encountered only a handful of individuals who appeared to be descendants of other nations or regions, nearly all of whom were selling kebabs (literally). To put the monoethnicity of Japan in perspective, China, Italy, and Colombia’s ethnic majorities account for 94%, 92%, and 84% of their populations respectively. Japan is extreme in its lack of ethnic diversity.

In Thailand, construction workers, maids, and other low-income laborers often hail from poorer neighboring countries like Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. This runs parallel to migrant workers from Latin America present throughout the US. There are many jobs that Americans and Thais won’t or can’t do, so immigrants are welcomed to fill the void.

The Tokyo workforce, on the other hand, from hotel housekeepers to gardeners to line cooks, is as close as can be to entirely Japanese. Migrant labor was nowhere to be found.

Something else that stood out to me about the Japanese workforce, and also confirmed some prior knowledge, was its age. In Thailand and the US, airport staffs are often younger. I specifically remember college students ushering my wife and I into the appropriate queues before boarding our flight from Bangkok to Tokyo (it’s easy to tell in Thailand because student workers wear their school uniforms on the job). In Tokyo, I was amazed by the advanced age of many of the workers doing menial labor. Old folks helped to direct pedestrian traffic around job sites, worked behind registers at grocery and convenience stores, and drove taxis. The exceptions were baristas, waitresses, and many subway station attendants, who were generally more youthful. Skilled workers were also often elderly, especially construction workers.

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I do not know the pretext of all of this. Does Japanese culture shun retirement? Do they tend to stick to a single occupation for life? Are competent younger workers in scarce supply?

Japan has the second oldest median age (47.3) of all the countries in the world, so that makes some sense of it. An older population will have an older workforce.

My wife suggested that Japanese culture requires many long years of preparation before an occupation can be obtained. If this is true, there may be younger workers waiting in the wings who are methodically learning the tricks of the trade. She also believes Japanese people change jobs infrequently.

On our Saturday afternoon in Tokyo, one of my wife’s colleagues, a Korean national married to a Japanese man, invited us to her home and to go out for lunch. Her husband owns several 711 convenience stores, and mentioned that he works long hours due to the challenge of finding and hanging on to reliable help. Perhaps a willing and able younger workforce simply does not exist.

Several of my days in Japan were weekdays, so my wife was in the office. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a big fan of tourist attractions, so I spent much of my time wandering aimlessly through Tokyo’s streets and parks during the day (both of which were gorgeous and clean [and April is a lovely time of year to be outside in Japan]). Elderly Tokyo residents were often strolling around too. I was stunned by their fitness. Limber and lean, these senior citizens appeared to be anywhere from 60 to 110 years old, but I could never tell. Their faces were ancient as were the disciplined lifestyles they exhibited, most likely the source of their sprightly animation.

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My wife’s colleague, while giving us a tour of her suburban community, informed us that several of the buildings we passed were reserved for the elderly. The sidewalks were crowded with these elders walking slowly and steadily, sometimes hand-in-hand with their significant others, sometimes alone. I do not know if these homes are funded through government welfare, private organizations, or the residents themselves and their families. Japan’s national spending is as exorbitant as America’s, so I would guess this is a product of the welfare state. Whatever the source of the funds, maybe older Japanese workers are fending off this fate by remaining useful.

The living quarters for these senior citizens appeared to be quite small, but this is no cause for concern. Japanese people seem to live happily in small spaces.

***

Space is a valuable commodity in Tokyo. Tables and countertops in Japanese cafes and restaurants are narrow and packed densely together. Bathrooms and toilets do not provide accommodation for heftier humans like me. Buildings are constructed in proximity of a few inches of each other. And roads leave little room for error. Every inch of Tokyo is utilized. The engineering and architectural efficiency is something to behold.

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Is this a result of tight regulations and central planning? Or does Japanese culture, with its artistic prowess, taste for minimalism, and frugality, determine this result? I do not know.

If the latter is the case, it’s remarkable. If the former is the case, the cultural element certainly remains too impactful for analogies between central planning in Japan and America to be useful.

Americans, by and large (no pun intended), would not tolerate the spatiality of Tokyo. It is simply too tight. If applied to a place like New York, Japanese organization would be far less efficient because of how much extra space would be needed per individual for both physiological and cultural reasons.

The efficiency of Tokyo above ground is mirrored in the subways below: the trains in Tokyo run on time. The subway stations, like much of Tokyo in general, resemble those of New York, just ten times cleaner and smoother in every way. Thailand’s MRT is more modern, but it’s only a few years old and covers a small fraction of the city. The Tokyo subway map is not particularly tourist friendly (my wife and I threw away some time and money via erroneous ticket purchases), but it appears to be a spectacular success once you get the gist of it. Few systems are so efficient and so expansive at the same time.

Tokyo’s streets are largely vacant. Being used to Bangkok traffic, which is arguably the worst in the world, my perception probably exaggerates this, but they were largely vacant nonetheless. Tokyo residents commute with their feet and bicycles or in a subterranean landscape, so automotive traffic is not an issue.

Tokyo taxis were another wonder. I used taxis only twice during my stay. Both trips were impressive. The cabs were so smooth and quiet that they seemed to be switched off at red lights and on tracks when in motion. The drivers were terribly polite and considerate and did their jobs spectacularly well.

***

Unlike New York and Bangkok, there was a tremendous level of professionalism exhibited by taxi drivers and everyone else I encountered. Everyone was in uniform and acted in accordance with their corresponding professional stereotype. Taxi drivers acted like world-class chauffeurs, subway attendants were robotic in their customer service, businessmen/salary men never deviated from black suits and ties and black briefcases, and shopkeepers were clad in aprons and relentlessly tending to their merchandise when no customers were in need of assistance. Even the punks and goths I saw were such perfectly-kempt, cookie-cutter examples of their roles that they could be considered more conformist than rebellious. Being in Japan was a bit like stepping into a cartoon reality. Everyone knew their role and played it perfectly.

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Perhaps more than anything else, this illustrated the Conservative (not Libertarian) way of life in Japan (and that is neither a compliment nor a critique, just an observation). While everyone appears to have equal rights and equal opportunities, social pressures and taboos keep everyone in line. There is a level of independence and individuality in the sense that one is free to choose his or her fate and how high to rise. But the structure in which one can move through is rigid.

Heritage ranks Japan 12 places behind the US on their Economic Freedom Index. In “Rule of Law” and “Regulatory Efficiency,” Japan and the US are similarly satisfactory. In “Government Size,” the two are similarly out of shape. The US’s advantage in the index comes from its “Open Markets.” Japan is far behind the US in “Investment Freedom” and “Financial Freedom” and a bit worse in “Trade Freedom.” This echoes President Trump’s complaints about both China and Japan’s undermining of foreign investment, and is probably why foreign influence in Japan is relatively weak (although his grievances about the difficulty of selling American cars in Japan makes little sense as there is not much of a market for cars in general, and Hondas and Toyotas are perfect for commuters anyway). The liberated individual mindsets prevalent in the US and the rest of the West do not exist in Japan as a result.

A closed and homogenous culture like Japan’s often leads to a high trust society, which Japan is. I had read about the incredibly low crime rates in Japan some time ago, and my expectations were manifested through my experience. I saw only five or six police officers the entire time I was in Tokyo, and they didn’t appear to be doing anything particularly serious. Even security guards were a rare sight.

And the four or five homeless people I walked past looked cleaner and had better-organized roadside sleeping-quarters than many ordinary Americans and Thais. One homeless gentleman’s cardboard mattress was spotless and cut in a perfect square, and his handful of belongings were stored and stacked neatly in boxes.

I am not sure that I have ever been anywhere that seemed safer and with people less concerned about being hurt or otherwise wronged than Tokyo. The shifty eyes and defensive postures cities usually bring about were nowhere to be seen. It was, counter-intuitively, a bit creepy.

While on a walk one day, I stopped to take a break and check my phone (okay, I was doing a “raid battle” in Pokémon Go… don’t judge me). When I stopped, I was unaware that the building beside me was a school. While I was loitering, a child no older than eight or nine exited the building. There were no guards or locked doors between the school’s exit and the side street, and no one accompanied the child. Presumably headed towards home, the child bounced happily down the road without a care in the world, and none of the pedestrians in the area paid any mind. I noticed unaccompanied children, usually in school uniform and carrying books and musical instruments, walking the streets and riding the subways in great frequency throughout my stay.

The laissez-faire lifestyles of these children made me envious on behalf of kids in Thailand and the US. Thai children are brought up to be scared of their own shadows, and going anywhere alone is treated as a plague, even for adults. In the US, Utah has recently enacted free-range parenting legislation, which shows that the US is not much better when it comes to comfort with children leaving the house unsupervised.

***

I have heard that when a diverse group of people are given a project, they tend to be better at solving problems and coming up with bright ideas than a homogenous group. But, to many liberals’ dismay, this is not because they hold hands and sing kumbaya. Conversely, it is a lack of trust that produces greater results. When there is less of a chance to join a tribe and become hampered with groupthink, creativity blossoms. When viewpoint diversity does not exist and everyone is on the same page, new ideas are harder to come by.

Japan appears to reap the rewards of a homogenous society without suffering its drawbacks. One of the most innovative and technologically advanced places in the world cannot be accused of a lack of creativity or problem solving. And the high-trust nature of Japan is easily observed.

Japan’s cultural conservatism, however, may lead to its demise sooner or later. This would take place in the form of economic calamity due to a shortage of human resources. To make a long story short, economic freedom has brought great wealth and a high standard of living to Japan. Paired with cultural conservatism, well-to-do families are everywhere, and they do not have to worry much about being the victims of crime, drug addiction, or medical injuries and ailments. Hard-working, unified, disciplined families incur greater wealth and avoid superfluous costs.

But greater economic status (often a result of investing time into one’s education and career) is highly correlated with having children at a later age and having fewer children overall. As a result, the population does not replenish itself, and the economy cannot be maintained.

Japan’s population has decreased by 2 million people since peaking in 2010. I do not know if this has already had serious adverse effects, more adverse effects than positive effects, or what it will lead to. But if population decline is generally a net negative, Japan might be in for some trouble.

Many wealthy nations, particularly in Europe, are also experiencing low birth rates. In recent years, they have supplemented their populations via increased immigration, typically from poorer nations experiencing population booms.

As you are probably aware, mass immigration in the West has led to a great deal of controversy. Political paradigms have shifted from Leftism vs. Conservatism to Globalism vs. Nationalism. Some credit immigration for economic gains and cultural enrichment, others say immigration is straining public services and causing crime rates to rise. Both may be true.

The fact of the matter is that Japan is not going the same route as Europe as of now. Becoming a Japanese citizen is not easy, and Japan has, notoriously, contributed next to nothing in terms of providing refuge for displaced Syrians and other peoples facing crises at home (again, I say this objectively, not to praise or criticize).

Based on my observations, the current status quo in Japan is one of small and tightly wound nuclear families. Everywhere I went on weekends and after school hours, was filled with parents (who generally appeared to be in their 30s and 40s) exploring the sights of Tokyo with one or two young children. These small families paid a tremendous deal of attention to their kids, investing in them a surplus of love and care.

During school hours on weekdays, I witnessed many grandparents walking around or playing with young children, and saw what appeared to be nursery school teachers pushing shopping cart/crib hybrids full of toddlers (one of the more adorable things I’ve ever seen) to parks and playgrounds. Financially, educationally, and socially, this was further evidence of the heavy investment Japanese parents make in their kids, which is typical in both humans and other animals that have fewer offspring.

***

Speaking of reproduction, something else that stood out to me in Japan, and drew sharp contrast to Thailand, was the regularity of public displays of affection. In Thailand, couples are almost never romantic in public. Even coming across significant others holding hands is a rarity. In Japan, couples of all ages were comfortable displaying their relationship status. I saw teens, twenty-somethings, working professionals, and charming older couples walking hand-in-hand everywhere I went. Kissing, hugging, and playful flirting were common too. This may seem unremarkable to someone from the West, but it stands out to residents of Thailand like me.

Also on public display were advertisements for adult entertainment. One of the first things I saw after getting out of my initial taxi ride was a poster showing a chesty and scantily clad young woman. The poster was in Japanese, so I cannot be sure what it said. All I could make out were the numbers 30 and 60 with corresponding prices. The area my wife and I stayed in was called Shinjuku, which, I would learn, is home to a red light district. There were establishments called “Men’s Clubs” all over and advertisements for massages, along with more posters like the first one I encountered. There were also hotels that had separate prices for “stay” and “rest.” I figured that those who pay the “rest” rate are not there to do a whole lot of resting.

One evening, my wife was feeling under the weather and did not want to leave the hotel room. I went for a stroll and a bite to eat by myself. Having no idea where I was going, I wandered into an area that resembled a cleaner and more pedestrian-friendly Times Square. My stomach was grumbling, so my eyes were mostly on the restaurants.

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An older Japanese gentlemen wearing a suit, I would guess between 60-70 years old, accosted me, asked how my night is going, gestured towards the building he approached from, and proceeded to bluntly explain that this is a sex hotel where I can sleep with a woman or get a blowjob (his word, not mine). I thanked him for the offer, noted that I’m visiting with my wife, and went on my way.

I then met another of the small handful of foreigners working in Japan, a sharply-dressed man of African descent holding a clip board who shook my hand and asked if I would be doing any partying tonight. I told him that I’m a boring married man out for a bite to eat, and he let me know that I was walking through a red light district. This became more evident when I took another look around.

I exited the area, found a noodle shop, and Googled “prostitution in Japan.” As a Libertarian, I am a strong supporter of sex worker rights, and see no reason why adults should be prohibited from making a voluntary exchange that involves physical activity. If my brief bit of research was accurate, prostitution is absolutely illegal in Japan. However, you can get around the regulations by calling the service massage therapy or something else less explicit. In other words, prostitution is technically illegal yet effectively legal in Japan, in concurrence with most of the rest of the world.

This is a great demonstration of how laws fail to dictate reality and how legislation does not control human behavior.

***

Overall, Japan is not an especially Libertarian nation, not that I expected it to be. From a legal standpoint, it is roughly as free as any other country of first-world status. Freedom of speech and the press exist, and Japan’s social Conservatism and exceptional safety appear to be more of a result of its culture and values than its laws and law enforcement (in my opinion, social Conservatism, when established via societal pressures rather than governmental regulations, is in no way at odds with Libertarianism, though it may be more inhibiting). Japan’s economic structure is generally free-market Capitalism, but protectionism and nationalism prevent globalization from having a meaningful influence on the population and their way of life (which is good for societal cohesion in the short term, but may lead to economic collapse down the road).

As a foreign observer, I am wiser and more fulfilled having visited Japan. Spending most of my life in international and multi-cultural hubs makes experiencing a monoculture a cherished novelty that future generations may miss out on. I’m happy I got to see Japan as it exists today.

And did I mention that the sushi is like a dream? I may never be able to enjoy sushi again.

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As a free-thinking and non-conforming individual, Japan is not the kind of place I’d like to settle down in. If my individuality is innate and not a result of my upbringing, I imagine that growing up in Japan would have been a nightmare, so I feel some concern for Japanese people who can’t find a role to play. But for those who are happy to follow routine as a cog in the machine, Tokyo is a utopia unlike any I could have ever imagined.

***

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Reflections on Japan: A Libertarian Perspective

Kevin Williamson and the Perils of Brute Reason

Bait Ball

I am the kind of person who is willing to discuss and debate anything, regardless of what norms and sacred cows the conversation winds up defying. I’ve been this way my entire life. I used to think it was badass to challenge religious institutions and traditional ways of living. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to find those sorts of contrarian thoughts to be more cowardly and corny than rebellious. It’s easy to make fun of Christians and the nuclear family. How often do the people who find those critiques offensive come after your livelihood or your head?

Standing up to the real sacred cows of today takes guts:

Is homosexuality a choice? Has suffrage been a net negative for women? Was 9/11 an inside job? Has the Holocaust been exaggerated? Can we cut $1.00 from the Social Security budget?

Just asking these questions and having these discussions is enough to make many people tune out or condemn you of thought crime. I would not be surprised if much of my (admittedly small) readership has x’d out of this window already.

Part of me wants to blame those who are too squeamish to question their firmly held beliefs. Why are they so close-minded?

But it’s more likely that I’m the weird one. I am able to discuss and ponder about the most sensitive subjects while simultaneously keeping it together. Like Christopher Boone, the autistic narrator and protagonist in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, I am able to detach my mind from emotion and bias in order to solve problems and root out illogic (though I’m obviously not perfect at this and the shrewdness of my logic is up for debate).

I remember being in a staff meeting at my second school as a teacher. A coworker, who thought himself the department head, had questioned one of my teaching methods, and asked me to make an adjustment. The actual department head agreed. I responded by saying that I disagreed with their assessment, but I will make the adjustment anyway.

My willingness to voice my dissent enraged my coworker. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, he was stood screaming at me from across the table in front of the entire staff. He admonished me for daring to express my disagreement and, I felt, wanted me to say something along the lines of you’re right; I’m sorry. If this is what he wanted, he never got it. I held my ground and stuck to my guns.

Later that day, I ran into another coworker who had been at the meeting. He shook his head and put his hand on my shoulder before conveying how amazed he was by my calm in the face of someone so unhinged. He said that he would have leaned across the table and punched our coworker had he been in my position.

At this moment, I should have realized how different I am from the average Joe. I am afflicted with the capacity for brute reason.

Kevin Williamson, who was recently fired after writing only one column (and a great column at that) for The Atlantic, has the curse of brute reason too, and it would ultimately be his undoing.

I originally intended to name the most frightening components of the Williamson saga 1) the left-wing mob that regularly sabotages Conservatives and Libertarians who are given mainstream platforms and 2) the gatekeepers of intellectual thought (in this case, Jeffery Goldberg, The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief) who placate said left-wing mob.

But what can be done about these antagonists of antagonism? Is the left-wing mob suddenly going to calm down and listen to the other side if we keep insisting to each other that they do? Will our ridicule slowly chip away at their sensitivity until they are hardened objectivists? Are the gatekeepers going to choose to offend the bulk of their audience for the benefit of a handful of free thinkers? All of this appears to be a fruitless endeavor.

What I now believe to be the most frightening component of the Williamson saga is playing the character capable of brute reason. Like Pandora’s Box, my open mind cannot be closed. And those who do not want to trudge through the darker alleyways of reality have agency, both ethically and factually, to cover their ears, close their eyes, and sprint the other way, leaving me and those with similar abilities alone with each other in the shadows.

There are only two things I’m sure brute reasoners can do about our isolated state. The first is to try our darndest to persuade the masses even though our success rate will be minimal. This is and will continue to be a major hurdle because good marketing often requires piles of bullshit, and bullshit is like kryptonite to a brute reasoner. We aren’t appealing to the masses, and one of few things that we find too repulsive to bear is misrepresentation. Like sardines in a shoal, encircled by predators, whose survival instinct to follow the darting of our neighbors is now leading to our doom, the bait ball our nature and circumstances have got us in is going to be difficult to escape from.

The second thing we can do is to stay inspired by admiring the beauty of the products of brute reason. Kevin Williamson’s thought experiment conclusion about hanging women who have had abortions is a great example of this.

***

Williamson’s conclusion rests upon several premises:

  1. Abortion is akin to murder
  2. Mothers are complicit in elective abortions; it’s not only the abortionist who is responsible
  3. The death penalty is a reasonable way to punish murderers
  4. The violence of the state should not be sugar-coated

Regardless of your or my or Kevin’s sincere agreement with any of these premises, let’s try to detach our minds and see if we can rationalize them.

Abortion as Murder

It is common knowledge that Conservatives (and many others) believe abortion is murder. They believe that life begins at conception, so terminating a pregnancy is terminating an innocent human life without its consent (which, like a child or unconscious adult, it does not have the ability to grant anyway).

Unless you do not value human life at all, it is probably the case that you would consider the killing of a mother’s developing child against her will to be akin to murder. If that is the case, the only way you would be unable to at least consider the possibility of abortion being akin to murder is to believe the value of a child’s life is determined solely the mother’s discretion. And even if you believe it is the mother’s choice exclusively, are you not somewhat persuaded by the reasoning of those who disagree?

Mothers are Responsible

Conservative thought-leaders rebuked then-candidate Trump when he suggested that women who have abortions should receive some form of punishment for their transgressions. It is the belief among the Conservative mainstream that abortionists, not mothers who have abortions, are the true guilty party.

But doesn’t that discount the mother’s agency? Isn’t she the one giving the okay and funding the operation? In what other circumstance does an adult approve and fund an action involving her or her child’s body and then assume zero culpability when they agreed upon action is carried out as planned? The case can certainly be made that mothers are partially, mostly, or completely responsible for the abortions they have.

The Death Penalty is Fair

The death penalty is a dangerous power to give to the state, and due to the possibility of wrongful conviction, can and does result in killings of those who did not deserve it. But let’s assume for a moment that we are privy to a case in which there is absolutely zero doubt that an individual accused of first-degree murder or another heinous crime is guilty. Under these conditions, is death a reasonable penalty?

You (and Kevin and I) may say it is not. Perhaps the potential to rehabilitate a criminal outweighs the need to inflict punishment. Perhaps a people who use violence to punish violence are becoming the thing that they claim to fight. But ruling that killing those who kill, as a means of justice, crime prevention, or something else, is not beyond the realms of sane policy. Can you at least see where they are coming from?

Exposing the Nature of the State

As Kevin Williamson has said, if you don’t pay your taxes, the government will sue you when they find out. If you fail to appear in court, they will get a warrant for your arrest. If you resist arrest, they will apprehend you and throw you in a cage or kill you if you put up a good enough fight. In other words, you will be killed or locked in a cage if you do not give the government the money it demands. This is the nature of government whether you like it or not.

If the government is essentially a monopoly on violence, why should we not be kept aware of this in our daily lives? Calls for transparency and authenticity are pervasive for all other things. Why should government be any different? If we are going to use state-sanctioned violence to punish those who break the law, why not make it as obvious as possible? Graphic hangings of murderers, as opposed to bloodless lethal injections, are honest and straightforward. If you do not support the death penalty without sugar-coating, you do not support the death penalty.

The Sublimity of a Gruesome Conclusion

Now that each of Kevin’s four premises is rationalized, let’s create a few syllogisms:

Syllogism A

  • Premise IA: Abortion is murder
  • Premise IIA: Mothers are responsible for their abortions
  • Conclusion A: Mothers who have abortions are murderers

Syllogism B

  • Premise IB: The death penalty is a just form of punishment for murderers
  • Premise IIB: The state should make its violent nature explicit
  • Conclusion B: Explicitly violent use of the death penalty (such as hanging) is a just form of punishment for murderers

Syllogism C

  • Premise IC: Mothers who have abortions are murderers
  • Premise IIC: Explicitly violent use of the death penalty (such as hanging) is a just form of punishment for murderers
  • Conclusion C: Explicitly violent use of the death penalty (such as hanging) is a just form of punishment for mothers who have abortions

This conclusion is beautiful for many reasons. The most obvious is that it follows a clean line of reasoning. If one accepts all of Kevin’s premises, none of which are completely unreasonable, it is hard to avoid his conclusion.

The more discrete reason Kevin’s conclusion is beautiful is that it is more challenging to those who tend to accept Kevin’s premises than to those who do not.

Conservatives who deny the mother’s culpability in her abortion are denying her agency, which is great cannon fodder for Liberals who accuse Conservatives of misogyny.

Liberals can force Conservatives into one of three uncomfortable corners:

  1. Admit that they are misogynists
  2. Admit that mothers who have abortions should be treated like murderers (and a supermajority of Conservatives support the death penalty for murderers)
  3. Admit that abortion is not akin to murder

Williamson also confronts Conservatives, who provide constant reminders of the forceful and violent nature of government, by calling them liars for trying to cover up the fate they advocate for murderers.

Ironically, Williamson’s thorn in the Conservative side has wound up puncturing Liberal sensibilities far more than the Conservatives it should be bleeding.

If you are a brute reasoner like me, and you can see the beauty in all of this, it should inspire you to trudge on. We are fighting for something special.

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Kevin Williamson and the Perils of Brute Reason

The Top 5 Reasons Not to Go to War with Syria

I found Trump Version 20.17 to be a pleasant surprise. He stuck to many of the promises I had hoped he would keep (like nominating textualist justices, taking a hatchet to the administrative state, and cutting the corporate tax rate) while not doing anything too drastic regarding the promises I hoped he wouldn’t keep (like going over the top on immigration or starting trade wars).

Trump Version 20.18, however, is turning out to be an absolute disaster. This is largely due to his signing of an obscene omnibus spending bill, starting a trade war with China, and beginning to fill the foreign policy wing of the executive branch with neocons.

Just as John Bolton, who is essentially a caricature of a belligerent American war hawk, enters his role as Trump’s national security advisor, reports of a chemical attack in Syria have surfaced. The attack is being blamed on President Bashar al Assad, and Trump has tweeted a warning to the Syrian dictator, Vladimir Putin, and Iran.

It seems as though the US is on the verge of yet another attempt at regime change in the Middle East. The mainstream media and establishment wings of each major party are fanning the flames of war, and I would wager that our presence and involvement in Syria is fit to escalate soon.

I do not think the United States should get any more involved in the Syrian conflict than it already has and, in an ideal world, would like all US forces in Syria to return home immediately.

Here are five of the main reasons I believe we should stay out of the Syrian conflict:

  1. It’s complicated

The Syrian Civil War is complex and impossible to fully understand. There are many factors that make this so. The simplest is that this is not a battle between two opposing factions, but a proxy war with at least four direct participants.

Bashar al Assad, protected by the Syrian Armed Forces, is trying to maintain control over the nation. “The rebels” are his primary opposition, and they would like to see Assad removed from power altogether.

To me, this is already reason enough for the US to stay out. While I believe in the right of a people to secede from a government they find intolerable and would not be so squeamish about the US assisting a population in declaring their independence, I generally do not support revolutions that disenfranchise those who are loyal to an established government, and certainly do not believe the US has any business getting involved in conflicts of this nature, especially when they are contained within a single country.

Other opponents of Assad include ISIS and more undoubtedly terroristic organizations. Since fighting against Assad, as bad as he may be, is effectively fighting alongside ISIS, it seems like the best bet is to let the monsters settle their own scores.

The fourth major faction in the Syrian conflict is the Kurds. This ethnically-bound group occupies portions of both Syria and Iraq and have their sights set on founding a nation of their own. The Kurds are generally too busy fighting ISIS and other enemies to be in armed conflict with Assad.

Several months ago, when it felt like the Syrian Civil War was finally beginning to wind down, certain pro-government social media outlets I had been following were settling into victory. To my surprise, they quickly began espousing hostile rhetoric about the Kurds. To me, this suggested that Assad and his backers had no interest in allowing the Kurds their independence, which further illustrated how complex the situation is.

Keep in mind that what I have attempted to explain thus far is only the direct participation in the war. The proxy-component takes the situation to a new level. Assad is backed by Iran and Russia among other nations, the rebels are backed by most of the west, Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, ISIS is backed by terrorist outfits across the Middle East (and indirectly backed by supporters of the rebels), and the Kurds are supported by the US (though the feds did not back their independence referendum), but brutally opposed by Turkey, Iraq, and Assad.

And that’s not all. We must also be aware (or aware that we are not aware) of the linguistic, ethnic, religious, and cultural divides across the diverse population of Syria. There are at least 16 ethnoreligious groups residing in Syria, and no one is capable of possessing the knowledge required to accommodate even a fraction of them. This challenge is Syria’s, not America’s.

  1. The evidence leaves much to be desired

The most recent “gas attack” continues the cliché of incidents that are blamed on Assad without verification. Aid groups on the ground tend to be the primary sources for the UN and the US federal government, and videos documenting the aftermath always accompany the reports.

The problem with all of this is that hard evidence is never presented to the public. Perhaps the government has evidence that it refuses to release, but as far as anyone can tell, hard evidence does not exist.

Just two months ago, Defense Secretary James Mattis publicly stated that the US is still looking for proof that Assad is the culprit in previous gas attack allegations. Per ZeroHedge:

“I don’t have the evidence,” Mattis said. “What I am saying is that other groups on the ground – NGOs, fighters on the ground – have said that sarin has been used, so we are looking for evidence.”

While it is silly to use President Trump’s Twitter handle as a source of factual information, the president seems to have admitted that he has no evidence the latest gas attack is Assad’s doing either:

If the area in question is “inaccessible to the outside world,” and it needs to be opened up for “verification,” it is obviously not confirmed that Assad launched the chemical attack.

As I outlined in my latest blog post, applying Occam’s razor to the situation makes it hard to imagine that Assad is the culprit. Why would Assad, on the verge of victory and fully aware that the bulk of the Western world is seething for a reason to remove him from power, commit a strategically and economically idiotic war crime that makes it impossible for the US to exit? Why would he do this on the heels of Trump saying that the US would be exiting Syria very soon? Could any remotely rational human being be so evil that he puts everything he has spent most of the past decade fighting for on the line just to murder a few civilians?

It is true that logic may not be the best means of understanding Middle Eastern conflicts. But I still find the possibility that Assad was framed by his enemies to be far more persuasive than Assad effectively committing suicide.

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  1. Regime change does not work

Let’s give two huge benefits of the doubt and assume that 1) we know who the good guys are in Syria and 2) we can verify that Assad is intentionally engaging in something akin to genocide.

Even under these circumstances, contemporary history teaches us that toppling dictators and installing democracies is a futile effort. Iraq and Libya remain failed states years and year after their autocrats fell. There are probably many reasons for this, but I will extrapolate on two.

First, I believe, as Andrew Breitbart famously stated, politics is downstream from culture. Unlike many radical leftists, I generally do not believe in social constructionism in which oppressive systems are put in place and dictate the way society turns out. Instead, I believe people get the governments they deserve. In other words, Saddam Hussein was a result of Iraqi history, values, and living conditions, not the other way around. If I am right, removing the system will not lead to sustained improvements in the way a people do politics. They will resort to their old ways quickly, and the effort will be all for naught. The people must change before the way they are governed can.

Secondly, Jeffersonian Democracy is not for everyone. While I am only in favor of government if its purpose is to protect natural, individual human rights, other people may have other preferences. You cannot force a form of government on people who do not understand it and do not want it.

  1. Trump is president

Here’s a brief list of accusations that have been hurled at Trump over the past few years:

  • Idiot
  • Liar
  • Conman
  • Racist
  • White Supremacist
  • Nazi
  • Fascist
  • Homophobe
  • Xenophobe
  • Misogynist
  • Rapist
  • Thief
  • Russian agent
  • Corrupt
  • Lunatic
  • Mentally ill
  • Reckless
  • Immature
  • Ignorant
  • Illiterate
  • Vengeful
  • Narcissistic

I’m not going to say which ones I think are accurate and which ones I think are off base. But if a handful of these are true, anyone that would follow Trump into war is a complete and utter dotard. Since there is a common hawkishness among many of Trump’s most fervent critics, they must not believe what they say about Trump or are miles past sensibility in their stubborn desire for war.

  1. We are $21 trillion in debt

Last but not least, war has costs. The most horrific tragedies of war are the lives lost, both military and civilian. Injuries are suffered, homes and livelihoods are destroyed, and relationships are torn to shreds in all armed conflicts.

With that being said, I understand that war is sometimes the best option, and that the costs of not going to war can vastly outweigh the costs of participating.

But based on the complexity of the situation in Syria, the unproven nature of the claims that would justify intervention, America’s recent history of failure in armed conflict, and the lack of competence in the White House, this is not one of those times.

Since intervention remains unwarranted, exhausting more US resources as a trillion-dollar surplus looms would be beyond the pale. As Pre-President Trump tweeted way back in 2013:

Let’s hope the new Trump channels the old Trump before we get ourselves in another mess.

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The Top 5 Reasons Not to Go to War with Syria

Assad’s Razor

Here are the conditions that would have to apply for Assad to be the perpetrator of the latest “gas attack” in Syria:

  1. Assad is evil beyond imagination.
  2. Just as Trump announces he wants to pull the US out of Syria, ceding control over the region to Assad and his allies, Assad decides to commit a war crime he knows will prevent the US military from being able to leave.
  3. Assad’s unimaginable evil is so overwhelming that he cannot keep it together for a few months to give the US the impression that it can exit the region in good conscious.
  4. In the midst of a seemingly endless war, Assad thinks killing civilians with WMDs, despite no strategic benefit, is a wise use of time and resources.
  5. Previous reports about Assad turning over his chemical weapons to the US and Russia are completely false.

Here are the conditions that would have to apply for “the rebels” to be the perpetrators of the latest “gas attack” in Syria:

  1. “The rebels”, ISIS, or another organization friendly to their cause staged the attack in one way or another to frame Assad in order to prevent the US from leaving Syria, which Trump recently announced he wanted to do, and which would be devastating to their war efforts.

Occam’s Razor is the theory that the simplest explanation is more likely to be the correct explanation. Guess who I think is responsible for the “gas attacks”?

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Assad’s Razor