Navel Gaze of the Week

On cultural appropriation

This week I want to discuss one of the contenders for Silliest Idea Ever, that of “cultural appropriation.” Just to ensure we are on the same page, let us stipulate that cultural appropriation is the use of materials or elements of one culture by members of another. That use can be anything from playing music, to wearing clothing, to fashioning one’s hair, to eating the food of a culture that you are not historically, geographically, or ethnically descended from.

To borrow a phrase from the ever more thin-skinned among us, the concept of cultural appropriation is deeply racist from start to finish.

To suggest that a white woman cannot wear dreadlocks, or that indigenous peoples cannot serve as mascots for sports teams, or that a western singer can’t make use of Japanese imagery in a music video, or that college students shouldn’t wear certain costumes on Halloween or sombreros on Cinco de Mayo… Actually, when you string a list of “cultural appropriation” offenses together like that, it comes across as rather silly, doesn’t it? The complaint of a mewling child, perhaps?

“Pay attention to me!” (stomps foot) “I’m special! Momma said so!”

Yet there are grown men and women who work themselves into high dudgeon about this and expect you to take them seriously. And not all of the people making these childish demands are in it for the headlines: about a year ago, I attended a screening of “Reel Injun.”1 One of the scenes depicted a boy scout troop, led by a German counselor, as they dressed in “Indian” garb and engage in war whoops.3 After the film, a young woman in the audience announced that the cultural appropriation depicted in the film offended her and…honestly, I don’t know what she said after that, because I had tuned her out.

Whenever I hear someone start to drone on about “cultural appropriation,” “privilege” (male, white, or other), or any other type of collective offense, I…just stop paying attention. Because at that point I know that the person speaking is not someone to be taken seriously.2 I’m dealing with a child—no, worse! An adult who has abandoned any pretense of maturity in order to act like a child…and one who is deeply ignorant of history.

Because human history is written in the blood of conquest. There is no place on this earth where the current inhabitants’ ancestors did not wrest the land by force from the previous occupants. Nor is there any culture extant today that is free of influence from other peoples. None.

Now, you may personally be a thin-skinned racist whose self-worth is intertwined with the belief that only people who look exactly like you should get to wear that shirt, get that haircut, use that eating utensil, wave that flag, vote on issues that affect you, marry people who look like you, breed with people who look like you… Oh, that’s different you say? Poppycock! It all springs from the same racist well. Perhaps, instead of telling strangers that they have “offended you” because they want to sample some of your culture, you should take pride in the fact that it resonates with them—or at least learn to slap it on a t-shirt and sell it for a profit.

In any case, when you accuse me of appropriating your culture, my response has been and shall remain: “Fuck you.”4

1 (c) 2009. Dir. Neil Diamond. Interesting film, and I recommend watching it should you get the opportunity. It is an eye-opening look at Hollywood’s depiction of American Indians from the native perspective.

Oh, sure, if they muster a mob or some such of course I’ll take them seriously. It’ll be interesting to see how that works out for everyone.

3 Yes, it looked just as stupid as you imagine. However, there is a vast difference between “You look like and idiot,” and “You are stealing my culture and should be publicly shamed!”

4 Sure, call my boss. Demand I be fired for being insensitive to your feelings. Oh, wait–I’m retired! I suppose you could call for my public shaming on Twitter… Maybe one of these days I’ll work up the energy to care. Tell you what, you go ahead an hold your breath while we wait to see how that works out for you.

Navel Gaze of the Week

On Music

This is the third piece in (what is evidently) a short series on education. You can view the first post here and the second here.

This week I want to discuss music appreciation. Now, I don’t care if you like classical or country, rap or reggae. Music, like poetry, should move the spirit. Barring that, it should at the very least entertain the listener. So I’m not going to preach at you about what kind of music you “should” be listening to. That’s a matter of taste, and I will no more try to dictate yours than I would listen if you tried to dictate mine.

No, I want to write about playing music.

Lots of folks are plagued by memories of being dragged to piano or violin lessons when they were children. Others sought out a cheap guitar or a set of drums and tried to get a high school band going. But most of us, I think, have never done anything more than fiddle with an instrument once or twice.

In my own case, I gave a (brief) shot at learning the trumpet when I was a boy (somewhere around the second or third grade, I think). It was hard, I didn’t like it, and I gave up on it. When I was in junior high in Walla Walla,1 every student had to spend one trimester of the seventh grade in Choir. I loved it…but I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.2 And so I never experienced the joy of making music.

In an earlier age, just about every educated person was expected to know how to play an instrument; it was considered to be part of a well-rounded education (which is why this post fits in with the two referenced above). That isn’t really the case anymore. That it isn’t is a considerable relief to many parents that are already struggling to pay bills, many children who would rather do just about anything else, and a great loss to every adult–because they’ve missed out on learning to do something that might have made their lives richer.

Fortunately, it is never to late to take up an instrument. Why, a man could wait until he is in his late forties before suddenly deciding he wants to learn to play the violin. (And yes, I do mean me.3) There are some good practical reasons for doing so, too. This article lays out ten of them.

Now, much like when I wrote about the value of a liberal arts education, not all of us are in a position to pursue music as a hobby. Instruments are pricy, and lessons aren’t exactly cheap. If you have kids at home, you likely have neither the time nor the energy to invest an hour a day in practicing.

But if you do have the means, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you take up music as a hobby. Depending on what instrument you choose, you and another member of your family could learn on the same one, cutting relative costs by about half (still need to pay for more than what set of lessons). Student (or learner) instruments are cheaper than those for performers, and most music stores will finance the cost over time. My violin–a student instrument–ran me ~$450. I’m not saying that that was cheap, but it was much less costly than a medium-grade piece that could have run to a couple thousand.

And I love playing (however badly)!4 Just learning to read music was like discovering a foreign language. Plus, being a history buff, it’s been fascinating to me to learn about the development of western music over time. It’s even given me a (small) appreciation for some styles of music that I don’t much care for.5

So–whether the kids are grown and gone, you’re young and single and need a hobby, you have the benefit of having inherited vast wealth and need something to do besides racing cars and sharing cocaine binges with your buds, or just just want to start planning for the day you get a little ahead on time and money–please give a little thought to what you might like to learn to play. If the day comes that you can fulfill that ambition, I can guarantee it’ll be worth it.6

1 Every time I think about Walla Walla, Washington, I’m reminded of a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Bugs used the words as part of spell or some such. The thought still cracks me up.

2 Still can’t, really. Which is why, to the considerable relief of those who know me, I only sing in the shower.

3 Just don’t ask me to play for you. Trust me, I’m doing you a favor. Almost two years of study and I still sound like I’m torturing a cat every time I draw the bow. But I do love working at it.

4 My dogs are somewhat…less appreciative. I call my practice sessions “special puppy torture time.”

5 Rap. I’m talking about rap music. And my expanded appreciation is still minuscule. Nonetheless…

6 Said guarantee being valued at the exact cost you paid to view this free post. My generosity extends only as far as my opinions, save when the folks at the charity succeed in convincing me I have a few dollars to spare.

Navel Gaze of the Week

A Holiday That Shouldn’t Be.

You get a *bonus* opinion piece this week, in light of the holiday!1

Today is the official celebration of George Washington’s birthday, and thus a federal holiday. Depending on what state you live in, it may be called “Presidents’ Day” (or some variation thereof). Allow me, if you will, a few moments to rail against this insanity.

I am a great admirer of George Washington2 (he is one of my few true personal heroes). I truly believe there is (or ought to be) something to the old saw “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” That said, he was a man–and an imperfect one at that. Despite the great services he performed for our nation,3 despite the stamp he put on the office of the presidency, despite the occasional rant I allow myself about how poor a job our educational institutions do in teaching both how important he was in his own day and remains in ours…his birthday should not be a federal holiday.

No man’s should. Certainly no political leader’s.

We are a republic, after all, not a kingdom. Our government is administered by an executive, not ruled by an emperor.

[Kevin D. Williams (@KevinNR) wrote a fantastic piece about this folly last week (you can read it here). But as this is something I get dyspeptic about every year, I’m adding my two cents anyway.4]

Moreover, as much as I disagree with the idea that Mr. Washington’s birthday be a federal holiday–one of my few heroes, remember!–I become outright furious about “Presidents’ Day.” Only a handful of those who have filled that office have been men worthy of esteem (and a short-fingered handful at that). As for the rest? Most of them were men I wouldn’t trouble myself to piss on if I were to see them gloriously aflame. It makes my skin itch every time someone suggests I should honor them as a group.

Celebrate William Henry Harrison, who served barely a month before dying? James Buchanan, who set the stage for the Civil War through abject political cowardice and incompetence? Woodrow Wilson, who is in serious contention for the worst president in American history? Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used the excuse of the great depression to transform our republic into a nation of governmental dependents–and imprisoned 100,000+ Americans in concentration camps? Lyndon B. Johnson, who put the welfare state on steroids, escalated the Viet Nam War, and fought it so incompetently that he should have been impeached? Richard M. Nixon, who…need I elaborate? James Carter, he of the “national malaise” and the Iran Hostage Crisis? William J. Clinton, who so debased the modern presidency that blowjobs in the oval office became part of our national conversation?

And these “gentlemen” are just the highlights (or lowlights, rather). Please do not suggest to me that there is something so ennobling about the presidency that the forty-four men5 who have filled it should be celebrated.

If we must have a holiday (and I don’t see the public sector unions surrendering that benefit6), I’d much rather see one celebrating Benjamin Franklin, or Harriet Tubman, or Frederick Douglass, or the Wright Brothers, or any of the many estimable people that populate our history who weren’t presidents.

Better yet, how about swapping Mr. Washington’s birthday for Constitution Day?7 I expect that would be something our first president would get behind (if, you know, he was in a position to do so).

And if you can’t get on board with that, can you at least agree that it should be a celebration of Mr. Washington alone? If your state has added someone else into the mix (as I mine has; it is officially “Presidents’ Day” in Nevada), campaign against it! If you live in one of those states that has not, don’t let people get away with this “Presidents’ Day” nonsense. Celebrating one good man as though he was a godling is bad enough.

Let’s not add Wilson, Nixon, Clinton, and yes Trump into the mix. We’re better than that. Or we damned well ought to be.

1 Don’t fret. The Cigar of the Week will still post today, right around noon as per usual. And the regular Navel Gaze of the Week will be up either Tuesday or Wednesday.

2 And yes, I am well aware that Mr. Washington was a slave owner. And yes, I know that the Iroquois still refer to him as “Town Burner.” He’s still one of my heroes.

Recommended reading: The Man Who Would Not Be King by David Boaz.

4 That is what you’re here for, isn’t it?

5 Grover Cleveland, who filled the office on two non-consecutive occasions (and is my second favorite president for a number of reasons), counts twice. That’s why President Donald J. Trump is the 45th president rather than the 44th, despite being the 44th  of 44 individuals to serve in the office.

6 Got to have those three day weekends, after all. Which is why the federal holiday is today, the 20th, when Mr. Washington’s birth date is the 22nd.

7 In honor of the day the US Constitution was signed by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 17th, 1787. Currently not a paid holiday, but rather one in which all federal agencies and publicly funded institutions provide education on the founding charter.

Navel Gaze of the Week

On Poetry

In recognition of Valentine’s Day (and in follow up to last week’s Navel Gaze), I want to spend a little time discussing poetry. Of course, being the drunken1 cynic that I am, I’m not going to waste your time or mine with an exhaustive analysis of the “roses are red, violets are blue” variety. Rather I want to talk about what poetry should do: move a man’s spirit.2

If you’ve read much of what I’ve written,3 you know that I am a major fan of Kipling’s work. And with good reason–Kipling is known as “the soldier’s poet.” His work stands the test of time (allowing for the shift in political and social sensibilities over the last hundred and twenty years), and is as relatable today to veterans of our modern “savage wars of peace” as it was when written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In simpler words: it moves a man’s spirit.

But Kipling isn’t alone in that. Generations of Irish patriots (and, unfortunately, terrorists) have thrilled to the words of Emily Lawless:

War battered dogs are we, fighters in every clime.

Fillers of trench and of grave, mockers,bemocked by time.

War dogs, hungry and grey, gnawing a naked bone.

Fighters in every clime, every cause, but our own.

And when faced with dire circumstances, who cannot find comfort in the immortal words of Dylan Thomas?

Do not go quietly into the night;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

Poetry can by formulaic (see e.g. the rigid structure of the haiku or the limerick), freeform, or rhyming. The structure of the poem doesn’t matter nearly as much as its success in speaking to the soul.

Unfortunately–and here is where I follow up on last week’s post–we do a really poor job of communicating the value of poetry to children. How many of us know that the current poet laureate of the United States is a man named Juan Felipe Herrera? I know that I didn’t (I had to look it up for this post). From my own childhood education I have only a dim recollection of a few words by Richard Lovelace4:

I could not love you half so much,

loved I not honor more.

Which is a shame because it’s a really moving piece about a man who feels compelled to leave his love behind to go fight one of his nation’s wars (Hmm. That rings a bell for a lot of us, doesn’t it?). The first poem I ever learned in its entirety was The Thousandth Man, and it remains one of my favorites to this day. Here are the opening and closing verses:

One man in a thousand, Solomon says,

will stick more close than a brother.

And it’s worthwhile seeking him half your days,

If you find him before the other.

Nine hundred an ninety-nine can’t bide

the shame or mocking or laughter.

But the thousandth man will stand by your side,

to the gallows foot–and after!

And folks I challenge you to find a more stirring story than you’ll discover in “The Ballad of Both Da Thone” (another of Kipling’s contributions).

So on this Valentine’s Day, I beseech you to turn away from Twitter and Snapchat and Facebook for just long enough to pick a favorite of your own. Find just one poem that speaks to your very soul.

I think you’ll find your life all the richer for it.

1 To be clear, I am a drunk not an “alcoholic”; “alcoholics” go to meetings.

2 Yes, that’s a plug for Blood Debt. I’m shameless. It goes along with the drinking.

3 “Man’s” being shorthand for “Human’s.” If you want more politically correct language, I fear you’re reading the wrong blog.

4 From To Lucasta, going to the Wars, written in 1649

The Week in Review

Every now and then, President Trump reminds us all that he doesn’t think we are a better country than, say, Russia. In an interview with Bill O’Reilly, the president remarked “Well, you think we’re so innocent?” when Mr. O’Reilly pressed him about President Putin’s crimes.

Various bills aimed at freeing innocent passerby from being imposed upon by protesters are being considered across the country, including some that would make it legal to “unintentionally” run over people blocking the road. I think it should be legal to intentionally run them over; protest to your heart’s content, folks, but when you decide to interfere with me going about my business that isn’t free speech so much as it is tyranny.

Seems the millennials are suffering through a heroin epidemic. Listen, I was brow-beaten years ago into pretending that addiction is a disease. I am not going to pretend that I feel sorry for young folks so overwrought with feels that they need to get high. And when they do so often enough that they addict themselves? Boo-hoo.

Chelsea Clinton is reportedly considering a run for Congress. I am not going to fall into the trap the Democrats did this past election, encouraging an unqualified (and therefore “easily beatable”) candidate to run for office. I will ask what the hell would make the Dems consider this.

With its 16th homicide of the year, Las Vegas is on track to meet or exceed last years count of 168. (“Pikers!” —Chicago)

The 9th Circuit Court rejected a request by the Trump administration to quickly set aside a stay on the immigration EO and then ruled against him, deciding that the executive does not have the authority to ban immigration from unstable nations for national security. I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, I disagree in principle with the executive determining immigration standards; on the other, Congress ceded that power to the president by law, and I do not believe that the courts should determine under what standards aliens should be admitted—including bans based on religion (which, technically, this EO did not do). As of Friday, Mr. Trump’s administration is not pursuing an appeal to the supreme court.

Meanwhile, the Mexican government is supporting a campaign to jam up the US immigration courts. That makes sense; the monies that flow south from both legal and illegal aliens are a real boon to the Mexican economy.

During the occasional interruption off America’s annual television ad competition, the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl, 34-28. From what I read after the game, I almost wished I’d watched it.

This article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal could have been written more clearly, but it provides additional reason for sharply limiting judicial immunity. Judicial and prosecutorial immunity have existed untrammeled for far too long, and have led to an inexcusable number of abuses.

The Nevada legislature opened its biennial session on Monday. This term there are about 200 bills waiting to be considered, including the governor’s budget. And, of course, the parasite class is trying to raise taxes again. Property taxes, capped in 2005, are in real danger of being hiked by the never-to-be-sufficiently damned politicians who think we just aren’t paying enough. I think we need a new law that will mandate five years of solitary confinement for any politician at any level who proposes raising any tax ever. Maybe that would stop the crooked bastards from trying to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in giveaways to an athletic franchise for a year or two.

Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education in a tie-splitting vote by Vice President Spence.

Trump advocate Matt Drudge appears to be a bit disillusioned with the new administration (and the Republican party as a whole) judging by this story. Mr. Drudge is specifically displeased by the lack of action on repealing Obamacare (aka the misnamed Affordable Health Care Act) and instituting fresh tax cuts.

Senator Jeff Sessions has been confirmed as the next attorney general. Regular readers know that I was not in favor of Senator Sessions’s confirmation, because I dislike his stance on civil asset forfeiture (he’s in favor of this blatantly immoral practice). But now that the fight is done, I hope he comes around.1

Various media outlets are engaged in a campaign to undermine the public’s support for the repeal of Obamacare. Some of those efforts make outright sentimental exhortations, others are claiming that there is growing conservative support for the ACA. I’m not surprised by either the attempt or the argument. When Obamacare was first rammed down our throats I predicted that it wouldn’t take long for regular folks to get addicted to yet another unconstitutional revenue stream.

Senator Rubio made an appeal for civil debate this week, saying “I don’t know of a civilization in the history of the world that’s been able to solve its problems when half the people in a country absolutely hate the other half of the people in that country.” He’s almost right. I’m really not all that fond of the half of the country that wants to steal my stuff and tell me how to live; that half hates me for objecting.

There is a rumor circulating that Russia may extradite the traitor Edward Snowden back to the USA to face trial. On the subject of treason, an NSA contractor named Harold T. Martin III has been indicted for stealing more than 500 million pages of national security documents. The story does not specify whether he passed them to anyone else, and I am learning all over again to take the media’s reports with a grain of salt. Still, his lawyer’s contention that Martin is simply a hoarder beggars belief, doesn’t it?

Finally, a recent resignation at the Federal Reserve will give President Trump a chance to start reshaping monetary policy. I’m not sure how I feel about a businessman who declared bankruptcy four times deciding monetary policy. On the other hand, I’ve been generally pleased with his cabinet picks, so maybe this’ll work out, too.

1What’s that you say? Do I believe in… Why yes, as a matter of fact, I do believe in the Easter Bunny. Why do you ask?

Navel Gaze of the Week

On the value of education

What is an education actually worth? There has been considerable research done on the remunerative difference of those who are non-high school graduates, high school graduates, and college graduates with a four year degree (see here and here, and this chart), and I do not want to wast your time retreading old ground.

Instead, I want to discuss the personal value of a traditional liberal arts education. The bottom line is that an education in the liberal arts was once meant to create well-rounded people who were better prepared tp understand the world around them, their place in it, and to join society as full participants. I believe that, somewhere along the way, we have lost track of what that kind of education is for.

In its current incarnation (littered with such navel gazing concentrations as gender and ethnic studies) we have grown largely contemptuous of the liberal arts–and that is a great swaggering pity. Why has this happened?

I believe that this devaluation can be laid at the feet of two specific events: 1) the “farming out” of aptitude testing by employers; and 2) the growth of the idea that all education is of equal value. Let’s discuss these in turn.

The first problem, employers outsourcing aptitude testing, is a second-order effect of America’s long struggle with racism. In the early 20th century, all too many employers endeavored to find a legally survivable method of passing up minorities (often–but not exclusively–black Americans). In a series of cases [e.g. Griggs v Duke Power Co. (1971)], the USSC struck these efforts down. Because there was some legitimate value to testing employees, companies starting turning more and more to requiring a college degree before they would consider a potential employee. This had the twin effect of devaluing a high school diploma and putting more young people on a path for college as a prerequisite for employment (even when the graduate’s education was in no way related to the prospective position).

Because a specific degree was not as important as the possession of a degree, students were free to pursue education plans that had no “real” value. It also prompted a growing requirement for professional academics to provide services to the expanding pool of college students. This created an ever-expanding cycle of freedom for academics of questionable value to study esoteric subjects (e.g. gender studies).

Unfortunately, in light of the American economy’s “boom and bust” cycle, we have hit several periods in which employment has been harder to come by for anyone with out a technical degree (e.g. one of the STEM fields). Because of this, a simple four year degree is now often deemed insufficient; this has resulted in students staying in school longer so they might acquire a graduate degree (and commensurately larger amounts of debt). We are struggling to pull ourselves out of one such period now (as a result of the housing bubble bust in late 2008).

The bottom line is that a college education is more expensive than ever before, more necessary than ever before, and of potentially less value than ever before. I have no suggestions on how to repair this state of affairs (although some others do).

Instead, I want to make an alternate plea, and this one is not aimed at America’s youth, but rather its adults: when you can, go back to school. There is something to be said for the old valuation of college–specifically for the traditional liberal arts degree. When (or, unfortunately, if) you reach a point in life that the kids are raised, please consider returning to school and continuing your education. For the last three years I have been doing exactly that.

As a man who retired at a fairly young age (42 in my case) and who has no dependents, I have been in the very fortunate position of taking classes at my local community college (the College of Southern Nevada). I have retaken many of the classes I blew through in a hurry back in my twenties(such as English, political science, languages, and history) simply because I have an interest. With the freedom to study what I have a particular interest in, I have been privileged to enjoy education for its own sake. It has made me a much more well-rounded man, and led me to take more of an interest in the politics of my community–and even changed my mind on some long-held beliefs–than I had before.

We are living longer than ever before; I expect I have about three full decades of productive life left to me. I could just spend all my time at the gun range, but the opportunity to expand my base of knowledge and subject myself to the rigors of academic discipline at this stage of my live are proving to be of significant personal value.

Should you find you have a similar opportunity, I expect you will discover similar rewards. And that ain’t nuthin’.

Navel Gaze of the Week

On Immigration Policy

There was quite the hullabaloo this weekend over President Trump’s executive order barring travelers and refugees from a limited list of Muslim-majority countries. In addition the the innumerable social media meltdowns, there were protests across the country at airports and government centers.

Mixed in among all the knee-jerk outrage were some islands of thoughtful analysis (see David French at NRO, D.C. McAllister at The Federalist, and Nicki F at The Liberty Zone). I spent some small amount of time trying to calm people down myself. In doing so, I ran across a large number of folks who not only had not read the EO themselves (if you haven’t, see the first link in this post) but also exhibited an extraordinary degree of ignorance as to what it actually entailed.

I near as I could suss out, most folks immediate reaction was some combination of “Trump is Hitler!” and “Keeping out refugees is immoral!” As someone whose first instinct is to be an open borders advocate, I share the qualms of those that object to denying entry to refugees fleeing oppression and war. That said, I am not so blinded by my own preferred policy that I am ignorant of both the larger security concerns (I refer you to the problems in Europe with their refugee populations) or the longer-term economic factors (welfare states must have tight immigration policies).

My urge for calm was not helped by the inexcusable incompetence demonstrated by the White House when ICE began barring green card holders from reentry. Nor when they barred long-term allies from Iraq from entry (the inexcusable slowness of this latter group’s admission has been a stain on our national honor since former-President Bush’s administration).

But now that we’ve all had a few days to catch our breath, let’s discuss two fundamental questions: 1) Is immigration to the United States a right for all people or a privilege we extend to a select number? 2) Can we–should we–discriminate against immigrants on the basis of their religion?

1) I think most of us agree that there is no right to immigrate into any country, including ours. In spite of that (presumed) consensus, a great many folks appeared to be making exactly that argument at protests this last weekend. I’m inclined to suspect that much of the protestors’ anger was really caused by Mr. Trump’s occupancy of the White House, but I’ll stipulate that at least some folks were out there protesting because they really believed someone’s rights were being violated.

Still, if we agree that immigration is a privilege, then we must also agree on some restrictions–albeit preferably restrictions that are based on logic and long-term political policies. The Constitution places responsibility for setting immigration and naturalization policies with Congress alone. Congress, of course, has ceded considerable authority to the president, which is why immigration has become such a political football these last several years.

So if immigration is a privilege, there must logically be restrictions on who is admitted in order to administer that privilege, and it is Congress’s (abrogated) responsibility to determine those restrictions. What should those restrictions be? That leads us to:

2) Is religion a moral basis for restricting immigration? In light of our nation’s history of anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish immigration restrictions (not to mention the various racist restrictions against Eastern Europeans and Asians), the answer would seem to be no. But should it be in the case of Muslims? At the risk of being called an Islamophobe let me point out that the Islamic world has been in conflict with the West, on and off, since the 7th century. Some of our wars have been started by them, some by us (“us” in this case meaning Europe and–much later–the United States). Of late that conflict has been driven by two ideologies on the Islamic side and one on ours.

The Sunni Muslim world has been infected to an alarming degree by Wahhabism. (Our Saudi allies have some considerable measure of responsibility for that.) Wahhabism is a dark throwback to the very worst tenets of Islam, and motivates a considerable amount of what we call “Islamism” today.

The Shia Muslim world is led by Iran. Which means led by the ayatollahs. Which means led by a group of religious fanatics with an apocalyptic belief system. Moreover, modern Iran is heir to a long history of desire for regional hegemony. (I urge you to do some reading on Iran. It’s fascinating; the conflict for dominance of the Middle East between Iran and the West goes back a good 2,000 years.)

On our side of the equation is our alliance with Israel. Long time readers know that I am a fervent supporter of Israel (and yes, I’m familiar with the Liberty Incident). Despite that I am not ignorant that our alliance with and (occasionally wavering) support for Israel fuels a considerable amount our current conflict with the Islamic world. Yet I remain a supporter and believe that our national policy should always have us firmly in Israel’s corner.

(For the record, anyone who wants to use “But the Crusades!” as a justification for Islamic antipathy for the west is betraying a stunning lack of historical awareness. Whatever rallying point they may be for said antipathy today, the Crusades were a reaction to the Islamic conquest of Western lands both in the Levant and Western Europe. You don’t get to pretend away historical facts and be taken seriously in the same conversation.)

Bearing these three realities in mind, it would be the absolute height of willful idiocy not to consider a potential refugee’s religion when weighing their admission to the U.S. However I also believe that most Muslims are just folks, and that they want the same thing other immigrants want: a better life. So after sufficient vetting (whatever “sufficient” may actually mean) being a Muslim should not be a bar to immigration.

All that said, I believe that Congress needs to reassert itself as the arbiter of immigration policy. I also believe that President Trump’s ham-handed efforts at setting new immigration policy (restricting travel and immigration from current hotbeds of jihadism) was as useful as a submarine screen door. I was no more impressed by his EO (or the subsequent stupidity of barring green card holders from admission) than I was all the overwrought virtue signaling that went on this weekend. I am aware that the EO played well to his base. I am also aware that much of his base are taking counsel of their fears. But I am also aware that those fears have some legitimate roots, and screaming “racist” at every American that has been watching events unfold in Europe with a jaundiced eye won’t win Mr. Trump’s opponents any new allies.

It’s a thorny issue with no easy answers. Let’s all stop pretending otherwise.

Navel Gaze of the Week

Does anyone have a right to health care?

There is (and has been for some time) a debate centering on the notion that health care is a human right. But is it? When we think of “human rights,” most of us, I believe, agree that they include the right to live free from external oppression and be safe in our possessions (e.g. Locke’s “life, liberty, and property”–with the last amended by the American founders as “the pursuit of happiness”). However there are a fair number of folks that would expand that list to include (or perhaps to more properly mean) a right to a basic modicum of security from want.

What does that mean? As I understand it, such an interpretation of human rights would include the right to basic shelter, sufficient food, education for one’s children, and access to health care. As a classical liberal, I would always point out that the general difference between the first interpretation and the second is this: one basically consists of the right to be left alone; the second requires access to material goods and/or services. For the purpose of the argument I am about to make, I ask you to so stipulate (even if you fundamentally disagree), if only for the duration of this opinion piece.

With that understood, then the necessary question is this: to what degree can we as a society compel one another to provide those goods and/or services that must be furnished in order to supply everyone with those human rights? Setting aside the typical straw man of slavery (that we would be conscripting the unwilling labor of the farmer, the doctor, &tc.), goods and services must be provided out of the labor and property of someone. The vehicle by which we are likely to do so is taxation. In other words, the seizure of wealth from one element of the populace in order to purchase said goods and/or services from a provider and furnish them to another segment of the population.

In terms of health care, this might be achieved either through direct contract (e.g. a single-payer health insurance program) or government owned and operated systems (e.g. socialized medicine or something akin to the UK’s National Health Service).

No matter the method, in order to satisfy this view of human rights, we must compel one citizen to pay for the maintenance of another.

But do we have the right to do so? If you are a collectivist of any stripe (whether a progressive, a communist, a socialist, &tc.) you’re answer is likely yes. If you are an individualist (a classical liberal, a libertarian, a conservative, an anarcho-capitalist, &tc.) the answer is likely no. In either case the argument is a philosophical one, and is going to be grounded in your core values. Arguments about constitutionalism are not going to matter as much as your driving principles.

I have heard many stories about individuals who have benefited from the coverage they were able to obtain due to Obamacare. Citizens of the UK often boast about their NHS. I, in fact, have a friend who has directly benefited from Obamacare (he had previously been unable to purchase health insurance). So I would have to be some kind of heartless bastard to tell him that he is receiving a benefit that he shouldn’t and then work to take it away from him, wouldn’t I? To take it away from him and everyone like him.

Well, yes. I would have to be exactly that. On the other hand, I would argue that he never had a right to my property to begin with. So while it might be heartless to tell him he can’t have it anymore, I am prepared to say exactly that. Because I am a heartless bastard–at least where it comes to being compelled to provide for someone else.

Because his need does not equate to my obligation.

I have a duty to my spouse. I have a duty to my children. I have a duty to provide for anyone that I have willing obliged myself to. I have no such duty toward anyone else. For all others my single obligation is to leave you alone.

Having said that, I do believe we can make things a little easier for people by doing the following:

1)  I think we could establish a government-guaranteed a health insurance system that would offer policies exclusively to those that have a pre-existing condition and who cannot otherwise obtain it. (Mandating that private insurance companies do so guarantees a future death spiral unless we obligate everyone to buy policies they neither need nor want–and how well has that worked out so far?) These policies will be more expensive than the ones people without a pre-existing condition may purchase, but at least health insurance would be available to them.

2) I think we should remove the federal block on selling insurance policies across state lines. Few people realize how many things their policies cover that they neither need nor want because the several states have mandated minimums of coverage in order to spread out costs from those that need various services to those that don’t. For example, a single man in the state of Nevada cannot buy a policy that does not cover prenatal care.

3) I think we could all be a little more generous when it comes to charitable donations (and by “we” I am including myself).

4) Even though it grates hard against my black heart, I would personally be willing to entertain the idea of full medical coverage for children, if such coverage expired at age 18 (or earlier in those rare cases of self-emancipation), and only if their parents could prove an inability to do so. (That is a hard sell for me, incidentally, because I believe it is flagrantly unconstitutional.*)

What I will not agree to is supporting a third party with my tax dollars. I will in fact oppose any such policy stridently and at every turn. If others force such a system of obligation down my throat (as happened with the ACA), I will work to tear it out root and branch at every opportunity. Yes, I am a heartless bastard. But if you are not my wife, if you are not my child, then I don’t owe you much of anything.

Because health care is not a human right.

Comments are open for seven days following publication.

*I try to avoid too many arguments about what is and is not constitutional, as it is my opinion constitutionalism as  governing principle was killed by the US Supreme Court back in the 1930s. Since then we have had a policy of the Constitution meaning whatever the high priests of the judiciary want it to mean in accordance with their preferred political ideologies.

Navel Gaze of the Week

On Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws

Modern US CAF laws were a tool adopted largely (but not exclusively) as part of the War on Drugs in the 1980s. The idea was to deprive drug suppliers and dealers of their profits both to make the drug trade less profitable and to give law enforcement another tool in their kit bag. The latter reason was motivated by the notion that the drug dealers were evading prosecution via slick lawyers and legal chicanery.

Civil asset forfeiture isn’t exactly new. Several hundred years ago, the British used the Navigation Acts to seize the property of “criminals” that were trying to evade British mercantile policies. However, since the 80s, CAF has exploded.

Modern history is replete with tales of LE abuse of CAF laws. Groups on both the left (ACLU) and right (Heritage Foundation) have argued against the practice. And yet it continues. Why?

Simply put, LE profits to an incredible degree. Cash, obtained either through direct seizure or from auctioning off seized property, goes into the coffers of police agencies. In a day of ever-tightening budgets, it is easy to see the attraction. in 2010 alone, more than $2.5 billion was funneled to police across the country via this process. All too often, the assets of innocent people are swept up (especially if they have an “excess” of cash on hand). And it can be damned hard to get your property back.

CAF flies in the face of 4th Amendment protections. Providing salt for this constitutional wound is the fact that we lost the War on Drugs a long time ago; you don’t need to be a libertarian (or a classical liberal) to see that.

Thankfully, some politicians (including those on the bench) are stating to see the injustice, and oh so slowly restrict its abuses. They aren’t moving fast enough.

We need to end CAF at both the state and federal level. It’s past time we did this. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump’s nominee for AG, Jeff Sessions, is a fan of CAF. It’s up to Congress and the states to take action. I urge you to write or call your legislative representatives and demand the repeal of CAF statutes.

Before you become their next victim.

Navel Gaze of the Week

On the Immorality of Hate Crime Laws

Postulate two similar cases: 1) a white man murders his white neighbor because of an ongoing, escalating dispute over how loud the neighbor plays his music; 2) a white man murders his neighbor because the neighbor is a black man.

In both cases, the perpetrator has committed a murder. But in the second example, the murder enjoys the aggravating circumstance of racism. Or, to look at it another way, the first homicide isn’t as evil as the second, despite both neighbors being the victim of a murder. In simpler terms, one man’s life is worth less in the eyes of the law—and his murder will be punished less harshly. Yet, in  both cases, the victims have suffered the same fate.

There is a long-standing argument that we need hate crime laws to dissuade people from committing crimes against certain segments of the population (e.g. minorities, gays, &tc.), but the actual effect of these laws is that the State values some citizens’ lives less than others’. How did we get here?

In 1998, a young man named Matthew Shepard was murdered by a pair of men named Aaron McKinney and Russel Henderson. The perpetrators beat Mr. Shepard savagely, and left him tied to a a fence. The ostensible reason was that Mr. Shepard was gay. (I am setting aside the volume of evidence that has since been brought to light which argues Shepard’s sexual orientation was not the primary motivation in his murder, as it is irrelevant to my larger point.)

In the same year, James Byrd, Jr., a 49 year old black man, was attacked by three white supremacists named Shawn Berry, Lawrence Brewer, and John King in Jasper, Texas. These three men tied Mr. Byrd to a pickup truck and dragged him to his death (he was decapitated when he was dragged over a curb).

The nation was outraged and, seeking to prevent this kind of thing in the future, began to pass a series of laws providing extra punishment for crimes that were motivated by bigotry. Since 1998, numerous states and the federal government have enacted a plethora of legislation punishing hate-motivated crimes. The most notable of hate crime laws was the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act (2009).

I was awarded a bachelors degree in criminal justice in 1995 and, having an interest in the issue, I followed both the Shepard and Byrd cases closely. I am not a legal expert (though I am closely related to a veritable plethora of them), but my interest in the scope of the State’s authority has led me to keep a weather eye on its expansion over the years.

I contend that hate crime laws are flawed at conception.

My argument against hate crime laws is not a constitutional one (the USSC upheld them in Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 1993), but a moral one. Numerous scholars and legal professionals have argued against hate crime laws due to both the inability of such laws to achieve their intended purpose (“hate crimes” have not been reduced), and the slippery slope they set us on as a people.

(And before you whip out the old “slippery slope is a fallacy” argument, I invite your attention to both the ever-escalating restriction of smokers’ rights and the evolution of gay marriage rights. No matter where you stand on these issues, it is inarguable that where we are today is very far from where proponents of each originally promised. Big changes proceed by small increments.)

Criminalizing harmful acts is necessary to the maintenance of civilization. Without such laws, society inevitably descends into tribalism, with all its attendant horrors. But criminalizing thoughts, which is what hate crime laws do, is one short step from criminalizing speech. Already, we as a society have effectively criminalized large swaths of speech and free association. (Don’t believe me? Try refusing to bake a cake on religious grounds.)

As I have little sympathy for the view expressed by the person who refuses to cater a wedding or rent a house due to personal prejudice, you might assume I should support the ostracizing of those that lean in that direction. You would be wrong.

I have often said if you aren’t free to be an asshat, you aren’t free.

Criminalizing thought—providing “extra” punishment for a thief, a rapist, a murderer, for having “bad thoughts”—means that prosecutors have to argue (and juries have to decide) what is in the accused’s head. This goes far beyond mens rea and demands that the quality and morality of the accused’s thinking be put on trial. Frankly, I do not trust either any agent of the State (be they investigator, prosecutor, or judge) or the average nitwit on a jury to decide this issue correctly or dispassionately.

Hell, I don’t trust most of these people with the vote, why would I trust them to decide what’s in someone’s head?

But I have reserved my strongest objection for last. Hate crimes are political. As evidence, I offer the recent kerfuffle over the kidnapping and torture of a young man in Chicago. There was actual debate over whether four black teenagers torturing a young white man (while repeatedly saying “Fuck white people” and “Fuck Donald Trump”) was a hate crime. Whether or not it was deemed as such seemed to fall out along political lines. In essence, the argument was over whether or not these four teenagers had committed a political crime. That should be outside the scope of jurisprudence.

Sometimes humans do terrible things to each other. We commit the most vile acts of aggression for greed, for power, for bigotry. There are sound reasons for making use of aggravating and mitigating circumstances when deciding to charge someone with a crime (or, having found them guilty, sentencing him for it).

What’s in a person’s head should not be one of those considerations. Otherwise, we are deciding legal punishment for a criminal act on the basis of political favor.

And that, folks, is blisteringly immoral. We must criminalize bad acts, but we should never criminalize bad thoughts.