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Archive for the ‘The rest is history’ Category

(originally published May 26, 2009 @16:12 EST)

All day long yesterday for Memorial day I found myself recalling various men I have felt proud to know in my lifetime and the stories they would tell; at fishing camp, at hunting camp, around campfires, over beers, among friends. Stories of their time in the service and in some rare cases of their times on the front lines. (although those recollections were more frequent in the old timers, and even then generally focused on things that had happened only to them)
It didn’t occur to me to pass any of them along until this morning, so I thought I would go over some of them in brief to share their tales (as I recall them) and pass them along.

So here’s to Reese from Sheep’s Pasture, to the stories he would tell of a bunch of young marines trained in Florida deep in the everglades running on unseen boards made to resemble walkways in rice paddies, feeling their way with sticks and risking splashing down with not only the murky waters, but the gators hiding within.

US Marine Patrol

US Marine Patrol

To stories of young leathernecks going on first leave after having it drilled in their heads for weeks that they were the meanest, roughest, toughest, baddest sons of bitches to ever walk the face of the earth – and to the stories of the fist fights and timely flights (from authorities) that soon ensued.
Here’s to the young marine finally coming home after his tours in Viet Nam in a full leg cast who got off the plane to see his family across the tarmac and becoming delighted, only to be confronted head on by two dirty, long haired protesters who spat in his face screaming baby killer.
And here’s to the two cops who scooped him up after he busted the first one’s face open while balancing on his crutches and was already going after the second, who in spite of the screams from the activists to “arrest him!”, brought him through the security entrance, smiled and said “semper fi brother, now get the hell out of here or we ‘will’ have to arrest you”
(Reese told no stories of the time between basic and coming home – Rest in Peace)

Here’s to Smitty, also from fish camp at Sheep’s pasture, a thin older gent who told us of the time he was brought before his superiors for a samurai sword he had found. It turned out to be an officers sword that he had picked up after entering a cave to see a smiling Japanese soldier holding his hands up in the air saying in broken English “I surrender” – and here’s to the fellow soldier behind Smitty that caused him to look down only to see the tip of a Thompson open fire from where it had been inserted under his arm, and to the hand that grabbed the back of his neck to fling him back out of the mouth of the cave just as the grenade the Japanese officer was holding in his upraised hand fell free and detonated.

Okinawa Beachhead

Okinawa Beachhead

To the story he told of when the zeros buzzed the Okinawa beachhead and he took (he thought) two shots in his arm, to the medic that bandaged him up and secured his arm to his side so he could, with the help of another soldier that was wounded in the opposite arm, still manage to assist in moving wounded on stretchers for the remainder of the hours of fighting that ensued. Only after which did he think to seek out a field surgeon to actually get treatment, where they discovered the third shot that had gone right through his lower abdomen.
Upon hearing the shot was more than 4 hours old and seeing where it passed, the triage nurse pronounced him essentially ‘already dead’ and went to attend to other ‘more hopeful’ patients. Obviously he was not about to settle for this and had to argue considerably to even be treated due to all the other wounded on the beach. He was made to wait even longer and eventually wheeled in to a dirty side room, given no anesthesia, cut the length of his side and ‘sloshed back and forth’ with a liquid poured into the incision that he described as having the look and smell of urine. (it wasn’t, but was some low-frills antiseptic that they could justify ‘sparing’ on a ‘dying man’)
He showed us the scars including the marks where they had sewn him back up with wire staples, as they didn’t want to waste any sinew on him either, hoping to spare it for men they actually thought could be saved.
And here’s to that stubborn man who passed out only to wake up 3 hours later in a hospice wing of a makeshift tent, damned them for leaving him to die and walked back into the OR where he finally received proper sutures and ultimately got a real bed in intensive care to continue his recovery.
(rest in peace Smitty! And thanks for the hand made net, it’s still one of my most prized possessions)

And here’s to Kenny from Spud farm who told us of how he was on board the USS Franklin when a Japanese Kamikaze nearly broke her in two.

USS Franklin listing

How he and some of his shipmates had to navigate a catwalk on the backside of the control tower to avoid the flames, suspended on nothing but a 6″ ledge more than 4 stories above the ocean. About how he turned just in time to see one of his best friends for the very last time falling to the ocean below after a secondary explosion shook the whole ship.
Here’s to the three hours he spent in near freezing waters after the second kamikaze hit sent him into the frigid waters as well. And to the simple apple that helped keep him alive – as when he would grow tired and almost give up, he would see the apple bobbing 2-3 wave crests away, just briefly enough to give him something to keep swimming after.
Here’s to the guys that eventually showed up to scoop up the dead bodies onto their already overflowing flatboat, only to tell Ken that they would send a crew back for him as they had no room. And here’s to them agreeing to pick him up after hearing him say “if you do that, you’ll be picking me up instead along with the rest of the dead!” (try to imagine that ride back, where the only room is on top of the bodies!)

Here’s to Mike who’s story I almost didn’t want to include as I didn’t want to make him look bad, but the state of mind it details I doubt anyone reading could imagine doing otherwise.
Still trying to shake off the experiences of combat, he decided to accept an invitation to ‘relax’ by going hunting on a friend’s private property. As he walked to his blind, some ‘slob’ who was trespassing and poaching on this friends private land, apparently thought it was a good idea to shoot at any sound of movement.
Being fresh out of the service, Mike told us (trying to be funny but still showing in his face how much it disturbed him) the sound of the shell hissing by his head caused instinct to take over and the next thing he knew, he was hiding behind a 5″ ball of dirt and had emptied his shotgun in the direction of the fired ‘near miss’. (fortunately enough missing as well)

US Marine Escort near Baghdad

US Marine Escort near Baghdad

(thank you Mike for teaching me your variant of Darwin’s rule, “people that are prone to do stupid, dangerous or self-destructive things…. should!”)

Here’s to my cousin Jim who also didn’t go into a lot of detail about his experience in Iraq, but did comment on the frustration he and his other marines had when coming within sight of Baghdad during Desert Storm – only to be pulled back at the last minute. I still remember the certainty in your words back then that “we should have been allowed to finish, we’ll only end up having to come back”.

To my namesake Webster Abial Wood who dodged musket fire and cannon balls at Gettysburg in the war to preserve our union. Who at first I wondered about his ‘bravery’ as he was a member of the drum core and played the fife in the 24th Michigan band.

Thomas Nasts Drummer Boys

Thomas Nast’s Drummer Boys

That is until I read more on the civil war… about the battles on fields covered in white smoke from black powder muskets and cannons. Story after story where men wrote in their diaries of looking to their immediately left and immediately right to barely make out just one of their fellow soldiers through the smoke and to hear the pace of the drum to match their steps as they had been trained. The drums marking the pace to keep the line in step, the steady beat as a heart to the line signifying their ranks had not been broken. And the stories of returning fire where the sounds of the ‘enemy’ drums and the bugles on the other side of the field often gave you the only point of aim through opaque clouds of smoke.
To stories of friends, neighbors and brothers meeting as opponents in our nations bloodiest war, but still being civil enough to pass letters, foodstuffs and other token items in small boats across the blood stained rivers separating their lines after the sun set and fighting subsided for the night.
And to the knowledge of Webster leading the army band for the melancholy honor of playing for an assassinated president’s funeral procession in Illinois.

Here’s to my grandfather ‘Woody’ who also didn’t speak to much around me about his time in the first world war while in the Navy. But who raised my father and consequently passed on to me an understanding of the values that made this country great and an appreciation for the men that helped make it that way.

—-

You may have noticed by now what I already eluded to. These men would tell stories of the good times, of the times before the war or immediately after. Of things that happened only to them where they got out alive in spite of adversity. But many of such a story would bring up a name, or refer to a person and the story would finish, the men would either bow their heads or stare off into space and go silent for a long time. After which they would turn to one another as only their fellow veterans could understand, raise their glasses “To them!”

There was yet another theme that ran through the stories as well. I ran across an interesting quote yesterday from none other than George Orwell:

All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.

All the men I named believe in their country, treasure their freedom and would fight for it with their lives. Some of them signed up voluntarily out of a sense of duty and honor, others out of little more than need and no where else to go, and still others were drafted and answered the call. None wanted to repeat their ‘unspoken’ experiences, but I have no doubt any one of them would join up with such a cause again if the need arose and our country was threatened.

But don’t be mistaken!

The only man standing is in a wheelchairAs every one of them told their stories, it was easily understood. When they were in the line of fire, on the front lines and in the middle of a firefight, they no more fought for ideals of freedom or country then they did out of a sense of duty or honor. No, they fought for their fellow soldiers – their friends, and for the hope that someday soon they would be home with people they loved.

So most of all, here’s to the men I never met, to the stories I never heard, to the laughs we never made about the good times. Here’s to the horrors I never learned from those that did return, from the stories they kept to themselves and their sleepless nights. Here’s to the silent moments, the hung heads and the solemn toasts. Here’s to the old man in his dress uniform shedding a tear over some memory only he holds – always trying to keep it out of his mind but making sure he never forgets. Here’s to the unknown soldiers in the unmarked graves on battlefields far away, and to the events that never made best sellers or Hollywood movies.

I never met any of you, never heard your stories but be damn sure, I will never forget you!
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(a true story within a true story)

During my college years, I helped earn a little extra money as a lead singer with a couple of local bands. The first regular working band I had the good fortune to become front man for was a long-standing local band that rose to local fame in the 60s with the same guitarist, Jeff Williams and a band of his namesake known as Jeff & the Atlantics. Jeff was an everyday sort of guy who had no problem not taking himself too seriously.

One night as we were enjoying a few drinks an hour or so before our gig was scheduled to start, Jeff told a story of something that had happened to him a few weeks before. He said he went out to his mailbox and there was a package waiting for him there. He wasn’t expecting anything, so he took it in the house and opened it up to find an LP of ‘Ray Stevens’ Greatest Hits’.

415MQPCG5ZL

Now, nothing against Ray Stevens.  I happen to like some of his stuff, and have even been known to post a couple of them on Facebook – both the old stuff and the new stuff. It is also important to point out that this story occurred in the 90s – well between Stevens’ earlier days of fame in the 60’s and 70’s and well before he made a resurgence with patriotic parody songs in the 2000’s.

Needless to say, Jeff was confused and thought that perhaps someone was playing a joke on him or bought him the gift as a gag. But despite asking around, no one wanted to own up to buying it. A week or so passed, and Jeff got his credit card statement only to find a charge for the album.

At first he was ready to get angry because he had been charged for the album. But then he went on to tell us that with some thinking back, he vaguely recalled coming back home after a night that involved some considerable drinking and not being able to get to sleep. So he turned on one of the local UHF television channels and also vaguely recalled seeing an ad for ‘Ray Stevens’ Greatest Hits’ and then thinking that ordering a copy might be a great idea!

As Jeff finished telling the story and we all had a good laugh, I proposed a toast. I raised a glass and said:

“Here’s to never having your career depend on the late night buying decisions of people too drunk to remember them!”

Before we could start drinking, Jeff in his typical humble fashion added:

“And here’s to never having your career end up with you being so drunk that forgot you were the buyer!”

 


Epilogue:

As an aside, despite Jeff settling into his local-legend status and focusing on making a living instead of a starry-eyed pursuit of fame, among the songs he became known for locally included a song called ‘Gino is a Coward’ where he and his [all-white] band backed a well known local [black] artist by the name of Gino Washington.
Gino ended up gaining more notoriety for himself and Jeff by continuing to promote his former hits such that they had a resurgence both locally and in Europe again in the late 90s and early 2000’s on the oldies and nostalgia charts.

Here are a few Jeff & the Atlantic’s links:

(YouTube)

(I compiled all I could find currently on youtube into a single playist)

(other)

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(written as a response to a view that too many people texting on cell phones is bad)

The Jacquard Loom

Jacquard LoomIn 1801, a guy named Joseph Marie Jacquard invented a new machine called a ‘Jacquard loom‘ to simplify the process of manufacturing textiles with complex patterns. He based his machine upon designs of earlier inventors but was the first accredited with perfecting the concept. The machine he invented was controlled by a card that had holes punched into it to tell the machine what threads to use to create pre-determined patterns on the fabric it created.

Although the loom did not manipulate the information on the cards in any way but simply used it as a set of instructions to follow, this invention is now retrospectively looked upon as one of the first primitive forms of computer programming and is definitely the first use of a technology later re-introduced for the very purpose of programming the early main frame computers which used nearly identical punch cards to enter information into the silicone based programmable computing machines.

The period of time known as the Industrial Revolution quickly followed the introduction of this device and other similar inventions such as Eli Whitney‘s cotton gin in 1794 (also hailed for the first well known application of interchangeable, uniform component parts and leading to the creation of cotton mills), Edmund Carwright‘s 1784 invention of the power loom that helped lead to the Jacquard device, Paul Moody‘s 1828 creation of the  leather-belt-and-pully transmissions (later dubbed a ‘line shaft‘) which became a standard in many mills.

These innovations along with the eventual invention of mechanical ‘sewing machines’ in the mid to late 1800’s when combined with improvements in transportation, sanitation and communications virtually created a fashion industry, brought people cheap, affordable, high quality clothing and improved lives as well as made fortunes around the globe.

Luddites and Luddite-ism

Perhaps you have heard the term ‘luddite‘ used to describe people opposed to technology? Were you ever made aware of where that term came from?

Luddites is a term coined from the name of Ned Ludd. It was originally applied to textile artisans who were opposed to the use of the mechanical and programmable looms in early 19th century England around the time of the introduction of the Jacquard and other power loom devices.

Ned Ludd allegedly destroyed a couple of these machines a quarter of a century before the discontented textile craftsman began their protests and thus was seen to symbolize the ‘machine destroyers’ and his name used to identify them. Of all places for those protests to begin, they got their start in none other than Nottingham, England and many modern mythologies sprung up by those in the movement depicting Ludd as a modern day Robin Hood, even going so far as alleging he lived in Sherwood Forest. And of course, there are many similar examples of people who have opposed various technologies (and gained notoriety as a result) throughout the ages.

Breaking the Frames

I already alluded to the influence the punch card loom had in leading to digital programming. It is not a stretch to say that the introduction of mass produced textiles is far reaching throughout our modern society. It led to not only cheaper and more cloth based goods and products, but influenced hygiene and health care and has improved just about every other modern industry in one form or another.

As with most things, there is a good and a bad potential in any of them. But the possibilities of the use of technology are enormous! Some accredit the cotton gin and power loom with increasing the practice of slavery. Many still today accuse clothing manufacturers of facilitating child labor and sweat shops in third world nations. (there was such a story about a factory fire in Bangladesh just yesterday, and initial reports are claiming it to have been industrial sabotage)

I don’t know about you, but I’m not really interested in going back to wearing dried and stretched animal skins or very expensive, hand-loomed silks as my primary form of clothing. And I’m not about to give up my cell phone either.

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These are a couple of short parables (and a true stories) depicting a brief history of the nature of religion(s)

Homeless God(s)

When early man first conceived of God he saw him in the beasts and the trees and the rocks.

But soon man learned to make hammers break open the rocks, weapons and tools to hunt and carve the flesh of the beasts and still other tools to harvest the plants and trees for food, fuel and building materials.
He found no gods inside them.

So man decided that the Gods must obviously be in the distant lands and across vast the oceans.

But as man spread out he learned to build ships to cross wide the oceans and vehicles to travel to the distant lands.
And again he found no gods there.

So man stated that the Gods must therefore be under the seas and exist in the skies and even out in the heavens among the stars.

But again, man learned to devise capsules to venture under the seas and built machines to soar the skies and eventually made devices to peer into the heavens to see the distant stars and even rockets to visit the nearby planets.
And still he found no gods.

Now man has evicted his god(s) to a place outside of all reality itself, to a supernatural realm where no one can ever go unless the god(s) let them in. An imagined place in an alleged mystical realm outside of all that we know to exist.

I can’t help but wonder when we finally realize there is in fact nothing outside of reality, where we will send poor God to next?

The Religion that is Subjectivism

Way back at the dawn of man, some men who were older, perceived as wiser and smart enough to sound important would wander off into a mountain somewhere to think to themselves. They would ponder long and dream up many great sounding ideas then come back and speak to the masses in big sounding words and spew out complex theories about man and creation and the nature of the universe. And all the common folk who were too busy trying to please their slave drivers and maintain their meager lives to ponder such things would bow down to them saying ‘oh oh great wise one, tell us how to think, tell us how to behave, tell us more of the truths you have received through revelation!

Yet more amazing still is that 4000 or so years later, similar men who are older, perceived as wiser and smart enough to sound important now go off into the ivory towers of their universities to think to themselves. They also ponder long and dream up many great sounding ideas then come into the public and speak to the masses in big sounding words and spew out complex theories about man and creation and the nature of the universe. And the common folk who are too busy trying to please their employers and maintain their meager lives to ponder such things still bow down to them saying “oh oh great wise ones …..

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I resent Earth day. So I think it’s about time I had a good ole Earth-Day-Mirth-Day rant.274_cartoon_happy_earth_day_large

I resent Earth Day in part because I’ve been involved in countering animal “rights” and environmental extremist groups for over 2 1/2 decades and thus I am very familiar with both the green movement (and all of it’s predecessors) as well as Earth Day itself.  This nouveau populist pap  is a manufactured feel-good-bullshit day created by a bunch of ludite, anti-industrial marxists who perverted concern for the environment into a political cause to advance their own pet agendas and abrogate rights of free loving people around the world with one pseudo-science-crisis after another.

The other reason I despise the sentiment of Earth Day is because it gives all the lazy assholes who couldn’t give a flying rat’s butt what happens to that McDonald’s wrapper or the pop can they hurl out the car window during rush hour, an excuse to think because they ‘think green’ on and off a couple of times during the 18 waking hours of one day out of the year, that they are being environmentally friendly and responsible.

I have been involved in conservation and responsible use efforts since I was old enough to tag along with my father when he did the same. I am watching out for the environment every single day out of the year.

But these pompous, self-righteous, pretentious fuck heads more-often-than-not will curl their nose up at me when I tell them I actually hunt and fish rather than buying plastic windmills (made from oil byproducts) and synthetic clothing (made from oil by-products) and eating tofu (made from soy beans grown on land that could be used for habitat instead of growing their god damn tasteless bean paste), etc.

So every day for me is earth day bitches! Ya don’t like? Well guess what, on your precious Lenin’s birt… er I mean ‘earth day’….  that will now be my one day out of the year where I don’t do jack squat dick bupkiss, when I won’t stop to think about doo-wah-diddly-dip, and shall not think for a second about not making a big ass mess of anywhere I go!

In fact, I think I’ll take my gas guzzling SUV, drive a bigass long way tomorrow to go to public land, catch as many fish as I can stuff on a stringer, clean them right there in the lake and splay the fish entrails all over the futha mucking dock!

Natural? Ya want Natural? There’s a little bit of #($)@( “NATURAL” for ya !!!! that’s as #@()#($() natural as it gets mutha @(#!@#$@!

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I was listening to this address on the way home and found the first portion highly pertinent in this coming election cycle:

Ayn Rand Institute Multimedia Library

From Ayn Rand’s address “A Nation’s Unity” on October, 1972 at the Ford Hall Forum (click the graphic or link to hear the full audio of the address)

Every four years, at about this time, we begin to hear louder and louder appeals for national unity. We hear them between Presidential elections as well—particularly when something is about to be put over on us—though they are uttered in a more perfunctory manner.

Observe, however, that in recent years it has become fashionable to disparage unity, between elections, and to praise dissent as a kind of moral or patriotic duty. But the pattern of a Presidential election remains the same: first, there is a campaign in which the candidates denounce each other and seem to appeal to some sort of unstated principles; then, when the election is over, the appeals become, in effect: now let’s forget all about principles—national unity comes first.

This is, therefore, an appropriate time to examine the issue of national unity and to ask certain questions: Is such unity necessary? Is it possible? What makes it possible? What is the alternative? What are the consequences? The present election campaign offers many clues to the answers.

As in the case of many other errors or evils, today’s appeals for national unity are based on a perverted element of truth. It is true that, in order to exist as a nation, the large number of men who live in the same geographical area and deal with one another, must agree on some fundamental principle(s). And more: any two men who choose to deal with each other must have some sort of basic agreement, at least for the duration of their joint action. If you joined forces with another man in order to lift a heavy boulder, and you strained to lift it while he strained to push it down, nothing would come of both your efforts but failure, frustration, and—if the issue were important enough to both of you—the recourse to blows and mutual extermination.

The fact that in case of disagreement men can resort to physical force, i.e., to human destruction, is the reason why every human association is based on some sort of agreement, which is implemented by certain rules of conduct. An agreement, in this context, does not necessarily mean a common purpose: you may make an agreement with a neighbor that you will not attack him so long as he does not attack you—and if both of you abide by it, you are free to go your own ways and, perhaps, never see each other again. The fundamental agreement which is required of a nation is an agreement on the rules of peaceful coexistence. A territory inhabited by men engaged in perpetual conflicts, chronic fighting, physical violence, and general hatred of all for all, is not a nation nor a country, but a bloody mess. Internal peace and some sort of harmony are the precondition of the existence of a nation.

The big questions, however, are: Peace—at what price? Harmony—on what terms? Agreement—about what? And more: Can such terms and agreements be chosen arbitrarily? Can men choose any terms and make them work simply by wishing them to do so? Or are there objective factors which necessitate certain principles of human association, and defeat all others? In sum, the fundamental social question is: What principles should men agree upon in order to live and deal with one another?

The best way to answer questions of this kind is to start not with an enormous, floating abstraction, such as “society as a whole,” but with one member of society, the one you know best: yourself. Ask yourself: What rules of conduct would you be able and willing to accept in order to deal with your neighbors?

Let us say you are a young man who knows that he must work in order to support his life. You have a good job, a small family, and a home in the suburbs. Since you do not intend to stagnate, you maintain a certain financial and intellectual balance between the present and the future; you budget your money and your time: your money, to provide for your present needs and to improve your standard of living, For example, to pay off the mortgage on your home—your time, to do your present job well and to study in order to qualify for a better one. You like some of your neighbors, and you dislike others, but you are not afraid of any of them: they are not a threat to you, nor you to them.

This is the normal pattern of your life and you take it for granted, as if it were a fact of nature. But it is not. It took thousands and thousands of years to achieve it. Let us see what it depends on.

Suppose this country’s political system was changed. It was decided that the affairs of each community are to be determined at a monthly meeting of all it’s citizens – by general democratic vote, and that the rule of the majority is absolute – without limits or appeals. It would mean that you could be thrown out of your home and out of your community if the majority so voted. It would mean that you could be sentenced to die, if not liking your manners or your ideas, the majority so voted.

This is not fantasy. This was the social system of many Greek city-states – pure democracy, unlimited majority rule. Would you agree to accept it in the name of communal unity? No? Than would you agree to accept it on a much larger scale and by remote control?

Suppose it was decided but never announced openly and explicitly that the nation holds the absolute power of a Greek city-state. But since one cannot convene an entire nation to a monthly meeting, the people are compressed into groups representing various interests, and the government acts as arbiter and ruler – who listens to their clashing demands and enforces the will of those it deems to be representative of the public interest.

These groups are not elected. They are formed informally, spontaneously, democratically. Anyone is free to form them and to clamor demands for anything. How will you adjust to it?

First, there is a business lobby. But you don’t mind it, it helps your boss.

Then there is a labor lobby. But you don’t mind it – it helps you!

Then there is a farm lobby. But you don’t notice it. It is too remote from your activities.

Then a neighbor on the next block forms a group demanding better roads, and two blocks further a woman forms a group demanding better schools.

Another group demands ‘free lunches‘ for all school children and a rival group demands ‘free textbooks‘.

Your windows are smashed one night by a group of the ‘local juvenile delinquents’ or ‘problem adolescents‘. They show non-negotiable demands which you cannot quite untangle, but you gather it has something to do with ‘Youth Power’.

The residents of the local old-folks home form a group demanding ‘Senior-citizen power’.

The old-maid file clerk at the office – that you can’t stand because she can’t keep the files straight – is given a promotion with the help of a group that demands the liberation of women.

You have no time to keep track of it all. You notice only that your taxes keep rising and rising, and your money keeps buying less and less.

You are late getting to the office one morning because the local ‘welfare recipients’ group lies stretched out across the highway demanding a yearly income greater than half of your’s. You slam on your breaks just in time to avoid running over the group’s leader: a lady known as ‘fatso’ who has 12 children and no visible husband.

You had planned to have three children but you decided to wait a little for the third one – you cannot afford them.

A long haired, young man forms a group to forbid anyone to have more than two children, and a short haired young woman forms a group to forbid abortion and the use of contraceptives.

There’s a group that demands the display of sexual intercourse on the screen and another group that demands censorship of all movies above the intellectual level of a 6 year old. So you give up going to the movies.

You fall behind in your mortgage payment but your property taxes keep rising and rising. You consider giving up your house and renting one in a new development five miles away. But a local ‘birdwatchers’ group is suing the developer, demanding that the land he cleared be turned into a public park.

Your boss has promised you a promotion: the job of managing a new branch factory he is planning to build in your district. But he does not build it. The lady who used to have the local poetry club now has a group that demands the preservation of the beautiful ‘swamp’ he was going to kill.

Then, an educational group decrees that you cannot send your children to the local schools which so much of your property taxes has gone to pay for. So your children are bussed to a distant town: a daily trip of two hours going there, and another two hours coming back. This you are told will achieve ‘racial integration’.

You have never thought of it before, but you have become race conscious and try to untangle your own ancestry. You find it so mixed that you cannot qualify for any of the groups into which your community is [based]. The afro-americans, the chicano-americans, the italo-americans, the jewish americans, the irish americans, etc. And you … you are just a ‘mongrel-american‘. (so am I)

A title of which you would have been proud at one time but which is becoming ‘dangerous’. If you lose your job, there will be no preferential quota to help you get another one, and no way of knowing how many ‘ethnic’ applications will be pushed ahead of you. There will be no preferential quota for your son’s admission to a college when the time comes.

You are alone, unprotected, defenseless – and the only reason you know that you are living in a human society and not on a deserted island is the fact that your ‘taxes’ keep rising and rising.

How do you adjust? To whom and to what? The first thing to go is your future.

You can barely keep up with your current expenses. You have no way to plan ahead. If you try to save, you do not know which demands of which groups will eat up your savings in the form of new taxes and higher prices.

Why study to develop your skills? You do not know if you will ever get a better job or what new obstacles will spring up overnight or whether there will be anyone left to hire you.

You used to plan your course in terms of years. The range of your concerns shrinks to one year, then to one month, and then to next payday. You can see nothing beyond but a black void.

Strange things happen to a man without a future. You begin to act like the type of man you once despised.

You become sloppy at your job. You can barely summon the effort just to get by.

You get drunk too often. You buy a luxurious lawn mower which you have no time to use and you quarrel with your wife over the expensive cut of lamb chops she bought for dinner.

And when you hear a seedy lecture at the group meeting that declares that Horatio Alger’s stories are a myth, [and claims] that man cannot rise by individual effort and ability, you applaud defiantly and beligerently.

Oh yes! You have joined a group! You have joined several groups.

You do not know exactly what they stand for but they talk of community action and mutual protection and they denounce other groups. You do not know clearly which ones or why. You had tried to get it clear but gave up.

Everytime you read the newspaper or listen to the snarling voices on television, things grow murkier.

You do not know by what steps your attitude toward your neighbors has changed. You have begun to watch them suspiciously.

Whenever you see two of them in a heated discussion or observe several cars parked in front of a house you feel a touch of anxiety. You do not know what they might be up to, what ‘new group’ might be formed and what it will do to you.

You learn to feel ‘fear’. You are afraid of your neighbors – of any human being.

You are afraid to speak. You smile and you agree with everyone you meet.

You are afraid to think.

One day, you discover that what you feel for men … is hatred.

In that moment, you wonder ‘what has happened to your neighbors?’ They were decent people once – you remember vaguely. They did not act like wild packs, scrambling to get at one-another’s throats – and pockets!

You do not know how many of them are wondering the same thing about you.

You know only that there was a time when the local bird watcher, and the problem adolescent and the poetry-club ladies and ‘Ms fatso‘ were of no danger to anyone – but now they are! Why were they better in the past?

If someone answered:

Because – they – did – not – have – a – GUN!

you would not understand it.

You have come to believe that people are no good and that force is the only practical way to deal with them, since ‘reason’ – they all tell you – has failed.

You cannot cope with the enormous complexity of an entire nation’s problems. You have no way of knowing – you conclude – who is right or wrong, so let some groups force others and re-established order.

No one has explained to you that the ‘golden rule’ applies to politics. If certain conditions of social existence are unacceptable and unbearable to you, you cannot expect others to accept them and make them work. And what these conditions do to you, they do to society as a whole.

Do you agree to accept a social system of this kind?

It is of course, the system under which we are living today, but which we have never ‘chosen’.

It is important to consider it now because, in the coming presidential election one of the candidates is asking us to agree – and in the name of ‘national unity’ – explicitly to accept the principle that society has an unlimited power, and that our lives belong to the state!

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Imagine the following headline:

Madoff schill sues fellow victims for damages

You’d probably think the guy was nuts wouldn’t you? You’d probably think he has no basis for a case. You’d probably be right.

Bernie Madoff was tried and convicted for what has been dubbed the ‘largest ponzi scheme in history‘. The scheme cost his investors a combined 18 billion dollars in losses and earned Madoff a 150 year sentence on 11 different federal felony charges.  The victims only have Madoff (and their own lack of due diligence) to blame.

Yet many argue that Madoff is in fact not the perpetrator of the ‘largest ponzi scheme in history’. Some suggest (with growing evidence) that this title goes to the US government and relates to the ‘Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program’ – aka ‘Social Security’ – originally put in place as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s New Deal.

Not too long ago, I wrote the story “The S.S. Administration” after realizing that modern politicians seem totally spineless when it comes to pointing out the obvious pending failure of what has become the worlds largest ‘pay-as-you-go’ scheme.  They are more interested in being re-elected and therefore will not touch these programs despite the huge and growing burden that they are placing on the American economy.

A lot of political clout and lobbying power lies in senior groups tied to the growing number of ‘baby-boomer’ retirees through organizations such as AARP and others. Yet despite huge criticisms of ‘special interest’ PACs and lobbyists, groups such as the AARP and similar organizations often get a pass on these criticisms and the notion of denying social security benefits to seniors is considered a poison pill by almost all politicians.

The notion that someone has paid into a system their whole lives is a noble one to uphold.  These people have worked hard under the promise of receiving retirement benefits.  Many (at least until recent generations) planned their lives around an expectation of receiving Social Security benefits. (to an extent, the same applies to Medicare and Medicaid, especially in that many companies as well as government pensions have dropped individual medical coverage in retirement plans in favor of these programs)  And of course, none of us want to see these people suffer or be denied coverage that they paid into with good faith and the promise to receive a reward.

But, are these people any different than the victims of Madoff and his fraudulent  investments?  Is it any less ridiculous to hold current and future generations responsible for the fraudulent scam of pandering politicians?

Don’t shoot the messenger

Now, I’m sure anyone past or nearing retirement age is probably going to get really pissed at me for daring to suggest that they are S.o.L. when it comes to receiving their benefits – but in fact I am saying that you ‘should’ be S.o.L. when it comes to paying your benefits.

Many people in ‘my’ generation have lived for some time with little or no expectation of ever receiving any benefits whatsoever from the social security program despite being forced to pay into the program just as our retire-age citizens had. Many people my age are asking – and in some cases demanding – the ability to ‘opt out’ so they can invest [all of] their money themselves.

Irony in Age

Amazingly enough, the most vocal folks speaking out against entitlement programs such as welfare and disability are the older generations. Yet these same generations cannot see the similarities between the Madoff victims, retirees and welfare recipients.

You got scammed – you got scammed by politicians – but not by our younger generation.

When you realize that the system as it stands today is a sham and a fraud akin to the Madoff investment mess, the expectation of retirees to receive their checks from government (and ultimately from the current working class) is [almost] as ridiculous and offensive as the welfare worker or the person claiming a disability check.

I feel for you, but you are not entitled to my salary.  We, the young, have learned from your mistakes. Don’t blame us – blame the guy(s and gals) that sold you on the fraud in the first place.  And blame yourself for not seeing through it earlier.

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There was an old sinner in the eighteenth century who declared that, if there were no God, he would have to be invented.
– Fyodor Dostoyevski from Brother’s Karamazov

Often misattributed as “”If God does not exist, everything is permitted,” this is a contention that is either stated or implied in a lot of pro-religion arguments. Namely, that without religion as a source of positive moral values — or at least without the unseen hand of God influencing the acts of men — good things and good behavior is not possible.  That in the absence of religion, society would be incapable of doing the right thing and existence would be downright intolerable.

Despite the fact that many periods in history seem to demonstrate that under one religiously influenced or empowered regime after another life has been quite intolerable indeed, you could still make a reasonable argument that in some primitive societies, religious values have served as a moral compass to help maintain order and improve behavior in such societies.  But what about modern society?

Argumentum ad Nauseum

If you have ever had the misfortune to get into a semantic debate on specific verses of the bible, you will often run into the various ‘interpretation’ arguments.

  • Was Jonah really swallowed by a fish?
  • Did Noah really have 2 of EVERY animal on earth on his ark as the ENTIRE planet was flooded?
  • Were there really giants living in Jericho?

Any semi-reasonable Christian or Hebrew will say ‘of course not!’ and point out that such lessons are allegorical or parables.

You also run into the anochronistic-relevancy type argument when addressing various rules or verses.  “Well that applied to tribal societies in the desert, not to modern life in a technological age.

The general answer that you get from people who admit to not taking the ‘entire’ bible as rote is that the stories told in the bible are often times symbolic or serve as period-specific lessons that can be related to real life, even present day scenarios.  (yet, the same people will often rely on ‘certain’ verses to the letter when addressing specific things they do not like and want to demonize or change)

But Jesus re-wrote the book!

Even if you buy into the argument that Jesus brought forth a new age via the New Testament, there are still many verses of that testament which people do not take literally or follow as absolute rules governing their behavior.

For example, you will not find many modern Christian women that abide by the verses in 1st Peter chapter 3 that tell them to be submissive to their husbands and not wear adornments such as jewelry and make-up or to style their hair.

Another example is the focus on ‘family values’ predominant in western Christianity which seems to disregard the message of Jesus to a gathering crowd in Luke 14:25-33.  He tells them that if you are to truly be a disciple of Christ, you must hate everyone else in comparison — even your own family and even your own life.

Yet another example is the complete disregard of the lessons of selflessness and altruism repeated throughout the preachings of Christ, but especially repeated in Acts and 2nd Corinthians.  Multiple passages implore the followers (of Christ) to sell all their belongings to give to the poor, often times based specifically on ‘need’.  You don’t see too many people on the religious right repeating these verses as they condemn the social redistribution policies of their political opponents on the left.

This differentiation between old testament vs. new testament dogma is just further support of the kind of thing that I am referring to.  Determining which verses are relevant and should be taken literally and which are symbolic or dated and should only serve as a metaphorical lesson are ‘choices’ — either of the individual believer or of the particular denomination or theologian.

It’s all a matter a choice

So what does this mean amidst a culture that often uses religion as a justification for banning gay marriage or effecting the healthcare decisions between a woman and her doctor?  What does it say for a society that still fights with pockets of antisemitism and a growing xenophobia toward followers of Islam? [1]  What does it say for a culture that still struggles between views of creationism and theories of evolution and natural selection?

The reality is that most people ‘will‘ tell you that verses in the bible are often symbolic or open to interpretation.  They ‘will‘ say many are allegorical in nature or speak of only references to philosophical or moral and ethical lessons and truths.  Yet, as mentioned, the religious will still cite specific references to support their arguments on various topics. Often when challenged on those topics.  And generally such notions are challenged due to a question as to the moral right or ethical good of a given behavior or philosophical view.

What I am getting at is, that when it comes to some choices regarding what the bible seems to regard as being a ‘good Christian’ — such as selling all of your possessions, disowning your family and humbling yourself before God — the ‘believer’ makes a choice to disregard those parts of the Bible that do not suit them or the culture and age in which they live. They choose to see such concepts as metaphorical.  The same person then abdicates their choice in reference to other passages, deferring to ‘the will of God’ in support of that which might not be as acceptable outside of the context of the religion.

When such a person skims through the Old Testament they choose to see the instructions to stone the infidels or to cut the throats of adulterers as ‘dated’ concepts but then call upon the lines in Deuteronomy to condemn same-sex relationships or rules in Leviticus to demonize abortion procedures and those that participate in their practice.

By their fruits you shall know them…

History is full of examples where religious ideals or specific biblical passages have been and still are used to justify genocide, slavery, segregation, rape, barbarism, sexual and racial discrimination and many other concepts that are no longer considered [chosen] to be acceptable today by the majority of civilized society.

The word ‘chosen‘ is the important thing here.  People choose what they seek to identify with as as good moral behavior or good ethical decision making.  And the religious choose to see a verse as a referential lesson rather than a firm law from God.  And when they do so, they choose to instead include observations of reality as a means to determine what really is truly good and what should be deemed bad.

The important thing to observe, which is why I keep repeating it, is that the same religious people will willingly quote from their book verbatim to justify that which they do not consider to be a choice — as justification for that which might be subject to challenge by the others in the society in which they live. They defer to the bible rather than exercise the responsibility to prove their case for those questions which are most likely to be seen by others in our society as questionable.

The ‘Good’ stems from choice, the bad relies on dogma

As someone who uses reality as a compass for my moral code, I am of course going to assert that when you utilize your senses and your capacity for reason that you will arrive at more accurate premises and conclusions when it comes to moral and ethical decisions. People can and should question anything presented to them ‘as fact’, seeking proof of said fact for themselves. (especially when such things come without a basis of evidence to support them)

Thus I think it is a reasonable thing to assert, religion is not a source of good moral behavior or sound ethical lessons.  Even the Christians demonstrate that they choose what is ‘good’ for themselves.  But when it comes to ‘bad’ behavior, what better source than the Bible (or the Torah, Koran, book of the Dead, etc.) to rationalize it, justify it and make it ‘seem’ reasonable.

In other words, people ‘choose’ what they see as good, they use the ‘bible’ to justify what others know is bad.

[1] Yes, I am aware that there are sound reasons to be critical of fundamentalist Islam and even Islam as a whole for not condemning the extremists under their fold.  But what I refer to specifically is, given the history of both Christianity and Judaism, do people speaking from either of those religious perspectives have the integrity to criticize Islam for fundamentalist extremes?

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I keep forgetting to finish this series so it’s about time I do the last installment….

continued from part 6

After waiting a couple of extra days following the events of 9/11 and volunteering the back seat of my bike, when the woman who was semi-interested finally got a ride from her family, I decided that it was about time to resume my plans to head back to Detroit.  (among other things, staying the extra two days cost me more money and was starting to dwindle my bank-reserve that was set aside for a shorter trip)

Tire wear

Motorcycle tire wear

Whereas my trip out there was planned to include the stops in Kansas via a southern route diagonally through Illinois then across southern Missouri, I had planned on taking I-80/90 back through Nebraska, Iowa and on to Chicago before taking I-94 the rest of the way back to the Detroit area.

One of the things I noticed before leaving was that the trip out, not to mention the week’s worth of extensive riding through Denver had worn my rear tire down until some of the steel cords were poking out in a few places.  (I’m sure the sideways riding through Kansas didn’t help this much nor the 15 mile long construction SE of Denver on the way into Colorado)  To make matters worse, as I get on the eastward expressway in Nebraska, almost the entire way across the state is corrugated pavement and there is about a 20 mph headwind (which was bizarre in itself as the wind would usually be going east bound but I was sandwiched between two storm fronts in spite of the fact the sky was blue from horizon to horizon)

The ride itself was surreal.  As I mentioned, on the way out being on a motorcycle with out-of-state plates and with a backpack strapped to the back seat tended to be a conversation starter at the hourly stops for gas.  Well now you were commuting on the expressways with a number of people that had to make impromptu trips to Denver to pick up loved ones.  Truck traffic also spiked because planes were still grounded so there were a LOT of OTR drivers out and about working extra-heavy schedules with tighter deadlines.

News was still coming in on a daily basis and since a couple of days had passed, most of the truck stops and gas stations along the expressway had adjusted to accommodate the OTR and other traveler’s demands for up-to-date information.  Every stop along the way had TV’s set on counters and hung in every corner – at least half-a-dozen or more per stop.  Just about every single stop.  And it was quickly obvious why.  Every TV had at least 4-5 people standing around it, mostly truckers and the occasional person on their way to get someone or on their way back with someone.

Listening to the radio for news only got them so far.  Everyone wanted to get the various television network news when they stopped in to get gas or to get food.  They were listening to the news and needed to ‘see’ whatever had been reported over the last few hours.

a10 thunderbolt

A-10 Thunderbolt

To make things further surreal, I kept getting a weird sense that something was out of sorts.  Nebraska was still big-sky country being reasonably flat, even though there seemed to be a few more intermingled trees and foothills from time to time.  A whole lotta blue over head on such a nice fall day.  It didn’t strike me what it was that was wrong until I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.  It was an A-10 Thunderbolt flying like a bat out of hell.  It suddenly hit me – no planes the sky, not a single contrail from horizon to horizon.  I saw one more A-10 before stopping for the night and the only other aircraft I saw was a blackhawk helicopter.

My hope for that leg of the trip was to make it to Omaha on the first day but by the time I was getting close to Lincoln, Nebraska the tires were showing significantly more wear than I had hoped.  I had to stop to try to get it fixed and wasn’t even sure if I had enough money to do it and still have gas money to get back home.  I had 2 checks waiting for me now when I got there, but they didn’t do me a lot of good when I was still three states away.

I pulled off in Lincoln after talking to someone at a rest stop and being told there was a cycle dealer off the second exit.  I saw a Motel 6 just as I pulled off and the cycle dealer was only a few blocks up.  Perfect!  I dropped the bike off and got an estimate on the tire then walked down to the Motel 6 with my backpack and laptop.

After getting a room I immediately hopped online and jumped into some of the chat rooms where some of the Detroiters I knew tended to hang out.  None of the regulars were in there, but there was someone I knew and when I explained the situation, she said she would help me out and that I could pay her back when I cashed my check upon arriving home.  When I picked up the bike the next day, we called her up and she put the cost of the tire on her credit card for me.

My other plan (besides trying to make Omaha) had been to try to get out extra early on the second morning but the process of getting the tire mounted held me off until about 11 AM Lincoln time (and I was ‘losing’ an hour of daylight by heading east this time).  To make matters worse, the second batch of cool and drizzly weather was starting to move in and I really wanted to get ahead of it as it looked like rather steady rain a day behind it.  When the tire was finally done, I hit the road and put the hammer down.

It had been cloudy since I woke up and the air was starting to cool down and there was an occasional drizzle of rain.  On my few stops, I kept doing the math on my gas.  The headwind in Nebraska had also used up a little more gas than I had wanted to use.  My budget was getting tighter and tighter.  I had so little money left that I was worried of not having enough gas to make Detroit.  My meal for the day literally consisted of a bag of chips and two cans of vienna sausages!  It was all I could afford with what cash I had left in my pocket.

I made one other miscalculation in my plans.  I didn’t realize that I-80 turned into toll-turnpike for about a 5 mile stretch before it joined with I-94.  I had no cash on me as I didn’t know I’d need it and I’d spent the last of what greenbacks I had to catch dinner in Lincoln and to get the vienna sausages and chips.  I had to sign a ‘voucher’ to the city of Chicago in order to be able to get through the toll booth and then send in payment after I got home! lol

Heat!

By the time I got into SE Michigan, nightfall was already creeping in and the air was cooling down.  Before I was even out of St. Joseph County, I had to pull over at the first rest area and pull some of my extra clothes out of my bag and layer up.  The temperature had dropped down into the lower 50’s and a mist was rolling in as night fell.  The combination of the colder temps, the moisture ever present on my skin and clothing and the air rushing by made it near intolerable!  By the time I was going through Albion I was freezing my ass off and had to keep stopping at every rest stop to blast the air dryers down my shirt and pants!  It must have been quite a site.

I ended up rolling into Wayne at around 3am.  I think I mentioned I was just staying in a temporary ‘motel’ at the time after a nightmare with a psycho-roommate.  I didn’t want to wake up the folks that ran the place so I just camped out in car until morning, got my checks and got back into a room.

I met up with my friend and paid her back a few days later.  A week or so after that, I moved out to my current residence in Ypsilanti.  I don’t remember if I ever sent the money to the Chicago turnpike or not!  lol

All in all, it was quite a trip that makes for quite a story!

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I have engaged in an interesting chain of discussions lately that led to an further interesting chain of thoughts.

One of the first conversations dealt with the American Civil War and the effects it had on the 9th and 10th amendments, state’s rights and federalism.  One of the responses from someone at work to this comment was that it started long before, and that basically the civil war was just a final nail in the coffin.  And it is true, the fight between Federalists and Anti-Federalists started very early in our country’s history and led to the adoption of the Bill of Rights as well as it’s inclusion of those two amendments.

A subject that seems to come up a lot lately is the nature of the Federal Reserve system and possibly putting an end to it.  Yet problems with central banks aren’t new either.  Andrew Jackson fought against the National Bank (founded with help from Alexander Hamilton) for reasons very similar to what we are hearing today in regards to the Federal Reserve.

Other discussions ongoing over the last few years focus on the ‘redistribution of wealth‘ issues.  These too have included reference as far back as the founding fathers, even going back to church dogma in the gospels of Christ and before.

Another, more recent conversation focused on the ‘great unwashed’ speaking of people who tend to abdicate individual responsibility to instead follow charismatic leaders.  Instead of thinking for themselves, they echo whatever viewpoints ‘feel’ the most compelling to them.  This discussion focused on the fact that such people always seem to exist and without compelling them in the right direction, even the best ideas of morals, ethics, governance and the like will never have success.

In other words, ignore the people who act as sheep and someone else may not be as willing to ignore them and may ultimately sway them against you.  Looking back over time, the method of governance historically speaking, generally involves ‘popular’ movements and exercising of force.

The gist of the second discussion was that a sound government will not continue to exist if you cannot maintain popular opinion in support of it.  That opinion may be founded in the minds of irrational individuals who do not consider the philosophical issues and do not think beyond reciting what others say.  Being ‘right’ and ‘objectively accurate’ in both your arguments and conclusions will not do you a lot of good if no one listens to your arguments or shares those conclusions.  Or at least supports your right to exercise them freely.

Do all the right things, earn your own way, take responsibility for yourself and you will still be left with nothing if someone convinces a mob that they have the right to the results of your hard work.  Minding your own business will only take you so far.  You still need to live in a world where other people will ‘let’ you mind your own business.  To this end, it becomes necessary to play a role in influencing public opinion as a facet of your own self-interest. (whether it be ‘right’ or not that you need to do so.  Is what is – wish all you want, an inspired mob can still overpower a righteous individual by force)

Thus came up the subject in these discussions, “if these forces have been at play for so long, why are they becoming an issue ‘now’?”  And by ‘now’ in that context, I refer to the past century.

If you take the end of the Civil war as a general turning point, you can see a steady, downward trend in state’s rights, individual rights, individual freedoms and expanding government.  Sure, you can see some forms of it before that, but the rate of change seems to be increasing.

There was Theodore Roosevelt and the introduction of progressive policies, the adoption of the 16th amendment establishing a federal ‘income tax’, Woodrow Wilson and the Federal Reserve Act,  Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal, Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Great Society, James Earl Carter and the creation of the Department of Education all way up to ObamaCare.

So why is it becoming more problematic within the last 100 years? What I arrived at was one word.  ‘Frontiers

All those things I listed above followed the expansion of the US over geography of what pretty much constitutes the modern US borders.  Prior to that chain of events occurring, there were still large expanses of unclaimed, undeveloped or otherwise frontier based land.

Why is this important?  Well, if you didn’t like what government was doing in your particular state or part of the country, you could pack up your bags, load up your wagon and head for the American Frontier to take your chances and start anew.  We’ve all heard the stories about the ‘Wild West” – all the stories about people creating their ‘own law’ or being outright lawless, all the stories romanticizing the good guy vs. the bad guy, the black hats vs. the white hats, even the frontiersman vs. the native savages (with all due respect to native Americans, I refer more to the symbolism of the civilized/rational world versus a barbaric/primitive world view).

But now the frontiers are gone.  People and nations are forced to draw their lines in the sand.  Yeah, these forces against individual freedom and liberty have always existed, but we are running out of places to go to get away from it.  People are increasingly being confronted with the nature of government as they can no longer escape it.

I’d like to make a few predictions.  If new frontiers open, be they space or living on/in the oceans or in the sky, people will flock to them in droves to form newer, freer societies.  If new frontiers do not open, it will result in the ultimate confrontation between the state and the individual – and will suck the entire world into that fight.

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