Smart Homes. Dumb People.

Even though I work in technology, I often find it hard to understand the push to involve technology in everything. Recently, our refrigerator failed, for about the third time in a year. That means, of course, perusing for a replacement. These days, they have fridges with screens embedded in them, that connect to wifi and allow you to do things with the refrigerator. They come with embedded cameras, food management software telling you when you need to throw things out, or when things are approaching expiration dates.

Whatever.

Maybe some folks like that stuff, or feel the need to pay more for it. More than likely, it’s a keepin’ up with the Joneses thing. You go into a house, and it has all the latest fancy gadgets and whatzits, all covered in stainless steel. Or, perhaps, the new rage “black stainless” or “dark slate” stainless. It all seems rather silly.

However, with recent revelations surrounding the Alphabet Agencies and the strong possibility that they’ve been spying on American citizens, it is no longer merely silly.

It’s utterly stupid.

Even if the Alphabet Agencies are ultimately absolved of this charge, it is clear that backdoors have been built into devices for quite some time now. And you will find that it is not merely manufacturers, software companies, and the government that are using them.

Take a gander at this: Smart TV hack embeds attack code into broadcast signal—no access required

So-called Smart TVs are becoming a problem as well, as hackers can brick them, or turn microphones and cameras (should your smart TV come equipped with them) against you. The “Internet-of-Things” is proving to be a sieve.

The hacks underscore the risks of so-called “Internet of Things” devices, the vast majority of which are given network access and computing functionalities without being adequately secured. TVs and other Internet-connected appliances almost universally lack application sandboxing and other exploit mitigations that are a standard part of computer and mobile operating systems. Even worse, most devices run old versions of Linux and open source browsers that contain critical vulnerabilities. While patches are generally available on the Internet for the individual components, manufacturers rarely give customers a way to install them on the devices in a timely way.

Think about it. When is the last time most folks even bothered to update the apps on their phone? Now consider that there are refrigerators that would now need to be considered in security terms. Your average John Doe does not think to update his fridge, or worry overmuch about whether or not it is secure.

Take the Samsung Smartcam, which recently suffered a major security vulnerability. A casual buyer is likely to trust the Samsung brand.

Consider, also, The Fappening, when various celebrity cloud accounts were hacked, and the nudes distributed across the Internet.

Now we have the proliferation of devices like Alexa and Echo which are designed to listen to your commands and do things with that data. Are people going to be fastidious about checking on the security of their smart speakers?

Some of these devices, of course, automatically update themselves, and remain reasonably secure from casual hacking. But then you have to consider a different threat for those devices which are secure: the company selling you the device, or providing you the service.

Right now, there is a bill that passed Congress which supposedly allows ISPs to sell your data to the highest bidder. Here’s the catch, though, according to the EFF: these companies were already doing it.

The GOP tells us that this is a case of regulatory overreach, and they may actually be correct about this, because the existence of the regulatory regime has done little to nothing to stop this behavior from occurring. Although, I will say right away that the optics of this bill are very worrisome.

But whether or not the bill will have an effect, positive or negative, the fact remains that your service providers have already been caught selling this data, or using it in ways you didn’t expect. You can’t trust them.

Now, imagine they have your browsing history, they know how much food is in your fridge, what you watch on TV, who you call, and who you text… Go buy some more Pepsi, says the ad on your fridge, because we know you’re out.

This is a gold mine, for companies, for government, for Alphabet Agencies within the government (who may very well be at odds with the elected government), foreign governments (the Left likes to blabber about Russia, but I’d be more concerned about the Chinese), and for black hat hackers looking to screw you over.

Is all of that risk really worth your fridge telling you that 3-week old leftover Chinese takeout should go in the garbage? I’d argue not. Do a simple risk/reward calculation on this. It’s not worth it.

So what do you do? Here are few ideas:

1. Buy “Dumb” hardware. Dumb fridges, dumb TVs (or buy Smart TVs where the “smart” portion can be disabled – at the very least, don’t connect it to wifi).

2. If you must have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Kodi, Plex, or anything similar on your TV, consider getting a separate device like a Fire Stick, or a Roku, or a “Compute Stick” from Intel. They are cheap, and if a hacker bricks it, at least you aren’t out a whole TV. Power it off when not in use. Occasionally clear it, reset it back to factory specs and reload your apps.

3. Clear your phones of pretty much everything extra installed by the manufacturer. If you’ve some technical skill, consider wiping the OS and installing from scratch. Cynogen used to be my preferred choice in the Android ecosytem. It’s gone, now, but Lineage was forked from it in the dim mists of Android history. Consider that. If you don’t have the skill (don’t even try it if you question this), just clear everything optional you can from the phone.

4. Use proxies for your Internet browsing. Tor is reasonably easy to use these days.

5. Make sure you carefully screen new applications and software for possible hidden monitoring. Companies like to bury this in their disclaimers. Usually you can find information on the software you want to use on the Internet.

6. Don’t buy any of those smart home systems and “smart speakers” like Echo or Alexa. That’s a disaster waiting to happen.

7. If you don’t have a very compelling reason to buy any “smart” device, don’t do it.

8. Make sure you use strong passwords, both on your accounts and on your wifi router.

This won’t stop every possible way someone with malicious intent could screw with you, but it will severely limit the damage, and, in the same way a car with a few anti-theft devices will deter casual thieves, so will this eliminate casual data theft, spying, and hacking.

The Internet of Things is a spaghetti strainer when it comes to security. It’s a mess. Best not to dive too deep into it, if you can avoid it. After all, three week-old Chinese food is generally pretty good about notifying you it’s gone bad all on its own.

Some Humor for the Day: A Power Supply Review

So the vendor kept notifying me that I should review my computer part purchases, which I did… except for the power supply. Because it’s a power supply. Really, who cares? The vendor, apparently. So I decided to give the vendor a review for the product (we’ll see if it passes the censors), but Hell, why not have a little fun, right? Be careful what you wish for…

RMx_850_01

Pros:
– It’s a power supply
– It works

Cons:
– It’s a power supply
– It didn’t come with a bevy of hot girls

Other Thoughts:
In my lifetime, I’ve reviewed a lot of tech products. And for some of them you might discuss the performance metrics, the compatibility issues, or even how much LED bling is plastered all over it — because, as everybody knows, the PC market desperately needed to turn into a close facsimile of the ricer community. Next, these folks will put chrome tips on their exhaust ports, and some enterprising wannabe Jedi will come along to deliver a proton torpedo straight up the…

…Well, you get the idea.

So what can I say about this power supply? The Corsair RMX850X works properly. It has modular cables, which are black, and that’s good, because we all know what system building was like during the days of IDE cables and power supply rat nests. What idiot thought up sticking random useless cables on every power supply they sold, anyway? And why did they have to come in multicolor, like Picasso smoking weed and throwing up all over the canvas? “What’s that a painting of, O master of incomprehensible art?” “Why, my young apprentice, some time in the distant future, engineers will make ratty looking contraptions called ‘power supplies’ that will look something like multicolored wire vomit.” “O Master… can I have some of that [expletive deleted] weed you’ve been smoking?”

But hey, you buy this power supply, and you don’t have to deal with it. The wiring is so black, it’s speaking Samuel L. Jackson to me. “I’m tired of these [expletive deleted] snakes on this [expletive deleted] plane!” That’s right, you buy yourself an RMX850X, and your PSU is Samuel L. Jackson.

Now, let me tell you what you get when you open the box. This power supply is so Samuel L. Jackson, it comes with fancy black bag with drawstring surrounding it. So you’ve got a perfect place to store your bling, and your cash if you ever take a job doing whatever Samuel L. Jackson was doing in Pulp Fiction. Not every power supply comes in a velvet bag, you know. And then you get some cables, which are nice if you actually plan to build a computer with it.

The voltages looked good. But unless you’re buying bargain basement stuff that even the Chinese outsource because it costs too much to make, you’ll get decent voltages. So that’s kind of expected these days. I guess there’s no real cons with the RMX850X, except that when you buy a Samuel L. Jackson power supply that comes in a velvet bag, inside a box *that* big, you kind of expect more. Like, if you opened that bag and a bevy of hot girls modeled your brand new PSU, delivered on a silver platter, with angels singing Pulp Fiction in the background like “Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. ”

But Corsair didn’t see fit to supply said hot bikini girls, for which I am mildly disappointed. For a moment, I thought I was going to get a cosmic experience, greater understanding of the universe, and some scantily clad supermodels begging to date me, because I was awesome enough to choose Corsair for my PSU business. And all I got was a working power supply in a fancy velvet bag.

But hey, it’s a good power supply.

See the Face of the Enemy

Tom Kratman has written more than a few pieces on the Progressive mindset, the sort of velvet-gloved tyranny they seek to impose on everyone else. But today’s column is a doozy. Observe:

A look through the enemy’s eyes, Part II

It ties in neatly with another piece I read this morning from the esteemed Daniel Greenfield: THE CIVIL WAR IS HERE.

For some time now, Leftists in California have made mouth noises about secession, though nothing has come out of that (nor do I expect it to). The reason is that Progressivism doesn’t desire peaceful coexistence. Progressives are unable to share power. Indeed, they are unable to share anything.

The notion that some folks of like mind might get together and form a country of their own is anathema to these people. They suffer no equals where power is concerned. It is all or nothing with them.

If you asked the average Southerner on the street what he thinks of California leaving the Union, he’d probably say something along the lines of “good riddance, the sooner they go, the better.”

Nothing is stopping Progressives in America from moving to Canada, or the European Union, or any place, really, that is more Leftist than America. Yet they stay. Why?

Daniel Greenfield explains for us:

This civil war is very different than the last one. There are no cannons or cavalry charges. The left doesn’t want to secede. It wants to rule. Political conflicts become civil wars when one side refuses to accept the existing authority. The left has rejected all forms of authority that it doesn’t control.

The Left wants to rule. It wants dominance across the entire world. They won’t leave the United States, nor secede their portion of the country from the rest, because they want absolute control over the entire Earth.

It’s about world domination, the old game of tyrants and would-be conquerors. It’s not about helping the poor, or the sick, or the disadvantaged. Just as World War I wasn’t about liberating the Serbs from Austria-Hungary.

It’s about defeating all opposing ideologies, and imposing a singular worldview on to every living human being. Naturally, the humans who fail to accept the program won’t be suffered to live.

Observer the glee Tom Kratman discovered in our enemy:

Another use is after the cops have drawn blood. Destruction of police vehicles via Molotov to the back seat and fuel intake is an effective way to escalate things. And watching police dance like a damned soul all aflame is still a beautiful thing.

Tom explains his own opinions on this man’s celebration of lighting people on fire:

“A beautiful thing” to burn someone alive, is it? I can see it being a necessary thing, in military terms, where necessary means little or nothing more than advantageous. But “beautiful” he says. And some people think it would be overreaction to shoot these people on sight. My ass.

Understand this clearly. To a Progressive of the Black Bloc persuasion, your violent, painful death is beautiful. Are you still concerned what they think of you? Does it still make you feel bad when one of these guys calls you a racist, or a sexist, or some other thing? They want to kill you.

Now, of course, the average garden-variety Leftist isn’t as overt as his Black Bloc ideological kin. And to be fair to him, he probably wouldn’t want to see you die, certainly not violently and painfully. But at the same time, he is willing to turn a blind eye to this violence, to make excuses for it, and to protect the guilty when they are caught.

But again, if he’s willing to allow this behavior, however tacitly and unofficially, does it matter what he thinks of you? Should you care about his opinion of you whatsoever?

Daniel Greenfield explains our choices:

The choices of this civil war are painfully clear.

We can have a system of government based around the Constitution with democratically elected representatives. Or we can have one based on the ideological principles of the left in which all laws and processes, including elections and the Constitution, are fig leaves for enforcing social justice.

But we cannot have both.

In other words, the options are to fight, or to embrace social justice in all particulars. Escape is no longer on the table. Secede isn’t on the table either. There is no where to run, and no legal recourse which the Left will respect.

The settling of our grievances has come to civil war. For now, the war is mostly a cold war, fought within the government itself, as Trump’s administration attracts the ire of almost every branch of the bureaucracy, media, and entertainment factions of the Progressive movement.

But don’t misunderstand, it is a war that could go hot at any moment. Best to be prepared.

If there is any optimism to be found here, you may see it in Tom Kratman’s piece, where he informs us that, in the end, our enemies may be making a serious error by pushing things this far. They have forgotten that wars are fought by human beings.

One is tempted to counter with, “What right have you, as an anarchist, to try to impose rules on my machine gun teams as they mow you down?” This whole section illustrates something I strongly advise the reader to look into in Lee Harris’ excellent book, Civilization and Its Enemies. The short version is that these people are, however dangerous, fundamentally unserious. They are not revolutionaries; they are unpublished and unpublishable playwrights, writing fantasy plays in their heads for themselves to star in, in which plays we lesser beings are reduced to the level of morally insignificant stage props.

They think of us as stage props, as their moral and intellectual inferiors, as dullards, rednecks, and uneducated hicks. They have more hubris than Napoleon taking on Russia. One suspects that their assault will fare just about as badly in the end. But either way, best to be ready for them nonetheless.

Financial Stupidity

This article just begged for a commentary: Scraping By On $500,000 A Year: Why It’s So Hard For High Income Earners To Escape The Rat Race.

Bask in the glorious title of this piece, and distill it down to its essentials: how to earn half a million a year and still be broke. Now, the author himself is not complaining about the situation, per se. Rather, he is merely documenting how it happens. But the collected financial ignorance in this piece is staggering to contemplate.

Look at the balance sheet:

FS-500K-Student-Loan

Let’s point out some obvious ones, shall we? If you make half a million a year, why do you have car payments to the tune of $10,000/year? If you’re complaining about not saving, not feeling “above average” why are you taking $18,000 worth of vacations every year? If your earnings are $500,000/year, what are you doing buying a $1.5 million home? $18,000 to the college alumni? What? And $32,000/yearly in student loan debt (this presumes near to $300k balance)? That’s nuts.

But let’s imagine someone is in this pickle. What do you do to get out of the rat race?

Easy. Sell the home, if you’ve some decent equity (the scenario above presumes $300k equity). Roll down to a cheaper place, rent for a while. Yes, if this is New York, that means Manhattan is off the table. Too bad. Roll the equity straight into the student loans. Now, no more student loans. $32k yearly savings. Stop taking the vacations for a couple years. $18k savings. Pay off the cars, or drive cheaper cars. $10k/savings. Kill donations to the alumni until you’re in a better situation. $18k/savings. That’s +$78k/year straight into the bank, plus whatever this family saved by dropping down a bit in their home (let’s give them 1/3 savings of $20k yearly). Take some smaller slices off of food spending and other smaller stuff, and this family is then easily banking over $100,000 per year.

Do that for around 10 years, and they have over $1 million in the bank, plus accumulated retirement savings. They can move to any less-expensive part of the country, buy a mansion in cash, continue to practice law (at, perhaps, a slightly lower pay scale) and live like kings.

This is one reason why I don’t trust a lot of these so-called experts, because they are so incredibly stupid in very basic life matters. What I posted above is not rocket science, it is not something beyond the reach of a man with pretty average intelligence and education.

Why, then, are so many highly-paid people so financially illiterate?

It boggles the mind. There was a time in my 20s when I was relatively stupid with money. I say relatively because, I think, even at my worst I was less stupid than most. But for a time, I had car payments, and occasionally carried modest credit card balances (never do this, by the way, but it was at least less than $1,500), and I got myself into a mortgage when I shouldn’t have, which ended rather badly due in part to Florida’s ongoing insurance nightmares.

Eventually, I realized all of this was stupid. I got rid of the bad house, sold the nice car and bought a shitbox for a while, paid off all credit card debt, partly by selling off some valuables, and then started working on the one remaining mortgage (the one that didn’t have a flood insurance nightmare chasing after it).

In the meantime, I took a daytime contracting job in addition to my consulting business and my DJ business. I effectively work 2 1/2 jobs these days. I’ve taken exactly one vacation in my entire adult life, and that was on the cheap. My wife’s family had accumulated a boatload of airline miles, and we cashed them in for a free trip to Germany, where my wife had a number of friends we were able to stay with for a little over a week. The whole thing, for both of us, cost less than $2,500.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live entirely spartan either. Eventually the shitbox I kept for a few years, while I was paying down debt, became rather unserviceable. That was okay. For a $4,000 crappy car, it gave me three years of life. And I still got $2,500 when I sold the thing. For $500/year, I could get to where I needed to go. Once in a better situation, I allowed myself the modest luxury of a newer Ford Mustang with the 5.0 V8 motor in it. Still an inexpensive vehicle compared to what most folks in my line of work are driving around. But fun.

Have fun and enjoy luxuries now and then. But don’t live beyond your means. I have the title to that Mustang. No payments. No interest. No loans.

In a few years, the last remaining mortgage will be paid off, if things hold true a little longer. And then I can probably relax a little, and go back to working two sources of income, instead of three.

I’m no special genius or anything. It’s not really hard to do. It’s very basic math, and a little bit of self control, nothing more. And it’s really disturbing that so many folks have neither.

Here is some wisdom:

This is the goal: a position of “fuck you.”

If you make half a million dollars a year, this position is absurdly easy to achieve. If you’re like the rest of us working stiffs, it’s not as easy, but with some self discipline and working some multiple streams of income, you can still make it happen. And believe me, every bit of debt that you shed feels better than anything you could buy with that money. Your nice new car? It doesn’t feel as good as not having the payments.

Trust me on that. I’ve been in both places.

New PC Build

Browsing around Liberty’s Torch, as I often do, I am reminded of something in my own life. Francis discusses those who don’t look very far and those who do. And he references Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Oddly enough, this is a book I’ve never read, something I ought to rectify one of these days. My reading list is always long, and always growing faster than I can read. But perhaps this merits skipping a few, because I am told that my view of computing is much like the view expressed in the book.

I like to understand things, and get into the nitty-gritty. Nothing frustrates me more than being helpless, not understanding what is going on, having to rely on someone else not merely to do a thing, but to understand that thing.

You see, when you know something well enough, but contract it out to another because you do not have the time to deal with it, you know what a fair price for the work might be. You are not ripped off or taken advantage of.

For example, I know how to change the oil in my car, but I often pay someone else to do it, because I don’t have the time. Nonetheless, knowing how to do it means I am not ripped off, and if I do have the time, I can do it myself.

Although I must say, I find working with machines to be quite therapeutic most of the time. Even when they frustrate me, I am, paradoxically, enjoying myself. My wife would say that when I am cursing at the machine the most, I am also the happiest.

Lately, I decided to build a new computer. It’s about time, as the last new build was back in 2011, and for me, that is a very long time. I’ve been building my own machines since the mid-90s, when I put together a bizarre 486-based system out of leftover parts from my father’s computers.

Since then, I’d usually do a new build every 2 or 3 years, with small refreshes in between (usually a GPU or RAM upgrade). Recently, the release of AMD’s Ryzen CPU gave me the motivation to finally upgrade again, the prospect of building a relatively inexpensive, well-performing 8 core/16 thread machine finally making it worth the price.

Only this time, the build was smooth as butter. No problems. In a way, it was almost disappointing. I say almost, in case the computing gods are in a mischievous mood. There were no logic problems to solve. The build was easy, the OS installed with the first attempt (that’s a rarity), and given how fast SSDs are these days, the whole machine was fully up and running in a couple of hours.

Still, it was fun, and I enjoyed it. I often wonder why so many people seem almost afraid of learning how things work, how to work on them, or understand them. I see people afraid of changing a tire, or utterly flabbergasted by the simplest of computer issues. They don’t know how to wire an outlet in their home, or install a ceiling fan.

They’ve no clue how to do much of anything, really, and many of them are, paradoxically, proud of their ignorance. I’ve met people who laugh about being unable to balance their checkbooks. It’s utterly bizarre. Fixing things, building things, doing things… these are not the tasks of the anointed, I suppose.

They are romantics, I guess. The world is just supposed to work they way they want it to… because.

Either way, I had fun. Enjoy some pics of the build, if you like computer pr0n:

boxesryzenheatsinkvideo1videofin2

desktop

 

Competitive Morality Explained

In one of the shares on Facebook, I discovered this little gem:

This is a great refutation of the idea that the person holding the gun to someone’s head, and demanding that the wealth be redistributed from one person to another, is somehow morally superior to everyone else.

Charity is something that most people realize has an intrinsic moral character to it. But when the government uses coercion to redistributed from Peter to Paul, the charitable character of the transaction is utterly lost.

Peter has no choice. He must pay Paul. And without the choice, how can Peter claim he has done charitable works? And the agent who holds the gun cannot claim to be charitable either, for it is not his wealth that is being given. He is taking from someone else.

The government sucks the charity out of everything. It deprives us of the satisfaction of having helped another out of our free will. And, furthermore, the government doesn’t like us freely giving without their interference. The government wants a monopoly on this. Why else would they trumpet moral superiority while simultaneously screwing the poor?

When a BBQ event wanted to donate their leftover food, excellent first class BBQ cooking, to the poor, what did hte government do?

It demanded that the food be destroyed.

Similar things happen all the time. Churches are fined for allowing the homeless to sleep on church property. Soup kitchens are kicked out of parks in Miami, because the locals (mostly Democrats!) don’t like the poor hanging around the park to get a bowl of soup.

No. The only charity that is to be allowed is the kind that isn’t charity in the first place. All they want is your wealth, so they can grab a slice of the redistribution for themselves. Graft, bribes, selling off baby parts for Lamborghinis, whatever.

And the Left calls this charity. They call this helping their fellow man.

Pull the other one.

Competitive Morality

Virtue signalling is a topic that both fascinates and horrifies. We all know how this game is played by now, and if for some reason any of my readers do not, let me assure you that you won’t remain in the dark for long.

Moral trumpeters are legion.

For them, it is an arcane ritual, designed to alleviate them of guilt, of a peculiar form of original political sin. It also gives them hierarchy to compete against. The person who takes the most wealth from one person and gives it to another is the pinnacle of proper Progressivism, the greatest of their moral agents.

Who the wealth is taken from, and who it is given to, doesn’t really matter from any moral perspective (it matters in other ways), so long as the wealth is taken. You might take millions from a man who cured cancer, and give it to a bunch of barbarian slavers in the Third World, but all is good because the millions were taken.

The middleman gets all the credit, of course. Lesser Progressives must bow to his superior morality, that he managed to steal more from one to bribe another to do his political bidding. The taxpayer is insulted for not giving more of his wealth to the government. There is no gratitude. The media is most moral, and the guy living in the sticks least moral, for no matter what he might do for the poor, no one is there to see it, therefore it isn’t moral.

If a person helps another, and the cameras aren’t there to record it, it is as if it never happened.

Competitive morality requires that you trumpet your moral achievements to the world. Stephen Colbert shows us how it is to be done:

colbert

 

Here Stephen Colbert is telling us that we are not Christians, and do not follow Christ, if we don’t want to give our earnings to the government. This is designed to wound a genuine Christian, by calling him a poor follower of Christ, and elevate himself as a superior agent of morality at the same time.

Mr. Colbert would be well-advised to read Matthew 6:2:

Therefore when you give your alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Stephen Colbert and his ilk are revealed for what they are: hypocritical trumpeters of their charity.

So long as one man in the world has less than another, men like Stephen Colbert will find cause to call us selfish and uncharitable for not giving all of our wealth to the government, to spend as it sees fit.

Those same people say that churches don’t do enough to help the poor. This meme is a great illustration:

678c51e51f211ee02ebd4a58fdfb3b7a

Give all your money to government, and not churches, because it is better at helping people. Right.

These people know that charity and taxation are not the same thing, and yet they continue to make these insinuations, continue to trumpet their moral superiority. “I’m better than you,” says the liberal. Sometimes they imply that they are more moral in sarcastic, passive-aggressive fashion. “I worked for Greenpeace, did you?”

My first instinct would be to say “no, I prefer to donate my time and money to the parents of kids with cancer in my hometown, because charity starts at home.” But that’s actually a bad reply. It’s a form of trumpeting your own charity right back at them. More importantly, it doesn’t work.

That is their heresy, not ours. We’ve no need for that sort of thing. Instead, explain how their charity really isn’t charity. If you’re taking someone else’s money, grabbing a cut for yourself, and passing along some of it to another in exchange for his vote, you’re no Mother Theresa. You’re an asshole.

The Clinton Foundation was more interested in ensuring Chelsea Clinton’s dress fit right than whatever was going on in Haiti. Whenever massive amounts of money are moved from place to place, these people get a slice of it. They can also determine who it goes to, and under what conditions.

Obama, for example, was very dead set against securing the border or stopping illegal Mexican immigration. But he was all for ending the Cuban refugee wet foot-dry foot policy. Why? Cubans didn’t get the “Hispanics have to vote Democrat” memo. If Cubans were reliable Democrats, Obama would have taken the whole damned country, if he could’ve gotten away with it.

The Leftist motto is rob from everyone who makes money, and give to the most gullible poor slobs they can con into voting for them.

They are King John, not Robin Hood.

And they want to con the Christian man into going along with it by working at his conscience. If we could translate their insinuations, their passive-aggression, it would result in something like this:

Just look at you. I bet you have a car and a nice home. I bet you have savings and valuables. I bet you sometimes spend money on things you want rather than things you need.

 

You haven’t given every last cent to the poor. You prioritize your own family, friends, and community over the people I want to give money to, and that’s selfish.

 

You are a bad Christian, and a bad man. You are immoral. I am better than you. And because I am better than you, you must obey me. You must give me your wealth, to dispense to whomever I see fit to give it to.

 

Because if you don’t, I will continue to make you feel bad for being successful. I will make you look selfish in front of your friends. I will chip away at the foundations of your faith. I will insult you and make fun of you. I will turn the media against you. You will be the butt of all jokes.

This is the message people like Stephen Colbert are sending to us. They presume themselves to be your moral superiors, your intellectual superiors, your betters in all things. They look down upon you while ripping you off for all they can steal.

So the next time one of them calls you immoral, or trumpets their own morality, you must answer as Rhett Butler did: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”.

Tyranny from the Bench

Francis at Liberty’s Torch provides us with some illumination: The Anarcho-Tyranny Chronicles.

Judicial Tyranny is, of course, nothing new. The courts have long found excuses to rule on things which the Constitution grants them no power over. The most recent, of course, being gay marriage. Now, wherever you stand on the matter of gays getting married, it is factual to say that the Constitution is absolutely silent on the matter. There is nothing in it which grants or denies the act.

Therefore the Supreme Court should not be able to rule on it.

There have been many other such instances, such as abortion, education, etc… and always, it seems, the courts rule on these matters anyway. But Francis explains how this can lead to a sort of twisted judicial tyranny, or, as he puts it, anarcho-tyranny.

If you’ve been a Gentle Reader of Liberty’s Torch for a goodly while now, you’re probably familiar with the late Sam Francis’s coinage anarcho-tyranny. For those who haven’t yet made the acquaintance of this useful term, here’s the original formulation:

 

“What we have in this country today, then, is both anarchy (the failure of the state to enforce the laws) and, at the same time, tyranny – the enforcement of laws by the state for oppressive purposes; the criminalization of the law-abiding and innocent through exorbitant taxation, bureaucratic regulation, the invasion of privacy, and the engineering of social institutions, such as the family and local schools; the imposition of thought control through “sensitivity training” and multiculturalist curricula, “hate crime” laws, gun-control laws that punish or disarm otherwise law-abiding citizens but have no impact on violent criminals who get guns illegally, and a vast labyrinth of other measures. In a word, anarcho-tyranny. [From the essay Synthesizing Tyranny, written shortly before Francis’s death.]”

The longer I live, the more I come to view anarcho-tyranny as the terminal state toward which all governments tend as they mature and degenerate.

This is essentially the state in which we live today. Think about it, the state will tax you, the state will regulate you, the state even consider disarming you. You are punished by being lawful. You may utter a word that offends someone, and for this you may be fired, or your privileges taken away from you, or otherwise ostracized for this. No laws have been broken, but this is allowed because it is deemed private.

Yet the criminal may get away with less punishment from the state because of his race, or religion, or because someone makes an excuse for his behavior. Consider that each state has arcane and difficult-to-navigate firearm restrictions. I’ve a 32 round magazine for my Ruger P95. That mag is perfectly legal in my home state of Florida. If I were to cross into New York bearing it with me, I could be arrested for a felony even if I didn’t know better.

Meanwhile, the guy who stole my friend’s car and drove it into a ditch didn’t even serve jail time for the offense.

Now, consider the concept of justice here. What society-at-large is telling us, regardless of the source of justice, is that carrying a 32 round mag, even if you don’t have the firearm it goes with on your person, is objectively worse than stealing a car and crashing it into a ditch. It is saying that the person who says a bad word should suffer more than the person who breaks into your home.

Just as Leftists dream of redistributing the wealth, they also want to redistribute the justice. The law-abiding white guy in the suburbs must pay the price of his entire livelihood for, say, calling a woman fat. The criminal with a record as long as my arm, meanwhile, must be forgiven his crimes — even if he charges a police officer and tries to kill him.

It’s okay for Black Lives Matter protesters to set their own city on fire. It’s not okay for me to own a means of defending myself.

But I digress. Francis was talking about a much more specific miscarriage of justice, a case where the courts have divorced themselves utterly from the purpose of their existence:

James Madison, often called “the father of the Constitution,” regarded the courts as “the least dangerous branch” of government. The widespread belief is that that was because the courts were allowed no enforcement arm, apart from the bailiffs allowed for keeping order during a court proceeding. However, this reverses cause and effect. The courts were allowed no enforcement arm because of the danger they would otherwise pose, as is well established by English history.

 

The great majority of judges in pre-Industrial Revolution England, from which much of our legal tradition derives, were not government employees, neither elected nor appointed nor hired. They commanded deference on the basis of their personal qualities and their willingness to sit as judges; in other words, from popular respect for their wisdom and diligence. If you’ve heard the term “circuit judge” and have wondered about its provenance, it comes from the time when a judge would routinely “ride a circuit:” i.e., he would regularly travel a known route from place to place, hearing such cases as were presented to him in each place and ruling on them according to the “common law,” another American inheritance from England.

 

To make this a workable living, a judge needed to be known and respected in each of the stops along his circuit. A judge’s enforcement arm was the willingness of the commoners whose cases he heard to enforce his rulings. Thus, he had to have a reputation for fairly and consistently applying both the common law and what precedents might exist for its enforcement. For a judge to become known as capricious or arbitrary – e.g., for promoting his personal views over the common law as English commoners knew it – would spell the end of his career.

Amazing to think of, right? A judge who rode from town to town, dealing justice based primarily on his own reputation, not any appointment from up on high. The king did not command him thusly, he did the thing on his own.

Ironically, an equivalent does exist in modern American jurisprudence: arbitration. Have you ever seen those bizarre court shows on TV? You know, Judge Judy and the like? Before entering the “courtroom”, the parties sign an agreement to abide by Judy’s arbitration. She’s not really a judge anymore (she used to be).

But she is, in essence, a circuit judge of the old style, albeit with a heavy does of entertainment to go along with it. I imagine, however, it may have been similar in old England. Perhaps that was a form of entertainment for the villagers as well, their equivalent of Jerry Springer, or something. The circuit judge would ride into town, and people would line up to hear the arbitration, and perhaps laugh at the loser if he was particularly stupid.

Point being, though, that Americans are accustomed to thinking of judges in a sort of top-down manner. As deriving authority from the government, and not from popular reputation. Thus can a miscarriage of justice happen. What the King wants is usually not what the commoner wants, regardless of what is actually just.

England’s problems with “star chambers” and the like came about because of courts whose authority descended from the Crown – i.e., whose enforcement arm was the force commanded by the King. Common-law judges posed no such problems, precisely because they had no enforcement power of their own. Indeed, it was often the role of a common-law judge to prevent a lynching or other variety of mob “justice:” something only a very well known, well respected jurist could do by force of character.

 

Even though American judges are government employees, the essence of the English common-law judicial system – that the court have no enforcement arm of its own – was largely preserved by the Founding Fathers. The courts’ authority is essentially one of popular consensus concerning the probity and wisdom of the courts: i.e., that the courts are assessing the laws faithfully rather than whimsically or capriciously.

 

But by innumerable capricious judgments: both failures to uphold the black-letter law and usurpations of jurisdiction that in no way belong to them, the courts have destroyed that consensus. Where, then, do we stand?

Today, we stand in a strange place. I remember some time ago that a woman was on the news for having ordered a coffee from McDonalds, and then spilling all of it over ah… shall we say, a very sensitive area.

There were lawsuits, and media talking heads discussing it. At a high level, the assumption was that the woman would gain a respectable settlement, at least several hundred thousand dollars, for her pain and suffering.

The consensus on the street was that this woman was a fucking idiot, pardon my French, and that if you order hot coffee, putting it between your legs is the height of folly. This was common sense, as distinguished from the sensibility of the aristocracy. The working stiffs were irritated, because everyone thought McDonalds would lower the temperature of their coffee, and that now their drinks would be cold by the time they got to work, the extra temperature being useful for keeping it warm long enough to get to the office.

High courts and commoners can no longer even agree on what justice is, much less how it might best be applied.

The term “court of public opinion” is interesting here, too. For these days, there’s an entirely different court which may preside over you. Not the respected justice, travelling from place-to-place, ruling on matters according to the will of the people. No. This is different. This is government, media, and entertainment celebrities agreeing on what justice is, and what it ought to be, and then telling you that if you do not comply with it, they will sic their hordes of Social Justice Warriors on you. They call it a court of public opinion, but it’s really a court of aristocratic opinion.

We don’t have much of a lower court anymore, for even the lower courts are starting to act like high courts.

This is, as Francis put it, part of a much larger cycle:

Why, right where we are today, of course: enmeshed in a steadily deteriorating, ever more anarcho-tyrannical context. At the moment, the only escape is to even less desirable places. That might change; developments in space flight and workable space habitats are ongoing, and it’s impossible to say if or when they’ll mature. But the cycle itself appears to be embedded in human nature. If that’s the case, then no matter where men go, the cycle will go with them.

And there you have it. I wish there were viable starships and space habitats today. I’d be off this rock in a heartbeat. Let the Communists and Islamists eat each other. I want out.

But, failing an escape route… we will have to fight.

Interesting Material on Byzantium & Persia

Occasionally, I go through the stats in WordPress to see who is backlinking The Declination. Doing so can be pretty eye opening. I’ve found more than a few detractors this way, and some very amusing social justice warriors. But I’ve also discovered fascinating intellectual material this way.

In the course of perusing my backlinks, I discovered a little-known blog call the House of DavidThis one is fascinating because the author delves deeply into a topic which has bothered me for most my life: just how was it that Islam conquered Sassanian Persia and most of Byzantium more or less simultaneously? Normally this question is answered in the West, at least, by primarily Greek sources. Those are useful, yes, but only paint part of the picture. The proprietor of House of David seeks to answer the question from Persian and Arabic sources, also.

The strangeness of this event cannot be overstated. As successors to the Romans (or as Romans themselves, depending on how you account them), the Byzantines were masters of siege craft. Certainly the Theodosian walls impress well enough. Being consummate engineers of fortifications, Roman forts and walled cities dotted the empire, and for the most part, the Romans were excellent at defending them. The Byzantines continued the tradition of effective defense throughout most of their history, as they were under near-constant assault from all sides.

Hannibal himself found the Romans impossible to conquer, even when winning most of the important field battles. And when much of the Western Empire fell apart, it was due not to siege warfare, but to what might be called a refugee migration situation gone to pot. Modern Europe, it should be noted, ought to be paying very close attention to that portion of their history.

Now, one might say the Persians were able to do it, at least temporarily during the Sassanian war of the early 7th century. And that is true enough, though the Romans still emerged triumphant even then. But the Persians had long experience fighting Romans. They were no strangers to dealing with Roman fortifications and siege craft. Despite the feudal nature of their army (think of dehgans like predecessors to medieval feudal nobility), it was powerful and well organized.

The Arabs, on the other hand, had little organization along those lines. Neither, it should be noted, did they have experience storming Roman forts and cities.

In some cases, of course, there was treachery from some of the Byzantines themselves, most notably in Egypt. But in other cases, such as the Exarchate of Africa, local Byzantine resistance was absolutely fierce. The wars in North Africa absolutely devastated the place. It never recovered after this. So complete was this devastation and desolation that Carthage, which bounced back even after the Romans razed it, never recovered from it. Even conquest by the Vandals had not been so terrible.

And still, after the Byzantines themselves lost much of North Africa, the native Christian Berbers continued to resist for some time under a supposed witch-queen named Kahina. And Byzantine resistance remained for a time around Cueta even after Carthage was destroyed, where the possibly-apocryphal Count Julian was said to have finally thrown in with the Muslims in order to avenge himself upon the Visigoths.

Yet the Arab steamroller moved on.

The final triumph of Byzantine siege craft could be seen in the twin Arab sieges of Constantinople, both beaten back effectively by the Byzantines. So why did they lose so completely everywhere else?

It’s a mystery that has defied satisfactory explanation. Some would say that the Persian war exhausted both countries, and that is true to some extent. Persia spiraled into internecine warfare, and was ruined by Heraclius. But Persia never had the defensive depth that Rome did. Persia was more reliant upon the land-holding nobility, and they were a better offensive force than a defensive one. The Byzantines, meanwhile, had won the war, and Heraclius was (at least according to Greek sources on the matter) still able to field massive armies who, ostensibly, had great experience in the Persian war.

Byzantium was weakened economically by the war, at least to some extent. But militarily, it may have actually been stronger.

So how did a bunch of relatively disorganized Arabs, with little experience, overrun Byzantium and Persia in a way that even Alexander the Great would have gawked at?

The purveyor of House of David has more then a few theories and ideas about how this could have been done, and what may have been going on. And there’s a ring of truth to a lot of it. It ties in well with what is going on today in the West, namely that the bureaucracy and the nobility may have, in effect, sold out their own country for personal profit. That in Byzantium, at least, the bureaucracy may have deliberately sacrificed Rome’s old empire for the sake of what we might call proto-globalization of trade.

The idea of globalists selling out nations for profit, of course, has a long tradition. To them, nations are collections of people, they are arbitrary social constructs (like gender is an arbitrary social construct to them, also). So for them, selling out a country is more or less the same thing as selling your pizza shop. It’s just a pizza shop. Who cares? If you can make more money closing your business and selling off the assets, no big deal, right?

Except countries are not pizza shops. And the things you wind up selling off are people. Sometimes very literally, in the case of Islam.

I don’t want to go on a long lecture on that topic, though. I’ll save that for another day. As to whether or not I believe this theory, I don’t know. It has a ring of plausibility to it, but I’m not familiar enough with the primary sources to say. However, it is interesting, at the very least.

Suffice it to say I have been reading more of this man’s musings on Islamic and Persian history, and they are fascinating. It’s a very different perspective than reading all this from the translated Greek sources. There are a great many posts worth reading on there. Here are a few more.

Enjoy.

Erdogan Strikes Again

Naturally, as one with Armenian family members, Turkey is not exactly high on my list of favorite countries in the world. But Erdogan has managed to lower my opinion of Turkey even further.

Now he has the unmitigated gall to call the Dutch Nazis. There’s a bit of pot, kettle, black irony in this, as Turkey still remains defiant in its assertion that the Armenian genocide never happened. Tell that to my ancestors who fled the place just ahead of Ottoman advance.

What prompted Erdogan to do this?

The Netherlands wasn’t pleased with Turks within their borders holding rallies to call for more power for Erdogan. The Turks responded with this little stunt:

Police clashed with pro-Erdogan demonstrators in the Netherlands overnight while in Istanbul on Sunday a man climbed onto the roof of the Dutch consulate and replaced the Dutch flag with a Turkish flag.

Finally, after a long time kow-towing to any Islamic country that asked, both the Netherlands and Germany took a harder line.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Sunday he was against Turkish ministers holding political rallies in Germany.

“A Turkish campaign has no business being here in Germany,” he told public broadcaster ARD.

Separately, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said he hoped Turkey “would return to its senses”.

Before Leftists come to The Declination with accusations about free speech, let’s be very clear. These are Turkish citizens conducting large-scale “rallies” in a foreign country, in support of an authoritarian, who has been playing both sides against the middle where this refugee and migrant situation is concerned.

Quite frankly, I wouldn’t want that kind of activity in my country either. If European countries were smart, they’d expel the ones that didn’t have citizenship immediately. If you’re not a citizen, you are a guest, you are in the country on the sufferance of its citizens. If you want to stir up trouble, they’ve every right to boot you out.

“The West has clearly shown its true face in the last couple of days,” Erdogan said.

“What we have seen is a clear manifestation of Islamophobia,” he added.

Turkey used to have a reputation for being at least somewhat secular, at least compared to their more radical Islamic counterparts. I would not go so far as to say Turkey was good, but certainly Erdogan has made things worse.

By making the Islamophobia argument, Erdogan is de facto admitting something I’ve long suspected: Turkey is back to being a fundamentally Islamic nation, not a secular one. The Kemalists are done. And insofar as Erdogan is looking at this from an Islamic angle, these rallies, and the massive number of Turks in the EU, must be looked at from that angle also. This is part of a bid for more control and power in Europe.

In other words, Erdogan seems to fancy himself an Ottoman Sultan, or something closely approximating that. He ought to be treated likewise. He’s no friend of the West, nor is he a secularist. He’s an Islamist with pretensions of restoring the Ottoman Empire under his own banner.

And, quite frankly, nobody should put any stock in the mutterings of some tinpot Islamist would-be dictator.

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