The Family’s Drug Smuggler

Almost 30 years ago my extended family went to the southern tip of Texas for Christmas. One day during that week or so, we crossed into Mexico for a day of exploring and shopping in a little town.

I still have a couple of cheap Mexican pots I bought in a sparsely stocked store, and the empty bottle from the Mexican vanilla I bought.

I enjoyed the food, the sights, and even the strange semi-outdoor flushing outhouse with moss growing between the bricks on the floor, beautifully lit by sunlight shining through the holes in the roof. I would build one of those in my yard if I could build things.

I loved seeing the chickens roaming the street and the vendors trying to talk travelers into buying the hammocks they were selling. I had a great time.

While there, an adult female relative visited a pharmacy and stocked up on some medicine she needed which required a prescription in the Land of the Free and was consequently much more affordable there. I would have done the same.

At the end of the day, as we crossed through the police gate between tax farms, armed U.S. goons stopped us to look us over to see if we looked American enough and to question us. One of the few questions they asked was whether any of us had “any drugs or medications” we were bringing back with us. This female relative looked them in the eyes and said “No”.

After we were graciously allowed to resume our journey back to our vacation rental in America, and were safely away from the goons, I said: “You lied to them.

She didn’t understand, because she would never lie, and certainly not to officers of The Law. I said they asked whether we were bringing any drugs or medications back in and that she had said “no”. She said it wasn’t a lie; we didn’t have any illegal drugs. I said that’s not what they asked. (And technically, they probably would have disagreed with her anyway.)

Worse, yet, I approved of her lying to them. You don’t owe molesters the truth.

She never admitted she lied to them, and still fully supports the stupid and evil War on Politically Incorrect Drugs, and the prescription scam that goes along with it. But I know. And it makes me smile to remember it and to know she’s a once-upon-a-time drug smuggler.

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I’m a Horrible Person

I hate to admit it– it probably means I’m a horrible person– but I’m having fun. I’m enjoying the coronapocalypse. Just a little.

Yes, I feel a bit guilty for enjoying this as much as I am. I also know the enjoyment will fade the longer this goes on.

I feel bad for people who are really hurting and suffering. I feel awful for those who have lost loved ones. I have empathy for those who are scared. But this is the sort of thing I thrive on– at least for a while. It’s what I’ve prepared for… for decades.

Plus, I’ve been doing all I can for many years to tell people to prepare for this sort of thing. If they refused to listen…

I consider this a practice run for a real breakdown. I’m taking notes so I’ll be even more prepared next time. Yeah, I know every event will be different, but I still plan on learning from this one.

I’m doing what I can to keep my family members safe and healthy. Nothing is guaranteed, obviously. But that’s the case every day. I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me before.

My parents, who didn’t take the virus at all seriously at first– have gone into full-blown quarantine lock-down mode. I drop supplies and their mail for them in their garage and they go get it after I’ve left. I’m wondering if they are decontaminating it. As long as the electricity flows they aren’t going to be running out of food for a very long time, having multiple freezers and refrigerators. And quite the pantry, as well. I enjoy doing what I can to help them. My mom is sewing masks for the family and my dad is watching Hallmark Channel Christmas movies that he has recorded, I suspect they are both kind of enjoying this, too.

I’m fine on food and supplies for a long time– even if I couldn’t buy anything new. But I can, even though the food aisles have gone eerily empty. People might not be able to buy what they wanted, but there is something available. My yard– and every other yard in town– is chock full of edible “weeds”. No one will starve unless they choose to.

I’m taking long daily walks around town (as long a walk as I can take in this town– I zig-zag a lot) in the sun and fresh air.

Money has gotten tighter– your donations and subscriptions have become even more important than in the past (I also know some of you are probably losing income, too). I will get through this one way or another. Except in the unlikely event that the virus gets me– which I highly doubt it can.

I feel as though I am in my element– which is rare. I might as well have fun while I can.

Are any of you as awful as I am? Feel free to judge me.

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The Soleimani Assassination: Worse Than a Crime, a Mistake

In March of 1804, French dragoons secretly crossed the Rhine into the German Margraviate of Baden. Acting on orders from Napoleon himself, they kidnapped Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien. After a hastily convened court-martial on charges of bearing arms against France, the duke was shot.

“C’est pire qu’un crime, c’est une faute,” a French official (supposedly, but probably not, Talleyrand) said of the duke’s execution: “It is worse than a crime, it is a mistake.”

That terse evaluation came immediately to mind when news broke of a January 3 US drone strike at Baghdad International Airport.  Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ “Quds Force,” and nine others, died in the attack. US president Donald Trump claimed responsibility for ordering the strike and has subsequently defended that decision.

The duke’s execution outraged Europe’s aristocrats, and in particular brought Russia’s Alexander I to the conclusion that Napoleon’s power must be checked. The international reverberations created by Soleimani’s assassination are already shaping up in similar fashion.

Yes, Iran’s government is outraged and vows revenge, but that’s not surprising. It would be hard for US-Iran relations to get much worse short of all-out war.

Five of those killed in the strike were Iraqi military personnel from the country’s Popular Mobilization Forces, including their deputy commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Iraq’s outgoing prime minister denounced the strike as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and  of the US/Iraq Status of Forces Agreement. The speaker of the country’s parliament vowed to “put an end to US presence” in Iraq. Powerful Shiite religious and political figure Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia forces bedeviled the US occupation after the 2003 invasion, is re-mobilizing those forces to “defend Iraq.”

NATO, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and several leaders of regimes putatively allied with the United States have likewise responded negatively to Soleimani’s assassination.

Trump’s order wasn’t even remotely legal, according to Hoyle, under US law or the 400-year international order since the Peace of Westphalia.

The attack occurred without congressional approval or even notification, let alone the declaration of war that the ever-deteriorating US Constitution requires. Unfortunately, while Congress perpetually rumbles discontent over such things, it’s likely to continue enabling, rather than punish and rein in, such abuses of presidential power.

The attack occurred on the supposedly sovereign soil of a putative ally, killing that ally’s officials and invited guests. While it’s merely an escalation, not a new phenomenon — the previous president, Barack Obama, also claimed and exercised a “right” to murder on foreign soil at will — it’s a significant escalation by a president with fewer and less loyal friends on the global stage.

Whether Trump is “wagging the dog” in an attempt to distract from impeachment, or playing “6D chess” in an attempt to get the US out of Iraq at the demand of the Iraqis themselves (I’ve heard both claims), he’s turning friends against him and currying renewed European sympathy for Iran.

The prospects for peace on Earth have receded significantly since Christmas Day.

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The Miracle of the Market

At this time of year especially, the wide variety of individual human preferences and interests becomes abundantly clear. My children’s Christmas lists display this diversity: Molly (13) wants a doughnut pan to feed her baking passion, Jack (11) wants anything tech-related, Abby (9) wants drawing supplies, and Sam (6) wants Lego pieces and stuffed animals. How do the elves satisfy these assorted preferences? It’s the miracle of the market.

FEE’s founder, Leonard Read, wrote about this miracle in his classic 1958 essay, “I, Pencil.” Writing cleverly from the pencil’s perspective, Read explains that even something as seemingly simple as a pencil is an extraordinary human creation involving countless decentralized, spontaneous actions prompted and facilitated by a free, global marketplace. The 18th-century philosopher, Adam Smith, described this unplanned process of social cooperation as the “Invisible Hand,” leading to collective human progress and abundance when each individual pursues his or her own interests. Read writes:

I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that’s too much to ask of anyone—if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.

Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.

There is no central planner, no mastermind, as Read says, capable of making a simple pencil. Instead, there are the loggers who harvest the cedar from the Pacific Northwest and the innumerable actions that go into the loggers’ work, including the manufacture of their saws and machinery, the growing of hemp for their ropes, and even the cups of coffee they drink. All of these spontaneous actions contribute to the production of a simple pencil—and that’s only for its wood. Read then describes the graphite from Sri Lanka, the wax from Mexico, the miners of zinc and copper to create the small metal piece that attaches the eraser, which is made with rapeseed oil from the Dutch East Indies.

Read concludes:

There isn’t a single person in all these millions, including the president of the pencil company, who contributes more than a tiny, infinitesimal bit of know-how. From the standpoint of know-how the only difference between the miner of graphite in Ceylon and the logger in Oregon is in the type of know-how…Their motivation is other than me. Perhaps it is something like this: Each of these millions sees that he can thus exchange his tiny know-how for the goods and services he needs or wants. I may or may not be among these items.

More profound than the dispersed and unplanned creation of the simple pencil is, as Read explains, the fact that it is accomplished without coercion through the uniquely human act of peaceful, voluntary exchange. Read writes:

For, if one is aware that these know-hows will naturally, yes, automatically, arrange themselves into creative and productive patterns in response to human necessity and demand— that is, in the absence of governmental or any other coercive master-minding—then one will possess an absolutely essential ingredient for freedom: a faith in free people. Freedom is impossible without this faith.

There are many miracles that get celebrated at this time of year, but one we shouldn’t forget is the miracle of the market and the power of free, voluntary exchange to unleash human creativity and inventiveness. Let’s take to heart Read’s words:

Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.

Happy Holidays!

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The Christmas Truce of 1914: Proof that Peace is Possible

As 1914 drew to a close, Europe had been at war for months. On the Western Front, opposing armies faced each other across a stalemated front line running from the North Sea to the Swiss border.  On December 24, 100,000 soldiers from both sides of that line decided to create some peace on Earth.

They decorated their trenches with holiday spirit. They sang carols to each other across “No Man’s Land,” then walked into the space between their trenches, met, smoked and drank together, and exchanged what gifts they could round up. Chaplains conducted Christmas services for all comers. Impromptu football matches were played between shell craters (Germany’s Battalion 371 beat the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 2 to 1).

A similar truce occurred on the Eastern Front between Austro-Hungarian and Russian troops.

The “Christmas truce” didn’t end “the war to end all wars.” It dragged on for nearly four more years,  at a cost of more than 20 million lives.

But for a brief moment peace reigned, proof that the already hardening hearts of opposing armies could at least temporarily melt and that soldiers could treat each other as human beings rather than as mortal enemies.

Not all of them, certainly. A young Austrian soldier is apocryphally said to have sniffed that “such a thing should not happen in wartime.”

The high commands on both sides suppressed press coverage of the “Christmas truce,” and resolved to prevent it from happening again. In 1915, artillery barrages and raids were pre-planned for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to prevent peace breaking out a second time.

More than a century later, does the “Christmas truce” offer any lessons we can take to heart, or hold out the prospect of similar pauses in the wars that have consumed the US, the Middle East, and Central Asia since 1991?

One obvious argument against such prospects is that the current wars tend to pit people of very different religious views against each other. The west has become far less Christian and far more secular over the last century.

On the other hand, Jesus does hold a high place — just not the highest — in Muslim esteem. And Muslim combatants have been known to observe truces for their own high holidays.

As for lessons, the greatest one may be this: Wars may be planned and ordered governments, but they’re fought by PEOPLE. People who mostly, unlike the Austrian soldier mentioned above (his name was Adolf Hitler), prefer song and sport and friendship to mindless mutual killing.

Those people — not just soldiers, all of us — can decide at any time to stop cooperating with the murderous plans of our masters and instead choose peace on earth and good will toward each other.

That choice embodies the spirit of Christmas.

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Offering You The Gift of Liberty

There’s one Christmas gift I’d love to give you: the gift of liberty. The freedom to do everything you have a right to do. It’s a gift bigger than you can imagine.

Alas, it’s not possible to give anyone liberty. In order for you to have liberty, you’ve got to make it for yourself, with your own hands, and put it to daily use.

Plus, even if I could give you liberty, it would most likely be illegal.

The best I can do under the limitations of reality is get you to recognize your own liberty and encourage you to use it every day, everywhere you go, regardless of who tries to scare you out of it.

I will also refuse to violate your liberty in any way; including not seeking legislation to fence you in nor to take your property for my pet projects.

What would you like your box of liberty to contain? As long as it doesn’t violate anyone else’s equal and identical rights, it’s in there. It has to be in there — you made it yourself and placed what you wanted inside. It’s waiting for you to take it out of the box and use it. How great is that?

Recently an online commenter, who was trying to sell me on the wonders of socialism, was saying I’m a crook for having a house while there are homeless people in the world. She scolded me, saying I only care about myself, no matter how many people I hurt. She couldn’t admit that in her ideal world there would be no reason for anyone to build houses. Why struggle and sweat if someone is forced to hand you everything you need?

The gift she was offering had shiny wrapping paper and a sparkly bow, but inside was the stench of harsh reality. A reality she refused to smell as she heaped on the personal insults because I couldn’t tell her who, specifically, had been robbed of the property my house sits on over the past 13,000 years since “Clovis Man” dropped a few stone tools in Blackwater Draw. Actually, she only cared about the last few centuries for some arbitrary reason. I guess those who came before that don’t matter to her.

You are free to take the gift she and her political comrades are offering, or you can take my suggestion and give yourself the gift of liberty. Which one do you think you deserve? I believe you deserve the very best.

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