Category Archives: Uncategorized

Anti-panhandling campaigns attack symptoms instead of disease

Businesses in my former home of Redding, California have launched a campaign to encourage people to deny money to panhandlers and others asking for help on the streets of their city. The publisher of the leading, local paper supports this initiative. This is my response to the publisher, which is applicable in principle to similar campaigns in other cities.

We have laws that restrict the supply of housing, thereby causing higher prices for the housing that does exist than would otherwise prevail.

We have erected legal and administrative barriers to the creation of even the simplest, personal-service businesses, preventing people from earning a living in these businesses if they cannot find a way over or around those barriers.

We have price controls on labor, so that employees and employers may not be able to meet at a wage that makes sense for both sides, denying each the services of the other.

We have monetary, fiscal, employment, and tax policies that cause massive dislocations and malinvestment, hampering entrepreneurship and job formation, and causing manufacturing to shift elsewhere, resulting in fewer jobs that would otherwise exist.

We conduct an immoral “war on drugs” that imprisons people for non-crimes and then leaves them unemployable.

We wage needless wars on an endless basis that breaks the bodies, minds, and spirits of those enlisted in the cause, leaving them unemployable and incapable of taking care of their families; we throw our broken soldiers away like trash when we are done with them.

We run institutional, compulsory, indoctrination centers and call them “schools,” teach moral values suitable for alley cats but not human beings, and reward young girls for having children out of wedlock, condemning millions of single-parent families headed by little more than children to lives of poverty.

So, yes, we have a homelessness problem. And some of these people are mere hucksters (not unlike, morally, the hucksters passing the laws that destroy our economy).

But the defects in our society that lead to so much homelessness hurt the great mass of the people, too. A few benefit at the expense of the many. A few do not have the resources to keep roofs over the heads, or food on their tables.

But I have to believe that Redding businesses could spend their persuasive energies, advertising dollars, and political capital in a better way than on a campaign against panhandling. Strategically, fighting the disease is smarter than fighting the symptoms.

One of the best essays I’ve seen in a long time, on one of the most important subjects.

The Disorder Of Things

The airport is a totalitarian space; sometimes the truth is hyperbolic.

You re-enter the United States, land of your birth, as part of the stream of arriving passengers. It is an everyday experience. You leave the airplane slowly, on stiff limbs, trickling with the mass of travellers into Newark airport.

The imperatives are issued as soon as you enter the terminal building. No smoking. No cell phones. Stand in line. Fill in your declaration form. Foreigner here. Citizen there. Wait behind the red line till you are called. The armed immigration officer checks your papers, holding the power to pronounce your worthiness to enter this sanctified space.

Border Control

With the imperatives come the questions. Where are you coming from? Where are you going? As if the answers are clear. As if these are simple questions. The man with the gun, holding your passport, asks, “Where are you flying next?” But he…

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A letter home from the Latin teacher

Our thirteen-year-old son Ethan studies Latin. He loves Latin. I suspect a big reason for his affection for the subject is that he loves his teacher, Dwane Thomas. Actually, Ethan has never met his teacher, at least not personally. Master Thomas comes to him only over the Internet, via VisualLatin. Matters not – Master Thomas is not only an amazing, inspiring teacher, he is hilarious.

Today Master Thomas sent a letter home to Ethan’s mom. Actually, it was a form letter personalized using a database and email program. Matters not – the letter reminds us of why we love Master Thomas as our son does:

Dear Angela,

I vividly remember my mom crying at the kitchen table one day. I was about 12 or 13 years old, I think.

My sister and I had just taken some standard test or another a few weeks before. Mom had the results on the table in front of her. I assume this was what was causing her distress, but I will never know for sure.

A few weeks before, Mom and Dad had taken me to Wales for academic testing. We were living near Oxford, England at the time. Afterwards, Dad took the family to the stony beach in nearby Cardiff. The next day, we visited the Roman amphitheater in Caerleon, then drove into Snowdonia National Park before heading home.

I think about that trip often. It was in the amphitheater in Caerleon that my love for the history of Rome began. It was in the mountains of Snowdonia that my love for the mountains was reignited. It was in Cardiff that my hatred of English grammar deepened.

I still love studying Roman history. I still love the mountains. I have grown to love grammar.

I watch my wife with my own children. I think she wants to cry at the table sometimes.

My kids love to read. They love history. They love the beach and the outdoors. They hate grammar. I don’t think they would do so well in the grammar section on a standard test. They are a lot like me. They even have warped senses of humor.

All I can do is encourage my wife to take the long view. Seems to me that I was just a kid a few days ago. Next year, I will be forty. How did that happen?

Your kids, and mine, are growing up fast. Time is running out. There is so much you want to give them, to teach them, to pass onto them. You will never feel you have done all you can. You will feel like a failure often. You will want to cry at the table.

Don’t give up. Keep reading to them. Keep teaching them. Keep pouring into them. Above all, keep hugging them. Do not be weary in well doing. In due season you will reap if you do not faint.

Your friend,


Many things make me hopeful about the future, but none more so than the online revolution in education. Dwane Thomas reaches far more kids online than he ever could through a physical classroom. An unlimited number of people can now learn Latin, and history, from a terrific teacher, thanks to all of the good people who made and continue to make the Internet possible.

That makes me smile as much as Dwane Thomas does.

The Cause of the Sandy Hook Massacre

To the extent the Connecticut State Police know and have faithfully reported the essential facts of the matter, we know the cause of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

On December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, twenty children and six adults died because twenty-year-old Adam Lanza sought to murder them, and did.

Hours before murdering twenty-six people at Sandy Hook Elementary, Adam Lanza’s mother died because he sought to murder her, and did.

Hours after murdering his mother and seconds after murdering twenty-six people at Sandy Hook Elementary, Adam Lanza died because he sought to kill himself, and did.

Each of these twenty-eight deaths had a single cause: the actions of one Adam Lanza of Newtown, Connecticut. They died for the reason that he wanted them dead and acted so as to bring about their deaths.

When we first learned that people died at the hands of another or others at Sandy Hook Elementary, we were right to wonder about the cause of their deaths. But that question is now answered. Adam Lanza alone caused – gave rise to and brought about – their deaths.

Adam Lanza used a weapon – a gun – to kill twenty-seven others and himself, but the weapon did not cause these deaths, Adam Lanza did.

In order to bring about the deaths he sought, Adam Lanza needed to cause a state of disorder in the bodies of his victims that was incompatible with their ability to function as living human beings. In order to bring about this state of disorder, he needed to transfer a destructive energy into their bodies – energy sufficient to break apart their bodily tissues irreparably, so that they would surely die. Adam Lanza did so, using a weapon of his choice specifically designed for the purpose of transferring destructive energy into living beings in a manner that will bring about their deaths.

A weapon is anything a person uses to cause a harmful state of disorder in another creature or thing. It may be something existing in a natural state, such as a rock, or it may be something a person manufactures for the purpose, such as a sharpened stick. In all cases, the capacity of a weapon to bring about a state of disorder in another creature or thing is only a potentiality while the weapon is at rest. In order for a weapon to bring about actually a state of disorder in a other creature or thing, it must first obtain kinetic energy from a living being, whether directly. A weapon never acts as such on its own and in fact is incapable of autonomous action as a weapon. Absent a supply of kinetic energy from a living being, whether supplied through a timing mechanism that delays the transfer of kinetic energy to the weapon, all of any weapon’s energy is potential.

Adam Lanza’s weapon of choice – a gun – did not act on its own. The gun did not transport itself from Adam Lanza’s home to Sandy Hook Elementary School, or from the car that Adam Lanza drove to the confines of the school. It did not aim itself at Adam Lanza’s victims, nor did it supply the kinetic energy that transformed its potential energy into a destructive force through the actuation of its trigger.

The weapon that Adam Lanza used to murder twenty-seven human beings and then to kill himself was at all times an inanimate object and as such had no capacity for moral or immoral action. We could correctly say that his weapon of choice was a moral nullity. That is, the concept of morality has no application to a weapon, but only to the human being who uses a weapon. Under different circumstances, perhaps even in Adam Lanza’s hands, the very same weapon he used for evil purposes at Sandy Hook Elementary School could have been used for good purposes, namely, the defense of innocent life. In different hands at Sandy Hook Elementary, the very same weapon could just as easily have been used to prevent a massacre such as Adam Lanza perpetrated.

Generally, when we speak of weapons being “moral” or “immoral,” we speak nonsense. This is true even of nuclear weapons. Suppose the existence of a large asteroid hurtling toward earth, likely to cause massive destruction of life unless diverted from its path. Suppose further that by directing nuclear weapons at this asteroid, its collision with earth may be avoided. Human beings who used such weapons against this asteroid to save life would surely be acting morally. Of course, human beings could also use nuclear weapons immorally, and have done so.

We can conceive of weapons that cannot be used in a morally-acceptable way, and certainly it would be the case that to manufacture or own such weapons would be immoral. But we cannot correctly say that the gun Adam Lanza used for his murder spree can only be used immorally. We have already established that this gun can be used morally. Accordingly, those who would ban the manufacture or ownership of such a gun act irrationally.

Aside from weapons that cannot conceivably be used in a morally-acceptable way – that is, for the defense of innocent life – to ban or confiscate any weapons in the wake of Adam Lanza’s massacre of innocent life at Sandy Hook Elementary would only compound the tragedy, adding injury to injury. The new victims would be all those who have a natural right to possess such weapons for their defense, for we all have a natural right to possess weapons for our defense. But it would not be the deceased murderer Adam Lanza who compounds the injury, but a new set of criminals who arrogate to themselves the power to control the lives of others. And it would be the case that morally, the intended victims of this new set of criminals have every right to defend themselves against those who would abrogate their rights.

In the wake of Adam Lanza’s horrific actions at Sandy Hook, some subordinate to emotion their faculties of reason and good, moral sense. Instead of recognizing that Adam Lanza alone caused the massacre and then his own death, they blame the inanimate object he used in committing his crimes. They neglect to consider that though Adam Lanza chose a particular weapon to assist his murder spree, he might just as easily have chosen any other weapon. They presume irrationally and unimaginatively that but for the existence of Adam Lanza’s chosen weapon and his access to same, he would have murdered fewer innocents or even none at all.

Adam Lanza alone caused the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School – not the gun he used, or his mother, or his teachers, or his father or brother, or his former schoolmates, or video games, or medications, or any other actor or agent. Adam Lanza felt within himself a murderous urge. Then, rather than subduing that evil impulse, he yielded to it and acted on it, destroying twenty-seven innocent lives in so doing. Having murdered so many, Adam Lanza then made another choice, which was to kill himself, and he did so.

Adam Lanza committed mass murder, then suicide. He is not the first to have done so, nor will he be the last. It is fit and proper for us to try to discover why such people commit the crimes they do, whether their names be Adam Lanza, Pol Pot, Charles Whitman, Genghis Khan, Anders Breivik, or Adolf Hitler. But even if we do discover the reasons why people commit mass murder, we will not necessarily be able to prevent such murders in the future. Realistically, we will never have a perfect world; we will always have to defend ourselves against evil actors. Some of these will act alone and the damage they do will be circumscribed accordingly; others will rally thousands or even millions to their evil paths, thereby magnifying their destructive capacity. But it would be foolish, stupid, and immoral of us to disarm ourselves or innocent others given the continued presence of evil forces among us.

Adam Lanza apparently left no explanation for his crimes. We will never have a full or perfect understanding of why he chose to cause so many deaths. But we do choose how we will respond to what Adam Lanza did, and that choice is a moral choice each of us faces. Will we compound the tragedy that Adam Lanza caused by committing ourselves new crimes, namely, abrogation of the rights of others to defend innocent life with weapons they select and use morally? Or will we act to better protect innocent life against others who, like Adam Lanza, will yield to murderous impulses and seek to harm others?

Should Occupy Wall Street ‘exact a cost on society?’

I read an online comment, yesterday, advocating that the Occupy Wall Street movement disrupt freight-rail services, or even break windows if necessary, in order to gain greater attention from society at large. The writer argued that marches are ineffective and that the movement’s tactics to date allow too many people to ignore it and go about their lives. He suggested that without greater attention from society at large, the movement would founder, and concluded that the movement must “exact a cost on society” if it is to be successful.

The writer’s frustration with the slow pace of change and lack of material, widespread support for Occupy Wall Street is understandable. While I suspect that the movement is cheered by many millions of people from what they deem a safe distance (whether literally or figuratively), the numbers of people actually putting their lives and reputations on the line are, thus far, only thousands. But, every movement has to start somewhere and with a relatively small group of people.

As a child I watched the antiwar and civil rights movementsof the 1960s and 1970s grow from similarly modest foundations to widespread empathy, acceptance, and support. They, too, began with meetings, marches, slogans, and, yes, occupations of physical space. The press and many in society ignored or derided them. After years of sustained effort, however, masses of people came to accept their goals as noble and embraced their ideas.

Elements in the antiwar and civil rights movements did eventually employ violent or destructive tactics, but these came after brutal acts of repression by local, state, and federal officials. At various times and places protestors smashed windows, burned buildings, and blocked trains. Some rioted and looted businesses; a few threw bombs. People lost their lives on both sides of the conflict.

The movement we know today as Occupy Wall Street may yet lead to comparable violence and destruction. Certainly we see that government officials have either learned nothing or else forgotten the lessons of several decades ago. When New York mayor Michael Bloomberg sends thousands of paramilitary forces to disrupt lawful protests with chemical weapons and batons, he is initiating the use of force, which is never moral or just and only invites defensive violence from his victims.

Perversely, this kind of official repression only feeds and strengthens the movement. The movement would grow anyway, aiming as it does at ending gross and intolerable injustices, but repressive actions such Bloomberg’s accelerate the process. When people see gun-bearing, baton-brandishing, helmeted police pepper-spraying defenseless young girls and dragging kids through the streets, most are repulsed. Those who cheer the thuggish police antics are either ignorant of their own interests or malevolent; many of these are undoubtedly sponsors or beneficiaries of the fascist (“crony capitalist”) regime that the Occupy Wall Street movement seeks to end.

If Occupy Wall Street is to maintain its moral authority, it must remain non-violent. That is not to say that its members should allow themselves to be beaten like dogs or shot dead in the streets, but only that they must never initiate the use of force themselves. And, if force must be used in legitimate self-defense or defense of innocent others, it must be proportionate to and calibrated solely to remove to remove the proximate threat.

The suggestion that the Occupy Wall Street movement must ‘exact a cost on society’ in order to bring about a better society is illogicaland would be self-destructive if followed. Were participants in the movement to adopt that tactic, they would lower themselves to the level of the blood-soaked savages currently occupying city halls, state houses, and government buildings in District of Columbia, who shrug off the deaths of innocents in the War on Drugs or “shock and awe” slaughters of brown-skinned people half a world awayas “collateral damage.”

The fascists among us have created enough victims already. Occupy Wall Street must stop the carnage, not create more of it.