Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Totally-Weird New Job

Yes, respectability is creeping up on me -- or maybe it's the lousy economy. Anyway, seeing that I needed a reliable source of income, I went out and got a job. Of course, being me, I chose a totally weird job.

I'm now officially a telephone psychic.

No kidding! If you doubt it, Google between 2:30 and 10:30 PM, go down the list of available psychics, and click on "Leslie Bard, #75096". They'll link you to a phone number, and I suspect you'll recognize the voice of the Psychic Adviser who picks up the phone.

Yes, you have to pay for every minute of the call -- $.99 per minute for newcomers, $1.99 per minute for regular customers -- but that comes to $120 per hour, which is less than you'd pay a broker, lawyer or psychiatrist. Besides, you're not charged by the hour but by the minute: no more minutes than you want to spend. Your broker, lawyer or psychiatrist won't cut you that much slack. Considering what sort of questions I'm usually asked -- about love or money -- that puts me in pretty much the same business, and I daresay my advice is just as good.

Actually, I've done this before. About eight years ago I worked as a telephone psychic on the network of the famous Miss Cleo, but I got out of it before the IRS came after her. Then as now, I used Tarot cards as my psychic amplifier. (Note: I'm only a medium-level psychic -- not one of the great talents like Croiset or Hurkos -- so I need a good reference-point to start with and some sort of amplifier to bring out the subtle impressions I get. Other mid-levels use tea-leaves, runestones or crystal balls for amplifiers, but Tarot cards work best for me.) They worked pretty reliably for the questions I usually got ("Does he really love me?" "How can I get money?"), and sometimes they gave me even more information than I was looking for.

In fact, that's why I quit Miss Cleo's service. I got a woman caller who asked the usual questions, and I spread the cards for her (I use the classic Celtic Cross spread), and suddenly got a strong and undeniable impression: that this woman was going to die within the month. Unfortunately, I got absolutely no impression of how that was going to happen, let alone what could be done to prevent it. I kept her on the line as long as possible, asking questions, trying to get some hint of what was going to kill the woman, and never got a clue. I couldn't find any useful warning to give her, so I didn't mention what I'd seen. The incident left me severely shaken up, so I quit Miss Cleo's service within the week. A few months later Miss Cleo and her network got taken down by the IRS, but I was safely out of it. Of course, I never heard from that clueless woman again.

Well, a few years have passed and I've grown a little tougher. Nowadays, if I got an impression like that again, I'd tell the client outright "You're in serious danger. Tell me who or what might be after you". So I'm back in the saddle again.

Besides, it'll be months before I hear back from the publisher I sent my latest novel to, and I need the income. *Sigh* Thus poverty doth make brave folk of us all.

--Leslie <;)))>< Fish

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Wittenberg Door

Several months ago an old friend and his Moslem wife came to visit, and we spent the next few hours talking about modern religion and the precarious state of moderate Moslems in America. She fumed furiously over what she called “the Wahhabi Whack-Jobs” causing all the trouble, and complained bitterly that the media have consistently ignored the moderate Moslems. The moderates, she said, have written endless letters to newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, have held public rallies and marched in the streets to denounce the Jihadis, and none of the media have bothered to notice.

“Keep at it,” I said, reminding her of how long it took the Civil Rights movement, or the Peace movement, to get themselves noticed. Persistence – and growing numbers – will eventually get the media’s attention.

The persistence would be there, she promised, and the numbers would grow – but what American moderate Moslems need is a clear statement of what modern Islam needs to be. “What we really need,” she said, “Is the Moslem equivalent of the Reformation.”

That takes some knowledge of history to understand. Islam was invented, officially, in 610 AD. This means that Islam is some six centuries younger than Christianity. Think: what was Christianity like 600 years ago?

It was nothing you’d want to live with today: holy wars, Inquisitions, witch-burnings, wholesale slaughter of heretics, unquestioned racism, sexism and religious bigotry, religious imperialism, and frantic suppression of such dangerous “modern” inventions as telescopes and the printing press. In short, it was very much like modern radical Islam.

There were early hints of revolt, the Diggers, the Ranters and the Albigenses being the better-known examples. All of them were ruthlessly suppressed, though their ideas – and sometimes a few of their adherents – managed to survive. Eventually the revolt against the static church reached open rebellion, in England with Henry VIII and in Germany when Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the Wittenberg church door. Subsequently, Christianity experienced the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment and emerged as we know it today, with only a few reactionaries – like the Westboro Baptist Church – still trying to live in the Middle Ages.

Islam never completed that journey and never went through the Reformation, let alone the Renaissance or the Enlightenment. Following the historical timeline, though, it’s ripe for one.

Already there’s a historical precursor. In 19th century Persia a nobleman named Baha’u’llah founded the Baha’i faith, which includes ideas remarkably similar to those of the Ranters, Diggers and Albigenses. Of course the Bahais were then persecuted by the orthodox Moslems, who still regard them as “apostates” to this day.

Already there are articles on moderate Moslem websites, calling for a Moslem Reformation and sketching out tentative principles.

I sincerely wish them luck, because the moderate Muslims absolutely must separate themselves from the vicious Wahhabis and the whole Jihadist movement. They can do it safely here in America, as Henry VIII did in England and Martin Luther in Germany, without bringing howling armies of Jihadis down on their heads – at least no more than any other Americans.

And it must happen soon, for the Jihadis are pushing hard for a world-wide religious war in which the moderates may well be caught in the crossfire. Seeing how the Jihadis have stepped up their war on all the non-Moslems in the world, I’d say the moderate Moslems have no more than five years to declare the Moslem Reformation and show themselves clearly opposed to the Jihadis.

Either that or all become Bahais.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


First, let’s admit that war is hell. War has always been hell. We can safely assume that it will always be hell. Unfortunately, it’s also sometimes necessary to prevent something worse. That being so, the best thing to do with a war is to win it – as quickly and thoroughly as possible. But that isn’t what we’ve been doing for the past half-century.

By now the war in Afghanistan and Iraq has dragged on for ten years, with no definite end in sight, and the American populace is growing weary of supporting it. This raises echoes of Vietnam, which likewise dragged on for over a decade, with no victory. The major difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan/Iraq is that, thanks to improved technology, the American casualties are much, much fewer.

Otherwise, the similarities are depressing. Our troops – or CIA agents – successfully booted out the local tyrant, but put in a corrupt and useless government to replace him. The US tried, but totally failed, to change the culture of the enemy country. Despite killing vast numbers of enemies and neutrals, the US did not stop nor even weaken the political direction of the country. When the US eventually gave up and withdrew, it left the political enemy stronger than before.

Obviously we’re doing something wrong here. Our modern methods – not the tactics but the grand strategies – aren’t working. Why, then, do we keep repeating them?

The answer has more to do with faith than sense.

The Great (naïve) Progressive Ideal came to ascendancy among the middle class, both Intelligentsia and Philistines, in the late 19th century – at the same time, not so coincidentally, as Behavioral Determinism (later shortened to Behaviorism). This philosophy held that all people are basically alike and therefore think alike, so whatever appeals to Us will likewise appeal to Them. Since Progressivism was basically pacifistic, and wanted to put an end to all war, it came to assume that if everybody is equally healthy, wealthy and educated, there will be no reason for war – therefore, let’s give away our money and technology so as to make every country in the world as wise and rich as we are, and then nobody will want to make war with anybody.

Naïve? Yes, but Western political policies for the next century were increasingly based on this attitude.

World War Two ended in the first (and last) use of atomic bombs in war, and left the world shocked by the idea that humans could, literally, destroy the world. Obviously, the Western governments concluded, a war as terrible as this must never-ever be fought again. To this end they formed the United Nations and invited into it any government that could mouth the proper Progressive ideals, which explains why the UN today is a largely a cluster of hypocrites. They also quietly agreed that they would never again fight an all-out war. In fact, modern Progressive culture – which I’d label Bourgeois Liberalism – grew into the conclusion that there’s nothing, nothing at all, worse than war.

For that reason, the United States has never since then formally declared war on anybody. Though it has actively fought wars, from Korea to Afghanistan, it has never formally called them wars (only “police actions”, or similar euphemisms) and has never fought them to conclusively win – to destroy the enemy’s government and military, take over the territory and rule it at least until the society is proven thereafter harmless – which is what we did in World War Two. Instead, we’ve fought our “police actions” with so many near-arbitrary restrictions as to keep ourselves from winning and to accomplish nothing. Note the differences: WW2 lasted less than four years, cost the US 440,000 lives, and ended with Germany and Japan profoundly changed and solidly our allies; the Korean, Vietnamese and Afghan wars have dragged on for years, cost fewer American lives, but ended in draws at best. The only thing such wars have accomplished is to make money for military-industrial corporations – who love them for just that reason.

This has to stop. We must make a serious change in attitude, as well as government policy, to put an end to such wasteful wishy-washy wars. If some foreign country is enough of a threat to us that we truly need to fight it, then let’s do it right: formally declare war, then go fight with everything (short of nukes, which must always be held as the ace in the hole) necessary to smash the enemy government, conquer the country, rule it and reform it with a hard enough fist to render it safe thereafter. If that means blowing up mosques that Jihadists shoot from, so be it. If that means shooting through the human shields that the evil rulers surround themselves with, so be it. If that means waging war in the fashion of Genghis Khan, so be it. (Let’s remember that Genghis Khan is the only person in history to actually conquer all of Asia, including the Middle-East.) Let’s fight to win, do the job thoroughly, and then go home. The very countries that would deserve such attention from us have cultures which would respect us for fighting in that fashion.

The only other viable alternative is a form of isolationism, up to a point. We would have to call home all our troops presently fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq (and put them to work guarding our borders), which would doubtless encourage the Jihadists. We would have to close all those foreign military bases and bring those troops home. We would have to determinedly expel all the illegal immigrants presently in America, and fortify our borders to keep them from coming back. We would have to end all alliances – and trade – with countries that are not our proven allies. We should also place import tariffs on all goods and services from countries which pay their workers less than the American minimum wage, so as to raise their prices to equal those of American-made products. We would have to make it illegal for anyone but American citizens, or American corporations, to own American land. We would have to withdraw our membership in the United Nations, put an end to the Federal Reserve and base our currency on solid American goods – such as precious metals and government property. All this would make the “global” capitalists howl predictions of doom, which should be ignored.

We would also have to switch our military to the Swiss System, develop ever more precise weaponry, train our citizens to be constantly vigilant for attacks by foreign agents, and keep our own spies carefully watching those foreign countries to see when – not if – they build themselves up to the point of attacking us. At that point we would have to fight all-out war anyway, but at least we would put it off for a few decades more.

Those, alas, are the choices we have. War with those hopelessly hostile foreign cultures is sadly inevitable, and our past half-century of wishy-washy war has made it so.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Stocks, Bonds, and Honesty

The other day I called up my friend Larry and caught him in the middle of some on-line stock trading. “Actually, trading options,” he said, “And I’ve been doing pretty well.”

Seeing what shape the economy has been in, I expressed surprise. He spent the next 40 minutes or so explaining what ‘options’ were, and how they differed from ‘futures’, how both of them related to the stock market and investment companies, and so on. At the end of his explanation I was still mostly in the dark, but one pattern emerged clearly.

“It’s gambling!” I said, amazed. “The stock market is just a legal gambling casino, where people bet on, uh… other people’s perceptions of… the value of… percentages of… ownership of… companies that do real work! You know, that sounds downright sinful.”

“Bingo!” he laughed. “All investment – including banks – is gambling, but very few people realize it. That’s why our economy’s in its present mess.” He then went off into a ten-minute rant about how the government should never have bailed out the ‘stupid’ banks who made the same mistake that caused the 1929 Crash: treating loans, debts and mortgages as if they were real property, which they aren’t. “It should let those fools collapse,” he said, “And let the smaller, smarter banks pick up the pieces. The only problem with that is ‘transparency’: letting people know exactly what their assets are really worth. Anything else loses people’s confidence in their value. Those fool banks’ own secrecy has lowered the value of their assets.”

“…Because,” I realized, “It lowers people’s perceptions of the value of… Wow! Then if those banks had been totally honest, stated publicly everything they were doing, where every penny of their money was going, then everybody would have known what they were worth…”

“And their value couldn’t have gotten inflated, and subsequently deflated,” he finished the thought. “Besides, their investors would have seen when and where they made bad decisions, and would have called them on it. That’s precisely how and why the smaller, smarter banks have survived – to pick up the pieces, as they’re doing now.”

“And as you’re doing with your ‘options’,” I guessed. “So Ben Franklin was right; honesty really is the best policy.”

“Bingo!” he laughed again, and then sailed off into another rant about how, in the 19th century – before the Federal Reserve had even been dreamed of, before there was any FDIC ‘oversight’ or ‘insurance’ for banks, when America’s currency was entirely solid – the value of our money actually increased; what $1.00 would buy in 1800 could be bought for $.80 in 1900. Nobody really trusted banks then, but subjected them to constant scrutiny; the banks with the most obvious ‘transparency’ drew the most investors, and those that were secretive soon failed. “Truth can be a deadly weapon,” he finished.

But I was struck by another thought. During that same 19th century America, with its childlike belief in honesty, became one of the richest countries in the world. But there are plenty of countries – societies, cultures – in the world (I name no names) which hold that truth is a ‘precious jewel’: much too precious to be given away for free; no, it must be sold to the highest bidder, and even then it’s acceptable to cheat the buyer if you can. These same cultures – some of them millennia old – may have some incredibly wealthy individuals, but the majority of their people are dirt poor and always have been. Even the benefits of modern industry – most of it given outright to those societies by countries like America – haven’t made much difference. Could their very attitude toward honesty be the cause?

Why not? When you assume that everyone you deal with will lie and cheat you if he can, you respond by lying and cheating in turn; otherwise, the other guy will take you for a gullible fool, easily robbed, and he really will rob you blind. This makes any kind of transaction as slow and cautious as a hand-off between illegal drug-dealers – which is not the way to create a fast-moving, flexible, elaborate and sturdy economy. Those dishonest cultures have long histories of producing wily merchants and a multitude of thieves, and of playing economic warfare with their trade-partners – which usually ends in ruin. This is why these third-world countries have remained notoriously corrupt and poor, despite America’s and Europe’s best efforts to help them.

This is why I’m suspicious of people who insist that America must become more “global in outlook” and adopt a policy of “realpolitik”. They’re as good as saying that we must adopt an attitude of constant cynicism, lying and cheating: that we should become as corrupt as the nations we’re dealing with, or else let ourselves be robbed blind.

No, that way lies disaster. History and economics show us that we have to stick rigidly to our principles, uphold honesty and simply not deal with cultures that refuse to do the same, regardless of what tempting profits they may offer us in the short run. In the long run, honesty – transparency, as Larry called it – is what will save us.

Franklin, who hobnobbed with the courts of Europe and was quite familiar with “realpolitik”, knew whereof he spoke.