Consequences of Kerffufluous Tomfoolery

Now that our crony-state-capitalist society has devolved to the point where the only people who suffer the ill consequences of bad decisions are the poor saps who are either too stupid or too impoverished to have bought protection from the perma-political class, one wonders when or whether there will be a backlash at some point by ordinary people (as opposed to public union types) and what form that will take. We have bailed out the owners of and lenders to banks, ostensibly to spare ourselves pain, but it is nothing short of crazy that not only did the owners of banks not lose their equity, nor the lenders their surety, but the employees of said banks pay themselves lavish bonuses from the spread they make by borrowing from the government at 0% and then lending back to the government at 2%. You cannot make this stuff up.

One of my favorites books of all time, and the only one I have ever read 4 or more times, is the Pulitzer Prize Winning geological exploration Annals of the Former World written by John McPhee. In it the author traverses the country on Interstate 80 or thereabout while discussing the deep time history of various sections of the terrain and terranes with various leading geologists. In the section dealing with the Rockies and the mountain interior West, we are introduced to one David Love, US Geological Survey adept and son of a Scottish immigrant and homesteader who also happened to be the cousin of John Muir, the founder of the Audubon society.

It is worth quoting extensively from this most excellently written tome:

From time to time, dust would appear on the horizon, behind a figure coming toward the ranch.  the boys, in their curiosity, would climb a rooftop to watch and wait as the rider covered the intervening miles.  Almost everyone who went through the region stopped at Love Ranch.  It had not only the sizable bunkhouse and the most capacious horse corrals in a thousand square miles but also a spring of good water.  Moreover, it had Scottish hospitality – not to mention the forbidding distance to the nearest alternative cup of coffee.  Soon after Mr. Love and Miss Waxham were married, Nathaniel Thomas, the Episcopal Bishop of Wyoming, came through in his Gospel Wagon, accompanied by his colleague the Reverend Theodore Sedgwick.  Sedgwick later reported (in a publication called The Spirit of Missions):

We saw a distant building.  It meant water.  At this lonely ranch, in the middle of a sandy desert, we found a young woman.  Her husband had gone for the day over the range.  Around her neck hung a gold chain with a Phi Beta Kappa key.  She was a graduate of Wellesley College, and was now a Wyoming bride.  She knew her Greek and Latin, and loved her horse on the care-free prairie.  The Bishop said he was searching for “heathen”, and he did not linger.

Fugitive criminals stopped at the ranch fairly often.  They had to – in much the way that fugitive criminals in lonely country today will sooner or later have to stop at a filling station.  A lone rider arrived at the ranch one day with a big cloud of dust on the horizon behind him.  The dust might as well have formed in the air the letters of the word “posse”.  John Love knew the rider, knew that he was wanted for murder, and knew that throughout the country the concensus was that the victim had “needed killing“.  The murderer asked John Love to give him five dollars, and said he would leave his pocket watch as collateral.  If his offer was refused, the man said, he would find a way to take the money.  The watch was as honest as the day is long.  When David does his field geology, he has it in his pocket.

People like that came along with such frequency that David’s mother eventually assembled a chronicle called “Murderers I Have Known”.  She did not publish the manuscript, or even give it much private circulation, in her regard for the sensitivities of some of the first families of Wyoming.  As David would one day comment, “they were nice men, family friends, who had put away people who needed killing, and she did not wish to offend them – so many of them were such decent people”.

One of these was Bill Grace.  Homesteader and cowboy, he was one of the most celebrated murderers in central Wyoming, and he had served time, but people generally disagreed with the judiciary and felt that Bill, in the acts for which he was convicted, had only been “doing his civic duty”.  At the height of his fame, he stopped at the ranch one afternoon and stayed for dinner.  Although David and Allan were young boys, they knew exactly who he was, and in his presence were struck dumb with awe.  As it happened, they had come upon and dispatched a rattlesnake that day –  a big one, over five feet long.  Their mother decided to serve it creamed on toast for dinner.  She and their father sternly instructed David and Allan not to use the word “rattlesnake” at the table.  They were to refer to it as chicken, since a possibility existed that Bill Grace might not be an eater of adequate sophistication to enjoy the truth.  The excitement was too much for the boys.  Despite the parental injunction, gradually the conversation at the table fished its way toward the snake.  Casually – while th meal was going down – the boys raised the subject of poisonous vipers, gave their estimates of the contents of local dens, told stories of snake encounters, and so forth.  Finally, one of them remarked on how very good rattlers were to eat.

Bill Grace said, “By God, if anybody ever gave me rattlesnake meat I’d kill them”.

The boys went into state of catatonic paralysis.  In the pure silence, their mother said, “More chicken, Bill?”

“Don’t mind if I do”, said Bill Grace.

Ah, vigilante justice.  At first blush, it feels so right.  I can think of long list of people today who “just need killing”.  The union thieves who teach for a day as substitutes and then somehow qualify to convert their years of union service to eligibility for a pension from the Teachers pension system far in excess of what teachers get.  Bankers who paid themselves fantastic bonuses out of the profits earned by borrowing at 0% due to federal policy and then lending back to the government at 2%, otherwise known as theft from taxpayers and savers on the back of the yield curve.  Those that make such policy by stripping savers of the money they need to live by keeping interest rates artificially low for an extended period.  Those who get political handouts for “green energy”.  Those who give political handouts for “green energy”.  Politicians who subvert the basic principles of fairness by giving favorable tax deals to some but not others.  Those who pressure ratings agencies to fire their leaders for telling the truth about the nation’s fiscal circumstances.  Those who destroy the climate for American employment by insisting on outrageously high and uncompetitive corporate tax rates and then do nothing for years as the policy causes businesses to shift jobs and investment overseas.  All those who feed at the public trough in exchange for political support.  The list can go on and on.

There is a problem however with vigilante justice, aside from the fact that there is ready access to a legal system today, where there may not have been on the frontier 130 years ago.  The problem is that some other idiot has a different list.  The problem is the one confronted by the French in the aftermath of their revolution, in the Terror.  The problem is that the rules can be made up by individuals and groups and would lead to chaos.  So we are left with Law.  The problem with Law is that  over time it has become so unreliable that confidence is beginning to wane.  There has been so much poor legislation by those who write the laws, so much bad or misguided discretion and misjudgment by those empowered to enforce the laws, and so much refusal to honestly discuss matters with those who should discuss the laws, that the very efficacy of Law is crumbling.  Viz the Occupy Wall Street protests.  These people really do not have a clue what they are talking about or what is wrong, they just know that something wrong is going on.  And that is the problem.  Too few in public life will do what is right.

OWS is the beginning stirrings of the lethargic American populace to shout out that there is something wrong.  Where will it lead?  Unless someone starts doing the right thing, it will ultimately lead to the mob.  At that point both the good and the bad will suffer.  My own assessment is we have a 50-50 chance of a poor outcome.  Hopefully things work out, but it is not a certain bet.

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