by Mike Vanderboegh
15 July 2008
Illustration above from the Financial Times
Precipice, noun, from the Latin praecipitium, headlong:
1: a very steep or overhanging place
2: a hazardous situation; broadly, a brink
-- Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Brink, noun, Middle English, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse "brekka" or slope
1: edge; especially : the edge at the top of a steep place
2: a bank especially of a river
3: the point of onset : verge, as in "on the brink of war"
4: the threshold of danger
-- Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Frontier: the demarcation point where one passes from one country into another; the outer edges of a nation or a culture where civilization and the rule of law interface with savagery and the law of the jungle. In such dangerous places, firearms are necessary adjuncts to lawbooks. -- Vanderboegh's Dictionary of Political Economy.
Call it what you will, but there is where we stand.
On the edge.
On the "threshold of danger."
Where lives and fortunes are made, or defended, with one's own hands, or capriciously snuffed out in an instant.
As a people, we have been here before. Whether we remember enough to get us through this time depends entirely upon us. We have been comfortable, lazy, drowning in affluence. Our material success has papered over the faultlines of our society. That social lubrication is about to disappear like water poured onto the desert floor, leaving nothing but social sandpaper -- flint and steel in a societal tinderbox.
"I fear that we're sitting on a financial powder keg." -- Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama
My friend Peter from over at Western Rifle Shooters Association has done us the favor of printing the latest prediction of the economist Nouriel Roubini of NYU. As Pete observes, Roubini "has been one of the few economists consistently calling his shots over the past two years, including being one of the first to discuss the then-upcoming American housing collapse in 2006." Robert Lenzner, the National Editor of Forbes magazine, calls Roubini "the economist (I) respect the most about today's financial crisis." (See "How Many Trillions Lost?", Robert Lenzner, 15 July 2008).
Now I have learned in my life that predictions, like opinions and anal sphincters, are ubiquitous. Which is to say, everybody's got one. But when someone has a history of being right as evidenced by events, you should pay attention to his next prediction. As Peter reports and Lenzner comments upon, here is Roubini's: "The U.S. is experiencing its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and will undergo its worst recession in the last few decades."
I am not going to waste space with the details of Roubini's analysis. The beauty of the web is that you can merely click on the link and check the footnotes yourself instantly.
But you should know that even Roubini may be too optimistic, given the fact that, as Mike "Mish" Shedlock of the Global Economic Analysis blog wrote last month, there are "many hurricanes and many eyes" in the economy presently, most of which have not hit yet.
After detailing the various other financial hurricanes out there, Shedlock wrote:
"Rising Unemployment Will Compound Every Problem: Unemployment is a lagging indicator. That fact has been used to suggest the worst is behind. The idea the worst is over is nonsense. The worst cannot be behind until after the hurricanes have landed. Batten down the hatches, the worst is yet to come. Subprime is among the smallest of the storms that will hit. Even still, subprime has dramatically weakened the infrastructure. The economic knockout blow will come from the backside of one of the impending storms."
In one of his latest blog entries, Shedlock jeers at Ben Bernanke's latest testimony on Capitol Hill, observing that
The Unsaid As Important As The Said: Bernanke did not mention a thing about the impending commercial real estate bust. . . The expansion of commercial real estate (Wal-Mart (WMT) , Target (TGT), Home Depot (HD), Lowes (LOW), Starbucks (SBUX), Pizza Hut (YUM), etc., etc., was the last economic driver for jobs). Every one of those corporations and more are cutting back. The Shopping Center Economic Model Is History. There is a rising glut of vacancies and downward pressure on rents. Regional banks that escaped the housing debacle instead foolishly undertook commercial real estate bets. Commercial real estate is just one reason why Bank Earnings Won't Recover. Indeed there are Many Hurricanes, Many Eyes. Bernanke still has his myopic eyes focused on the last hurricane (subprime lending), unable to see the other storms that are approaching."
The armed citizenry is about to come back into its own
We run carelessly to the precipice, after we have put something before us to prevent us seeing it. -- Blaise Pascal
So the storms approach, each promising to be rougher than the last. How much pounding can our national societal ship take before the hull is breached and we founder and break apart?
As I observed on the WRSA website:
"The critical thing will be this: How does our fragmented national polity, divided as it has been by liberal interest group politics and largely divorced for generations from both its moral basis and the land -- the twin foundations of civilization, belief and self-sufficiency -- react to hardship? Poorly, I suspect. The armed citizenry is about to come back into its own."
"Gun control advocates argue that the police are there to protect us from criminals and the military from invaders. But in 1992, the National Guard and police refused to engage hoodlums during the Los Angeles riots, effectively abandoning people to their fate. Nevertheless many Korean merchants successfully used firearms with high-capacity magazines, which Congress has since banned, to fend off rioters. Their stores still stood after the riots." -- "Can Gun Control Reduce Crime? Part 1" , Benedict D. LaRosa, October 2002, Future of Freedom Foundation
Most folks alive today remember 1992. That year gave us triple disasters: Hurricane Andrew, the LA Riots, and the election of Bill Clinton as President.
Many will remember the vivid images of Korean grocers defending themselves and their property from the rooftops of their groceries with (horrors!) those evil semi-auto "assault rifles." Many will also recall the entire neighborhoods in Florida protected from looters by spontaneous militias of armed citizens.
It is instructive that the National Guard only fired twenty shots during the LA Riots, killing just one gangbanger. (See "Military Operations in Los Angeles, 1992" by Major General James D. Delk) Yet 55 people were killed, most of them looters.
Who do you think killed the others?
The armed citizenry, that lampooned and despised minority of Americans, were the ones responsible. It certainly wasn't "the only ones", as David Codrea has effectively labeled them.
"Nothing beats a race riot"
And so we must expect that, in the societal disturbances -- from individual crimes of theft to roving gangs to racial strife -- that may attend our coming crisis, it will be the armed citizenry that once again shoulders the burden of defending our loved ones, our homes, our property and our communities. This topic was actually a common thread of conversation at the recent Alabama Gun Collectors Association show in Birmingham, Alabama. As much as the threat of further federal encroachment upon our God-given rights is expected, it is the threat of racial and interest group warfare attendant to economic breakdown that is perceived as the greater danger. Obama's presidential candidacy was perceived by some as a double-edged sword with lawless consequences whether he is defeated or elected.
Throughout Los Angeles, people who had never wanted a gun are now anxious to buy one. David Penso, a 20-year-old janitor at a Thrifty Drug Store, recalled watching looters pillage a discount store while the police drove by. "The cops were there," Mr. Penso said, "but they didn't do anything. The only way people can be protected in Los Angeles is if they protect themselves with guns."
. . .
"I always thought if there was a serial rapist or murderer loose my business would go up, but nothing beats a race riot," said Sean Collinsworth, the owner of Deadly Force, a personal gun-training service in Los Angeles. "People are really scared."
. . .
"I've had frantic calls from people who in a million years would never want a gun -- Park Avenue types, for example," said Michael Zirmo, owner of the Zirmo Company, the largest gun seller in New York City. . . . A lot of people realize if you don't look out for yourself, nobody will." -- Timothy Egan, "After the Riots: Los Angeles Riots Spurring Big Rise in Sales of Guns", New York Times, May 14, 1992
From the 7/15/08 online Los Angeles Daily News:
Police ordered angry customers lined up outside an IndyMac Bank branch to remain calm or face arrest Tuesday as they tried to pull their money on the second day of the failed institution's federal takeover. At least three police squad cars showed up early Tuesday as tensions rose outside the San Fernando Valley branch of Pasadena-based IndyMac.
"Nothing beats a race riot."
So the anger and the fear build once more.
On the precipice, the brink, the frontier of all our fears, we must even so make our lives.
As to how we may do so, I give you this modern-day militia training film.
Drums Along the Mohawk
Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) is one of my favorite John Ford movies, and probably the best movie ever made about the Revolutionary War - all the more so because the main character is a man who does his best to avoid it.
The movie opens in 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence, a full year after Lexington and Concord. Thousands have been killed in the struggle between the colonies and the King, but Gil Martin is not a part of that. The opening scene depicts Martin's (Henry Fonda) wedding to Lana (played by Claudette Colbert), the daughter of a wealthy Hudson Valley farmer. Martin has already started a homestead further west in the Mohawk Valley, and it is a journey to his rude cabin that that they embark after the wedding, trailing a milk cow behind their wagon. The war is very far away in the minds of these two newlyweds. Yet the war manages to find them. As David Nichols relates in "Ford's Revolutionary America: 'Drums Along the Mohawk'"
It looks as though everything is working out as it should. Their marriage is solid and the frontier is being tamed. But then we are immediately transported to the fort, where the local men are forming a militia.
The mood at the fort is lighthearted and the meeting of the militia appears almost as an excuse for a community gathering. Lana meets her neighbors and lets slip the fact that she and Gil are expecting their first child. The men seem as awkward in their role as soldiers as Lana and Gil had seemed as newlyweds. The soldier calling the role wonders why no one has answered when he calls his own name. He does not yet see himself as a soldier. General Herkimer (Roger Imhoff), an older immigrant frontiersman and experienced military man, gives a speech describing the seriousness of the situation, but the men marching look more like boys playing soldier than a regiment about to face the horrors of war. Ford continues this mood with a scene in which the neighbors have gathered to help Gil clear some of his land. The need for the fort and the militia seems forgotten. The community has come together to build rather than fight.
But this peaceful scene cannot last. The Indians attack destroying Gil's farm and forcing all of the families to seek refuge in the fort. Lana is now distressed that her cow must be left behind. On arriving at the fort Lana goes into labor, but Gil must leave her to join the militia in chasing the attackers, and on his return he learns that she has lost the baby. All of Gil's and Lana's dreams have gone up in smoke.
Indians led by the sinister one-eyed British agent Caldwell (played by an evil John Carradine) have raided into the valley, burning their new home. Poking through the smoking rubble of their burned-out cabin, Gil says: "It doesn't seem possible people can work as hard as we did for nothing."
Lana replies: "We can build again."
They are forced by their loss to become hired help to Sarah McKlennar (played by the marvelous character actress Edna May Oliver), the tart, nosy and plain-spoken widow of a British officer who owns a large farm nearer to the fort's illusory safety.
I'm certain that, watching "Drums Along the Mohawk", I am not the only one to see parallels between Caldwell's murdering renegades and MS-13, the Bloods, the Crips and even the Hell's Angels and other biker gangs of today. Indeed, the atrocities of today's MS-13 are enough to make a 18th Century Iroquois warrior blanch.
Such groups are always empowered by war and social breakdown. And they can only be dealt with in one way -- by killing enough of them in a convincing fashion so the survivors - may they be few - go away to victimize someone else.
"Trust in the Lord and wait until you can make every shot count."
Assuming you are all going to go secure a copy of "Drums" and watch it, I will not waste space giving you the rest of the plot line, save this:
In the end, while even the fort does not prove sufficient to withstand the threat posed by Caldwell, and Mrs. McKlennar and other friends are killed in the struggle, Gil and Lana battle together to win their own future free from war and tyranny.
The armed citizenry of their day learned the painful lessons, lost battles, rose and fought again, finally triumphing.
They faced their precipice.
We now soon will face ours.
To quote one last time from "Drums Along the Mohawk", remember the words of the good Reverend Rosenkrantz:
"Trust in the Lord and wait until you can make every shot count."
PO Box 926
Pinson, AL 35126