A Single Standard

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. Presidential adviser Ivanka Trump’s e-mails.

My e-mails.*

If any of us violated the terms of our security clearances, nondisclosure agreements, or training, in the course of sending US Government information by e-mail, we should face the same penalty.

If any of us mishandled classified US Government information by sending it over an unclassified e-mail system, whether a government-owned system or a system in the private sector, and whether by intent or through negligence, we should face the same penalty.

If any of us deleted US Government information that was meant (or especially required) to be archived, we should face the same penalty.

We have enough double standards in the world.

Double Standard
(Image: “Double Standard,” by Andy Mangold, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Must we continue to excuse wrong behavior, or apply a different standard, based on who is involved?

Can there ever be a single standard?

*In whatever official positions I held: Speechwriter to the Under Secretary of the Air Force, Technology Security Policy Program Manager, Detachment Commander, etc.

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The Bullies on Our Side

I think odd thoughts sometimes, and this may be one of the oddest: I come not to bury the bullies, but to praise them. At least, the bullies on our side.

(Full disclosure: I have only been bullied a little in my life, and I’m ashamed to say I was something of a bully for a while. It was part of my being young-and-stupid, and one of many parts that I would change if I could. What I’m talking about in this post, though, goes far beyond the schoolyard though it can be just as discouraging.)

Because when we think we’re right and other people are wrong, and we decide we need to enforce our rightness by making others conform to standards we set, we often end up relying on bullies to help us get our way. Not so much on the individual, interpersonal level (as adults), but enlarge the scope to the level of civic interaction and pretty soon the bully we know, the bully we like, the bully on our side becomes a most valued ally.

Why? Because much of society is unbalanced, power-wise.

Two equals who have different viewpoints and preferences are more likely to “live and let live” than two unequal parties, and even two closely matched entities may find it better to negotiate settlements. But in many cases where the power differentials are substantial, the less powerful party’s behavior is coerced in some way. Sometimes it’s overt and natural, as when parents teach their children how to behave in civil society. Sometimes it’s expected and voluntary, as when military members submit to higher authority. Sometimes, however, it’s subtle, insidious, and dictatorial.

Uninvited coercion on larger scales can be peaceful, as in the nonviolent movements of Ghandi and King that used moral suasion to great effect. It can also be martial, as in every revolution and riot that resorts to violence and the threat of violence to achieve its ends. Either way, the end result is accomplished by applying pressure — and remember, in physics terms pressure is force applied over an area. Force does not have to be shocking: the force you feel from atmospheric pressure is different from the force you feel if hit with a hammer, but it is a force nonetheless. And force, or the threat of force, is often what gets results in the wider world.

You may not think of such group action as bullying. But whenever we force someone who is not in our charge to do something they would rather not do, we effectively bully them — whether directly, or by proxy. And the biggest proxy bully around, that we have empowered to do the bullying on our behalf, is the government.

Yeah, don’t tread on me … but if you wouldn’t mind, those other people over there need to be trod upon…. (Image: “The Gadsden flag,” on Wikimedia Commons.)

The government offers us choices of who we might select as our favorite bully. It might be the legislature, since they pass laws that make other people do things that we want them to (or stop them from doing what we don’t like). Or it could be the judiciary, since their decisions can amount to much the same thing. We might choose the executive, since they enforce laws and may do so in our favor. Or it may be the police, because they keep all those lawbreakers and ne’er-do-wells in line.

Or perhaps our favorite bully is closer to hand, like our supervisor or plant manager or CEO — if we’re one of their favored employees. Maybe we ally ourselves with someone at work or church or the gym who has some degree of “informal” power, and they become the bully on our side. Or maybe we choose the mob: not the capital-m Mob of organized crime, but the gang around us — the school clique, the workplace cronies, the neighborhood crowd, the thinks/acts/looks like us mob that comes together at opportune times to make our wishes and even our demands known and strives to make them come to pass.

It could be that our favorite bully isn’t a person at all. It might, for instance, be the Bible, if we use it to tell other people — whether or not they share our faith — how they should act. (For the record: From what I can tell, if we try to make the Bible’s guidelines apply to nonbelievers, we’re wrong.)

How refreshing it would be if we would admit liking when government officials enforce the laws we approve, especially when those laws apply to other people, or when the government fails to enforce laws we despise (that usually apply to us).

We may be reluctant to admit that because we know it’s no fun being bullied. Maybe we don’t have a favorite bully, and don’t cheer when authorities and powers-that-be start bullying others — even if we approve of the result. Maybe we’re rather more libertarian than we usually think; it does seem that in many respects the lowercase-L libertarians have the right handle on the overall “live and let live” approach. And even if we’re not very libertarian-minded, we may sympathize a little with those on the opposite side since we know what it’s like to be coerced.

We may prefer not to consider all this to be bullying, although our ends — especially if we think of them as pure and noble — can justify all manner of different means. And in pursuit of those ends, even if we don’t call them by name or like them very much we still turn our bullies loose on those we think should do things to our liking. And if those other people complain or disagree, that’s fine — as long as they still comply.

We despise the other side’s bullies, of course, who stand ready to force us to do what we would rather not. But when we believe our way is the only right way, and we’re so dead set on getting our way that we will countenance force (or, pressure) to achieve it, we need our bullies. We may not love them, but we’re willing to rely on them.

As long as we’re convinced they’re really on our side.

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We Need Government, But Not Necessarily Governing

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

Fantasy fans may be expecting a quote from the Harry Potter series this morning, since today is J.K. Rowling’s birthday; while that was tempting, I decided to take this in a different direction.

In addition to being Ms. Rowling’s birthday, today is also the birthday of US economist Milton Friedman (31 July 1912 – 16 November 2006). Friedman received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976, and is something of a hero to libertarians because he argued for smaller government and a freer economy. However, it’s important to note that Friedman understood the importance of government, as he said in 1973:

We need a government to maintain a system of courts that will uphold contracts and rule on compensation for damages. We need a government to ensure the safety of its citizens — to provide police protection. But government is failing at a lot of these things that it ought to be doing because it’s involved in so many things it shouldn’t be doing.

And in 1978 Friedman said:

We have to recognize that we must not hope for a Utopia that is unattainable. I would like to see a great deal less government activity than we have now, but I do not believe that we can have a situation in which we don’t need government at all.

The problem is that often government spends too much time and effort governing — that is, imposing requirements and restrictions on citizens as to what they must and must not do. If we as citizens need governing, it is only because we have failed to govern ourselves; and if we freely impose upon ourselves a government to rule us rather than to operate alongside us — if we accede to be governed in that way — then we will have admitted that liberty is too great a burden for us to bear.

(Image: “US Capitol at Dusk,” by Martin Falbisoner, on Wikimedia Commons.)

I prefer the idea of a government that governs itself well; that leaves the rest of us to govern ourselves as best we can; and that intervenes and interferes in our lives very little.


And now, if you’ll permit me an aside on “This Day in History” … I was interested to read on the Internet (so of course that means it’s all true) that today marks three separate events in the US space program, each having to do with the Moon:
– In 1964, the Ranger 7 spacecraft sent back the first close-up photographs of the Moon;
– In 1971, Apollo 15 astronauts David R. Scott and James B. Irwin became the first to ride across the Moon’s surface in the lunar rover; and
– In 1999, NASA crashed the Lunar Prospector spacecraft into Shoemaker Crater at the lunar south pole.

I was interested in all of those things, of course, because last week my lunar colonization novel, Walking On The Sea of Clouds, was published. And not just that, but I mention the Lunar Prospector mission in the novel! It comes up as a group of colonists pass Shoemaker Crater on a journey to retrieve polar ice needed to keep the colony alive.

Walking On The Sea of Clouds is available as an e-book on Amazon or as a trade paperback on Amazon, or if you prefer it’s also available as an e-book from Kobo and Smashwords.


Thanks, and have a great week!

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New Video: Of, By, and For the People

Have you thought much about the placement of the prepositions in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? Does their placement — “of the people, by the people, for the people” — matter much in understanding what they imply for our government?

In this video, I suggest that their placement is pertinent … and proper:

– Video: The Verbs in the Preamble
– More videos: My YouTube channel

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New Video: The Verbs in the Preamble

A critical look at the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution: what it says, what it doesn’t say, and what (in a way) it could imply:

This one runs a bit longer than I generally produce for Between the Black & the White, so if you’re in a hurry you can scroll to about the 5:38 point and watch about 2-1/2 minutes to get what’s probably the most insightful part.

Other Videos:
– Since it’s Star Wars day, here’s “Tauntauns to Glory
– The prior episode I mention in this video is the public speaking tip, The Value of Inflection
– Find more on my YouTube channel

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Monday Morning Insight: Are You a Friend to Government?

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

Today is John Hancock’s birthday, at least according to the “New Style” calendar — the Gregorian calendar, which became the legal calendar in Britain and the colonies in the mid-1700s. But whether the day he was born is considered the 23rd or the 12th of January 1737, he was certainly a patriot and a statesman, and served as Governor of Massachusetts (twice) and president of the Second Continental Congress.

On the fourth anniversary of the Boston Massacre — on 5 March 1774 — Hancock delivered a speech in Boston in which he said,

Some boast of being friends to government; I am a friend to righteous government, to a government founded upon the principles of reason and justice; but I glory in publicly avowing my eternal enmity to tyranny.

That quote seems appropriate for our present day and our present government, especially given the inauguration of a new President this past Friday and the widespread protests the day after.

Were you a friend to our government, until this past Friday? Or, conversely, did you only become a friend to our government this past Friday?

In other words, were you consistent in your support of our government until a President of whom you disapproved was elected and inaugurated? Or were you consistent in your opposition to our government until the country elected and inaugurated a President of whom you approved?

How you answer the question may tell us more about you than it does about our government.

Because neither before nor after this past Friday has our government been totalitarian, nor has it disavowed the principles of reason and justice upon which it is founded. Yes, we may support or oppose some policies and programs for which our tax dollars pay, and in turn may wish such policies or programs to continue or to cease. Yes, our government’s standard of justice may shift or be unevenly applied. Yes, government levies some requirements on us, and more or fewer requirements on others. But that is the nature of limited, imperfect governmental action, and it does not make such actions tyrannical.

Broad Stripes & Bright Stars
How well do the lights of our government shine? (Image: “Broad Stripes & Bright Stars,” by Jason Samfield, on Flickr, under Creative Commons.)

I, for one, agree with Hancock: “I am a friend to righteous government, to a government founded upon the principles of reason and justice,” and so long as our government remains so I will be pleased to support it. With Hancock, however, “I glory in publicly avowing my eternal enmity to tyranny,” no matter what political persuasion the President happens to be — but I will not let fears and phantasms of despotism cloud my mind, and cause me to see tyranny where it does not exist.

We are still the land of the free, and I wish you peace in pursuing your freedom.

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Monday Morning Insight: Proclaiming National Thanksgiving

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)


On this date in 1789, President George Washington — based on a resolution passed in the Congress — proclaimed that Thursday, 26 November 1789, would be set aside for the people of the nation to unite in devotion to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” The proclamation began with a statement that seems quite bold today, especially for a public official:

… it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.

Congress had recommended “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” Washington’s proclamation enjoined the people to offer “sincere and humble thanks” to God for several things, including:

  • “His providence in the course and conclusion of” the Revolutionary War,
  • “the great degree of tranquillity [sic], union, and plenty” they enjoyed,
  • “their civil and religious liberty,” and
  • “all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.”

Gratitude changes the way we look at the world

(Image: “Gratitude changes the way we look at the world,” by BK, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


President Washington also encouraged the people to beseech “the great Lord and Ruler of Nations” to forgive “our national and other trangressions [sic],” and, in particular,

to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed.

It seems a shame that we have let our government get so out of control, and that we seem unable to place people in positions of trust who are wise and just, who respect the Constitution, and who are able to “discreetly and faithfully” execute the nation’s laws. Perhaps if we used Thanksgiving for giving thanks, and for reflecting on our freedom and what it takes to maintain it, we might have less trouble in that regard.

P.S. The full proclamation is available here.

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Monday Morning Insight: The Purpose of Our Government

On this date in 1788, my home state of South Carolina became the eighth state to ratify the new Constitution of the United States of America. Given the (perhaps unusually) contentious nature of our political discourse this election year, it seemed like a good idea to use the Preamble as today’s quote to start the week:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Break it down with me …

  • We the People of the United States … — Not we the people of one state, nor we the people of the rest of the world, but we the people of the United States.
  • … in Order to form a more perfect Union … — That is, “more perfect” than the previous union under the Articles of Confederation. (Many years ago, my good friend Dr. James Galt-Brown and I discussed writing a book to speculate on what the next more perfect union might be like. Alas, another project that fell by the wayside.)
  • … establish Justice … — Not guarantee justice, because justice can never be guaranteed, but establish it, primarily by establishing a system which, if administered well, might produce it more often than not. Justice as an ideal toward which we should strive is laudable, but a different matter from what the Constitution purposed.
  • … insure domestic Tranquility … — That is, keep the peace internally and, where possible, protect citizens’ lives from disruptions.
  • … provide for the common defence … — Note that this is the only thing the Preamble proposes to provide, and even here the preposition is important because it is less to provide outright than to provide for defense against our enemies. National security remains the paramount responsibility of every national government, but the government relies on the citizens — whether volunteers, as we have in the U.S. today, or conscripts in times of national emergency — to step up and provide it. That seems like a good thing to reflect upon as we approach Memorial Day.
  • … promote the general Welfare … — Not provide it, not guarantee it, but promote it: make the citizens’ welfare possible, and where practical remove obstacles to it.
  • … secure the Blessings of Liberty … — What are the blessings of liberty? What are the benefits of freedom? Are they the same for everyone, everywhere, at every time? No. The blessings may be success, but they may also be failure; potential good results of liberty also have their negations, potential bad outcomes, because exercising liberty means accepting risk.
  • … to ourselves and our Posterity … — Not to the rest of the world, unless they wish to join the union of our several and sovereign states. To ourselves, and the future generations we raise.

The first page of the U.S. Constitution. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)


Our Constitution was not perfect when it was written, but it was not expected to be; it was only meant to be “more perfect.” Its authors were wise enough to include in it the means to change it should future years prove it unequal to its charge. And what was its charge, its mission? It seems to me it’s right there in the Preamble: not to institute a governmental system for its own sake, but to accomplish certain tasks that together would free its people — “We the People of the United States” — to pursue their own aims, their own dreams, their own potential.

As we begin this week, I hope you have success in pursuing your aims, your dreams, and your potential.

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Tax Awareness Day, Spring Edition

It’s the Ides of April! Have you paid your taxes?

I don’t mean filed your taxes for 2015, although you might have done that, too. Maybe you’re expecting a refund; maybe you already got one; maybe you have to pay.

But even though April 15th falls on a Friday this year, which gives you a three-day reprieve on filing your annual taxes, today still represents Tax Day — and the day first-quarter estimated tax payments are due for this tax year.

If you don’t make your own tax payments — for instance, if you have taxes withheld from your paycheck or someone else takes care of your taxes for you — you might not have a good grasp on just how much you’ve paid in 2016. Those of us who pay quarterly estimated tax ourselves know all too well, whether we paid the first of four set payments based on our expected earnings or we paid according to what we actually made so far (projected out through the end of the year).

Tax Day

(Image: “Tax Day,” by Simon Cunningham, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


If you haven’t had the pleasure this year of writing a check — either electronic or paper — to the government for your 2016 taxes, then today is a good day to take a look at the last pay statement you received in March. Check out the “year to date” figures of how much you made and how much was taken out. Depending on whether you think it was too much or too little or just enough, you can either think about all the good things the government is doing with your money … or the things you could’ve done, if you could’ve kept a little more of it.

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In Defense of Slower Government

Are you more likely to make a mistake when you’re being hasty, or being deliberate?

There’s a reason the old saying is, “Haste makes waste.” It’s “measure twice, cut once,” not “cut wherever you want to, who has time to measure?” And speaking of cutting, there’s a reason I have a chunk missing from my right thumb — tip: don’t rush the process of slicing onions with the mandolin, thinking that you have plenty of room before you need to use the little safety attachment.

If your personal experience is anything like mine, then you can point to specific instances when you made a snap decision — or just a swift decision — and had that decision turn out badly. Perhaps not with the bloody results that my kitchen mandolin incident produced, but I’m confident that at least once you’ve looked back at a mistake and thought, “I wish I’d taken more time with that.”

But how about our government? Is it also more likely to make a mistake when it’s being hasty?

We the People

(Image: “We the People,” by Chuck Coker, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


Our personal decisions usually affect only a few people: maybe just us, maybe our family or friends, maybe coworkers or even some strangers. So our personal mistakes have limited consequences. But government decisions usually affect a great many people — even all of us — and therefore government mistakes can have far-reaching effects.

Aside from natural disasters and enemy attacks, governments generally do not face emergencies that require immediate or even especially fast action. Particularly where legislative bodies are concerned, urgency is usually contraindicated. Legislatures are built for deliberation — their strength is in studying issues, building consensus, reaching compromise — and they should be loath to abandon careful consideration, reflection, and caution.

You may be able to think of an example or two of a hasty government move. Very recently, for instance, a few miles from where I live, the North Carolina legislature staged a late night raid to combat a Charlotte city ordinance; they seemed to be working against a deadline, but the fact remains that by acting swiftly they perhaps worked less well than they would have if they had taken more time to think through what they were doing. In some instances government leaders act quickly in order to capitalize on perceived crises or fleeting majorities; in at least one prominent case, highly complex legislation was passed before everyone was cognizant of everything in it, exemplified by the enigmatic “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

It is true that Miyamoto Musashi encouraged readers of Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings) to train themselves “day and night to make quick decisions,” but he was writing about life-or-death situations in which failing to act would be disastrous. When the clock is not a factor and the decision is less crucial, taking time to deliberate before making a critical choice often results in a better outcome.

And when decisions become more momentous, when they affect more people, and particularly when they entail significant controversy, it seems that longer and longer deliberation might be in order. From that perspective, the government that operates slowest may in the long run be the best.

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