What War

This was one of the speeches I wrote for Politimasters.

Some say that war is a necessary evil. Others say that antiwar is the ultimate good. I propose that choosing between a war & antiwar stance is like choosing between Republicans and Democrats; it’s an example of a false dichotomy. There are other choices that can and should be made.

Necessary evil is a contradiction in terms, otherwise known as an oxymoron. It is an impossibility for something to be both necessary, ergo good, and evil, ergo bad. I see your hand up back there, I’ll bet you think you’ve got an example to prove me wrong. I would suggest that you check your precepts, there is a logical flaw in your argument somewhere.

War is a many faceted concept. One of its facets, the right to defend oneself against aggression, is necessary. It is only through the ability to defend one’s rights that the rights themselves can be secured; even if that defense requires violence in response to violence.

However modern warfare, wars of conquest, wars of aggression, are evil. Modern warfare, which is exemplified by large groups of soldiers highly trained and mechanized, able to wreak great destruction and death from a safe distance, is very hard to legitimize. Conquest and aggression violate the rights that we hold dear, and so should be avoided at all costs.

On the other hand, the antiwar movement has breed its own evil, and cannot possibly be the good as currently constituted. Watch any antiwar rally, listen to nearly any antiwar protestor talk, and you will hear and see hatred of America, and the demonization of the American people.

This begs the question, if they are Americans, and all Americans are bad, how can they possibly be good? Are we bad as libertarians who also happen to be Americans? Of course not, and Americans in general are not evil or bad. Misguided, yes. America is the most generous nation on the face of the planet, and I have a hard time believing that is a sign of evil as well.

A facet of the antiwar movement is the pacifist movement. Pacifism, in my opinion, is evil in its own right. True pacifism does not allow for a credible self defense; if you cannot mount an equal or superior force, then the consequences for aggressive actions are not sufficient enough to give an aggressor pause. Just like the possibility of being shot in states that allow concealed carry curbs crime, the knowledge on the part of an aggressor nation that the population of its target is prepared to defend itself will tend to dissuade it from carrying out its aggression there.

In light of the above, let’s analyze the current conflict in the middle east. Are we involved in a war of aggression, or are we engaged in self defense?

Do we face a real & credible threat? If you travel to New York city, and look into the pit that was the base of the World Trade Center, I think you will have to agree that there is a credible threat to us. The terrorists who flew the planes into those buildings were part of a larger religious sect, and that religious sect has declared war on us. There may be no governments that have declared war on us in the middle eastern region of the world, but several governments support this religious sect. That constitutes a threat in my opinion as well. In light of these facts we could be said to be engaged in self defense.

But why Iraq? They don’t support the religious group who has declared war on us; and while they do train terrorists there (we should know this we funded them for many years. -ed.) there has been no provable link between Iraq and the 9-11 attacks. The answer to the question why Iraq? is imperial strategy. If you listen to the spokesman for StratFor (www.stratfor.com) he’ll tell you what our government’s won’t; The real reason we are in Iraq is for long term empire-building strategy. We destroy the strongest army in the area, we have large numbers of troops on the ground in the region and we get to remove our troops from Saudi Arabia where they are causing problems. (in fact, their presence there lead indirectly to the 9-11 attacks, but I digress) all good strategic reasons to be there.

Isn’t that by definition a war of aggression? It sure looks like it on the surface. In reality, however, how can we know? The top secret information that our governments is acting on is not available to us. No discussions of the facts behind our current conflict have been allowed so far. Very few public discussions of a factual nature have been conducted at all; generally all we get are propaganda based posing on either side (war and antiwar) which are framed in such a way as to create a rift amongst the American people.

So, here we are, libertarians all. What should be our response to this. I’ve got one for you: What war?

There has been no declaration of war. There has been no request for one. The president has gone out of his way to stress to insurance companies that there is NO war, so they have to honor the claims of businesses and people harmed by the current conflict.

We have no real information to counter this assertion by the President. The CIA doesn’t report to any of us and how could we know whether to trust them or not even if they did? The only people that know what’s going on are the men in the field and most of them are too close to the action to be objective about it.

We have a genuine need to remove real and credible threats, but is this the right way? Do we have to subjugate the entire middle east in order to remove the current threat? That certainly seems to be where we are headed, and without any direction from the people who will have to foot the bill for all this. I welcome discussion on the facts, Mr. President, members of congress; give us the facts. Give us the chance to judge the truth of the matter as sovereign individuals, as is our right. What are the long range intentions in relation to the middle east, and militant religion in particular?

So the next time (Did I hear you say “Hey the wars over, we won.”? Right…) someone asks you “what do you think about the war?”, just ask them “What war?” I guarantee it will be a conversation they’ll remember.


In hindsight, it strikes me as funny that Bush declared victory in 2003, but we’re still fighting battles over there on a daily basis. What does ‘victory’ mean? Doesn’t sound like the war is over from where I’m sitting.

The thing I got the most trouble over from people who heard the speech is that I needed to revise my views concerning necessary evil; it was deemed to be a sign of naivete that I didn’t understand the issues well enough to understand what evil was and why it might be necessary to do evil. Nearly three years later, I simply feel stronger about it. Most people who use this phrase are just looking for an excuse for supporting something that they know is evil. The problem remains in the unrealistic definition of what evil is, as I asserted originally. If you find yourself mouthing the phrase necessary evil you better be 100% sure of the necessary part.

The soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan would tell you unambiguously that we were at war. They would also probably tell you it was an evil war. I would have a hard time disagreeing with that sentiment now.

Rev. 02/06/2022

Polluted Memories of Stage Fright

Any human being who doesn’t lean into you when you are scared is not a human being you want to be listening to you.

Mandy Patinkin

A friend sent me a link to a music and humor blog the other day thinking I would get a kick out of the references to days gone by, inside jokes that only us old people would find amusing. What they didn’t know was that the Janis Joplin  music that the blog was playing would remind me of Janis staring down on me from the wall of the Janis Room at Threadgill’s. Not a pleasant memory of my youth but of the location where we used to hold a weekly Libertarian Toastmasters (Politimasters) meetings and the terror I went through pretty much every week that I was expected to give a speech there. The kind of thing that should carry a trigger warning, if I believed in those kinds of things.

Anyone who’s ever tried to speak in front of a large group of people can probably commiserate with me here, if not completely understand what I’m talking about. It wasn’t just fear that I felt, standing there trying to speak, and stage fright is too dismissive to cover it. Perhaps topophobia would describe the feeling, if only I could get a definition that wasn’t the (current) generic fear of certain places or situations. But stage fright might explain why Janis (and so many other performers) resorted to numbing herself before getting onstage. I know the politimasters meetings went better when alcohol was served beforehand (at least they seemed to) How can you be expected to be entertaining when you can’t shake the feeling that you’re going to melt (or explode) at any moment? Heart racing, a feeling of the darkest dread, the desire to run away and never stop running? Is that entertainment?

Public speaking is one of the most common human fears, and this was confirmed by my own experiences within the Politimasters group. The group itself died from a lack of participation. We just couldn’t get enough people. Ten people were all we needed. Ten people, and you can run an effective Toastmasters training group. We couldn’t even get 10 people in the city of Austin interested in meeting every week to practice their speaking skills in front of an audience. That is how prevalent the fear is.

Toastmasters and stage fright in turn remind me of my high school speech class and the dreaded speech class project, another instance (and another trigger warning) of getting up in front of an audience and performing in front of other people. The teachers decided to do a mock version of The Gong Show (this was the 70’s after all) in front of the entire school body as well as guests. To make matters worse they decided we would determine in advance whether we were going to be gonged or not (I think they missed the point of audience participation a key feature of The Gong Show) A friend of mine convinced me that we should try and do Abbott & Costello’s routine Who’s on First, and we (she) decided that we didn’t want to be gonged. I went along with the plan lacking even the slightest idea what I could possibly do that an audience would find interesting. [I’ve written a piece more recently, Coping with Dysgraphia. It might shed light on why it was that I was convinced I couldn’t be interesting.]

Abbott & Costello – Who’s on First?

I memorized the routine. I read it every day for more than two weeks. I performed it in front of family a number of times. I could do it backward by the day of the show. All that practicing amounted to nothing. It didn’t matter because when that curtain rose, I couldn’t remember word one of the entire thing. I am, to put it bluntly, speechless, in front of the entire auditorium. Both of us end up reading the routine from cards that we carried on stage with us. There is no other way to describe what we were doing other than bad, and we should be gonged for it. The audience wants us gonged, and can’t figure out why the judges don’t go along. I remember the feeling of thousands of people in the audience wanting my blood (although I’m sure the auditorium in Stinnett didn’t hold more than a few hundred; and ‘wanting blood’ is a bit of an exaggeration. Just a bit) when I walked off that stage I swore I would never do anything like that again.

…And Janis is looking at me from across the room. “You had a speech prepared for Toastmasters tonight, right?” Pure terror.


I ran across another former citizen of Stinnett while looking for a link to represent Stinnett in the article. I’d never heard of Jim Foreman before, but he’s got some interesting stories printed on his site. I identified with the sentiment in The Graduation, which is where I found the picture.

He also had some photos of the old railroad station in this story about going home. I remember how my buddy John Thompson and I used to go prowling around the old cotton mills and grain silos near the station, and how we caught and raised pigeons that were nesting there. I wonder if it still stands?

March 2017. The website/blog that stimulated this trip down memory lane removed itself from public view a number of years ago. I searched for it using different text strings and even went to archive.org and looked for a record of the blog in the archive. Not even the URL was preserved. This gaping absence in the beginning of the story forced me to rewrite the opening paragraphs for this piece. Having then embarked on a major re-edit, I decided to do a few other wordsmithing edits while keeping the feeling of the piece that I had intended to communicate intact.

Well, that’s true as far as it goes. The real reason I’m editing today is because Chuck Barris died this week and as much as I hate to admit it he had a real impact on my life, as is partially related above. My family watched The Gong Show every day if my memory serves me right. The show was on in the hour after we got out of school and since we only had one TV and two channels back then, I cringed my way through most of the stupid on it. There were occasional gems to be found but I don’t think love or like are words I would apply to The Gong Show. The show was more like an inoculation for stupid than anything that I might remember with affection.

If you haven’t seen Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and you are a Chuck Barris or Gong Show fan, you might want to give it a chance. It is a very strange film about a very strange man. I personally would rate the film as meh. I know that is what I thought because it made so little impression on me that I barely recall it. The vast majority of films that I’ve seen rate a meh. So while that’s not a glowing endorsement, at least I didn’t gong it and send it back unwatched. There have been quite a few of those over the years. Too little time, too much to watch. The Wife and I wanted to see it because Sam Rockwell plays Chuck Barris, and he does a credible job of channeling​ the man and the madness that was the 70’s as seen through the rearview mirror. Personally, I’d rather look at the 70’s through the lens of Barris’ eyes than mine. He was always more charitable to the stupid than I could ever be. It was his saving grace.

September 2019. The Texas Standard ran a segment on Texas’ Woodstock a few days ago, an event that featured a Saturday night set performed by Janis Joplin. The webpage and the audio on it are all worth listening to. It was apparently quite an event; an event that the Texas of the time was embarrassed about and tried to make us all forget. Janis got the last word. Good for her.

On the first day, Sam and Dave and B.B. King got the crowd moving despite the heat. Chicago played. They were still called Chicago Transit Authority back then. But the act that got the crowd’s biggest ovation was one of their own: Janis Joplin. She closed out Saturday’s show with a set Hayner remembers as electric.

“Texas had been pretty hard on her and so what I remember her saying is that she had really felt kind of nervous about being there but we really made her feel like she was welcome and part of us,” he says.

And she was part of them. Janis Joplin had to leave Texas to become the Janis Joplin everyone now knows. For most of her career, she stayed away from her home state. Texas was a place where she was bullied, ostracized for who she was. That experience left her, like so many in the crowd, caught between worlds that were often at odds with each other. But now here she was – an icon of the counterculture. The crowd clapped her and the Kozmic Blues Band back on for two encores. And then, as concertgoer Billy Kirby remembers it, she had something to say.

“Her band was walking off the stage, she was walking off the stage. The lighters were up, people were screaming ‘Janis, Janis, encore, encore.’ Well she comes out and everybody goes crazy again and she just kind of quiets the crowd down a little bit with her hand movements,” he says. “And she leaned to the microphone and said ‘Thank you very much. But what I want to know is where the fuck were you motherfuckers when I needed you a few years ago?’ And left.”

Texas Standard

October 2019. A new book about Janis Joplin was published. Here are two interviews with the author of Janis: Her Life and Music, Holly George-Warren.

the Texas Standard

“She never talked about how hard she worked to get to where she was and become the musician she was. And suddenly, I hear her coming up with guitar parts, figuring out different tempos, new arrangements of the songs. She was really calling the shots.”

Holly George-Warren
New Janis Joplin Biography Reveals The Hard Work Behind The Heart

The Texas Standard segment and the Fresh Air episode linked above contain different interviews with the author of Janis: Her Life and Music, Holly George-Warren. If I was more of a Janis Joplin fan I’d probably take the time to read the book. I may take the time to listen to Janis’ discography back to back with Big Mama Thornton’s work just to get a feel for the two different approaches to the material.

I should have been paying closer attention to what Janis was singing about back in the days when it might have saved me more time. Freedom isn’t something that you conserve. Freedom is a state of nature that admits to no tomorrows.

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

Me and Bobby McGee

April 20, 2020. Threadgill’s is no more. The end of an era, and the end of my access to the food that I had grown to love over my decades in Austin. COVID-19 claims another victim.

Wilson opened a second location, Threadgill’s World Headquarters on Riverside Drive, in 1996. That space, also a music venue, closed in 2018, but Wilson kept the spirit alive at the original restaurant known as the Old No. 1, the walls papered with posters that told the history of the city and culture he loved.

The closing of the North Lamar spot, which Threadgill opened in 1933, marks the end of an era for old Austin, the traces of which can be hard to detect around town these days.


Blogspot archive for the month of January 2006