One thing you notice about the English is that they have a strange desire for discomfort. From their clunky phones to their clunky faucets, they seem to revel in being slightly “behind the times.” But, to their credit, they don’t generally carry this viewpoint over into actual legislation. You may be expected to be miserable, but you aren’t really required to be.

If only the French would learn to do the same.

Their latest assault on the finer things in life comes in the form of repeated assaults on Internet businesses for, among other things, free shipping for books. Yes, it turns out that offering free shipping is considered a discount on the “publisher’s recommended price” of the books involved. And, in France, the publisher’s price is considered more sacred than, well, sacred writ itself. You can disregard the Holy Bible if you like, but never the Holy BIEF.

Of course the obvious, and intended, effect of this nonsense is to give local booksellers a clear advantage over remote ones. After all, the local bookseller certainly doesn’t pay the “publisher’s recommended price” for the book, so the shipping he has to pay for is carefully hidden from the customer within his profit margin. Amazon used to do the same with the final costs to cover shipment to the buyer, but, as the French High Court has ruled that shipping is a discount and not to be allowed.

Lest you think this is some odd byproduct of a particular French love of books and booksellers, such price controls and draconian regulation is commonplace throughout the French economy. Consider the mess eBay stepped in when it expanded to France. As a site offering goods for sale, matching buyers with sellers, and providing extensive support for, well, auctions, eBay would seem to be guilty of the French charge of being an auctioneer. And, therefore, of offering an online auction without a permit. There is no news yet whether the French will also try to close down physical auctions in the United States. After all, what’s to stop some unscrupulous American auctioneer from allowing proxy phone votes from France?

Ah, the French. All the hubris of an actual world power, if none of the actual power.

And before someone responds that these are clearly just holdovers from an older, more genteel age, and need to adapt to the Wired Century, consider that the auction authority which is attacking eBay was formed in 2000. Far from adapting to the modern age, the French are deliberately and systematically targeting it for destruction. Their hatred of competition and free trade is so great that they’re actively expanding government power to put a stop to it.

So, let’s give them the win. Since they want to be insulated from the vile freedom of the Internet, let’s acknowledge their right to do so and simply prevent any and all traffic in or out of France to any e-commerce site located in the United States (or in any nation that wishes to join our virtual embargo). If the French fear having to compete on a global stage so greatly, let’s remove not only their need to do so, but their ability.

In short, it’s time to wall France off…at least virtually.

George C. Marshall, Dec. 31, 1880-Oct. 16, 1959.

“I feel I could not sleep at night with you out of the country.”
—FDR, explaining why Marshall would not command Operation Overlord.

“The Organizer of Victory.”
—Sir Winston Churchill.

“Congress will never accept anything less than the ‘Marshall Plan.'”
—Harry Truman

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New Year’s Eve, 2007, is the 127th anniversary of George C. Marshall‘s birth. There’s nothing special about a 127th anniversary, of course, but we here at 12AMB—history buffs that we are—occasionally salute people who have been forgotten, or at least not remembered as thoroughly as they should. Having read several books recently in which Marshall was a main player, I came to the feeling that Marshall was, in all likelihood, the greatest American never to be president and thus deserved what little bit of remembering I could provide. While people of my grandparents’ generation (aka the “greatest” generation) would know his name, they probably would remember more colorful, if less consequential, figures of the day. Unfortunately, Marshall’s lack of pretension and avoidance of vainglory have led us to forget him, which is, in my view, a deep shame. FDR predicted this, but Marshall was motivated primarily by results, not self-promotion, unlike far too many people in the high position then and now, and he made choices that were in the best interests of the country, not his personal or partisan ambitions.

Marshall only had a brief battlefield command in World War I, and cut his teeth as one of the officers running the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression, before proving to be one of the greatest staff officers of all time, “the organizer of victory” in Winston Churchill’s words. After the war, rather than retire to his beloved compost pile (Marshall was an avid gardener), he was sent to China to try to mediate between the Nationalists and Communists (unsuccessfully), and a bit later became the organizer of victory again when he was Secretary of State between 1947 and 1949. Finally, before retiring, he helped pull America’s chestnuts out of the fire of the Korean War as Secretary of Defense. The plan that carries his name came when he was Secretary of State. The economic prosperity it brought, probably more than anything, prevented a rerun of a general European war, something which nobody in their right mind could have wanted. So sure that the aid was desperately needed and so sure of Marshall’s reputation, President Truman had the plan named after Marshall, not himself.

The Marshall Plan is important but I think the ultimate proof of George Marshall lay in his work as Chief of Staff of the Army from 1939 to 1945. We don’t really understand just how amazingly difficult the Allied victory of World War II was. Hindsight bias leads us to think that what happened was “inevitable” or “easy.” But Allied victory—something that truly staved off a new Dark Age—was far from inevitable. First, it was a coalition war, and coalitions are inherently weak. Marshall was able to ride herd over a fractious bunch and keep things focused on the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, in that order. Second, it is a long, long way from the US to Europe and the Pacific, and Marshall’s guidance was essential in making sure the right stuff got to the right places at the right times, in quantity.

He wasn’t always perfect in his decisions, of course. Most critically, if it had been left to him, Overlord would have failed for going too early and running into the sausage grinder that was the Wehrmacht of 1942 or 1943. FDR was correct to overrule him on this. After the war he opposed the recognition of Israel, saying privately to Harry Truman “If you [recognize the state of Israel] and if I were to vote in the election, I would vote against you.” But, to paraphrase the ancient Greeks, “Perfection is for the works of God, not man.”

By the early 1950s, he was worn out and he finally did retire to his compost pile. He did pause collect the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize for the Marshall Plan, but not before getting slagged by Senator (from Soviet Wisconsin) Joe McCarthy’s “hates America” barrages during the 1952 Presidential campaign. In what is unarguably not one of his finest moments, Eisenhower failed to defend his old boss while on the campaign trail. Marshall died in 1959. Bill Mauldin’s famous Pulitzer-prize winning cartoon eulogy probably said it best:


Alas, due to the poor resolution of the image, you probably can’t read it but the name on the helmet is, of course, “Marshall.” Usually loquacious Willie and Joe always had something to say before, but not this time.

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ObFascism Tag: Duh.

Valve, following on their awesome success with Half Life 2, has recently released Team Fortress 2 to rave reviews. But not everyone is a fan. German censorship required Team Fortress 2 to heavily modify the game to avoid strict anti-gore laws. So when someone is hurt or killed, they apparently explode into a cloud of rubber ducks, unicycles, springs, etc. Give Valve major props for dealing with German idiocy in a clever way which complies with the law while giving it the big virtual finger.

But perhaps it’s unfair to label the German approach idiotic. After all, aren’t we regularly informed that video game violence is the natural precursor to real violence? Since the last time the Germans got interested in real violence, lots of people died, perhaps we can forgive them for worrying about the simulated stuff.

But should they?

  • Do violent video games lead to violent people?
  • Is video game violence anything like real violence, or is it harmless fun like cartoon violence?
  • Wait, is cartoon violence harmless?
  • Just when do anti-violence laws cross the line from overzealous into downright stupid?
  • What about “zero tolerance” laws in schools? Should a kid face suspension (or, many times, expulsion) for bringing a plastic knife, a Swiss army knife, etc. to school?
  • For that matter, given “zero tolerance” shouldn’t the whole Physics class be expelled after pulling that Van De Graff “experiment” where they shock random kids in the hall?

As always, discuss amongst yourselves.

Photo of Polish Anti-EU sign
After writing my original article on what seemed to be the end of the EU’s wrong headed and stupid quest to make it a crime to use imperial measures, I ran across some articles of other despicable laws and rulings by the EU which limit the freedom of its members, and seek to destroy their unique cultural identities, and prohibit their ability to encourage the development and improvement of businesses within their borders. In this article I will be delving deeper into some of the examples of how the EU has been bending over backwards to destroy self determination in its member nations, and to eliminate the rights and freedoms of Europeans everywhere.

The War on British Culture

In addition to misleading the world on their supposed lifting of a ban on imperial measures, the EU now wants to strip the queen from British Passports. Ostensibly, the EU claims that this is to ensure that non-UK citizens know they have access to UK embassies, but if that were true, why wouldn’t they just add a new page? Why would they need to utterly strip the UK passport of all things British? Does the EU really hate individuality and culture so much?

Preventing Greece from Investing in Business

As if outlawing culture weren’t enough, the EU also wants to make it illegal for governments to invest in their own economy. Even extremely capitalist societies such as the USA allow the government to help promote and aid businesses within their borders. We even allow it when the investment is pretty foolish. But self determination has no value in Europe. They would rather states sat by and watched their economies languish, evidently, as they’ve made it illegal for them to invest in them.

Now, I want to make it clear, I’m not advocating economic protectionism. There are good arguments about promoting free trade and competition that can be used against such practices. Ultimately, however, these issues have nothing to do with economic protectionism, and everything to do with self determination. The Greek people should decide for themselves whether or not they want their government endorsing such policies. It is their choice, not the EU’s. Besides, what does the EU know about free trade? The EU has been successfully sinking the Doha Development Round solely on the basis of subsidies for French farmers.

Big Brother Watches the German Post Office

Evidently it is enough for the EU to prevent governments from investing in businesses, they don’t want them to help out state postal services either. They’re currently investigating Deutches Post, Britain’s Royal Mail, the French La Poste, claiming they might currently be using government assistance to unfairly compete. In addition to the absurdity in claiming a government shouldn’t be able to support a postal system, they’ve also declared that all government run postal services need to be abolished by 2009. Yet another win for the enemies of self determination.

Restricting the Freedoms of Europeans on the Web

If affronts to self determination and economic decision aren’t enough, the EU provides yet another reason to join the growing numbers of Euroskeptics. They hate freedom too. Thats right, the EU plans to censor the internet. They claim it is to stop bomb making, but the facts are they want to eliminate the ability to not only visit certain websites, but also to ban certain search terms, like “genocide”. Restricting free speech, especially in the name of security theater, is an affront against human rights. That the EU seeks to threaten such rights is no surprise to members of ex-Soviet bloc countries. As the number of oh-so-recently petty dictatorships get added to the EU pile to join the already existing club of uber-nanny states, expect to see continued challenges to human rights and freedoms from the EU.

Final Thoughts

I’ve heard a lot of people try to dismiss Euroskepticism with comments such as “Well they joined the EU, its their fault”. Yes, many countries have made the mistake of joining the EU, but it doesn’t mean it is too late to get out. The Euroskeptic Movement is growing rapidly and gaining a lot of support. Just because you boarded a ship, doesn’t mean you have to stay on if it is sinking. Another tired argument comes from those who cry “The US has problems too! You can’t criticize,”. Yes, the US does have plenty of problems that really need to be fixed. I recognize these problems and press for change here, just as I urge citizens of EU member nations to recognize problems in the EU and press for change there. Our own faults don’t prevent us from critiquing others, so long as we recognize them. And pardon me if I have a bit more faith in a Union which has stood for 231 years than I do in a haphazard attempt at one which is younger than some of my teenage cousins.

-Angry Midwesterner

Today represents a monumental, albeit posthumous, victory for Steve Thoburn. Steve Thoburn was a grocer in England who was killed by the stupidity of the European Union’s fascist ideals, and disregard for human freedoms. Mr. Thoburn was arrested in 2000 for the horrendous crime of selling bananas by the pound, instead of by the kilogram. On hearing in 2004 that the appeal of his conviction was rejected, Mr. Thoburn died of a heart attack at the age of 39. Today, however, the EU has decided in their “infinite wisdom” that perhaps people using other systems of measure isn’t equivalent to murder or rape, and has decided to allow the British and Irish to keep imperial measures.

Finally Mr. Thoburn, and the many other “metric martyrs” like him are no longer criminals just because they decided to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, used an ounce of sense, or had a pint of beer. One wonders what rights the EU will crack down on now that they have allowed this minor freedom. Surely some aspect of life needs to be further restricted so that Europeans don’t get too free. Heaven forbid they be allowed to make their own choices!

Unfortunately there are some casualties on the side of the imperial measure. It will still be illegal, for example, to use acres as a measurement of land. But of course, what is personal choice along side wrong headed European stupidity? I mean, it isn’t as if we should let people choose what measures they use, is it? Think of the children! If your children grow up eating apples by a measurement their parents choose, instead of the state mandated kilogram, they may actually begin thinking personal freedoms, choice, and liberty are important. We certainly can’t have that!

All joking aside, this issue demonstrates a fundamental problem with the European mindset, one that is dooming them to irrelevancy, or worse yet, extinction. Why should the government even attempt to enforce a certain set of measures on private businesses? Shouldn’t the market select the best measure? If Paul’s English Grocer is selling his goods in an obscure measure that no one understands, while Snooty French Boutique is selling them in a more commonly used metric, I would bet Snooty’s would get more business, all things held constant. People will work in measurement system of their choosing. There is no need to force it to be one system or another.

But then again, this is the unfortunate difference between Europe and the real world. In the real world personal freedom, liberty and human dignity are valued. In Europe the class system, nanny states, and collective stupidity reign supreme.

-Angry Midwesterner