Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Frog Hunting License

"My kids love to collect frogs and observe them for a few days. Are there any laws governing this activity?" Yes. Frogs (and toads) are listed as a small game species and it is necessary to have a fishing or hunting license to take them. Unlike the box, bog and wood turtles, frogs do have an open season and only species of the genus Rana can be taken. Special restrictions are placed on Leopard Frogs on Long Island. Frogs may be taken in any number from 16 June through 30 September between sunrise and sunset. Make sure the frogs are kept moist and are returned to the same pond from which they were taken.

The above summarizes the law on frog catching in New York. I did not realize that the Empire State was so solicitous of its frogs. I fear that my nephews are already criminals as they have captured frogs from my pond without a license, albeit for two minutes or so. I cannot decide whether to turn them in to the authorities. If they are allowed to get away with frog poaching, who knows what crimes they may commit in the future?

Thinking of Soldiers and Sailors

Memorial Day can be a time to reflect on those who died in war. I am very sorry for the victims of war, including the loved ones left behind, and I hate to see the perpetrators of war use Memorial Day as an opportunity to glorify war and themselves. Accordingly, I avoid any ceremony involving politicians' laying wreaths and any martial parade.

Often, in response to criticism of war, I will be told that if I am correct in my assessment the men and women who died in that war "will have died in vain". GW Bush pulled this in the Presidential debates. This is supposed to end the discussion, but I readily concede that this is the case. Every last soldier, sailor, marine or airman who got killed in a war died in vain. They probably sincerely believed that they were giving their lives in furtherance of some noble cause, but this was because they believed the lies of the warmongers. This makes their sacrifice all the more tragic, but deluding ourselves about the vanity of war just makes the next war easier to wage. Recognizing this truth does not detract from the honor due to the fallen warriors; rather, it detracts from the honor wrongly claimed by the warmongers.

Let us keep Memorial Day as a reminder of the costs and the vanity of war. Let it serve as an opportunity to decry war and to expose warmongers as the evil men and women that they are. Let us mourn for the fallen warriors of all nations and the fallen civilian casualties of war, and let us count up the cost for the accounting that may someday be had.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Guardians for Blastocysts

If a blastocyst or frozen embryo is a person and exists outside of a womb for 18 years, it should be treated like an adult. In a sense, the blastocyst would be analogous to an extremely disabled person, and he/she/it would be entitled to be accommodated like any other handicapable American. Every one of them could well be entitled to SSI or some kind of welfare for disabled people. They would also be obligated to serve on juries and to register with selective service. They should be permitted to marry and to transact business like anyone else.

During its first 18 years, the egg donor and the provider of the nucleic genetic material would be obliged to support the blastocyst and would be subject to prosecution for abuse, abandonment or neglect. They would be entitled to tax exemptions and child care credits and to any benefits that accrue to parents. Each blastocyst would be assigned a Social Security number from the moment it came into being. Moreover, the blastocyst should be allowed to attend schools and to be mainstreamed like other special needs children. Every classroom would have to be equipped with life support for blastocysts.

Since blastocyst American adults are so disabled, it would be a good idea to appoint guardians for each of them with the power to make decisions for them in their best interests and even to cast ballots for them. The natural choice would be a "parent" or other relative or a spouse, but any circumspect individual willing to serve might be appointed.

Someday, we may even see a blastocyst American serving as President of the United States.

UPDATE: Dagwood, in the comments, points out that some disabled people in MA require the services of up to 20 people. Think of the job creation that recognition of the rights of the blastocysts would entail!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Kennels For All

If I have to live in a statist world, I think I should get some of the benefits. I should be able to compel other people to subsidize my hobbies in the same way they force me to subsidize theirs. I propose, therefore, that the government establish and maintain at public expense a system of public kennels with free dog training services. This would save us considerable expense in that we would no longer need a dog walker and could now afford training. We are currently homeschooling our dogs and are not making as much progress in training as we would like.

The public would benefit as well, and this is why the public should gladly foot the bill. Just a few of the public benefits:

  • Everyone would be better off if all dogs were trained. This would reduce bites, inappropriate deposits of feces, destruction of property, and forays into garbage receptacles, for example. Moreover, society would have the benefit of more trained watch dogs with a concomitant reduction in crime. This benefit would ensue as the public kennels would be mandatory for all dogs under 16.
  • Having dogs in the public kennel would facilitate surveillance of their families by the state, as the kennel staff would be able to note any signs of abuse or neglect and report this to the authorities.
  • Worker productivity of dog owners would be enhanced since they would worry less about their dogs being at home alone and since they would be happier folks all around, what with having those well trained dogs and all.
  • Dogs would be better socialized as they would be spending more time with other diverse breeds of dogs, and they would become better diversity-appreciating canine citizens as a consequence.
  • Public kennels might serve as a center of community and would present an opportunity for public spirited citizens to serve their collectives. Moreover, everyone knows that it takes a village to raise a dog, and the public kennels would simply be a convenient means for folks to do what they ought to be doing for their dog owning neighbors.
  • Society would be certain that dogs were being trained properly as even folks who decide to homeschool their dogs would have to meet government standards.

Of course, we will need some kind of mechanism to make sure that all dogs in all districts get the same education and that dogs are not stuck in failing kennels. We would have to have a "Leave No Dog's Behind" program. Also, it may be necessary to bring dogs from poor neighborhoods to schools in rich neighborhoods, and vice versa, to get a good mix and to minimize disparity in quality.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Abolish School Buses

If I had my way, there would be no public schools. If I can't have that, I would at least like to get rid of school buses. If parents are so set on having their offspring educated, can't they at least go to the trouble of providing for their own transportation? Next thing you know, they will want us to feed their children, too!

On top of subsidizing the education and transportation of other people's little hobbies, I also have to endure the inconvenience of waiting for school buses. I am not supposed to pass them, and I am expected to wait interminably while some overprotective parent spends 15 minutes installing his or her whelp in its seat. And this can happen several times on the road as the buses appear to provide door to door service. Can't we arrange for some less frequent stops, for crying out loud? Is it too much to ask for pupils to walk 1/8 of a mile or so to a designated bus stop? Are children so feebleminded nowadays that they can't get on a bus unassisted in a reasonable amount of time? How about a little courtesy, parents?

The Highwaymen

I commute to and from work about 45 miles each way, most of it on the Taconic State Parkway. The ride can be fairly pleasant as the road winds through some beautiful country. My fellow motorists are relatively courteous and attentive to safety, and traffic generally moves well in spite of some long term construction. Aside from slowdowns caused by the occasional accident, the commute is marred only by the presence of armed highwaymen.

The highwaymen lay in wait in the median or behind vegetation or cruise the road like the evil gangs in the post-apocalyptic movie The Road Warrior. They force vehicles to stop, seemingly at random, and extort money from the drivers. They carry sidearms and coordinate by radio with other members of their gang. The gang occupies several buildings along the road. When we see one of our fellows taken by the highwaymen, we keep moving because the highwaymen will kill or kidnap us if we intervene. We are like the rest of the wildebeests after one is taken by a lion. The predatory highwaymen are just part of the world, and there is not a damn thing we can do about it.

On the positive side, the highwaymen maintain a monopoly on the extortion racket on the parkway. Presumably, this means I am spared the predations of other, possibly worse, robbers. Moreover, the highwaymen do not personally receive any of the booty that they extort. This goes to the gangs that claim to own the road and that exert control over various territories along the route; therefore, the thugs have little incentive to ramp up their activities. Their superhuman laziness is a boon. Also, thankfully, they tend to be of only average intelligence at best. Still, having to run the gauntlet of the highwaymen every day can be depressing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Shadow Judiciary

A couple of seemingly unrelated trains of thought have collided in my head. I have read with interest various discussions about private security firms and private courts in a minimal state. Also, I recently had a discussion about the New Testament injunction that Christians resolve their disputes among one another out of court. What is to stop Christians and anti-statists and others from doing this now even before the Kingdom of God or the Free Society is established?

As a professional in conflict management and alternate dispute resolution, I am well aware of the availability of mediation and arbitration services and private courts, especially in commercial disputes. I have been involved in a number of arbitrations under the rules of the AAA, and I am a trained mediator with experience in divorce, custody, commercial and other disputes. The trouble with these systems is that they replicate on a more informal basis or mirror the courts. Arbitrators and private courts are often simply substitutes who apply the same law as the government courts. Mediators typically guide matters to resolution based on what a government court might be expected to do. Accordingly, if you find government courts and the law they apply objectionable as a Christian or an anti-statist, the usual alternatives are subject to many of the same objections. Sure, recourse to them is voluntary, but what does this avail you if the result is the same and the same unjust laws are applied?

What if the arbitrators, mediators and private judges were subject to alternative laws as well? Christians might appear before a court governed by Christian principles. Anti-statists of various stripes could appear before courts following natural law or the common law or some other entirely different law acceptable to and chosen by the disputants. All that is needed is for these systems of law to be memorialized and made available and for circumspect individuals to take on the role of judge. Most states will enforce arbitration awards, if that becomes necessary.

Of course, all the disputants would have to accept the law and the court, and the state would still exercise power over its subjects. This private law system would permit conscientous people to resolve disputes with like minded folks without having to subject themselves to the state's machinery and without recognizing the legitimacy of the state. This system would compete with the state and might become increasingly popular. If it becomes popular enough, the government courts may decline in relevance.

Perhaps I am naive about this, and the state will simply interfere to protect its monopoly before allowing itself to wither away. Resistance may well be futile. But creating and maintaining such competitive institutions outside of the state and using them to the exclusion of the state would permit us to act upon and live our anti-state ideology and show the world what a free society might look like.

UPDATE: Iceberg, in the comments, informs that such a private court system exists in at least one community of the faithful.

What Would it Take to Set Up Libertarian Talk Radio?

I can't listen to wingnut talk radio without becoming nauseated. It is absolutely toxic, and I am grateful to the intrepid bloggers who keep up with the idiocy of Hannity and Limbaugh and their ilk for the rest of us. They are made of stronger psychic stuff than me.

I do like talk radio, however, and have been known to listen to sports talk and the talk shows on 820 AM out of NY. Lately, I have been tuning in to Air America's Morning Sedition (work bound commute) and Randi Rhoads (sp?) (homebound commute). Morning Sedition, in particular, is creative and entertaining while offering an alternative point of view critical of the government. Randi offers a monologue with callers and maybe an occasional interview. She is less entertaining, but, even though she displays significant economic ignorance and advocates the "progressive" line, it is still nice to hear her rip the wingnuts a new one now and then. I have never heard Al Franken (love his books and comedy) or any other Air America talent besides the two shows mentioned, but I understand that Air America is more or less the other side of the coin of wingnut radio in that it aims to advance the "liberal agenda" about which I care not.

I think libertarian talk radio could sell, and in the process some folks might get turned on to libertarianism. Think of it, LTR (as I like to call it) would always have targets of ridicule and criticism in government in power and would never have to serve up partisan hackery. LTR would be able to call bulls**t on either party at any time. I have heard that wingnut radio is much less entertaining now that the wingnuts are in power and has completely lost any redeeeming qualities as the talent shills for the state. What could be more entertaining and arouse more multi-partisan interest than a stable of anti-state curmudgeons calling into question all the sacred cows in American political discourse? The phone lines would be overloaded, and I bet ratings would be quite respectable. The topic would always be fresh since there is no end of statist lunacy to discuss and deconstruct, and the point of view would be novel for most listeners.

I see money in this idea and would invest in it, but I don't have a clue about how to get something like this off the ground. Maybe Air America would put on a libertarian show, or we could start small with a single talent in a smallish market, perhaps late at night like that guy who used to do a show about space aliens and such. Maybe the project could be subsidized by philanthropic libertarians until it got off the ground. After all, somebody funds Cato, and they might be willing to fund something that would do some good for libertarianism.

To make LTR work, the propensity of libertarians to attack one another's bona fides would have to be controlled so that most content would be directed to attacking statism and statists instead. Also, the choice of on-air talent is critical. Talent would have to be both well versed in libertarian ideas and be willing and able to make them accessible to a wider audience and to contrast them with statist ideas without being too dismissive or condescending. He or she would have to be able to avoid getting bogged down in the usual "don't you like roads" objections. He or she should be relatively free of any "tin foil hat" associations and/or prepared to speak openly about them. Talent should be somewhat entertaining and have a sense of humour.

I bet any number of folks who appear on the Mises blogroll or on Lew Rockwell would make suitable on-air talent, assuming that they speak as well as they write. They would also make a good stable of advisors and guests.

Now the self doubt comes in: if I am thinking of this now, it is a good bet that talk radio is on the verge of obsolescence.

Monday, May 23, 2005

I Secretly Want an SUV (and am filled with self loathing)

By necessity, I found myself behind the wheel of a rented 2005 Jeep Liberty, with Sirius Radio and all the bells and whistles. Wow. It feels good to be a little higher than most of the other vehicles, and driving an SUV gives you the invincible big car feeling that inspires old men to buy Cadillacs and other land yachts when they retire. I consoled myself that the Jeep Liberty was not really all that big and that the gas mileage was not too atrocious. Besides, nobody I knew would see me and think I was one of those socially irresponsible SUV driving, gas guzzling, warmongering, selfish bast**ds. It felt good to drive that Jeep, but it also went against my values of simplicity and rejection of ostentatious display. I am not an SUV person. I don't want a McMansion or a snout house, and I will never join any kind of country club. I am a pick-up truck person (or would be if my wife would let me have one).

But I find myself trying to rationalize getting a smallish SUV. After all, some very nice people have them. My friend Bob, one of the best people on earth, drives an Envoy, a monstrous vehicle that can handle his dogs and his wife's scooter in comfort as they travel to and from their place in the Poconos and home in Yonkers. I can see where an SUV would be just the thing for a busy family on the go, a great combination of passenger and cargo capacity. Of course, my wife and I have no kids, just two big dogs, so we would not ned an Escalade or a Navigator or anything so completely without redeeming qualities. We do a lot of gardening and could use cargo space, and the dogs do get squished up in the car. Maybe a smallish Jeep or something wouldn't be so bad. The Mrs could drive it to the station so there would be less of an issue about gas mileage.

Also, there is a lot of snow where we live, and a heavier vehicle with 4 wheel drive would really come in handy. The Mrs ended up in a snow bank last winter, and I was stranded on a couple of occasions by bad roads. A good husband would have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, wouldn't he?

Besides, the a**wipes who give SUVs a bad name are nowadays going for the really big ones, like Hummers and such, or for extended cab full size pick-up trucks. Very few people would see us in our smallish, sensible SUV and think we were a**wipes.

Besides, maybe I have been too judgmental. It may have been wrong to use gigantic SUV driving (and vanity plates) as a shortcut for weeding out people I do not want to know. They might have quintuplets or a wheelchair or something. Maybe they feel inadequate in other areas, and the big vehicle is all that stands between them and suicide. Maybe, they cut back in other areas (like crazy recycling or something) so as to mitigate the damage to the environment. And maybe their oil and gas come from Texas or Mexico so there is no issue of supporting terrorists. Who am I to judge?

Adventures in Air Travel

I spent all last week on a business trip in California. Because I prefer to fly out of a smallish airport near my home (and because my employer is parsimonious), my return flight involved three legs and two airlines. LAX to Vegas to Detroit to Newburgh, NY was the itinerary for my "red eye" trip. I finished my business early on Friday and managed to get an earlier flight to Vegas where the next airline, Northwest, assured me that it was impossible to get out earlier than my midnight flight. I took a shuttle to the Strip and gawked at some casinos for a few hours, since I had never been to Sin City. Perhaps because it was daytime, the place looked a lot less like Sodom than I had expected. And the spirit of the Rat Pack was not in evidence, either.

I got back to the airport by 9 pm because I saw that the TSA screening process was unusually inefficient. Luckily, I was able to get through in about 45 minutes with minimal harassment. The imperious b***h in control of the magic portal yelled at me because I handed her my ID with my boarding pass when she had asked for the boarding pass only.

My Northwest flight boarded around midnight, and 250 or so passengers sat on the sweltering plane for over an hour while some unspecified mechanical problem was addressed. Finally, we learned that the pilot had despaired of getting it repaired and the flight would be delayed until some unspecified future time that we would have to learn from the ticket agent. The cranky horde made its way across the airport to the ticket counter to find that it was staffed by a single dimwitted ticket agent. Each transaction appeared to take over 15 minutes, and I was about number 50 in line.

After about half an hour, additional staff appeared. One woman stood up on the counter and announced that the flight had been delayed until 7 pm that night, some 17 hours hence. Moreover, the airline could not help with hotel rooms as Vegas appeared to be full, and it was impossible to get anyone on any other flight. She declared that we would have to accept this or all the agents would walk out. I suppose she was trying to incite a riot, and the passengers were enraged by her words and her tone and began shouting and crowding the counter. Meanwhile, I was on the horn with Northwest and was told that I was wasting the agent's time, and this sorely tested my Christian love for my fellow man.

Some Vegas PD personnel appeared and dispersed the crowd. Thereafter, a particularly thuggish officer E. Oliver took it upon himself to control access to the agents who remained to help the 50 or so passengers who did not believe the announcement. He rudely forced several individuals who had been called up to the counter to get back in line in order to favor passengers whom he had arbitrarily selected for service. I steeled myself to resist him, but this was not necessary when I got to the counter after an hour and a half wait (agents kept disappearing and reappearing). "Get me anywhere near Eastern New York," I pleaded. A flight to Albany, about a hundred miles or so from the airport where my car was parked, was arranged for 7 am with a connection in Minneapolis to get me to the Empire State about 5:30 pm, too late for the benefit concert my wife had scheduled for us. Unfortunately, I had to retrieve my luggage from the delayed flight and recheck it, a process that took another hour and involved another encounter with the Vegas PD thug.

Part of the deal was an upgrade to first class for the Vegas to Minneapolis leg, and this meant going through the first class screening line. This was a single line through which all wheelchair users were also processed. Good lord, the TSA put these grey headed crones through quite the screening. It seemed as if they were looking for the persons least likely to be terrorists. Northwest had identified me as a security risk because I had changed my flight; therefore, I was "selected" for special scrutiny: a pat down, belt off, wand waving, carry on search, and foot exam (what the hell?). Thanks a lot, Northwest. I was consoled by the notion that some TSA sap would have to search my checked bag and get up close and personal with a weeks' worth of dirty underwear and socks.

I reached Albany without incident and needed to rent a car as the most economical way to get home. For some reason, car rental companies do not like walk ups and will not ordinarily rent to them (I was told). At last, Hertz took pity on me and rented me a Jeep Liberty, and I was in my own bed by 8 pm.

Lessons learned: Never book a flight that involves more than one airline. Never check a bag unless absolutely necessary. Always wash your feet and clip your toenails before travelling as you will be removing your shoes several times. Always be absurdly early because the TSA is a huge bottleneck. Know some of the alternatives so you can call bulls**t on the airline if you have to. Always ask Jesus for the serenity to handle the inconvenience calmly and with love.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Does Ruth Benedict Burn in Hell with Harry Truman?

Ruth Benedict was a protege of Franz Boas, father of American anthropology. She was one of the lights of the discipline in the 30s and 40s, and no history of anthropology would be complete without some mention of her. She might also be hellbound.

Professor Benedict pioneered the now discredited "National Character" study. In a nutshell, this involved taking cultural observations about people in a country and distilling them into a composite profile of their "national character". This was state of the art at the time, although we should now recognize what hokum such grotesque generalizations are and how utterly useless they are. It is not uncommon to hear regular folks spouting such nuggets as "your Arab has no sense of time" or "your Asian has no moral commitment to truth telling and no sense of guilt", but the speaker is unlikely to be a trained anthropologist (unless there is an anthro program at Regents).

In the 1930s and 1940s, the "culture" concept was relatively undeveloped (it still is, IMO), and national character studies represented a way to illustrate that some pretty significant cultural differences could be observed and a way to compare "cultures". We have yet to know how to define the boundary of a so-called "culture", and the concept becomes increasingly meaningless and less accurately descriptive as it is applied to larger aggregates. One might attempt to describe the culture of of all human Terrans, but this would be relatively useless except as an exercise in pointing out human universals or widely distributed cultural characteristics. National character studies attempt to apply the culture concept to a nation, a strange exercie given the arbitrariness of borders and differences among economic classes, sub-groups, religions, regions, etc. Imagine describing the national character of the United States. How would you account for both Puerto Ricans in Washington Heights and Texas oil barons? Would any American resemble or embody your composite? How would anyone ever hope to use this "information"? You see the problem, I am sure. It is the old nemesis of sound reasoning: the reification of scientific concepts.

Professor Benedict worked up a National Character profile for Japan for the USG before or during WW2. Was this used in any way to legitimize the mass murders of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? This might be an interesting research project for a young scholar of history. If I remember correctly, the murders were rationalized on the basis that the Japanese would never surrender because of their undue attachment to honor and "face". They would have fought to the last man, woman and child. Accordingly, avoiding an invasion saved at least one million American servicemen, and many more Japanese would have been killed in the event of an invasion. It was the right thing to do to incinerate the denizens of the two cities.

This is still the argument I hear whenever I question the murders. It sounds like it comes, in part, from a national character study. Of course, the argument ignores the surrender overtures already made by Japan at the time of the bombings, and most folks are not even aware of these. Ultimately, the argument is based on propositions about Japanese character. We felt able to predict the Japanese response because we thought we knew the Japanese mind. Or, we felt and continue to feel comfortable using this in legitimizing discourse. Was this applied anthropology in the service of mass murder?

Professor Benedict would have been a naif if she did not imagine that her work would be used in the furtherance of killing and destruction. She could not have foreseen the magnitude of the crimes, but she ought to have foreseen how dangerous her national character work could be in the hands of evildoers. Moreover, as a student of Boas, she ought to have seen that she was perpetuating a form of racism, and racism and nationalism and other similar cognitive disorders inevitably lead to an unhappy ending. Even today, the ignorant rely on national character generalizations to keep the myth of the "good war" alive. Her work has contributed to the continued canonization of FDR and Truman when they should be condemned as criminals and tyrants. To worship them and WW2 is to worship the most egregious aspects of the state.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

More on Racism

A recent discussion has inspired me to think about racism more than usual. I recall a seminar at Columbia University in "identity based conflict" where I was schooled in the latest wisdom on the subject. Among other things, I was informed:

  • Members of a minority category cannot be racist, and only the majority may be guilty of this.
  • Whites are less aware of racial issues than black folks because these are less salient to whites, and black folks are consequently better qualified and more authoritative to speak to the issues.
  • If you are white, you are a racist, and if you do not know it you are probably very racist.
  • No matter how crappy a poor white person's life is, it will never be as bad as a black person's situation.
  • It is OK to denigrate poor whites.
  • Anything that impacts blacks disparately is racist even if it is ostensibly race neutral.

I will concede that race is more salient to black folks and that white folks can be pretty clueless and hurtful because of their lack of sensitivity to racial issues. However, I also believe white folks can learn an appropriate level of sensitivity and can grasp racial issues as fully as anyone. As for the rest of what I learned, I am skeptical to say the least. After all, there are no objectively existing, real races in a sociological sense. There are only racial "categories", and these are more or less meaningful depending on circumstances and what you are using them for. Let's not endow the labels with more power than they should rightly possess. That, IMO, is the gravamen of racism. To reify racial categories and imbue them with undue significance are the hallmarks of racism, and anyone, black or white, can be guilty of this irrationality.

The principal problem with the seminar's approach (aside from its radical egalitarianism and collectivism), in my view, is that it sought to tar whites with guilt for reifying race while reifying race when it suited the instuctors' purposes. I can't say whether doing this suits black folks' purposes, but I can say that it is an aggravating case of intellectual inconsistency.

To a large extent, I can detect a legitimate argument in all this noise. Yes, it is wrong for whites to reify racial categories, especially for the purposes of screwing someone over. In my view, it is wrong for anyone to do so.

Yes, it is wrong for whites to set up racially motivated obstructions and disengenuously declare that they are race neutral. For example, requiring a credential for a job that is not necessary to the job but which effectively disqualifies blacks should give one pause. Although you may not have intended to discriminate, once you know the facts you might want to rectify the situation. This does not mean, however, that a valid job qualification should be abandoned to rig a position for an unqualified candidate. Moreover, some things with a disparate impact on races may genuinely be innocent of discriminatory motives.

Yes, racial issues are more real and troubling for black folks on average because they have to live with them every day and negotiate a society in which racism is very much a factor. The racial issues are real, race itself is not real other than as an artifact of flawed thinking. Now, I know there may be "races" in a biological sense, but this should not have any bearing on the social or moral status of persons in any racial category. As long as it is acceptable to reify race for the purposes of praising blacks (eg "they are a loving people"), it is difficult to harangue people for reifying race for other purposes. You can't have it both ways. You can't make generalizations about black people and posit a black community as if it existed and then expect everyone else to avoid generalizing and talking about a black community.

It appears to me that the instructors and text writers for the seminar had taken every argument and simplified it and generalized it beyond reason. Thus, for example, "some seemingly race neutral actions may in fact be discriminatory" morphed into "everything with a disparate impact is discriminatory by definition". "Generalizations about race are irrational" became "generalizations about race by whites are irrational because they are not as knowledgeable as blacks".

I know racism. I grew up racist. Although my family never gave me any racist instructions, I absorbed it in my town and at school and church. Even after schools were integrated, black kids never associated with white kids. All the black families lived in one neighborhood and went to black churches. Black people were said to be inferior in every respect except sports and music but this was not their fault as "they did not ask to be born black". Any black boy who dated a white girl might well be beaten or even killed, and no self respecting white boy would have anything to do with the girl thereafter. All in all, I grew up with a very condescending and paternalistic view of blacks, and it took years of conscious effort to rid myself of the cognitive defect of racism little by little. I still have traces of it, and my hope is to recognize it and purge it from my system as it appears. Some of it exists on a visceral level and probably will never go away. All I can do is resolve not to act upon it.

When I moved to Yonkers, NY, I was surprised at the virulent racism of some of my neighbors. This was a hateful brand of racism, not at all paternalistic, that I had not experienced back home in Georgia, and I found myself as an expat Southerner rebuking Yankees for being racist and defending black folks. These folks genuinely believe that black people are evil. (Of course, they also believe this of other ethnic categories of whites. )

I long for the day when the diseases of racism and nationalism are cured. In time, if the state does not aggravate the situation by trying to force people to like each other or by institutionalizing racial categories, most folks will learn to get along and to appreciate one another. Those who claim to look out for the interests of black folks may want to consider rethinking any ideology or practice that keeps the race virus alive.

Democracy is Not Working So Let's Drop It

Fred Reed (http://www.lewrockwell.com/reed/reed63.html) has some suggestions for weaning us off democracy. His proposal is to limit suffrage to those who are not utterly ignorant and dimwitted. He also wants to limit the kinds of folks who would be eligible for offices.

This may well be in a step in the right direction, but I know quite a few smart and moderately informed folks who would still vote for stupid things and who see our current government as "the best government in the world". Accordingly, Mr Reed's plan might not work to solve the problem of a massive, intrusive and murderous state. The majority of electors would still tyrannize everyone else.

The best idea would be to eliminate voting altogether and to select officeholders on a more time tested basis, such as the hereditary principle. Their function would be to protect liberty and serve as an example to their inferiors. The natural aristocracy might be called upon, and we would avoid the meddling and insufferable meritocrats. In the alternative, office holders might be chosen at random from the population, and this would provide an incentive to minimize the power any officeholder would wield. You wouldn't want a powerful presidency because you could never predict what kind of lunatic might be the next president.

To get to this point, however, we may have to phase out suffrage gradually. The fewer voters the better, and anything that makes voting inconvenient or difficult would be helpful. For example, everyone could be required to register to vote in person every two years at a location that requires effort to find. The polls could be open for shorter periods, and election days could rotate based on the phases of the moon. Absentee voting would be prohibited. These kinds of measures would discriminate only against the most apathetic and ill qualified voters without regard to income, intelligence or other characteristics. Libertarians might well come to represent a substantial portion of the electorate. At some point, no new electors would be created, and the franchise might become a legacy to pass on to heirs or to sell.

Other restrictions may be wanted to weed out statist tendencies and to promote an old fashioned American distrust of government in our electors. Let voting be limited to those individuals who can establish that all of their grandparents were born in the US. This would insure a more fully Americanized electorate less tainted by obnoxious foreign ideas. No public employee nor anyone receiving any government funds within the last 5 years would be qualified to vote as this would be a conflict of interest. Candidates for public office would be ineligible to vote for 5 years. Convert elected offices to appointed or inherited offices whenever possible.

Eligibility for office might also be restricted, and I am tempted to disqualify anyone who wants an office from holding it. The candidate would have to be at least qualified to be an elector and should probably be required to establish that all his or her great great grandparents were born in the US as well. Elected public officeholders would not be compensated. Part time duty would be encouraged. Political science majors would be ineligible for elected office. Term limits might also be appropriate. (I thank God for them every time I think of the current preznit).

Electioneering might also be constrained. No candidate would have any right to media resources and would be required to buy it or have it donated. Candidates should be fully liable for slanderous or libelous assertions, and false statements in campaigning should be criminalized. Each candidate should be required to fill out a questionnaire outlining his or her political ideology in detail (one that can be used to put them on a political map showing how close they are to some historic tyrant might be interesting).

In this manner, we may yet rid ourselves of the scourge of democracy. I nominate the descendants of George Washington's stepchildren as royal family. No, I am not in this family, so this is a completely disinterested nomination.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Freedom of Association

A conspecific recently suggested to me that the term "freedom of association" is "code" for "racial segregation".

I never thought of it that way, but I must concede that a likely outcome of the application of a right of association might well be de facto segregation. In fact, if I look at my own life as an example, it appears that I have, without any conscious effort on my part, chosen to segregate myself from African-Americans (or they have chosen to segregate themselves from me or both).

I do not have any close friends who are African-American, although I have in the past had relatively close friendships with members of that racial category. My cricket team was West Indian of mainly African descent, and we were quite friendly and sociable. The matches are too far away for me to particpate now, and I have not kept in touch (my bad, but I don't keep in touch with anyone). I am friendly with my African-American co-workers, but we have never socialized outside of work or work related social events and are unlikely to do so. This is also true for me with everyone else in the office except my car pool partner. The African-Americans in the office don't eat lunch with the European or Asian Americans.

I suspect that none of the members of my church are African-American (I can't think of any), and I think my most proximate African-American neighbor is a weekender family about a mile away. The next proximate is unknown to me, as I have never really taken a racial census of my zip code. I have no known African-American kinsmen. I just don't run into African-Americans very often other than traffic relationships, especially now that I live in the outback. I would really have to make an effort to cultivate a trans-racial relationship under the circumstances.

I don't think this makes me a racist (doubtless someone will claim that my failure to think I am racist defines me as such), and I don't think the serviceable and important phrase "freedom of association" should be allowed to be pejorated into a racist shibboleth. To me, it means that I get to choose my friends, to choose my church, to choose the clubs and organizations I support or join, and otherwise to deal with or avoid anyone I please for any reason I please no matter how stupid. Moreover, nobody should be able to make me do otherwise. This does not mean that I should be immune to charges of bigotry when I am a bigot, and folks should rightly shun me or attempt to persuade me to change my ways if they find my views offensive. But one should not conflate freedom to associate with racism even though it may be and has been used in advancement of racist causes.

Rednecks Take a Beating

My people have not fared well this week. There was the Sowell piece (see entry below) that blamed Redneck "culture" for the ills of African-Americans. Now some wingnut on Hannity & Colmes testifies that he, and every other rural denizen, started his sexual activity in the barnyard.

I did not see the H&C bit (I would die before I watched or listened to or read anything written by Sean Hannity), but I read a partial transcript dealing with the donkey love part of the interview. I won't link to it because everybody has seen this by now. I can well believe that the interviewee and/or his kinsmen did a few barnyard animals in their day, but the "everybody was doing it" excuse just does not wash. Moreover, this kind of crap plays into the stereotype of Rednecks as incestuous, sexual deviants. This stereotype is patently inaccurate and hateful.

Let me state for the record (and I wish that I did not have to) that Rednecks do not condone or practice bestiality with any appreciable frequency, although some weirdos may do so. We are no more likely to get busy with our livestock than a stock analyst in Greenwich, CT is likely to get it on with his golden retriever. Our chickens are as safe from sexual harassment as any shitzu on the Upper East Side. In fact, bestiality was so unknown that my folks never even had to sit me down for the "don't do the livestock" talk.

The H&C guest was both morally and intellectually challenged and is more representative of wingnuttery than of Rednecks. I would never use him as a pet sitter, that's for sure, but his unusual sexual proclivities should not disqualify him from appearing on H&C or fronting for whatever wingnut cause he was espousing. From the transcript, it appears that he considers his history of bestiality as a badge of honor.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I Am Just Not Into the Yankees

I love the Braves and have since they arrived in Atlanta (I am an expat Georgian). When I lived in Seattle, I grew to love the Mariners.

But since moving to the Empire State, I have not been able to develop any attachment to the Yankees. Naturally, I hate the Mets; that goes without saying. The Yankees are the ultimate professionals and behave well and play well. I can't knock them, but I do not love them and I am completely indifferent to their success or failure. Maybe it's the insufferable Yankees fans that turn me off. These people will turn on a player in a flash, and I suspect that they eat their own young.

My wife has grown fond of the Yankees, especially since they have begun to look like her beloved Mariners with Randy Johnson, Tino Martinez, A-Rod, Luis Sojo (as a coach) and because she admires Derek Jeter. She first became a baseball fan in Seattle, and you never forget your first love. A story she hates for me to tell involves her early forays into fandom. She suggested that we should attend a certain game because the "Big Eunuch" would be pitching. It's funny how few people seem to catch the obvious phallic reference in the actual nickname.

Slavery is a Bad Thing

There, I have gone public. I have taken the courageous anti-slavery stance and hope to inspire others to come forward and denounce slavery. I oppose slavery, including conscription and coerced jury service.

Now that my position on slavery is clear, I feel confident that I can engage in discussions about the War Between the States without being accused of being pro-slavery. I should be able to advocate the right of secession and decry the costs of the war without fear that anyone will mistake my views for a thinly veiled pro-slavery stance. I can also question received historical interpretations and posit alternatives without being misunderstood as a wannabe slavocrat. I can also honor my ancestors who fought for the CSA without ascribing slavocratic motives or having such motives ascribed to me. I am even free to criticize Abe Lincoln.

Wow, this is like a great load lifted from my shoulders. I reckon I should have come out as anti-slavery a long time ago. This would have prevented me from dealing with a lot of irrelevant, illogical, dimwitted argumentation about whether my point of view was a marker of slavocratophilia every time I have stepped out of the "WBTS was to stop slavery and Lincoln was a saint" narrative.

Over at Catallarchy, I saw the same argumentation perpetrated in the comments to a WBTS post (http://catallarchy.net/blog/archives/2005/05/08/civil-war-hypothetical/), and I proposed yet another corollary to Godwin's Law to apply to WBTS discussions:

"Perhaps we need a corollary to Godwin’s Law to apply in discussions of the War Between the States (Feel free to refer to this as Vache Folle’s Corollary): (1) The first person to characterize a discussant as “pro-slavery” or a “Neo-Confederate” or a “racist” automatically loses the argument unless the accused can be shown to have stated an explicit pro-slavery position, to have identified himself as a neo-Confederate (whatever that is), or to have made an explicitly racist comment. Questioning the morality of the war or its prosecution does not count as pro-slavery or racist or neo-Confederate, nor does discussing its costs. (2) Anyone who claims that the War Between the States was “about” something definitive automatically loses the argument. Such claims are entirely conclusory and represent assertions of a subjective interpretation of historical material. These interpretations are imposed on the historical record and have no objectively provable validity. They are merely more or less plausible and may or may not be illustrative of a relevant point in discussion. In this thread, these assertions are utterly meritless. The point of the original post was precisely that historical interpretations serve present purposes and that they are subject to change. The most interesting issue that arose in the thread involved whether the war was “worth it". The motivation for the war (as if this can meaningfully be reduced to a single cause ascribable to all the participants) is irrelevant to this discussion. (3) Anyone who claims superior historical knowledge automatically loses the argument unless he can point to his or her own scholarly work directly relevant to the subject at hand."

My Coworkers Love the National ID

My conspecifics at work all love the National ID Card. They believe that it will (1) prevent identity theft (2) enhance immigration enforcement (3) thwart terrorists (4) make it easier to find criminals. After all, they have "nothing to hide"; therefore, it is inconceivable that the government would ever abuse the system. Having to show papers is a small price to pay for complete security, say they.

How the National ID will produce the perceived benefits is less clear.


Monday, May 09, 2005

Intelligent Design Research Design

I have been wondering whether it might be possible to get serious money from one or more institution dedicated to Creation Science by proposing to do CS based research? I'm not a biologist or anything (although my MA work was in Physical Anthropology), but I do not imagine that many credentialed biologists are publishing CS oriented papers or doing CS oriented research. I might even argue that credentials are a sure sign that I have been brainwashed by the secular humanists and make my incompetence a selling point.

As I figure it, CS involves the metaphysical assumption that some supernatural entity created all living things in more or less the form they are in now. This miraculous event explains everything and precludes any meaningful scientific research; therefore, it should be a breeze to come up with research projects (not unlike some postmodern cultural studies program). Such projects need only glorify the supernatural entity (being careful to avoid too much specificity) or contain some tautology that affirms CS. In the alternative, we could examine the biological world as text in a kind of hermeneutics, subject to the Bible of course.

Since much of the evidence for evolutionary theory has been explained as having been produced by Satan, the Great Deceiver, one might fruitfully (in the sense of doing very little work to get a final product) conduct a study that identifies certain Satanic Markers. Dating techniques imply ages before Genesis? The isotopes are marks of the devil, and anywhere these are found, we can conclude that Old Nick has been hard at work. Fossils imply intermediate forms that are no longer extant? Any such forms are Satanic monstrosities and evil deviations from the perfection of Creation! Satan is everywhere turning us to secular humanism and hip hop music.

What good would such a project do? None, unless I get paid to do it. Also, we would learn to recognize the devil's work product rather than jumping to some scientifically based conclusions about descent with modification. The best part is that I would not have to do any actual work myself but could just reinterpret something a real biologist has done. And peer review? Forget about it. How picky can they possibly be? These are people who do not understand the scientific method at all, and my minimal understanding of it puts me way ahead of the game.

How can I in good conscience engage in such charlatanry, you might ask, knowing how morally scrupulous I usually am. Easily, since I do not believe I will be doing any harm, and I will be providing entertainment value/solace to the CS set. Let's face it; only a small percentage of us will ever use evolutionary theory or even give it much thought, and the existence of CS will not detract from the enjoyment of evolutionary theory by the world. A lot of folks need CS to keep them from questioning their faith, and I fear that they may be so morally fragile that the confrontation with science could turn them into anti-social nihilists replete with oversized trousers and baseball caps askew. Moreover, channeling CS money into research should reduce funds for political action to cram CS down schoolchildren's throats. Also, if I am successful, I am sure to get on TV to debate evolutionists and can write a book or two. This can do a lot to assuage an uneasy conscience, I assume.

Thanks to Deinonychus Antirhoppus (http://www.steveverdon.com/archives/evolutioncreationism/002238.html)for the inspiration.

Red Bellied Woodpecker and Other Stormville Outback Goings On

Yesterday, a new bird showed up at the Neat Feast offering outside the kitchen window. It was clearly a woodpecker, having a long peckerwoodish bill, and it had a partially red head, a whitish breast and black striped/mottled wings. Red headed woodpecker, you say? Think again. It was, according to my Petersen Guide, a female red bellied woodpecker. This is so even though there is not a speck of red on the belly of either sex.

Since my last bird blog, we have added to our list of sightings a northern oriole at the Neat Feast, a red winged blackbird (off site on Hosner Mountain Road), and a ground squirrel who has burrowed just under the buffet.

A black bear has been seen across the road, but we always miss it. The deer are not as visible now that the foliage is leafy again and since we no longer put out the all you can eat deer chow spread (that is a snowy day treat).

Our neighbors across the street probably drive away a lot of wildlife since they spend almost the whole weekend operating heavy equipment on their yard. Their do it yourself project is going on three years now, and I am surprised the nearer neighbors have not killed them in their sleep. Their excavation had an impact on us as well, as quite a bit of mud flowed from their open pit into our driveway and on part of our grass. Mercifully, we cannot hear them so well when we sit outside on weekends, and the work they are doing is quite impressive. The rock walls are fantastic.

We have started putting in some planting beds around the pond, and have been shopping around for the best deals on plants. The water plants are quite expensive, and a water lily is $25 plus. Even ornamental grasses are dear, and Jasper gnaws on them. We are putting some kind of juniper thing along one of the banks with ornamental grasses behind them. This involves digging out a 6 foot swath of grass around the pond and is tedious work for that reason. We are doing it a little at a time so as not to bust the plant budget all at once. We planted quite a few perennial flower seeds to save money, but we won't know if they will germinate for a couple of weeks. The wildflower bed looks as if it might volunteer to return, but Jerry the lawn guy weed whacked it last week. I'll remind him that this is our "weed garden" and to leave it be.

UPDATE 5/11: Female downy woodpecker sighted on the suet feeder out back this morning.

UPDATE 5/12: Ruby throated humminbird sighted at the feeder on the deck yesterevening. This morning, he perched on the deck rail, something I have never witnessed.

Forget What I Said About Pit Bulls Being Good Dogs

William Jasper Stone, our oversized American Pit Bull Terrier, is an escape artist. Any compromise of fence integrity will be exploited by him, and he will roam the neighborhood and make new friends. We have met a few of our neighbors thanks to Jasper's gregariousness, and country folks do not seem to find him as menacing as our neighbors did when we lived in Yonkers.

I was off Friday, and I let the dogs out at 6 am and went back to bed. My wife fielded a call from our kindly next door neighbor at about 6:30 am. Jasper had escaped, had knocked on her door, and had made himself at home in her house. He loves this woman, and she has been known to extend kindnesses to him as well as to us in the year and a half that we have lived in Stormville's outback. I retrieved him and looked for his escape route.

Jasper usually uses one of the culverts, either the one where a stream comes in or the one where it flows out into the water supply land (swamp) to the northeast of our property. The northeast escape route had been used. Jasper had learned to move the cinder blocks weighing down the fencing and to push under the fence through an unbelieveably small opening. I went to the hardware store and bought 10 metal fence posts that I then deployed in front of the escape route.

Around noon, I was working in the pond when I saw Jasper ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FENCE. He had somehow pushed the posts aside and was headed into the swamp. He heeded not my calls, and by the time I got into the swamp he was nowhere to be found. I walked up and down the road calling him and alternately cursing his name and praying for his recovery (some of the neighbors are slack jawed yokels who might shoot a loose dog or toddler).

I returned home and got in the car with my wife, whereupon we patrolled the road for about a half mile. We turned around and about a quarter mile from home saw the beast running out of a neighbor's driveway followed by a very angry octogenarian woman. He jumped in our car, and the woman began berating us. Jasper had coated himself in a layer of muck from the swamp and had followed a FedEx delivery man to the woman's door. When she opened the door to get her package, Jasper ran in and made himself comfortable on her furniture. He would not leave until he heard our car.

No amount of apologizing and offering to clean her upholstery would placate her. To her, we represented every irresponsible dog owner who had ever offended her in any way. Her husband finally came out and gave us the eye-rolling-I-am-married-to-this-lunatic signal and sent us on our way, forgiven. Anger and embarrassment gave way to mirth in short order, and I laughed until I almost wet myself as soon as I was out of earshot of Jasper's new friend/victim.

In any event, he is on my s***list for now. We attached the posts with baling wire and are fairly sure that we have thwarted the escapist for now. We will, however, keep a close eye on him until we are more certain. The most unfortunate part of this is that it gives my wife more ammunition in her we-don't-want-a-dog-door-and-should-keep-paying-the-dog-walker rant. The black bear wandering around, combined with Jasper's escapism, means I will probably never win the dog door argument.

UPDATE 5/11: Jasper has been working on the escape route and managed to move the cinder blocks and to chew through part of the fencing. He made a break for it this morning. As God is my witness, I will thwart him if I have to build a wall.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Cricket is the Greatest Game Ever and Americans Are Too Stupid to Know It

When I saw my first cricket match, a limited overs contest in Canarsie Park, I could have sworn that nothing was happening for huge swatches of time. Fielders stood around for the most part idly while the batsmen fended off one bowled ball after another interminably. Occasionally, a batsman would deign to run, and fielders would have to exert themselves to keep the runs down to a minimum. The nothingness was punctuated by the occasional boundary or an out, and these seemed somewhat exciting but hardly sufficient reward for an entire day of watching. A couple of hundred runs might be eked out in this manner by each side.

Under the tutelage of the players over the course of several seasons and a season spent in Barbados following cricket at all levels (including a number of interviews with Sir Conrad Hunt), I became sufficiently knowledgeable of the game to understand that it is, without question, the most complex and exciting game ever devised by the mind of man. The periods of nothingness were, in fact, filled with action and intrigue. I even came to prefer test cricket, the 5 day affair, to the bastardized one day version of the game. Competence led to salience led to ever greater competence led to increasing salience and, finally, love.

Limited overs sacrifices a lot of the subtleties of the game, but its popularity is understandable. In addition to practical considerations, there is more reckless batting, leading to more offense or more frequent opportunities for spectacular defensive plays. Less competence is required for the spectator, and there is less for players to think about. Score runs or keep the other side from scoring runs. No need to manage time, no point in brilliant defensive batting, no chance for strategic shuffling of the batting order.

Cricket will never catch on in America on a grand scale. It requires too much competence to enjoy, and playing time at some level is almost a prerequisite to fandom. Americans won’t invest 6-8 hours in the game which is so hard to learn and which is challenging both to play and to enjoy, far more so than other American sports. Also, it is difficult to modify cricket to make it palatable to superficial and ignorant fans. The NFL and NBA make rule changes that privilege offense and suck most of the subtlety from the games, and this allows them to appeal to a widening fan base that love touchdowns, sacks, slam dunks and rejections. Baseball builds small ballparks and facilitates the long ball and appeals to skin deep fans who love only homers and strike-outs and occasional web gems. There is no need to have ever played any of the American games to be a bona fide sports fan. A profound fan might even be sickened a little by the pandering to the masses.

Cricket might have a chance if you modified it to last less than 3 hours and if you denuded it of any of its endearing characteristics. For example, the batsman might be required to run on a struck ball. This would quicken the pace of the game; however, it would be a completely different game, and the thought of it makes me a little nauseated. It may be possible, however, to build a fan base for genuine cricket based on the modified version from which fans would graduate to limited overs and then to test play. The existence of highly knowledgeable baseball fans gives me hope, since these folks see the game in terms of series and entire 162 game seasons rather than individual games. Moreover, they appreciate that every pitch is an event, every foul a defensive act, and every seemingly empty space or moment is filled with action and meaning.

It would be a better world if there were more cricket fans in it, and Americans would be better people with cricket in their hearts.

Route through the Blogosphere

I discovered the libertarian blogosphere entirely by accident, but it is now my lifeline and my main source of on-line news. LewRockwell.com is the gateway, from which I link to the Mises Institute and its blog. I go down much of the Mises blogroll- Acton, AntiWar, bkMarcus, Brad DeLong, Cantillon's Paradise, Deinonychus, FFF, Gene Callahan, Kinsella (with a side trip to his Daily Apology), Liberty Guys, L&P, Reason H&R, and the LRC Blog. Then I hit James Wolcott on the LRC blogroll and By Neddie Jingo and Tbogg from there. I run through Tbogg's blogroll from the bottom up: World O'Crap, Whiskey Bar, Tom Tomorrow, Jesus' General, Norbizness, Digby, and others if I have time. I have to see if Tim Swanson has anything, and I sometimes check out the Palmer Periscope for kicks.

These provide a pretty balanced view of the world. I eschew any wingnuttery or raving moonbattery and MSM and rely on the bloggers to let me know what tripe spews forth from these quarters. I am smarter by far and much better informed since I began this reading program than I ever was before. I am less depressed and contemptuous of my fellow man.


Wikipedia defines bigotry here : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bigot

In a nutshell, bigotry is defined as an unreasonable intolerance of opinions other than one's own.

This seems fair enough, but I sometimes observe the epithet of bigot used in cases where the accused is not necessarily intolerant. For example, one may be called an anti-religious bigot if one opposes religious teaching in government schools notwithstanding that one is himself an adherent of the religion in question. One may be called a homophobic bigot for opposing hate crime legislation involving crimes against homosexuals notwithstanding one's indifference to the sexual orientation of others. One may be called a racist bigot for criticizing rap lyrics and hip hop fashion. One may be called an antisemitic bigot for criticizing Israeli policy.

Some of my conspecifics appear to regard any position as intolerant which does not, in fact, embrace and celebrate the opposing position. It is not enough to accept homosexuality and advocate a society in which folks are free to be as homosexual as they care to be; rather, one has to be willing to declare that homosexuality is a positive good and that it is out of bounds to think otherwise. It is not enough to accept that others have differing religious views and to respect their right to hold and espouse them; rather, one must be willing to declare that one's own religious views are questionable and that all religious views are equally valid. It is not enough to accept differences in "culture" and to defend the right of others to engage in conduct and speech which one finds offensive; rather, one must be willing to declare one's admiration and love for cultural differences of every variety.

To me, tolerance and respect for diversity entail a willingness to live and let live, not an uncritical acceptance and affection for every other opinion or lifestyle. I can be a confessing Christian and tolerate the right of my neighbor to practice Islam without believing that Islam is as correct as Christianity. I can loathe rap music and oversized pants while recognizing that others are free to enjoy these things, and this does not make me intolerant. I can understand why some folks have bishops and a Pope without admitting that such institutions are a good idea. What is "tolerant" about accepting things that you like or agree with? Tolerance is living with things you don't necessarily admire.

On the other hand, some of my wingnut conspecifics insist that tolerance consists in adopting their position whole hog.

Either way, the epithet of bigot becomes a meaningless conversation stopper and is, in my experience, mainly deployed in lieu of reasoning. There should perhaps be something like Godwin's Law governing charges of bigotry in argumentation. Whoever makes the charge is deemed to have lost the argument unless it can be demonstrated that a) intolerance of a point of view has been exhibited, b) that intolerance is unreasonable, c) that the intolerance persists even in the face of valid refutation of the reasons, and d) the bigotry is not self evident.

UPDATE 5/11: Let's call this Jones's Corollary after mick j (see comments).

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Blaming Rednecks

The usually thoughtful Thomas Sowell, at


opines that problems in the black community today are attributable to the influence of redneck "culture". Southern blacks spent a lot of time around rednecks and picked up their problematic "culture". Rednecks are relatively more violent, lazier, and stupider than other white people, or so goes the implication of the essay.

This is a rather creative rehashing of the old "Culture of Poverty" argument with the added twist of blaming rednecks, the remaining ethnic category which it is socially acceptable to denigrate. Black culture is to blame, only it is really redneck culture that diffused to blacks.

I do not reject out of hand every aspect of the Culture of Poverty school. Certainly, particular values learned in a cultural milieu can lead to problematic behaviors and coping mechanisms, problematic for social engineers if not for the people themselves. To a large extent, however, the so called Culture of Poverty is a manifestation of more or less reasonable responses to circumstances, including poverty. And the most problematic behaviors and attitudes are not normal in either black or redneck communities, however impoverished.

I am proud to confess my redneck heritage. I am one of James Webb's Celtic-Americans, a descendant of border folk, Lowland Scots, Ulstermen, and the odd German, Dutch, French and Cherokee. My ancestors arrived in North America in the 17th and 18th Centuries, mostly with nothing more than their labor power. They were forced to the edges of settlement in order to secure land. They worked hard to make a living out of the wilderness and to raise families, and any laziness was punished by failure and destitution. Even the hardest workers could not protect themselves from every misfortune, however, including the devastation of the United States conquest of the Southern States and punitive Reconstruction policies.

My people farmed, sometimes as tenant farmers and worked in the timber industry, the coal and copper mines, and other industries as opportunities presented themselves. They raised families, ultimately bought their own farms, and were productive and socially responsible members of their communities. They were "poor but proud", and some even were relatively rich. They were not well educated for the most part, and they were among the first to answer their country's calls to arms, poor dupes.

When the textile industry was developing in the mid 20th Century in something of a recapitulation of the industrial revolution, it was redneck women who did piece work and who were the first mill workers, all while working their farms and raising their children. My people went into the mills and factories, and some of us (sadly not my family) became home grown textile barons. Most of my kinsmen are working class, god-fearing and as worthy as respect as any other man or woman, including Thomas Sowell. Any black family with the values of my family and community would be respectable and well endowed culturally.

There are, and probably always will be, rednecks who are lazy and/or stupid and/or anti-social, and some of them are my kinsmen. There will always be a supply of guests for Jerry Springer and a steady supply of shirtless drunken wife beaters to display on COPS. We called them "white trash" in my village. White trash was descriptive of the underclass, but there was no white trash "culture" in any meaningful sense. Similarities among white trash families were existential, i.e. being poor and shiftless in one town is pretty much the same as in any other, especially since one's actions and options are highly circumscribed.

Thomas Sowell, please don't ascribe white trashiness and black social problems to redneck culture. Laziness, stupidy and anti-social behavior are not cultural norms among rednecks or black folks. Calling them culture, even the despised redneck culture, legitimizes them and allows people to celebrate as culture what is just plain sin.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Pond

One of the selling points of our house was the pond in the back yard. When I say pond, at that time it was more of a former pond, or potential pond or "seasonal" pond. Fed by three small streams, the pond had been neglected for so many years that it was largely filled in with silt and overrun with cattails. As soon as it became physically possible after the snows melted, I dug up all the cattails and dredged by hand much of the pond to a shallow depth. This was in vain as the cattails grew back threefold.

I retained Jerry the lawn guy and his brother in law to help me realize my vision of the pond. Meanwhile, Jasper the pit bull used it as a wallow and did his best hippo impression. We ordered a liner, and Jerry and in-law dredged the pond. As is the way with contractors, Jerry and in-law made themselves scarce for 8 weeks or more until the rains came back and the pond filled back up with water. We had a large mud hole in the yard, an attractive nuisance for Jasper.We fired the contractors and retained 5 day laborers through a temp agency and installed the 60x60 liner ourselves by submerging it at the point where the streams entered the pond. The weight of the water and my stomping around secured the liner to the ground.

Ellen and I spent all of September and October mining stones from the mountain and bringing them down by the wheelbarrow full. On a good weekend, we could mine 600 stones and place them around the edge of the pond to secure and conceal the liner. Ellen hated this intensive labor but kept a photo diary of the progress of the pond. We cut away the excess liner and created some planting beds and gravel walkways along the edge of the pond. Despite all this manipulation, the frogs and crawdads endured.

The winter was long and harsh, and the pond was frozen and hidden from view by snow for most of the season. The melt and intense Spring storms saw some flooding, well contained in the pond, but destructive. A day of additional stonework (I bought two pallets of river jacks) and gravel work left the border in good repair. Quite a bit of silt and rotted leaves are in the pond, and I will pull most of this out this weekend. I will leave some for lilies and the wildlife. There are thousands of frog eggs and dozens of adult frogs already, and daffodils that I thought had been dredged up have bloomed. Some hardy lilies that I put in the pond last fall had disappeared, but they seem to be sprouting up through the silt.

Last weekend we did some planting of bleeding hearts and the like and lots of flower seeds. We will see what comes up. The nearby wildflower bed looks as if the flowers will volunteer to return. Both the parsley and the turnips in the garden volunteered.

UPDATE: Ellen reminded me that all the rock mining and moving was performed with a wheelbarrow with a flat tire. I would swear that I was going to get a bicycle pump and inflate it but would always forget this as soon as I was not using the wheelbarrow. This year, the tire is inflated, and it is amazing how much less work is involved in pushing a load of rocks.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Bring Back Child Labor

Child labor laws are, IMO, the Bourgeoisie's way of suppressing the fertility of the poor. Alarmed by the relatively high birth rate among the proletariat, they figured out that lowering the economic and other value of the children of the poor and increasing their costs would lead to reduced fertility.

Now we find ourselves with overall fertility rates less than replacement. The children of the poor cost everyone a crap load of money to educate, and they often end up as shirtless antagonists on COPS or featured guests on Jerry Springer. Poor families often see both parents working just to get by and their children raised by strangers or television sets.

Let's face it; the experiment with child labor restrictions has failed. It is time to put kids back to work. Among the many social benefits of this change are the following:
  • Some families will all get to work together as a team and spend more quality time together, perhaps in a mine or factory. Every day could be Bring Your Daughter to Work Day. Many happy memories will be formed as parents teach their children and make work fun. Every day will be endless games of Find the Coal, or Dig the Most Coal, or Sew More Soccer Balls.
  • Children will learn a trade and a work ethic rather than listening to bad music and wearing oversized trousers.
  • Less money will be needed for public education.
  • More children will be born.
  • Productivity will increase, especially in mines where smaller children can be used to get into smaller spaces.
  • The quality of American made soccer balls will increase as finer stitching becomes possible.
  • Families will spend less on child care, and mothers will be able to reenter the labor market sooner.

There will be some losers:

  • Bigots who hate reproduction by the poor.
  • The education lobby because of competition between work and schooling.
  • Lazy children who want to play on everyone else's dime.
  • Child haters who do not want to see children liberated.

It is time to allow children their God given right to make a living, and not just on family farms or Chinese restaurants.