Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Federal Lands

Several years ago, I worked under a contract with the Park Service on the issue of treaty rights of American Indians to enter and use public lands. In the course of my research, I learned some interesting things about the history of public lands in the US and the colonies. In the first instance, there has always been a divide between the New England model where the authorities held title to land and distributed it and the Southern model in which homestead rights might be acknowledged. In any case, much of the tidewater and piedmont real estate in the Southern colonies was owned by a few wealthy families such as the Granvilles of North Carolina and Lord Fairfax and George Washington and their ilk in Virginia. Most of my ancestors were left to homestead less productive and more dangerous mountainous land, and even then they ran the risk that some tidewater aristocrat had surveyed it and already held legal title to it.

After Independence, the states ceded their claims to western lands to the United States which held title. The US wasn’t giving away land in those days, and land sales represented the second largest source of revenue for the federal government after tariffs. Land sold for $2 an acre but could only be bought in large tracts of at least a square mile. This meant that the land was picked up mainly by speculators and that settlement by folks who would occupy and work the land was significantly retarded. Homesteaders on public lands were routinely rounded up by the Army and their improvements destroyed.

The public land holdings also permitted the US to engage in massive public works projects through a Constitutional back door. It was believed in those days that the US had no authority to engage directly in public works, but the US could and did grant public lands to states and institutions and companies for educational institutions, roads, canals and the like. The railroad companies were beneficiaries of a massive giveaway of public land far beyond the rights needed for rail rights of way.

In 1863, the Homestead Act provided for settlers to obtain title to public land that they occupied and worked under certain conditions. This continued for a hundred years and permitted many families to get title to land that they worked and occupied. It is no longer permissible to homestead, and vast tracts of land are held by the US for the benefit of ranchers, loggers, mining interests and the like. These are administered by a congeries of agencies: National Park Service (Interior), Forest Service (Agriculture), Corps of Engineers (DoD), Bureau of Land Management, etc.

My home state of Georgia engaged in a land giveaway scheme to encourage white settlement in the Cherokee and Creek lands in the first half of the 19th Century. Each time the Indians were divested of a large tract, the state held a land lottery and granted parcels to fortunate drawers. Some of my ancestors acquired land by this process, and I suppose that their title was morally defective, being predicated on the theft of the land from the Indians. It is strange to think that Northwest Georgia where I grew up was the “frontier” as late as 1840.

Even now we are left with huge tracts of federal land, the use and management of which are politically determined and directed by central planning rather than market forces. Ranchers who graze stock on federal land pay less than a quarter of what is paid for private grazing rights, and the availability of subsidized public grazing distorts private pricing downward. Federal timber sales come at a loss of some $1 billion a year and distort prices for privately held timber. The patent and claim mineral extraction system is another giveaway of government assets to private interests. Of course, we can also consider much of the public land system and policy as a massive subsidy for outdoor sports enthusiasts.

Should users of public lands pay market rates for the privilege of using resources? Shouldn’t we expect the public lands subject to commercial exploitation to support themselves rather than being a drain on the Treasury? Or should users be considered homesteaders and granted appropriate titles and left with responsibility for further management and stewardship?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

New Word Coined by Me

Neopaleoethnopsychopharmacologically: adverb, in a neopaleoethnopsychopharmacological manner.

Neopaleoethnopsychopharmacological: adjective, pertaining to neoethnopsychopharmacology.

Neopaleoethnopsychopharmacology: noun, the current study of how various societies in prehistoric times utilized substances to alter mental states.

I am going to try to work this into conversation this week. Feel free to use it.


Iceberg has posted some great propaganda posters from WW2 and has posted quite a few anti- blackmarketeering posters in the past.

When I was a kid, I found a box of WW2 era papers in the loft of the barn. The family had kept just about all its ration stamps and had approached near self sufficiency during the war. My four uncles were all in the Army and weren't consuming anything back home, so it was just Ma and Pa and my preschool aged mom.

One pamphlet I found still sticks in my memory. It showed a caricature of Hitler with a big x over it and a cartoonish apelike Japanese soldier with spectacles and an outsized malocclusion. The message was "One Down, One to Go". The Japanese were clearly to be regarded as subhuman. I recall a number of war films that depicted the Japanese in this light. Life was cheap to them, so the propaganda went, so they were all but invincible. By the 1960s, however, films began to portray the Japanese in a more favorable light, and we were no longer encouraged to harbor any race hatred for them as an enemy. (Now it was the Viet Cong for whom life was cheap.) I could not easily reconcile the propaganda materials with my 1960s image of the Japanese as hard working, polite, deferential people. Perhaps that is why it made such an impression on me.

In just 20 years or so, we had gone from Germans and Japanese as inhuman monsters deserving extermination to Hogan's Heroes and McHale's Navy. Apparently, WW2 was one of those things you couldn't laugh about at the time, but 20 years later was hilarious.

In any event, the posters at Iceberg's site seem pretty silly at first blush, but the propositions that they contain can be found repeated even now in the wingnut blogosphere and on Fox News.

Mentally Ill and Proud of It

There is a streak of depression in my genes, and my family is by and large a melancholy lot. My ancestors were longsuffering farmers that slogged through life and prayed for the blessings of sweet, sweet death. Some treated themselves with alcohol, a losing proposition if there ever was one. I battled depression and anxiety for years without understanding what I was going through. Every moment of every day was filled with dread and foreboding, like the evening before a big exam for which you have not prepared. Joy was unknown to me. I sought to attribute my anxiety to my circumstances, my job, my friends, my neighborhood. I would make changes, but the anxiety followed me and threatened to destroy me.

At long last, I went on antidepressants and, for the first time ever, experienced what it felt like to have a normal mood, to be anxious only in the face of anxiety provoking situations, and to take pleasure in life. I even experience joy.

Life seems quite different when you are depressed. Things you ordinarily enjoy become dreaded chores. Happy social occasions become dreaded and much to be avoided. The universe seems designed to torment you. God seems to have hidden Himself away from you. Nothing signifies.

I am thankful for antidepressants. I wish all the suffering minds would discover them and that the stigma attached to mental illness would not prevent anyone from seeking treatment. You don’t have to live with anxiety and depression.

Now when I am sad or anxious, I can accurately attribute my mood to particular stimuli and, where appropriate, take steps to improve my circumstances. Moreover, I can keep an open heart and experience loss and heartbreak at the injustice and hurt in the world. What a boon this is. Being overwhelmed by anxiety and depression is like having no feelings at all since the feelings you have are of no use to you.

I have resolved to share with all and sundry that I use antidepressants in order to do my part to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness. That I live a normal life and am "productive" is, in view of my condition, a considerable accomplishment.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Family Size

Iwas at the movies twice this weekend where I saw posters for Yours, Mine and Ours and Cheaper by the Dozen 2, films about multiparous women and their husbands and offspring. I reckon the idea is that having a house full of children is like having a barrel of monkeys, in which case I wonder why more families don’t have more children.

The optimum family size in America today seems to be two, a boy and a girl, and three if your first two were the same sex. Few people continue past three to get the desired mix of male and female offspring. I don’t entirely know why this is the appropriate family size, but there is apparently considerable social disapproval of larger families, especially if the parents are relatively poor.

I have queried a good number of people over the years about family size, and most folks explain that they had all the children they thought they could afford. (Some admit that their last child was a “stopper”, a child so horrible that they would not consider going through such parenting hell again.) For many families I have queried, it is anticipated that the mother will eventually return to work; therefore, it is necessary to stop having children at some point to permit the last child to reach school age. Family size is determined in large part by the opportunity costs associated with having the mother out of work.

Having only one child is considered problematic, although it is increasingly accepted. When I was a child, it was thought that only children would necessarily be “spoiled” and lonely. Having no children is frowned upon, although less so than in the past. Parents seem to find childlessness inexplicable.

Is the popularity of movies and TV shows about big families an aspect of resistance to the two children norm? The norm probably comes from the dominant culture, as elites have smaller families as a rule and would prefer that the masses curb the growth in their numbers. Large families would take parents out of the labor pool much longer with a potential for increased labor costs. Larger families would leave folks with less disposable income to spend on consumer goods and amusements. Larger families would mean higher costs for medical benefits. Larger families would entail more spending on schools and social programs.

Mainly, larger families would mean that the popular culture isn't buying into the dominant ethos of atomization and hyperindividualism.

Pride and Prejudice

Mrs Vache Folle and I have a tradition of going to the movies on holidays. We saw all the Lord of the Ring films on Christmas. This Thanksgiving, we took in Pride and Prejudice.

I fully expected and intended to hate it, being a rabid fan of the 1995 miniseries (I own the DVDs and have watched it at least 20 times). I have to say that it was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be, although it is much inferior to the 1995 Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle production. It is better than the 1940 version by a long shot.

The 2005 film is grittier and portrays the Bennetts as barely respectable. Mr Bennett takes a keen interest in his pigs and the workings of his estate. The hogs and poultry are maintained right in the yard. The house is a wreck. None of the Bennett girls is at all accomplished or even very charming, and they are simply physically attractive. It is hard to imagine that Bingley or Darcy would be much attracted to them, let alone fall in love with them. The social chasm between the Bennetts and the Darcy and Bingly families is, in my view, much too wide for any connection with the Bennetts to be plausible. In the book, the main objection to the Bennetts is that they have near relatives in trade (Phillips and Gardner, the uncles, are both attorneys) and that they have no independent fortune (the Bennett estate's being entailed away). Moreover, Mrs Bennett is quite silly and crass, and the younger girls are a bit wild. This is enough to make them poor prospects for good marriages.

To fit the story into a little over two hours, some of the ancillary characters are left out. There is no Louisa Bingley Hearst (and no drunken Mr Hearst), and Charlottle Lucas has no younger sister. This is understandable and detracts little from the story, but some other critical story lines were abandoned and this renders much of the overall story nonsensical. George Wickham barely appears. Mrs Bennett is not nearly as ridiculous as she ought to be, and the imperious Lady Catherine de Burgh is largely defanged (Dame Judi Dench was wasted in the part, I think, since Lady Catherine has only brief appearances). All in all, the film has the feeling of a Cliff Notes treatment.

Mr Darcy lives in what appears to be a museum and never displays anything but the sourest expression. The 2005 film’s Darcy is a complete social retard, and the only thing to recommend him is his fantastic wealth. Keira Knightly’s performance was quite good, and she has to endure and pull off a lot of close ups and to tell much of the story by her facial expressions and body language.

If you are a Jane Austen fan, you are going to see this movie. You won't be able to help yourself. Enjoy it for what it is, and don't expect it to be better than the 1995 version.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

It's Not Too Early to Plan for the Best Groundhog Day Ever

My favorite holiday is Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day is smack dab in the middle of winter, and it is a reminder that it won’t be winter forever. This is an especially important message in February, that cold, hideous month.

It seems, however, that there has been a War on Groundhog Day, an insidious conspiracy to render it ridiculous and trivial. You don’t get the day off. There are no sales in the stores, no exchanges of gifts, no Charlie Brown Specials, no songs, no inflatable lawn statuary, no greeting cards. All you get is a condescending “And on a lighter note, today is Groundhog Day, and old Phil saw his shadow. Ha Ha!”

People just don’t get the real meaning of the holiday. The Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day came closest to showing the spirit of the day. In that film, the character relives the same day, February 2, over and over until he gets it right. Get it? We are all in perpetual midwinter of the soul, and the Groundhog comes to remind us that there will be Spring. We still have to slog through 6 more weeks of winter to get to it, but there will be Spring. Despair not.

Let’s reclaim Groundhog Day and celebrate it properly. Call your mom and wish her a Glorious Groundhog Day. Greet everyone with well wishes for the season. Take the day off as your personal holiday. Send cards. Decorate your door with a festive groundhog wreath and sing songs about the beloved marmot.

I bring this up now so we will have time to get ready. After Chrismahannakwanzika, we tend to have a little holiday fatigue and might not think to prepare for February 2 until it’s too late to do it right.

I can’t decide what the traditional feast should be. I am leaning toward terducken (turkey stuffed with duck stuffed with chicken) but am open to suggestions.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Deer Season

Deer season started last weekend. I don't hunt because I don't like to get up early and hang out in the cold in a forest full of armed drunks. Moreover, the whole thing smacks of effort, and I have never taken any pleasure in killing animals. I don't care if other people hunt as long as they don't do it near my house and as long as they stay off my property.

In West Virginia, I worked on some cases of "negligent shooting". It seems that accidentally killing your hunting companion in the woods is a petty offense punishable by a $25 fine. Never go hunting in West Virginia with anyone who has a bone to pick with you. "Let's bury the hatchet, Cletis. Tell you what, I'll take you deer huntin'."

In Maine about 15 years ago, I recall hearing about a case where a hunter shot a woman to death in her backyard. He claimed that he thought she was a deer, and he was deemed innocent of any crime. I think a standard of strict liability ought to apply. If you are hunting near a residence or a road, you should have to make sure that you are shooting at a deer and not a person or anyone's livestock.

I will kill anyone who shoots at or too near my house, my person, or my dogs.

Brown Liquor

bkmarcus is on a roll at lowercase liberty where, inter alia, he posts about whiskey. This is a subject close to my heart.

For me, autumn is the season for brown liquor. Dreary fall days lend themselves to sitting around and sipping Bourbon or Scotch. Actually, there is never a bad time for brown liquor, but the present season demands such libations more than the other seasons. Brown liquor is a contemplative beverage. You think deep thoughts and say profound things when you're holding a glass of the old water of life.

Scotch, single malt if you can afford it, is the king of whisk(e)ys. It is unparallelled in its complexity, and the potential for scotch snobbery is unlimited. We visited a distillery in Scotland, Royal Lochnagar by Balmoral, where we learned about the "flavor wheel", a chart that listed various characteristics of varieties of scotch in a circle. Some of the flavors were what one might expect- oaken, peaty, etc. Others were quite funny- scotch tape, manure. I doubt that the distillery that made the manure or tape tasting whiskey used the same chart. Some scotch from the seaside has a bid of an iodine taste from ancient seaweed in the peat used to distill the stuff.

Good single malt scotch is about the best gift one could ever give me. I rarely buy it, because the less expensive single malts are apt to be inferior, and I have trouble shelling out $50 for a bottle of booze even though it is worth it. (Mrs Vache Folle is parsimonious and would harangue me no end.)

Good bourbon is almost as wonderful as good scotch. And don't forget Tennessee sour mash. Tennessee whiskey isn't bourbon because bourbon has to be made in Kentucky in the confines of the former Bourbon County. In Seattle, check out FX McRory's and its bar of a zillion bourbons. Seriously, they have every kind of bourbon behind the bar, and it is a joy to sample them. I never made it through the whole inventory, but my favorite was "Booker Noe".

Brown liquor should be taken neat or, if you must, on the rocks. Water or seltzer is the only permissible mixer and should be used only with inferior product. Never mix the really good stuff with anything.

A woman who enjoys brown liquor is a catch.

Canadian whisky bites in my experience, and I have never learned to appreciate the Irish stuff. Southern Comfort is an abomination to be drunk only by children as cough medicine or by frat boys who are already drunk.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Myth of Meritocracy as an Obstacle to Freedom

My preference for freedom is of relatively recent origin, and most of my life I was almost authoritarian in my ideology. I am generally happier now, although my ideal society is hardly realized, and I often wonder why so many people fail to embrace freedom and instead promote an increasingly powerful state. In looking back on my own conversion experience, I consider the biggest obstacle to happiness and right thinking in my life to be the “Cult of Respectability”. The craving for respectability let me align myself ideologically with the rich and powerful and to despise the poor and downtrodden. It enabled me to see the state as the driver of the civilizing process and to see service to the state as a higher calling. In short, I was a tool and a dupe (some would say a jackass in the bargain). I am grateful that I was never important enough to do much harm, although I have some things to atone for.

I am not sure what opened my eyes. The process was one of gradual disillusionment rather than sudden insight. A big part was experiencing the state in action and knowing some wealthier and more powerful people, although most of my acquaintances were hardly more than the petit bourgeois. In working in grossly ineffectual agencies, I learned that the state was just people acting in their own selfish interests while exercising power over others. And the wealthy and powerful weren’t morally superior to the poor and weak; they were mostly just luckier, and they operated within a system that happened to favor them. There was an unavoidable disconnect between my ideology and what I saw in practice.

It is embarrassing to me now that I, son of working class parents and having a negative net worth for most of my life, could identify with the rich and powerful and think for a moment that my interests were in line with theirs. I blame the lure of respectability and the myth of the meritocracy (you don’t expect me to implicate my lack of character, do you?). Meritocracy is a misnomer. Meritocracy does not reward the deserving; rather, it is nothing more than a system for selecting compliant servants of the ruling classes. Merit, in the sense of deserving, has nothing to do with anything except that one of the drivers of the system is the quest for status. Giving up this quest is one way to begin to be free.

To the extent that people conflate advancement in the system with merit, they are apt also to deem wealthier or more powerful people more meritorious than poorer or less powerful people. And it is the meritorious who deserve to rule and who perpetuate the system within which they succeeded. Even many people who fail within the system buy into its logic and deem themselves to blame rather than problematizing the system. How much more enticing is the system to those who enjoy some measure of success and experience some social mobility?

The dominant culture decrees that merit brings prosperity; therefore, the prosperous are by definition meritorious. Even many among the less prosperous seem to believe this and deem themselves superior to those who are even poorer than themselves. There are surely strains of resistance in the popular culture in depictions of the powerful as evil, as unsatisfied by their success, as insatiable, as mad with power, as inhuman. Working folks are ennobled, and outlaws are glorified. It is themes of resistance in popular culture that the libertarian intelligentsia might address to deliver its message about the blessings of liberty. The powerful aren’t going to give up power; the masses have to strip it from them. And one thing to attack might be the notion of the powerful and their servants as meritorious. The truth is quite the opposite, and it should be told.

Friday, November 18, 2005

God Loves You, and He's Going to Kill You

I think the episodes of The Simpsons dealing with religion are among the best social commentary on that program. I recently watched (for the third time) the episode where Homer predicts the date of the “Rapture”. He tries to warn everyone: “God loves you, and He’s going to kill you!”

I was taught the whole Rapture and Tribulation spiel when I was a teenager. It was all the rage in those days in the Bible Belt, and I recall a number of times sitting in on sermons that dealt with the End Times and interpreting Revelations as describing current events. Remember The Late Great Planet Earth? Those predictions all turned out wrong, but the author is still prophesying on the TV. There was a one- woman play by an evangelist entitled The Quick and the Dead that dramatized the Tribulation. One guy I heard argued that Nelson Rockefeller was the Antichrist, and he was dead serious. I’m pretty sure he was wrong. We used to sing a song I Wish We’d All Been Ready that was a lamentation of someone going through the Tribulation. “Children died, the days grew cold, a piece of bread would buy a bag of gold…”

I never bought into the whole Rapture and Tribulation thing because it just didn’t seem to me to fit with the teachings of Jesus. The Biblical predicates for the doctrine were really shaky as far as I was concerned. The same preachers who insisted that the “days” in Genesis were 24 hour days had no problem stating that the “weeks” in Daniel were figurative and represented a longer time period that placed the Rapture within the next few years. That doctrine and lots of other things about Arminian fundamentalist Christianity led me to spend the next two decades in apostasy. I experimented with (gasp!) Unitarianism. As a joke, I listed Wicca on my dog tags in the army. Fortunately, I ultimately discovered a kind of Christianity that acknowledges the grace of God.

I am sad to see that the Left Behind series of books (now minor motion pictures starring Kirk Cameron) are so popular. This is such a perversion of Christianity. So many self-described Christians are looking forward to leaving the wicked world and have given up on making it any better. In fact, some of the most hateful people I know are “Christians” looking forward to the Rapture. For them, God is all about the smiting, and they extend little or no love to those unbelievers that God is going to torture in the seven years of Tribulation. Life in the world is meaningless for them. Their emphasis on God’s supposed vengefulness and the utter irrelevance of this kind of faith to life in the world are huge stumbling blocks to the acceptance of Christianity by many people. Their gospel is not exactly “Good News”. As the preacher in Cold Comfort Farm said, “They’re all going to hell, and someone has to tell them.”

On the other hand, it appears that the whole vengeful God/sinners get what they deserve in the end/get your ticket out of this hellhole is hugely popular and generates a lot of revenue for a lot of preachers. It is a lot easier than actually trying to live like Jesus. All you have to do is recite a formulaic prayer and wait for the end of the world.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Random Thoughts

Although it is extremely improbable, it is nonetheless possible that the entire universe came into existence last Thursday complete with our memories and the apparent evidence of existence prior to that date. We’ll never really know. Can you prove that the universe existed before last Thursday? I don’t propose teaching Last Thursdayism in schools, however.

The War on Christmas seems to be in full swing, except that I can’t figure out who is supposed to be against Christmas. I have worked in retail over the Christmas break on a number of occasions, and I can tell you that retailers really like Christmas. They sell a lot of merchandise during the holidays and are unlikely to get behind a movement to weaken their sales. I can also tell you that it is awkward as a shop clerk to wish anyone “Merry Christmas” unless it actually is Christmas or really close to it. It just feels stupid. Is this just more prolefeed?

My mother in law keeps Christmas fanatically. She has a Christmas version of just about everything, and it takes her over a month to decorate. She does not, however, go overboard with the exterior lights. We used to live next to a subdivision in Seattle, Olympic Manor or some such name, where almost every house put on an excessive light display. Folks would come from miles around to cruise the streets of the neighborhood and admire the lights and lawn ornamentation. We haven’t even had a tree for several years and usually spend Christmas going to the movies and out to eat unless we have to visit kinfolks.

The nephews (Huey 11, Dewey 10 and Louis 8) are visiting Thanksgiving weekend. Trevor Zoo and the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum are tentatively on the itinerary. I am going to let them rake leaves to earn arcade money, but we will spring for dinner at a Japanese restaurant. I may wear a mask around them because they usually carry some virus that they picked up at school. I never had kids of my own, so it is nice to have them around to torment for a few days.

We are going to see Allison Kraus and the Union Station this weekend, the first musical concert we have been to in years. (Can it be that the last professional musical performance we attended was Ray Charles in Gainesville, FL over ten years ago? Mrs Vache Folle is right. I never take her anywhere!) I wish there was a bluegrass station that I could get on the radio. Country music is such crap anymore, just listless pop with an occasional “hook”.

We want to see the new Pride and Prejudice, but we live in the boondocks where it has not yet opened. Nothing can compare to the 1995 miniseries, which was so true to the book, but we love the story and are curious to see another interpretation. The 1940 version was terrible, notwithstanding Sir Laurence’s participation.

Congrats to A-Rod on the MVP award. In my book, A-Rod is the best player ever.

Libertarian Solutions to Social Problems

I enjoy Kevin Carson’s posts on what he calls “Vulgar Libertarianism”. The latest
deals with claims that folks naturally prefer to work as wage earners over working on their own farms. Fewer small farms are proxy for “progress”. In my own experience, I’m pretty sure my family would have been content to farm if circumstances beyond their control hadn’t rendered small family farms unprofitable. Instead of being their own bosses and spending lots of time with their families, they had to work for others in textile mills and leave their families behind for 40 plus hours a week. Some progress.

One of the objections to libertarianism that I sometimes encounter is that libertarians seem to some to be “selfish, greedy b***t**ds” who care only about themselves. This is certainly so of some, I am sure, but I reckon that most libertarians care a great deal about their fellow human beings. We believe that folks will be happier if they are free. We believe, by and large, that folks are capable of governing themselves and that they are creative and productive when left to their own devices. We also have profoundly held moral values, the most important of which are commitment to peace and distaste for coercion.

It is sometimes difficult to convey to statists that when I am arguing against some governmental action or role or power I am not condoning the problem that government is being used to address. For example, if I am against repressive drug laws, it does not mean that I condone drug abuse. And if I defend the right of folks to make alternative family arrangements and engage in alternative lifestyles, I don’t necessarily approve of what every person might choose to do with his freedom. I may find their choices imprudent or immoral. If I oppose forced taxation for government schools, it does not follow that I am anti-education.

I have a tendency toward minding my own business when it comes to how other people are living their lives, and I suspect that most libertarians share this attribute. There are, however, quite a few things about which I care deeply and about which I do not hesitate to offer an opinion and to act. In such cases, I will attempt to persuade others to adopt my point of view, and I may use my power as a consumer to reward or discourage attitudes or behaviors I don’t like. I will work to solve problems in my community in peaceful ways. (Sadly, I am describing the kind of person I wish I were more than the person I really am in practice).

It is sometimes not enough for libertarians to declare that “government is not the solution” and throw up their hands in despair about the underlying “problem”. Libertarians have a lot to offer in terms of alternative non-coercive solutions to social problems, and our program would probably benefit from our doing more to address issues and offer non-governmental solutions.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bye, Morning Sedition

In the next few weeks my morning drive time radio listening will come available. Air America Radio, for reasons that are incomprehensible to me, is canceling Morning Sedition with Mark and Marc. That’s right, the best thing on radio today is going off the air even though the creative team is perfectly willing to continue. Most of Air America Radio is annoying rants by the on air personalities and a few interviews and phone calls from listeners, but Morning Sedition was a variety show with regular skits and features, radio theatre, shows from remote locations, and interesting guests, not always political. The show can be pants pissing funny and is always good for a few laughs while being informative at the same time.

I am going to miss the many regular characters who appeared on the show, especially Lawton Smalls, the correspondence from Planet Bush. “God loves you. Deal with it.” I will miss Sammy the Stem Cell. “I’m sacred life; I did your wife.” I love the segments “The War on Brains” and the one where the team makes fun of celebrities who recently died. Any such that features James Wolcott on multiple occasions is all right by me.

Alas, my long commute will no longer be entertaining and educational, and I don’t know where to turn. Back to NPR? Too mainstream for my tastes. Converse with my car pool conspecific? He’s the IT guy in the office, for crying out loud. What would we talk about? CDs?

Maybe Marc and Mark and the team will find a home elsewhere and keep up the good work.

Problem with Hell

I have really been struggling with the concept of hell and eternal damnation. This seemed to me in my youth to be the most important aspect of Christianity, if the amount of time spent harping on it was an indication. The default condition of mankind was eternal, limitless suffering in hell, and you could avoid this fate only by being “saved” through accepting the redeeming gift of salvation offered by Jesus Christ. And you had to keep on “accepting” salvation by being more and more righteous. Every time you sinned anew, and what wasn’t a sin would be hard to say, you would be damned again until you had made a withdrawal at the bank of forgiveness. Also, you could “backslide” and find yourself condemned just as much as if you had never been saved in the first place. This doctrine was good for the institution of the church, as I see it, since the church had a lock on keeping you out of hell; however, it was not very good for the soul. It’s hard to find that “peace that passeth understanding” when you are worried about being righteous enough to stay out of hell. Moreover, it is an anxiety provoking prospect to imagine that your failure to convert a friend or loved one (and to keep them converted) might result in their eternal damnation.

Now I have come to believe in salvation by grace alone, and this is a huge load off my figurative back. But the concept of eternal damnation in hell does not jive with the vision of the gracious Savior whom I endeavor to follow. It is gratifying on some level to imagine that some particularly evil people will get theirs in the end, but an eternity of torture? Might not some folks warrant just a little punishment, or an intermediate non-eternal term in hell? What would be the point of tormenting someone in hell forever if there is no possibility of their learning anything and becoming redeemable? That seems like pure spite. Also, it may be hard to enjoy heaven knowing that your loved ones are burning in hell.

When Jesus talked about hell, he usually referred to “Gehenna”, a sort of unclean cesspool outside Jerusalem, and one can read the references to hell as referring to the condition of death rather than to a place of torture. Perhaps the truly evil just get discarded on Judgment Day. I am beginning to think that hell for evil people is that they have to be themselves forever knowing that they were evil and contemplating the suffering they caused. Imagine GW Bush in eternity endowed with the knowledge of his own incompetence and total awareness of all the suffering he has wrought.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

My Education Plan

I am thinking of running for the school board to represent all the childless people who are taxed to pay for the schooling of other people’s kids. Parents and educators are all too willing to throw more and more money at the schools, and I think someone should sit on the board to check their spendthrift ways. I have a couple of ideas for cutting costs.

Firstly, why do you need a masters degree to teach? It seems to me that in order to teach first grade, for example, you probably don’t need to know all that much, just more than a six year old. When I started school, some of my older teachers were graduates of “Normal School”, an old teacher training institution that was less than an undergraduate education. They were the best teachers I ever had. Requiring degrees for school teachers means that we have to pay them more and that we will have shortages in some vicinities. If you could teach with a two year degree or certificate, teacher salaries could be reduced dramatically, and we could hire many more teachers and/or have much cheaper schooling.

Here’s what I think would suffice for teacher training: a two year course of study coupled with a teaching assistantship. In some cases, the erstwhile teacher might do this in the final two years of high school. If the Board can lower or waive excessive qualifications for teachers, it should do so.

Secondly, eliminate school buses and require parents to provide transportation. Their kids are getting free education, and the least they can do is get them to school without inconveniencing everyone else.

Thirdly, let extracurricular activities be funded by fees and donations rather than as part of the school budget., especially where the privilege of participation is restricted through competition. The participants and their parents are certainly the principal beneficiaries of these activities, and it is not plausibly arguable that the community benefits.

Fourthly, cut administration to the bone and eliminate as many non-classroom positions as possible.

I'm Not Shopping at Target

I’m going to boycott Target because they let their pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for Plan B emergency contraceptives. But, one might say, that’s Target’s prerogative. Yeah. But I don’t have to like it, and it’s my prerogative to signal my displeasure by spending my money elsewhere. But, aren’t the pharmacists in question simply acting on their consciences? Maybe so, but it’s going to cost their employers my business and that of a lot of other people.

The pharmacists have a state enforced monopoly on dispensing Plan B, and you can’t get it without going through a licensed pharmacist. (I don’t know why you need a license to take pills from a big bottle and put them in a little bottle). If they were willing to give up their monopoly, I might be a bit more sympathetic to their claim of a right to refuse to prescribe a drug they don’t approve of. One solution would be to make Plan B available over the counter. That way, your pharmacist would not have to dispense it if it troubled him.

Closet Libertarians?

The Moderate Libertarian asks whether the average American voter has libertarian leanings. He opines that the Libertarian Party has always assumed this and that this has led to obscurity for the LP.

No way is the average American voter (AAV) even close to libertarian, if voting patterns are any indication. The AAV likes his government big and intrusive. He thinks that his conspecifics are basically evil and/or stupid and that the only thing standing between him and a murderous mob is the government. In fact, the AAV seems to want the government to do more and more and other institutions to do less and less. Every problem cries out for legislation.

I know very few libertarians, and I generally find my libertarian ideas classified as crackpottery. It takes effort and persistence to get people even to consider libertarianism as a serious alternative. The concept of the state is not easily susceptible to problematization because it is so pervasive and tied up with so many other important memes, e.g. identity.

If the LP operates under the assumption that Americans are closet libertarians, it will never amount to diddlysquat. The LP needs to sell the basic concepts of libertarianism and to make converts if it can. It also needs to dispel disinformation about libertarians being self centered Republicans who want to smoke pot. Or that libertarianism is tantamount to libertinism.

Bungling the War on Terror

I am given to understand that the USG is engaged in a “War on Terror”. Fortunately, I have rarely in my life been terrified, but each occasion is burnt into my memory, and I would like to avoid the sensation of terror as much as possible. Now and again, I like to take in a scary movie or go on a frightening amusement park ride, but that kind of terror is controlled and I know that I am not really in any danger. I suppose that the War on Terror might be a pretty good service for the USG to provide if it was capable of doing it properly.

In fact, the USG seems to me to be increasing Terror in human minds. Instead of consoling us with the truth that acts of terrorism are rare and that the risk is miniscule, the USG seems to want to give everyone the impression that there are bombers and terrorist cells around every corner. We are at an elevated “alert level” all the time and kept in a state of anxiety, if not actual terror. The USG has over a hundred thousand troops killing people in Iraq and threatening Iranians and Syrians with attack. If anything, I am much more anxious and frightened since the War on Terror started than I ever was even when all those Soviet missiles were aimed at me.

A proper War on Terror would ultimately become a War on Fear, then a War on Anxiety, and finally a War on Concern. That would be progress. Increasing Fear and Anxiety doesn’t help reduce Terror. Perhaps the idea is to desensitize us so that when something really terrifying happens it’s just part of the routine. An analogy might be if the government fought the War on Poverty by decreasing wealth. The poor would be no better off, but their poverty would not contrast so much with the wealth of others. Imagine if the War on Drugs was fought by encouraging alcohol abuse. There would still be drug addicts, but it wouldn’t seem like such a big deal what with all the drunkards.

Monday, November 14, 2005

English Language

An e-mail from a conspecific:

If you ever feel stupid, then just read on. If you've learned to speak fluent English, you must be a genius! This little treatise on the lovely language we share is only for the brave. Peruse at your leisure, all you English lovers. Reasons why the English language is so hard to learn:
1 The bandage was wound around the wound.
2 The farm was used to produce produce.
3 The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4 We must polish the Polish furniture.
5 He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6 The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7 Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum
9 When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10 I did not object to the object.
11 The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12 There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13 They were too close to the door to close it.
14 The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15 A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16 To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17 The wind was too strong to wind the sail
18 After a number of injections my jaw got number.
19 Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
20 I had to subject the subject to a series of tests
21 How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; Neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. Quicksand works slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it? Is it an odd, or an end? If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Why do we drive on a parkway but park in a driveway? Have noses that run and feet that smell? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which, an alarm goes off by going on. English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. P.S. - Why doesn't "Buick" rhyme with "quick"?"

What God does Pat Robertson worship?

Here's what Pat writes about war:

"Jesus said if somebody strikes you on the cheek, you turn the other cheek. If somebody forces you to go one mile, you go two. If he takes away your coat, give him your shirt. Resist not evil is what He taught His people and His disciples, but He was not necessarily talking about governments.
The apostle Paul said, "He who wields the sword wields it not in vain, for he is a minister of God to bring justice or judgment against the ungodly, against the kidnapper, against the murderer." The thought of a police force and military use of force was certainly in the apostle Paul. You recognize that the first gentile convert was a Roman centurion. He was essentially a captain; he had a hundred men under him. He was the first one that the Holy Spirit fell on. Also, there was a Roman officer that Jesus talked about. He said, 'I haven't found such faith, no not in all of Israel.' He never told that man to quit the army. He never told him to be a pacifist.
I don't think pacifism, as such, is biblical. For the individual Christian, yes. We don't kick back against offenses against us. But in the collective sense of a government or of a world order, there has to be something to restrain evil."

So, it's wrong for an individual to do violence, but if he's a government worker it's OK. Pat's God apparently has special dispensation for bureaucrats who sin in the line of duty.

Now Pat is threatening Dover PA with the wrath of God because its residents voted out a slate of wingnut school board candidates. Pat's God is easily thwarted, it seems, in that He cannot even fix a local election. Moreover, He wants the children of Dover PA to be taught very bad science. Also, He directs natural disasters at sinners, and I assume that a community could turn back a storm by sacrificing some hard core sinners. Pat's God didn't get the word on the forgiveness of sins.

Back in '01, Pat said his God was behind the WTC attack to punish America for tolerating gays. Pat's God likes to smite people for things other people are doing and to make it difficult to make a connection between the smiting and the sin in question. If Pat didn't tell us, how would we know that the destruction of the WTC was about gay people?

Some time ago, Pat declared a fatwa on the Supreme Court and asked God to kill some Justices. Look who died first. It turns out that Rehnquist was the one that angered Pat's God the most, assuming that Pat's God actually kills people on request.

The salient characteristics of Pat's God are vengefulness, caprice, and approval of forceful government action. Pat Roberston worships Ares?

Velvet Elvis

I just finished Rob Bell's book, Velvet Elvis. The title was inspired by a painting he has stored in his house, a velvet Elvis with a flamboyant artist's signature. Bell asks himself: what if the proud artist decided that he had achieved the ultimate and definitive painting of Elvis on velvet such that no further painting was warranted? Art can never be completed and is always growing and changing. Bell claims that the church and the Christian religion have likewise not been completed and that Christians have the responsibility and the authority to keep the faith fresh and alive and continually reforming. Christianity is not a finished work that we simply study and admire; rather, it is an ongoing collaborative project.

Bell asks his readers to ponder the authority given to the disciples to "bind and loose" and what this means for keeping Christianity in tune with the times and life as believers experience it in the world today. Moreover, Christianity is not about pie in the sky when we die; it is about how to live in the world as a disciple of Jesus and how to be as radically generous and loving as Jesus himself. It is not about righteousness and exclusion and condemnation; it is about grace.

This is a small book with a huge message. It is written in plain language and is accessible to anyone with a 6th grade education, but it's message is quite complex and important. Jesus is with the church now, and we are called to be disciples, not just consumers of a canned Christianity. Bell's take on Christianity involves a more profound commitment but offers far greater and more immediate rewards than the fundamentalist Christianity that was shoved down my throat when I was growing up.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

War on Christmas

Seriously, does anyone believe for a minute that Christmas is under assault and that wingnut whining about this is other than complete claptrap? The evidence cited most often, it seems to me, is the use of the phrase "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas". Note to wingnuts: one says "Merry Christmas" on Christmas day only, and it is not proper to say Merry Christmas on other days, such as November 10, for example. There is a "holiday season" that includes Christmas, and it is perfectly cromulent to express the wish that this season be happy for someone without denigrating Christmas. Also, among strangers or in business dealings, one does not always know whether one is addressing a celebrant of Christmas or some other festival, be it Festivus, Kwanza, the Festival of Lights, Yule, the birth of Mithra, or the Saturnalia. It is only polite to take this into account. Hey, Wingnut, how would you like it if every store clerk wished you a Jolly Mithra's Birthday for two months a year after every purchase?

I almost wish that someone would roll Christmas back a little. It seems to me that the oft decried commercialization of the holiday has continued unabated and that Christ is all but forgotten. Now wingnuts are coopting the holiday to make some asinine political point and divide people in ways that Jesus would not have condoned. Far from saving Christmas, they are profaning it all the more.

Voting With One's Feet

I'm in California now on business, and everyone is abuzz at the defeat of every ballot proposition in Tuesday's special election. Good for California. Voting against any referendum is my rule of thumb if I have any doubt about its impact or efficacy. Frankly, I employ a number of heuristics in my voting habits since I can't be bothered to keep up with all the issues or the candidates. I vote against incumbents, and I vote gainst the candidate whose name I have seen the most on yard signs or in ads. If they want the office so much, that is surely a disqualification.

I missed our local elections on Tuesday, but my failure to vote was not determinative of the outcome in any race. In fact, my vote has never mattered, and it is irrational for me to vote. I have often read that the likelihood of getting killed on he way to vote exceeds by several orders of magnitude the likelihood that my vote will be decisive. I may give up voting altogether.

The votes that have counted in my life are when I have decided that I have had enough of a place and moved. Westchester County taxes and regulates the life out of you, so we moved to Dutchess County which has lower, albeit still excessive, taxes and fewer restrictions. It is much more affordable as well, but other Westchesterites are moving in in droves and seem willing to tax themselves (and me) up the wazoo to fund schools. This raises the reputation of the schools, which in turn enhances property values, which are more heavily taxed, which in turn drives out the riff raff (yours truly). We can always move to a less oppressive locale, however, and we will not hesitate to do so.

This is a significant ability, far more so than the franchise. Mrs VF's Eastern European ancestors had it pretty good until they were tied to the land as serfs. Until then, an oppressive landlord might find himself tenantless and without income. The coal miners of Southern West Virginia enjoyed a good deal of freedom and relatively good working conditions until the owners colluded to blacklist miners who tried to vote with their feet. Let us hope our localities fail in any collusion to rob us of alternatives, such as they are.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Off to California

I'll be in California on business all next week and will not be posting to this blog. As Elizabeth Bennett might put it, I am certain that my imaginary readers will do their best to bear the deprivation.

I reckon I won't get to vote in local elections next Tuesday. It's just as well since the candidates are indistinguishable from one another, and I don't get the significance of the various referenda items. The only electioneering activity I have seen are a few yard signs and a leaflet attached to the flag on my mailbox. The leaflet, unlawfully affixed to my official mail receptacle, declares that "The men and women of the highway department urge" me to re-elect Dennis Miller as superintendent. The leaflet goes on to describe Miller as a "Conservative Republican". (I was disappointed that it isn't the ranting comedian. He would make a better local political hack than a TV personality if his recent performances are any indication.)

What might it mean for one's highway department superintendent to be a Conservative Republican as opposed to some other political affiliation? What message is this man trying to send by identifying himself in this way? I don't get why this is even an elective office. It just means that the department is going to be all about patronage and politics rather than efficient road repair and snow removal.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


I have a love-hate relationship with the SciFi Channel. I love that Firefly was rerun, that Battlestar Galactica has been remade. I even like the iterations of StarGate. I tend to hate the original movies SciFi puts out. The most recent really bad original movie was Cerberus, the premise of which is that Attilla the Hun's breastplate has coded information leading to his magic sword which confers invulnerability on whomever wields it. The catch? The sword is guarded by Cerberus, the three headed dog that guards the entrance to Hades. Best part? Bad CGI, bad acting and bad writing combine to qualify this for my list of all time bad TV movies right up there with Night of the Lepus and Killdozer.

I watched the whole thing perhaps for the same reason that one watches a train wreck. It's 90 minutes of my life that I will never get back.

Tax Reform Proposals Worry the Republicans I Know

My Republican conspecifics are discontented. Granted, they are mostly not religious right wingnuts, just old school Rockefellerl Republicans for the most part, but I find their recent concerns interesting.

My conspecifics are abuzz about the recommendations of the tax commission Bush ordered. They are primarily freaked out about the idea of capping the mortgage interest deduction and the idea of taxing employee health benefits, but they also question the notion of moving to a consumption-based system of taxation. Here in the Northeast, even the most modest home requires you to take out a mortgage over $300K. My conspecifics recognize that the impact of a lower mortgage interest deduction would fall on the coasts and urban areas and would not have much impact on the “Red States” or Red areas in “Blue States”. This idea looks like a way to screw the Blue Staters even more, and my conspecifics, despite being Republicans, already resent the fact that their tax dollars go to subsidize the slack jawed yokels in the Red States.

The taxation of health benefits makes no sense at all to my conspecifics. This really screws the working class more than it screws them, but they have a sense that taxing health benefits is inconsistent with longstanding federal policy to promote employer provided health insurance coverage. They reason that taxing health benefits lowers their value and would ultimately mean that employers would have to increase other forms of compensation to take this into account. Although the benefits would still be deductible by the employer, the compensation package as a whole is what many employees consider in accepting or staying in a job. Moreover, as executives (my workplace is crawling with mad scientists with only a handful of hunchbacks), they are concerned about being explicit with workers about the cost of their health benefits. Also, here in the Northeast, even highly compensated folks like my conspecifics can barely make ends meet, what with high costs of living and having to put offspring through college. Taxing their benefits would not be painless.

There is a sense that they, who do not regard themselves as rich even though they fall in the top 5% in household income, are being asked to fund tax cuts for people wealthier than themselves and to fund neo-con adventurism. I am surprised that they express little resentment for welfare recipients, something they used to rail about on occasion. I am not sure what has changed their mindset in this regard, but I suspect from the rants of my co-workers that it is the transparent corruption of the current regime and the shameless enrichment of cronies at the expense of the public treasury. Also, most of my conspecifics were born into working class families and have some sympathy for the plight of working people despite having entered the professional and managerial ranks.

This leads them to question the fairness of taxing consumption and taxing wages more than “unearned” income. Sales taxes take a proportionately bigger bite out of poorer people’s income and fall more on working class and lower class families than on families with the ability to save and invest. My informants have the suspicion that they are going to get screwed rather than benefit from the new tax scheme and that adding a federal sales tax will just mean that we will have sales and an income tax forever. The promised phase out of the income tax will never happen. The really poor will get a big exemption, and the really rich will hardly feel the sales tax (especially if yachts and luxury cars are exempted), and my conspecifics reckon that they will be the ones to pick up the slack.

Given the resistance of my Republican informants to the proposals, I wonder if they are non-starters. And what part of the “base” would the proposals appeal to?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

All Souls

Today is All Souls day when the dead are remembered and celebrated. This was once celebrated at Pentecost or thereabouts in some quarters, but this date has been recognized the last 900 years or so. I don't know what Catholics are supposed to do on this day, but I am resolved to set aside time to remember friends and ancestors and other kinsmen who are dead.

Bird Flu

Last night, the teaser for the 10 pm news went like this:

Female anchor: "Worried about the bird flu?"

Mrs Vache Folle to the TV: "Not particularly."

Male anchor: "President Bush has a plan."

Mrs VF to me: "Now I'm worried."

It looks as if the "plan" is to throw $7 billion plus at Big Pharma and get their liability for killing or injuring consumers of their vaccines reduced or eliminated.

Also, Bush stated that each of us must take "personal responsibility" and try not to get the flu. Thanks for the advice, but I was certainly not counting on him to do anything to help with a flu pandemic. If anything, Bush would probably exacerbate the problem. Everything he touches is a disaster.

I was going to try extra hard to dodge the viri this flu season in any event. Having COPD means that I am especially vulnerable and would be laid up for weeks. My main strategy is to stay away from children, because they get exposed to everything in the schools. I am sending gifts by UPS to the nephews this year and avoiding them like the disease vectors they are until the coast is clear.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Marriage and Poverty

In Capitalism Magazine, Walter Williams points out that the most remarkable difference between black folks living in poverty and black folks who are not impoverished is that the latter category marries more often than the former. This is an interesting correlation, often cited, but Williams goes on to conclude that these differences in family structure are the cause of the differences in economic well being. I am not at all convinced that this is the case, and I am pretty sure that the relationship between these variables is spurious, i.e. they are both due to yet another third variable, or that the posited causal arrow should be reversed, i.e. poverty causes poor people to eschew marriage.

Let us take the case of a hypothetical poor woman with little education, skills or job prospects. Whom is she to marry, and what would she gain from marriage? Her potential marriage partners are likely to be in the same straits as she and unable to do much in the way of ameliorating her poverty. Marriage might render it more difficult for her to secure public assistance in case of need, and in the absence of employement benefits or an estate to be allocated, there is precious little else to be gained by marrying anyone of her class. If she can "marry up", that might make sense, but this pathway may not be open to many women in her circumstances. Likewise, a poor man in similar circumstances may simply not be a good candidate for marriage. What might he bring to a marriage, and how would marrying him improve the lot of a poor woman? There is no need to marry to get children and enjoy the blessings of parenthood, and there is no sense in delaying childbearing until better times that will likely never come.

For folks a little higher up on the socioeconomic ladder, marriage is an institution that works. There may be employment benefits that extend to spouses and children, and there are property interests that marriage protects. More significantly, the spouses are in a position to bolster one another socially and economically, and having a sense of stability in this partnership would be important to them.

The fault, if fault must be assigned, is not with the poor who obstinately refuse to marry, presumably from a lack of virtue; rather, it is the institution of marriage as it is presently constituted that has little attraction for the poor. Walter Williams makes a leap from correlation to causation in the service of blaming the poor for their poverty.

Top 5 Funniest TV Series Ever

My picks for funniest ever TV series (excludes variety shows and sketch comedy shows, etc.).

1. Blackadder The funniest man alive, in my opinion, is Rowan Atkinson. His stage performances are brilliant, and his character “Mr Bean” is hilarious. For my money, his best work is as Edmund Blackadder in his various incarnations. I am hard pressed to pick a favorite incarnation, but if I must it would be the first incarnation in the fifteenth century as the Duke of Edinburgh, the hapless second son of King Richard IV. His sidekicks Percy and Baldrick were particularly good in that season. In that incarnation, the best episode was when Edmund was unwillingly made Archbishop of Canterbury by his father in order to stop the practice of soliciting death-bed bequests to the church. The most unforgettable scene is when Percy shows Edmund and Baldrick a precious relic he had acquired, a finger bone of Jesus Christ.

2. Red Dwarf Chris Barrie’s character of the sniveling Arnold Rimmer was the highlight of the series Red Dwarf. The series revolves around a spaceship crewman, the curry eating and lager swilling Lister, who is revived from suspended animation (where he had been placed as punishment for smuggling a cat onto the ship) after a million years. His companions are his annoying roommate Rimmer, who has been brought back to life as hologram, a humanoid being, “Cat”, that has evolved from Lister’s cat, and the ship’s computer, “Holly”. They pick up a domestic servant robot, Kryten, fairly early on in the series. The comic possibilities are endless and are fairly well explored.

3. Jeeves and Wooster Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie have Wodehouse’s worthless playboy Wooster and his indispensable valet Jeeves dead on. The books are side-splittingly funny, and many of the episodes, especially in the first season are laugh out loud funny.

4. South Park Nothing is sacred, and nobody is immune to merciless mockery. Funniest ever moment to me, for no reason I can divine, was Cartman’s singing, “I made you eat your parents.”

5. Bob Newhart/Newhart Either series.