Thursday, December 29, 2005

Political Correctness

Does the concept of political correctness have any real meaning for a libertarian? After all, we advocate maximum freedom from state interference and believe in a “marketplace of ideas”. At least, I do.

Accordingly, all ideas will compete in this marketplace and opinions will vary in their distribution from those which nobody holds to those which are so widely held as to become hegemonic. If an opinion is noxious to me, I am free to refute it and to avoid association with the holder of that opinion if I wish. I am likewise free to attempt by peacable means to disadvantage the holder of the noxious opinion. As an example, I do not shop at Target to punish the company for its stance on dispensing emergency contraception. I do not support the Boy Scouts financially because I disagree with its position on homosexuals and atheists.

The real question seems to me to be when it should be considered unfair for a private individual to seek to disadvantage the holder of an unpopular opinion. For my part, I believe that it is in the best interests of humanity for popular, and especially hegemonic, beliefs to be problematized lest they become so entrenched as to result in a corruption of the idea market. Accordingly, one might seek to encourage the expression of ideas by committing to the principle that nobody should suffer any consequences solely on account of such expression.

But what kinds of ideas ought to be protected by believers in free expression? Certainly, the principle does not have unlimited application. In my view, it does not protect one from being a jackass by, for example, going to a church and proclaiming that Jesus did not exist, or posting pro-rape comments at a feminist blog, or carrying a “God hates fags” sign to a soldier’s burial. The principle does not pertain to violence or discrimination against people on the basis of phenotype or other hateful criteria. It does not pertain to statist or authoritarian views. It does not pertain to incitements to violence. It does not pertain to any ideas that are antithetical to free expression. It always pertains to ideas with which I happen to agree at the moment.

I suppose the range of ideas that would be protected by my principle of free expression is like obscenity in that I will know them when I see them.

More Free Advice for Parents: Don't Make Mealtimes a Struggle

I have observed in a number of families with small children that mealtimes were particularly stressful. The children would decline to eat or would dawdle over their food while the parents cajoled, begged and threatened them. This played out meal after meal, and eating with these families was quite unpleasant.

The dinner table as battlefield was entirely unnecessary in every instance if parents would use a little common sense and would have the backbone to see the little darlings go hungry for a few hours. Nobody makes me eat anything I don't like, and I don't think children should be compelled to eat, either. I wouldn't serve anything different to the kids, but neither would I make any big deal over their leaving food on their plate. So let the kids eat what is before them or not as they see fit. The catch is that there is not going to be any more food until the next meal. No snacks, no juice boxes, no nothing. The children are apt to be hungry the next meal and are more likely to eat willingly and peacably, especially once they realize that you are indifferent to whether they eat or not.

A peacable table leaves parents free to concentrate on table manners. I know that it takes effort to teach children to use utensils and napkins and to behave in a civilized manner, but this pays off in the long run and will lead to pleasant mealtimes for the whole family. You may even be able to go out to eat or to to subject guests to your children without guilt. This is well worth exerting yourselves.

Too many parents seem convinced that their children will starve to death if deprived of food for a few hours. This is not true. They will be fine and will learn that if they don't eat at meals they will experience hunger pangs later. They will learn to take responsibility for their choices.

Of course, children who eat their meals can have snacks and such, but parents should not let themselves be manipulated in this regard. Also, it is only polite to try to serve foods that people actually like rather than trying to get kids to eat foods that are noxious to them. If Mrs Vache Folle insisted on serving cauliflower to me, I would begin to suspect that her affection for me had waned. She knows I don't like it. If I were a child, I would still be entitled to some consideration of my particular tastes.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

More Free Advice for Parents: Get to Know Your Neighbors

A lot of parents these days are convinced that there is a child molestor behind every shrub and that their children will be kidnapped if allowed to play unsupervised out of doors. So their kids have to stay inside or be subjected to constant surveillance outside such that outside play opportunities are limited by parental availability. When I was a wee lbairn, I was able to roam for a considerable distance and to play all over the neighborhood without my parents' watching me as long as I showed up for meals. I knew not to get in a car with some weirdo or to talk to strangers or to play with blasting caps or in an old refrigerator, etc. Also, many families had back up children (aka younger siblings) in case anything happened to the main child.

What made this situation feasible in substantial part was that the neighbors knew all the kids and kept a loose watch on them. If I misbehaved, it would get back to my folks. If I was in danger, it was probable that some adult I knew would intervene.

I suggest that parents introduce themselves and their children to their neighbors and let their kids roam about a little. This helps them become more independent and gives parents a break from constant surveillance. Teach them about roads and the dangers of traffic and other hazards they might encounter. Teach them their address and phone number and let them learn their way around the area on foot. Otherwise, you're raising helpless idiots.

Free Advice for Parents: Toilet Train Your Children

I don’t have children, but I have been a close observer of parents and a student of “parenting” for many years. I used to prosecute abusive and neglectful parents, and I have represented numerous children in the custody of the state or involved in divorce proceedings. I have watched many episodes of Nanny 911 and Supernanny, and I have had nephews in my care on many occasions. I one took an official state sponsored “parenting class”. These are the credentials which lend weight to my pronouncements on the subject of “parenting”.

First off, I hate the term “parenting” since it implies a form of activity. My folks did not “parent”; they just “had kids” and did what it took to render us as low-maintenance as they possibly could. In this connection, my folks did not have any problem at all with thwarting us in our will and allowing us to go ungratified when it was convenient for them to do so. This is the crux of good childrearing. Too many parents are unwilling for their children to be thwarted for even a moment, and they pander to their every need and desire until the children become rulers of the home. Raising children means getting them ready for a lifetime of thwarted desire and delayed or denied gratification, and parents are not doing their children any favors by granting instant gratification.

As to the delayed toilet training issue I promised to ponder over the Christmas weekend, I reckon that this stems from multiple causes. Parents are, like everyone else, lazy, and on top of this they are fatigued. Add this to their tenderhearted reluctance to see their children in any distress of their making, and you have a recipe for negligence.

An expert opines that toilet training is traumatic, and slothful and tenderhearted parents adopt this opinion readily as it absolves them of any obligation to train their offspring in the use of the toilet facilities. They ignore the contrary opinions that might result in their having to do the hard work of training. This is only natural.

Disposable diapers are readily available; therefore, there is no need to wash diapers or to hang them out to dry for all the neighbors to see that your child still craps himself. And the diaper companies profit from extending the age at which children are expected to continue to soil themselves; therefore, they support experts whose opinions lead to more diaper sales. Who would fund the advocates of early toilet training?

Children are able to learn to use the toilet facilities and to anticipate their movements at a very young age. This involves work by the parents and may be initially unpleasant for the child. But early training will save the child from years of stewing in their own urine and feces and will save money on diapers.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Improving Family Traditions

Kirsten has a timely post on improving family traditions . One way, which is in line with my way of thinking, is to forget about birthdays. Yes, I was born on a date in history and have cheated death for yet another revolution of Terra around Sol since then, but I am also a year closer to the grave and no longer delight in the mounting number of years since my birth. I won’t remind you of your mortality and the approach of decrepitude with a card or call, if you will do the same for me.

I propose the following rule of thumb: as soon as you stop giving your age with fractions, then we should all stop acknowledging your birthday until you reach 100 years of age. That basically leaves birthday celebrations to children and the feeble-minded.

Here’s another proposed rule: if you are not my mother, step-mother, mother-in-law, or grandmother, do not expect me to send you a Mothers’ Day card or to call you on Mothers’ Day. Thanks for reproducing and all, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

Here’s another rule that we adopted this year for holiday calls. We have established a protocol whereby the older generation takes precedence over the younger, and siblings are ranked according to birth order. Accordingly, each person is expected to call his or her parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, etc. Younger siblings are to call older siblings. This is not to say that these rules prevent calls but that nobody should expect a call as a matter of right outside of these rules.

Totalitarianism of the Religious Right

One of the main reasons that I support a robust separation of church and state is that I do not want the Religious Right to be able wield the state’s instruments of force and fraud. The Religious Right is comprised of pitiable dupes led by Arminian and Darbyite heretics, and their version of Christianity bears as little resemblance to mine as the Aztec cult of Quetzalcoatl. I regard these heretics as one of the greatest threats to liberty in the world today.

Their heresy leads them to take a keen interest in the “culture” since some “cultures” are thought to be more conducive to the continual works that men must do to earn salvation. The proper “culture” will help to bring about a world without sin where no temptation will cause any of them to stumble and fall from grace. This heresy is convenient for power seekers, whereas Christianity predicated on grace is a predicate for human liberation.

But “culture” is an anthropological concept that encompasses the sum total of all norms, actions, values, transactions etc, that may be observed in a human population. Its inclusiveness and amorphousness have rendered it useless and outrĂ© in anthropology itself, but, like so many outdated social scientific concepts, it has filtered into lay usage. When the heretics say they are interested in culture and claim a legitimate role for government in regulating it, they are claiming interest in and authority over that sum total as enacted by individuals. This is also known as totalitarianism.

It is nothing less than a totalitarian state that will satisfy the heretics. As far as I am concerned, it is entirely prudent to resist them on every front and at any level, even the seemingly trivial.

It is the heretics who have declared a “Culture War”, and victory in it for them means total control over the “culture”. i.e. everything. It is one thing to prefer A to B and to let the “cultural marketplace” decide which will have a wider distribution. But the heretics do not want us to be able to choose lest we choose the “wrong” thing. They cannot abide marketplaces of any kind and will ultimately seek to direct every communication and transaction and private thought of everyone.

Christmas Was Merry

The Christmas weekend was wonderful. Mrs Vache Folle made a leg o’ lamb on Saturday with a fantastic dry rub of garlic and coriander. This was her first ever leg o’ lamb, and it was perfect, thanks in no small part to a cookbook entitled “How to Cook Anything”. On Sunday, Mrs Vache Folle cooked a duckling, first by steaming then by roasting, turning and basting every quarter hour. A honey and wine glaze topped it off, and it was the best duck ever. The steaming helps drain off a lot of the excess fat.

Christmas Eve, I sang in two services at church, 7:30 and 11:00. They seem to have been effective, but it is hard to tell from the choir since we are busy with our part in the services.

Among the gifts I received were DVDs of the Horatio Hornblower series and the film Serenity (which I watched immediately). I also got a book “Captain Aubrey Commands”, a companion to the Patrick O’Brian series that I plan to reread this coming year. The CDs I got featured Ralph Stanley and Bruce Springsteen, reflecting my eclectic tastes. Mrs Vache Folle got a Jerry Douglas CD, as she is a big fan of the dobro, and I enjoyed it as much as she did.

Christmas and Boxing Day were both pretty soggy, and we mainly nested, ate, played with the dogs and took lots of naps. All in all, it was a joyous Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Random Thoughts of No Particular Importance

I plan to ponder some mysteries over the upcoming long weekend.

Why don’t Chevron and Texaco hire their own mercenary armies in order to control Nigerian oil rather than having the USG provide security for their plunder? Why don’t Americans make more of a fuss about such subsidies to corporations? The USG appears to be the instrument of Big Oil. That can’t be, can it?

Why must the one plant, the poinsettia, to which I am certainly allergic be everywhere this time of year? It is a Mexican native and almost certainly never grew in Palestine before the 20th Century, so I can’t figure out what it has to do with Christmas.

How did Christmas, which supposedly celebrates the ultimate act of divine grace, become so tied up with obligation? The Wise Men didn’t “exchange” gifts with Jesus. Cards and gifts and, if some “Christmas Warriors” have their way, even greetings are obligatory rather than freely given. It would probably be more meaningful and in keeping with the spirit of Christmas to send cards and give spontaneous gifts on some randomly chosen days other than Christmas.

Why don’t more men join the choirs in their churches? It seems that a shortage of men is all too common. This puts a strain on the few men who already sing in the choir and limits the selections the choir can sing to pieces that more prominently feature women’s voices. Choir is fun, and most choir directors are saints who will gladly help singers who cannot sight read or who, like me, are rhythmically challenged.

Do I need to worry about satellites spying through the skylights in my house? I have been known to walk around au natural from time to time, and I don’t want any Google Earth users to be traumatized.

Why do people keep remaking A Christmas Carol when the Alistair Sims' version is definitive?

What makes a song a "country" song? I was listening to my local country station (WRWD 107.3) the other day, and for the life of me I could not tell what was "country" about some of the selections. It used to be obvious, but so much of it sounds like bad "pop". If I put in some dobro riffs, would that make any song "country".

Is it just me, or does Woody Guthrie sound like he's just making it up as he goes along?

When all the other systems of a starship go off-line all the time, why is it that the artificial gravity never does? Maybe the outfit that makes the gravity system should be retained to work on all the others. Why isn't there an accounting department on a starship?

What's up with the really big pants on young men and teenagers? Don't they just make it harder to flee from the cops?

Why would anyone make a baby wipe that was not flushable?

Was anyone ever really traumatized by toilet training? Can it ever be too soon to start toilet training? Seriously, I think walking around with a pantload every day would be a lot more traumatic than instruction in proper feces disposal.

Why don't mothers breastfeed for three or four years like some foragers do? This would save on baby food, wouldn't it? Is it the teeth thing?

Why is that some drug commercials never tell you what the drug is supposed to do? You're urged to "ask your doctor".

I hope all of you enjoy a wonderful Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Vote Democrat!

I have no great love for Democrats and no illusions about their commitment to liberty, but, as James Leroy Wilson points out , they are looking a heckuva lot better to me than the rat bast**ds of the GOP. In fact, I am so pissed off at the GOP that I am going to vote straight ticket Democrat for the foreseeable future. I don’t even care if the Democrats I will be voting for are to the left of Chairman Mao; I just want to do my small part to punish the GOP. No party should be allowed to believe that it can suck as much as the GOP and get away with it.

I would like to see the Democrats run on impeachment in 2006 and make the midterm elections the people’s chance to stick it to Bush and Cheney and their henchpersons. I say gin up Articles of Impeachment charging everything from lying us into an illegal war, outing a CIA operative, illegal surveillance, torture, murder, the works. Every Democrat would then pledge to vote for the Articles if elected to the House, and every Democratic Senate candidate would pledge that, if the charges be true, he or she would vote to convict at the impeachment trial. Some Republicans might even make the pledge if the movement gets up a head of steam.

And a good argument for a Democrat majority would be that it would mean that the new President after Cheney and Bush go down would be a Democratic Speaker of the House, who would then be an incumbent going in to 2008 and who would make sure that there would be daily reminders of the crimes of the GOP right on through the 2008 election.

If this works, the GOP would have to purge itself of its numerous evildoers and work on restoring itself to some kind of credibility if it ever hoped to get back in power.

I am praying for a massive and humiliating defeat of the GOP in 2006.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Some Thoughts on the Transit Strike

Brad Spangler posted positively about the transit strike in New York City, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. The strike doesn’t have any impact on me since I drive to work every day and my wife takes Metro North, but some of my conspecifics at the office rely on the subway system. They’re pissed. Strangely, they blame the striking workers rather than the obdurate managers for the strike. They align themselves with the gazillionaire mayor and the thieves on the Transit Board rather than their fellow working men and women.

Roger Toussant, head of the TWU Local 100, was on Riley’s show on Air America this morning, and I think he said it best. To paraphrase, he asked for the patience of the people and urged them to trust their fellow working men and women, their neighbors, the people who safely move them around the city everyday rather than the mayor and the board who, he said, “don’t know a train from a bus.” Why wouldn’t a working person feel solidarity with the transit workers notwithstanding the inconvenience caused by the strike. It takes two sides to reach deadlock in a labor negotiation, so why would a working person automatically side with management and blame the workers?

An NYPD officer called in to Riley’s show and argued that transit workers got more money than he did. He would rather have seen his fellow working men and women worse off than to see them improve their lot.

I have been thinking a lot about class consciousness lately, and seeing the sides working people have taken in this strike is leading me to believe that class, for revolutionary purposes, must be constructed less with a view to being scientifically robust as a concept and more with a view to facilitating the kind of class consciousness that promotes the revolutionary agenda. Certainly Mayor McDuck and the transit board are doing all they can to drive a wedge between the strikers and other working people.

Objectionable Surnames

In running searches on the surnames Hitler and Stalin on the other day, I could not resist the puerile exercise of seeing what other objectionable surnames were out there. I was surprised to learn that in the 1930 census there were 8 F**ks, half in Wisconsin. In 1860, there were 37 F**ks, so they were clearly not living up to their name. 1860 included three men named Ah F**k, and the most F**cks that year (8) lived in Lenox, Ohio. There were a lot more F**kers, 69 (I kid you not) in 1930 and 83 in 1860. A Private Wm. F**ker served in the Union Army, and there two Martha F**kers, one in Connecticut and another in North Carolina. A Ms. Mare F**ker lived in Quitman, Arkansas in 1930.

There were 15 Penises in 1930, 7 in the family of Augustine and Matiano and their five little Penises from Karnes County, TX. There were only 8 people named Penis in 1860, 7 of them in Missouri. The other was a Mr. Stankoff Penis of Detroit. In 1930, there were more Vaginas (22) than Penisies, including Miss Eda Vagina of Alameda, California. There were also 9 C**ts, and a Private Harry C**t enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in WW2. There were no P***ys in 1930, but there were 13 in 1920 at which time most P***ys lived Missouri. Private Stephen P***y served in the Union Army. This is hardly enough to make up for the over 15,000 Dicks and 1,500 Cocks. Unfortunately, it does not appear that any Penis ever married a Vagina.

There were 14 Turds in 1930 in Texas and Wisconsin, so they probably did not know the 5 Urines who lived in Illinois and Pennsylvania. There were no S**ts in 1930, but there had been 18 in 1900. There were hundreds of Pees, however in both years. 56 Pukes were listed in 1930, most Pukes being from Ohio. There were 13 Anuses. Nobody answered to the name Scrotum, but 3 Scrotes lived in Ohio.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Pot to Kettle: "You're Black."

When I read that Representative Conyers was calling on Congress to censure Bush, my first reaction was that being censured by the Congress is pretty meaningless. Such a contemptible body's censure might even be a badge of honor.

Then I realized that calling for censure is probably a good political move. It forces Republican Congresscritters to align themselves with the illegal, unconstitutional and immoral acts of the ruling crime family.

Hitlers, Stalins and Bushes

There were about fifteen people named Hitler in the 1930 Census of the US, and there are about the same number scattered about the country today. Hitlers served in the Union cause in the War Between the States and in both World Wars. I would have assumed that most Hitlers would have changed their name after WW2, but it does not appear to be the case in the US. There were some 78 Stalins in 1930, and there are still lots of Stalins in America. Stalins fought for the Union and in the World Wars. It does not appear that droves of Stalins petitioned for name changes in this country. Most American Stalins appear to have Swedish roots.

I know these factoids because I was going to write a post that the surname Bush would disappear from America after George’s disastrous regime. But if Hitlers and Stalins are OK with their names, most Bushes probably will be, too.

Before anybody gets all worked up about my comparing Bush to Hitler and Stalin, let me say that I acknowledge that Bush’s career tyrant statistics do not yet stack up to either of these superstars. But it might be fair to compare Bush to Hitler or Stalin at the same point in their sprees, i.e. when they had the same number of state sanctioned murders, disappeared people, people in gulags, and the like. One, particularly one who knows more about the careers of these dictators than I do, might say that Bush is like Hitler 1933 or Stalin 1927 or some such year depending on where they stood in those years as compared to Bush.

Nobody Who Even Wants the Power Bush Claims to Have is Fit to be President

I cannot express the outrage I feel over the Bush Crime Family’s unwarranted domestic surveillance and their brazen claims to authority far beyond that granted in the Constitution. I am waiting to see whether Republicans in Congress will rise to the occasion and start impeachment proceedings. If impeachment was ever called for, this is the occasion. I doubt that there are enough principled Republicans to do it, however.

If the Republic were governed by men of principle, by statesmen rather than grasping politicians, no person of Bush’s character could ever become President. The men and women called upon to execute the illegal and unconstitutional surveillance would have resigned in droves rather than participate in it. How is it that a man of such low character and utter lack of commitment to the founding principles of the Republic as Gonzalez can become Attorney General? Where are the cabinet ministers with the chops to resign in protest over this malfeasance? Is Congress so debased that a would-be dictator feels free to admit openly to impeachable tyranny and promise to continue in it?

The governance of the Republic requires men and women of the best character and commitment to liberty and the rule of law. The forms of the Republic are vulnerable to subversion and perversion, and officeholders of low character and lacking in the proper motivations will seize on this vulnerability. Unfortunately, our society is not organized to produce enough such people, and the mechanisms for placing people in office seem designed to insure that properly motivated and qualified candidates will not be put forward.

I keep coming back to the infernal idea of the meritocracy and the lack of an involved and properly trained aristocracy as the underlying flaws in the system. The meritocrat is a self-interested striver who believes that he deserves his position and status on the basis of his personal “merit”. The aristocrat, properly understood, knows that his position and status are undeserved and that he is obligated to serve society in recompense for the prestige and privilege he enjoys.

The meritocrat makes his living or generates his fortune from his office. He depends on his salary or the connections that come with the office, and he cannot easily resign these on principle. He is ever ready to abandon principles, if he had any to begin with, in favor of his own comfort and security. The meritocrat’s whole self worth is tied up with his position, and to lose it is to lose the prestige and privileges that he thinks he has earned.

In contrast, the aristocrat is independently wealthy and does not need his position. Indeed, it is a sacrifice for him to undertake the office in the first place when he could be pursuing any interest he likes. He is not likely, therefore, to remain over long in office or to hesitate to resign it on principle. Moreover, he has his own dignity, independent of his office, to consider and will be checked in excesses or abuses out of solicitude for his reputation.

The meritocrat will be a parasite on the taxpayers and often unhesitant to enrich himself by violating the property rights of others. The aristocrat, being supported from his private property, will be a jealous guardian of property.

We are not likely to see the development of a viable aristocracy brought up in the concepts of noblesse oblige any time soon; therefore, we must reorganize government, to the extent that we even need it, with ever more checks and controls. We must devise a Constitution that assumes as its fundamental guiding principle that every office-holder is a would-be tyrant and that every politician and bureaucrat is a thief. We must avoid any reliance on good character and right motives or adherence to oaths.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I'm Ready for Polygyny

I watched a documentary the other day about polygynous Mormons. Their lifestyle seemed a little strange, but I figured that it was their business and might work out just fine for them. As I mulled over it, I began to see ways that polygyny might work for me as well if I could pull it off. I haven’t broached the subject with Mrs. Vache Folle, yet, but I am considering getting a “sister-wife” for her.

I am pretty sure that Mrs. Vache Folle will be receptive to the idea since she has often remarked how it would be nice to have a “wife”. She is a career woman and has a long commute to and from Manhattan each day. This means weekends are taken up with household chores and errands that a stay at home wife could handle during the week at her leisure. Also, with a stay at home second wife, we could dispense with the dog walker and save $6,000 a year. She could even take on the lawn mowing and save us about $2,000 a year on that end as well.

Better yet, Mrs. Vache Folle would not have to shoulder the burden of caring for a forgetful husband on her own, and all the wifely duties that now fall to Mrs. Vache Folle could be shared by the sister wife to the first wife’s great relief. It is hoped that the sister wives would become fast friends and provide much needed female companionship one to another, yet another benefit for Mrs. Vache Folle.

Because of all the responsibilities the sister wife would be taking on, I think a youthful and energetic second wife would fit the bill more than an older woman. I am willing to make this sacrifice and give up experience for youth and vigor so that this new arrangement would work out better for the first Mrs. Vache Folle.

The thing is that I don’t know how to go about recruiting a sister wife. Can you still get wives via mail order?

A Reader (I Can't Believe I Actually Have Any) Chimes In

A reader had a comment to my post on class theory that seems interesting enough to me to post (he can be linked to through the comment section of the prior post):

"Without an understanding of how people are controlled libertarianism is nothing but hot air and mindless blithering.Most modern Libertarianism is under the control of the socialist overlords, like most of the rest of the intellectual world. This has occurred because most people don't understand that the socialist overlords only believe in socialism for the masses. The overlords retain their own private property, which now includes the subjects of all socialist countries, which is just about all that I can think of.Libertarianism must be grounded in the idea that respect for the private property of the poor is more important than it is for the rich. Libertarianism is the idea that a man's home was his king's castle, like jolly olde England. It just so happens that a society that respects private property as an ideal provides great benefits to the poor. Small amounts of property are more vulnerable to plunder by rogues and governments due to the limited ability to afford defenses. Those with larger amounts of amassed property can afford private countermeasures in proportion to the size of their stash. An ideology that encourages the formation of governments that limit the amount of onerous taxation and focus attention on suppressing rogue attacks on individuals and their property is an ideology that helps the poor in an effective and highly productive manner. Rather than subsidizing sloth and irresponsibility as welfare state socialism invariably does, protection of person and property rewards those who work to produce wealth, whether they be poor or rich. The deal leaves the poor with much more than they had before, especially the psychic benefits from being freemen and freewomen.Remember, Plank #1 of Marx's Communist Manifesto is the abolition of private property, i.e. for everyone but the overlords instituting the Manifesto.Anyone who desires to find out what libertarianism was meant to be should begin with the bloggings of America's founders, especially the Anti-Federalist Papers.Then move on to "Socialism" by von Mises and "The Road to Serfdom" by Hayek. Avoid anything by Rothbard or Rand unless you want to get sidetracked and misled.And I double-dare any plastic banana pseudo-libertarian to argue with the rejection of Rothbard and Rand. They both stink on dry ice as bad as Chomsky himself."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Truncheon is a Tool with a Worker at Either End

Wally Conger and Brad Spangler, among others, have written intelligently about “Libertarian Class Theory”. I am not well acquainted with the literature and libertarianism from an intellectual standpoint, so all I can seem to offer is a lame admonition about reification of the concept of class. And now I am having serious second thoughts about the “dangers” of reification. Certainly, I expect scholars to remember that their concepts are not “real”, but I have come to believe that the most important function of libertarian class analysis is in raising “class consciousness” among non-intellectuals. It is actually desirable for people to reify concepts of class that facilitate the acceptance and enactment of libertarianism.

It is, in substantial measure, false consciousness about class in America that permits working men and women to align themselves with their overlords and exploiters and against their own interests. I have heard folks claim, with straight faces, that we live in a “classless society”. Other folks self identify as “middle class” and include just about everyone in that class except welfare queens and the Hilton sisters. Any time anyone points out income and wealth disparities, the cry of “class warfare” is enough in some quarters to end discussion.

Using income as the basis for class divisions seems problematic to me. Income is a continuum, and there is no necessary qualitative difference between a household earning a given amount and another household earning a dollar more or even thousands of dollars more. All wage earners seem to have a great deal in common despite differences in income. The differences between a Hummer driving McMansion dweller and an El Camino driving trailer denizen are somewhat superficial. On a deeper level, the commonalities override the apparent differences. Neither is likely to have much net worth or savings. Both are dependent on their paychecks and would likely find being out of work for 3 months disastrous. Neither has much influence in the world or control over his own time. Both are just slogging through the days trying to get by, except that one has a bigger TV. In any event, dividing folks up by income doesn't do much to inspire libertarian leanings.

Some other dimensions must be found. The idea of the productive class versus the political class is intriguing, but it can be misused. A case in point follows.

I recall a conversation with the Idiot Brother-In-Law (everybody has one, it seems, or is one) in which he announced that there were two classes in America: “taxpayers” and “tax eaters”. I was briefly intrigued until he explained further. In his way of thinking, this meant that he was more akin to business tycoons (“productive people”) than to his working poor neighbor who received food stamps (“parasite”). (The irony was that he worked in a phoney-baloney county job at the time and had his lips firmly affixed to the government teat). It never occurred to IBIL that the tycoons he classed himself with were themselves recipients of far more government largesse than all the welfare beneficiaries who ever lived. All the subsidies, government contracts, protections against competition, etc. that the tycoons enjoy were invisible to him, but he was keenly aware of his unfortunate neighbors’ pittance in assistance. IBIL is a working class slob who votes with the tycoons and the tyrants and the bosses. He despises other working class people.

IBIL is not alone. Even some libertarians I have spoken to seem to buy into a too simplistic taxpayer/tax eater dichotomy. They lump public schoolteachers and municipal garbage men in with well-heeled military contractors in the “parasite” class. The hogs at Halliburton are feasting on the slops of war, but all they see is that some municipal workers are putting in too much overtime or that the teachers' union is pushing for a pay increase. Is this really a helpful way of looking at things? I think not. The tendency will be for folks to focus in on their fellow workers or the assisted poor, because these are salient to them. They encounter them every day. Because our overlords work behind the scenes and run in different circles, folks don't know what they are up to and won't be able to identify their real class enemy.

On an intuitive level, I find that I recognize three classes: the dirt poor underclass, wage earners of any income level and any color collar, and our mysterious overlords. I suspect that the key is to identify and demonize the overlords. I don't really know who they are.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Santa Claus is Evil

When I was a kid, I hated Santa Claus. I couldn’t stand the idea of his army of elf informers spying on me and judging me all the time. The presents at Christmas just weren’t worth the anxiety that this constant surveillance caused. Fortunately, like most kids, I didn’t give Santa much thought until November of each year. Then I would be filled with dread and foreboding because of the many sins I had committed during the first ten months of the year. Yet, somehow I foiled the spying elves every year and got presents despite being a sinful wretch. Santa helped me get an early start on the path to recrimination and self loathing.

How much better it would have been to realize that the presents came from my parents and that they were gratuitous tokens of their love for me. They were acts of grace. It wasn’t about deserving at all; it was about love. Why ruin that with the Santa myth? After all, Christmas is about Jesus who was all about grace, and the Santa myth seems to pervert the whole spirit of the celebration.

Also, it is a little disturbing to discover that your parents have been lying to you for years.

If I had kids, I wouldn’t do the Santa thing. I would let them know that I love them and that the gifts come from me as love offerings.

My car pool companion claims that Santa is valuable for manipulating his children into obedience for several weeks a year. He has been known to get Santa on the horn to inform on his own children from time to time, and he has found this ploy to be effective. It seems like it sucks to have kids.

I Am Not Afraid of Gay Cowboy Movies

World O’Crap reads the wingnuts so the rest of us don’t have to. Today, , we learn how the Concerned Women of America are concerned about the movie Brokeback Mountain and how some other wingnut is concerned about Harry Potter. The film about gay cowboys and the Harry Potter series of books and movies for kids are both considered attacks on morality.

If you don’t like gay cowboy movies, don’t go see them. If you think Harry Potter is evil, don’t read the books and don’t go to the movies. It seems that for some folks it is not enough for them to be free to express their own preferences. They don’t want anyone to see a gay cowboy movie or read Harry Potter. That someone, somewhere in the world might be watching a gay cowboy movie or reading Harry Potter is intolerable to them. Somehow, they consider that they are negatively impacted by other people’s movie watching and reading choices.

For the life of me, I cannot come up with any way that the gay cowboy genre affects me in the slightest or affects anyone who doesn’t see one of the movies. If gay cowboy pictures are popular, more will follow. We may even see gay kung fu pictures, gay cop and robber movies, gay war movies, or gay political thrillers. I suppose there could be some weirdness if I go to a movie and don’t know the characters are gay until they start getting it on. I am still recovering from the Crying Game.

It might even be interesting to watch some old westerns and imagine that the characters are gay. Rooster Cogburn could have been gay, for example, or Shane. Picture all of Clint Eastwood’s characters as closeted gay men. Would the sexual orientation of the characters affect the stories?

I know the wingnuts are entitled to their opinions, but I am troubled by anyone who claims to have a stake in other people’s peaceful choice of entertainment. This is the kind of attitude that informs the nanny state, and “cultural conservatives” seem incapable of minding their own business. Their claim to a stake in the “culture” legitimizes all manner of meddling and regulation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Old School Preaching

I was surprised to see Jim Bakker back on TV, but I probably shouldn’t be. His PTL Club scam that he used to run always struck me as absurd, but lots of people supported it financially. God wanted a theme park and shopping mall just for Christians? Jim and Tammy Faye were ridiculous and all but parodies of themselves, but they had a huge following and were taken seriously by many people. They must have been meeting the needs of their followers somehow. Bakker's not much of a preacher, though.

When I lived in West Virginia, there was a local TV preacher on public access. His was a very low budget production, and his particular gift was the ability to lay on hands and heal folks with deviated septa. “I can breathe through both nostrils! Hallelujah!” I tried to catch his program whenever I could for the sheer audacity of it.

When I was a kid in the Bible Belt, there weren’t so many TV preachers. There were plenty of radio preachers. Also, quite a few preachers made a living by preaching in Revivals. They would pitch a circus tent or arrange to use a church and have services every night for a week. As there was not much other entertainment, there would be quite a turnout. There was a Revival going on somewhere all the time. These guys were very charismatic and specialized in arousing sensations and emotions that one could attribute to the working of the Holy Ghost. They also made you want to empty your wallet when the collection plate came around.

I sang in choir and was part of a small touring singing group through church. We were the official “Stay and See America in Georgia First Bicentennial Singing Group”, and we made appearances in churches and town squares and Revivals all over the southland. We performed in connection with a Revival preacher in two venues, and I was disillusioned when I realized that all the preacher’s poignant pauses, tears, and seemingly spontaneous eruptions of emotion were carefully choreographed and rehearsed. He may very well have been a complete charlatan, but he did give folks what they came to Revival meetings for.

The best Revivals were held by what we called the “Holiness” people. They believed that you were not saved until you were “baptized by the Holy Ghost” as well as with water. The baptism of the Holy Ghost was evidenced by “speaking in tongues” and wild emotional outbursts during church services. As near as I could tell, speakers in tongues were spouting gibberish while in an altered state of consciousness, but some Holiness people claimed to be able to interpret the statements of the speakers. Regular church services for Holiness people were pretty dramatic with the preacher shouting and chanting and trembling and congregants jumping around on the backs of pews, writhing on the floor, blabbering gibberish and quaking with spiritual ecstasy. So you can imagine what a Holiness Revival was like! The first time I went to a Holiness meeting was when I was 12 or so, and I was so frightened by the apparent madness of the congregation that I fled into the night and walked 5 miles home in the rain.

Working class churches, even of the non-Holiness variety, tended to be marked by more emotional displays and charismatic preaching. The believers required an emotional, visceral sense of the presence of God in their midst. It was as if they not only loved God, but were in love with Him. They had little chance to let their hair down outside of church and took advantage of the opportunity on Sundays.

Mainline churches did not tolerate outbursts among the congregants. The story goes that a Holiness fellow found himself in town on Sunday and stopped in to the First Baptist Church. During the sermon, he would loudly interject “Amen”, “Hallelujah”, “yes Lord”, and “Preach it, Brother” until one of the deacons asked him to be quiet. I’ve got the Holy Ghost!” explained the visitor. The Deacon replied, “Well, you didn’t get it here.”

I do appreciate good old fashioned preaching as a folk art form.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I Declare the East Bank of the Hudson Part of New England

I think New York north of Westechester County and east of the Hudson River should be considered part of New England rather than the Mid-Atlantic. But for the imaginary dotted line that divides NY from CT, VT and MA, you would never know when you had crossed out of New England. The terrain and the biosphere are the same as New England. We have some covered bridges and charming little towns just like New England. We have maple trees and make syrup, and we are as eccentric as any New Englanders.

Why is this important? When devolution happens, I would rather be a subject of New England than of the Mid-Atlantic Federation, but I don't want to have to migrate. Actually, most of upstate New York would probably be content to join New England and have New York City and Long Island split off. New England, upstate New York and the Maritime Provinces of former Canada would make a pretty good realm. I would prefer a Constitutional monarchy under one of Queen Elizabeth's spare descendants, but I suppose I will have to content myself with a Republic.

I predict that the Mid-Atlantic Federation will be marked by a strong central state and crushing taxation and many of the same divisions that plague the unwieldy United States. Pennsylvania, for instance, has been described as Philly and Pittsburgh with Mississippi in between. North and South Jersey are pretty different as are the various parts of Maryland and Virginia. The solution would be further devolution, of course, but I predict that the various states will be leary of going it alone.

What Does it Mean to Love America?

Last week Steve Sailer referred to one of his old V-Dare articles ttp://
in which he opined that immigrants seeking citizenship might be induced to "love America" by performing mandatory community service. The interesting aspect of the article for me was the question of what it means to "love America". Sailer is skeptical of the notion that America is "propositional" and instead argues that to love "America" is to love its people rather than a set of abstract principles.

I agree with Sailer and would prefer to see immigrants (indeed everyone) thinking of "America" as their neighbors and community rather than as an abstraction. The controllers of the United States Government would probably prefer for everyone to conflate America with the United States and for all citizens to consider it legitimate and worthy of unflinching and unquestioning loyalty. I do not equate America with the USG, and I both love America and despise the USG. The "patriotic" souls I have known tend to give too much benefit of the doubt to the USG and would, if ordered to do so by the government, turn on their neighbors. Such "patriots" enable abominations such as the Patriot Act and show me and mine no love in so doing.

In many ways, the concept of "America", even if it is not conflated with the USG, may be too much of an abstraction to love. All nation states are imaginary, after all, and any mindless adherence to a collection of people solely because they live within a specified territory or descend from a supposed common ancestor seems irrational and potentially dangerous to me. What kinds of claims on my affection and resources should be recognized on the basis of shared nationality alone? Why should these claims take precedence over shared humanity?

Christmas Tree

Over the years, Mrs Vache Folle and I gradually pared down the amount of stuff we do for Christmas. For many people, the business of decorating, entertaining, gift giving, and the like can become overwhelming and can make the holiday season more full of stress than joy.

We avoided holiday stress by cutting out some of the factors that lead to anxiety. After all, we reasoned, we have no children, and our dogs don't know it's Christmas, so why bother decorating the house as we used to do? We cut this out with no ill effect. Then the Christmas tree began to smack of expense and effort, and we decided to decorate the ficus plant instead. Finally, we stopped doing even that. We quit travelling during the holidays so as to avoid traffic and other winter travel anxieties.

We cut out the big holiday meal as well and started celebrating a "Jewish Christmas" by going to the movies and eating at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant. This we have done for the last five years, and we plan to continue the tradition.

Gift giving has gotten simpler. We convinced our families to eschew the exchange of gifts among adults and to limit gifts to children. As the children have grown, they have come to prefer gift cards and to select their own gifts, and this is even easier! Mrs Vache Folle and I exchange only token gifts with one another, and this has made shopping for gifts more fun.

We do not entertain at Christmas. We found that we were competing with so many other events, that adding another party to the mix might actually just piss people off. We each have our annual company party, a family party thrown by Mrs Vache Folle's Christmas fanatic mother, at least one friend's party and some church events.

As we cut out various secular observations, we have increased our participation in religious observances of Advent and Christmas. It is a busy time for the choir in which I sing and for the church as a whole, but I find the events at church to be more gratifying and enjoyable than stressful. The holiday is all about God's being with us, and I look forward to the season rather than dreading it.

That said, we decided to try to let a little of the secular trappings to creep back in, albeit with a religious spirit. Last year, we tried to put lights on some little evergreens that line the side of the house and face the drive. This was a monumental pain and a failure due to the massive amounts of snow we had, and we resolved to avoid any exterior illumination. This year, a friend in choir offered us a tree from his tree farm (he keeps it as a hobby), and I took him up on it on a whim. Mrs Vache Folle and I followed him into the forest behind his house and picked out a monster tree (3 meters or so) which he cut down for us. We put it in the part of the house with the vaulted ceiling, and it looks great. We threw on the various lights we had used outside last year, and Madame bought 120 balls on sale at Michael's. It looks great, and we had fun setting it up. I think that the fact that the tree was put up on a lark and that the tree is gratuitous rather than mandatory made it much more enjoyable.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Snow Day

It's a good thing I took the day off, because Stormville is living up to its name today. The snow on the deck is 6 inches deep already, and it is snowing so heavily that I can barely see the back of the yard some 200 feet away. Birds are struggling to fly from feeder to feeder (I am keeping these stocked today). Mrs Vache Folle went is on her way to work and has her office Chrismahannakwanzika party this evening, but she reports she made it to the train OK despite conditions and the many cars in the ditches. SUV drivers seem to feel that their 4 wheel drive somehow overrides the laws of physics.

I don't know if Madame will make it home or stay in the city, but I am confident that her judgement on the matter will be sound.

Meanwhile, no plows have come by except Jerry, the guy we contracted with to plow our driveway. I reckon he'll have to do it at least twice for this storm-- kaching!

I was hoping for a mild winter, but we have had three snows already. The last two winters have been all snow all the time, and the charm is starting to wear off. Growing up in Georgia, I found snow a very rare treat. As an habitual truant, I prayed for snow and days off from school but rarely got to enjoy any snow days. We had ice storms, but it's not very fun to play in the ice and dodge the falling branches and power lines. In my whole childhood in Georgia, we had one really good snow, and that was over the holiday break in second grade. We also lost power for over a week, so it was quite an adventure.

When will we be able to realize the dividends from global warming? Or have we already started in on the ice age?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Melting Pot or Salad Bowl or Some Other Culinary Metaphor?

My conspecifics at work have what seem to me pretty bizarre attitudes about immigration, especially since they are themselves either immigrants or the children or grandchildren of 20th century immigrants. They would like to see all the recent immigrants sent home, to which I reply that their cut off date, usually about 1980 or so, is arbitrary. Why not send away anyone descended from immigrants who arrived after 1900 or even 1850? The answer is that those earlier immigrants had the decency to "assimilate" whereas the recent arrivals maintain their own language and exotic customs rather than emulating real Americans.

I reckon that people can in good faith disagree about immigration policy and whther or not assimilation is desirable, but the "refusal to assimilate" argument is idiotic. My ancestors were doubtless troubled by the enormous wave of Irish immigrants back in the middle of the 19th century, what with their Catholicism and Irishness. I bet that the Irish did not assimilate right away and continued to dance jigs and play the pipes and eat potatoes for decades. And they still practice Catholicism for the most part.

The millions of immigrants who came through Ellis Island probably did not seem all that assimilated even 20 years or more after arrival. They lived in their enclaves, spoke their own languages, and held on to their customs and institutions. It was probably with sadness that they saw their children and grandchildren forget the old ways and the mother tongue. Sure, the second and third generations are Americanized to some extent, but it is unreasonable for them to demand that recent immigrants assimilate instantly. And I see no evidence that more recent immigrants are assimilating more slowly than immigrants from a hundred years ago. Of course, it is difficult to imagine how one might measure this.

The real issue it seems is that the recent immigrants are often not Europeans. My conspecifics have a difficult time imagining how such exotic people can ever fit in. They don't realize how exotic and savage their own ancestors seemed.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Cultural Mystery

One of the most surprising things about Barbadians for me was the general aversion to the sea. It’s a pretty small island, but most of the people I knew did not even know how to swim. And the few adventurous souls who would enter the water simply waded up to their chests. They would panic and flail about if they lost their footing. And they would not enter the water if there was a lot of seaweed in it. One of the reasons given for this fear of the sea was the supposed danger posed by almost every sea creature. The sea turtle, which was “sweet” in a culinary sense, was said to drag swimmers down to the sea floor and drown them. The manta ray was said to whip swimmers to death with its tail. Many fish were thought to be anthropophagous or spiteful. And the surf was believed to be full of vicious eels.

To be sure, all these creatures abounded in the waters of Barbados, and I encountered them all despite the dire warnings of my acquaintances. I never came to any harm and got pretty close to a lot of sea creatures including giant manta rays and enormous sea turtles. The conger eels were downright timid. In fact, the widespread fear of sea creatures was unsupported by any evidence, and most of it was predicated on downright falsehoods.

One effect of this dread of the sea was that the beaches and other tourist areas were rarely visited by Barbadians who were not employed in the tourist industry. There was the tourist Barbados and the non-tourist Barbados, and the overlap was surprisingly small. The tourists could enjoy the beaches and the reefs and the sea without competing for resources and space with many of the locals. Another effect is to suppress the numbers of dark skinned people in tourist areas, something which may be desirable for tourists who fear people from other racial categories and feel uncomfortable around crowds of them.

I am at a loss to account for how the myth of the deadly sea is maintained despite the ease with which it may be disproved and despite the apparent immunity of white tourists to the danger. One social critic I met (in a rum shop, of course) explained that the myth is a holdover from slavery when slaves were discouraged from fleeing by water. This has some plausibility but does not explain its persistence some 170 years after the abolition of slavery. I am fairly sure that the misinformation about the various sea animals is not propagated in the schools but is transmitted as part of an oral tradition. Barbadians are pretty smart and have a first rate system of education, so stupidity is not the answer to the mystery.

Keep the State Out of Religion

I am an anti-establishmentarian, a Christian who prefers to see the church and the state kept separate. One reason for this is my view of the state as illegitimate and unfit for association with the church. Another is that no good purpose can be served by the state’s meddling in religion. As I see it, politicians and bureaucrats like to align themselves with God so as to imply that they have God’s endorsement. God certainly does not need the endorsement of politicians and bureaucrats, and the main reason for endorsing religion is to control the masses, something I do not regard as desirable.

Another reason is that, although I live in a supposed Christian nation, only about half of us claim to go to church regularly and only about 25% actually do go to church regularly. We hardly have a consensus about what it means to be a Christian, and even we churchgoers have such significant differences that any established form of Christianity is bound to offend most of us. I strongly reject any Arminianist or Darbyite version of Christianity, and Protestants and Catholics traditionally have all they can handle in not killing one another.

But, my conspecifics may be heard to argue, what is the harm of having school children sing carols? In my view, having a teacher, an agent of the state, require children to sing religious hymns smacks of establishment. Certainly, children should be permitted to sing hymns if they so choose on a voluntary basis, but the official government agency ought not to compel it or to endorse it. Certainly, it will be the rare case in which any child is directly harmed by hymn singing, but the example of a government entity attached to religion may well inspire in children a notion that the government is legitimate and that its authority is God given. And once one gives in on hymn singing, official prayers will not be far behind. Parents who want their children to sing hymns ought by all means to set up a choir of some sort for their little cherubs, and I am unaware of any obstacle to their doing so other than sloth or disinterest.

What harm can come of a Nativity Scene on the grounds of the Town Hall? Again, it is blasphemous for the town to claim the imprimatur of the Divine, and no proper purpose is served by such a display. A private person might erect such a display provided that the opportunity to use grounds of the Town Hall is afforded to everyone on an equal footing.

I do not want government, which is nothing but force and fraud, used to foist some statists’ misguided notions of Christianity on the rest of us.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Why is Bush Surrounded by Military so Often?

Is George "Not as Bad as Pol Pot" Bush surrounding himself with military personnel during so many public appearances in order to give the impression that the military supports him?

Didn't Caligula try the same thing?

Better Than Philately

I am an amateur genealogist and the unofficial family historian. I spend a lot of time researching family history and in contact with other folks who are doing the same. It is quite rewarding. There are some aspects of family history research itself that are quite amusing.

Lots of people want to establish American Indian ancestry, not to gain tribal membership or to open a casino or anything, but just for bragging rights. It has become a point of pride to have Cherokee or other Indian heritage whereas it used to be something folks concealed. In my own family, the quantum of Cherokee ancestry was greatly exaggerated, although I do have Cherokee ancestors. I do not know anything about my Cherokee ancestors or whether they were decent people, but I am interested in this heritage and am not ashamed of it. I reject the idea that all of my Indian ancestors were “noble savages” with an abiding respect for the Earth. In fact, it was common practice for some Cherokee men to raid other tribes and murder people for sport or in vendettas, and there were so few Cherokees that their impact on the environment was minimal. There was simply no need for much stewardship of resources.

Lots of people are keen to establish that their ancestors were “people of quality”, a term that is sometimes used to describe anyone in America before the Revolution. Part of this is because records for the wealthier 18th and even the 17th century settlers can be documented fairly well. Such folks were apt to own land and make wills and transfer slaves and other property, and these transactions were memorialized. It is quite satisfying to be able to connect to such families because you get to go back several generations further than you might otherwise do if your ancestors were poor mountaineers who left few records of their existence. It is also desirable for some to be connected to the colonial elites, although I confess that I am not as proud of my land grabbing, politically connected ancestors as I perhaps ought to be. Some of my ancestors were in the House of Burgesses, were officers of militia, were vestrymen, were landlords; however, I am prouder of the poor sods that eked out a living in the backwoods on land that they cleared and tamed and improved by the sweat of their brows.

One prominent researcher of the Morrow family was so keen to establish that my ancestor William Morrow was descended from an English family of quality that he argued that the tombstone inscription that claimed birth in Northern Ireland was a mistake. Surely his own children were in a better position to know where he was born, and it was hardly likely in 1830 for a family of English extraction to pretend to Scots-Irish heritage.

Finding ancestors in military service is also prized, partly for the sake of the record and partly for the sake of the connection to history that this affords. But I cannot be proud of some of the campaigns of my ancestors, especially those against the Indians or in evicting Loyalists, and I have come to regard my ancestors in military service as hapless pawns.

Ancestral slave owning is embarrassing as far as I am concerned, but some folks take pride that their ancestors had plantations and were among elites. Relatively few of my ancestors had any slaves at all, fortunately, and I am satisfied that any legacy earned from slave labor went to other members of these families and not to my ancestors in the next generation. In any event, nothing that I ever inherited can be traced directly to the exploitation of slaves.

The holy grail of ancestral research is connection to famous people, or, best of all, nobility or royalty. I am proud to count as a kinsman Audie Murphy, soldier and movie actor. The Morrow researcher mentioned above took pains to connect my family with Ann Morrow Lindbergh, but I am not convinced of the connection. I would love to be the cousin of the Lindbergh Baby, but it probably isn’t so.

Most of the supposed royal connections claimed by people appear to be mythical, but I can claim one connection to the English monarchy through the bastard child of a Bishop, himself a scion of a royal bastard. Having one’s royal connection mitigated thus by bastardy takes some of the sting out of it. My Scottish royal connection is not so mitigated but is so ancient that I feel no particular remorse for having descended from racketeers.

One of the most exciting finds in my research related to the Stone family where my great grandmother’s nieces and nephews were listed as mulattos in the 1900 census. Alas, my brief hope of an African-American heritage was dashed when I learned that this was apparently an error corrected in later census records.

My Edwards heritage has led me to become aware of the Edwards Fortune. The story is that a Mr Edwards owned most of mid-town Manhattan and let it on a long term lease. His heirs were defrauded of title, and the matter has been in litigation for almost two centuries. I cannot figure out whether this is an old con that is now moving to the arena of spam or whether I am, in fact, one of the rightful owners of the Chrysler Building. I prefer the latter and to look at that edifice with the pride of ownership.

In any event, genealogy on the web is becoming easier than ever, and it is quite diverting. It has piqued my interest in history and has formed the basis for some of the most interesting vacations I have ever taken. And I am proud to say that most of my ancestors were not so called people of quality.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Is Soccer Destroying America?

My Barbadian friends in the cricket club tell me that soccer, or football as they charmingly call it, is a game for anti-social youth and that soccer players are socially and morally inferior to cricket players by just about any standard. The soccer players think cricket is an “old man’s game” and unexciting. I did note that the proportion of anti-social dreadlock hairstyles was much higher among soccer players than cricket players. Moreover, cricket players were on average older than soccer players, something I attribute to the excessive demands of soccer on the human cardiovascular system.

I confess that I am biased toward cricket and find soccer to be little more than random movement in a meadow. Cricket is a much more complex game and requires a great deal of intelligence and discipline and awareness of the situation to play or even to enjoy as a spectator. It is a gentleman’s game.

Apparently anyone can play soccer, even little girls.

The Central American immigrants that played soccer in the park in Yonkers left the place a wreck, complete with human waste and tons of garbage. The youth soccer teams left the playing fields strewn with litter as well.

In contrast, West Indian and South Asian cricket teams left the parks cleaner than when they arrived.

Cricket fans are by and large a civilized lot, with the exception of a few riots in the West Indies in former days. I have never felt the least bit uncomfortable at a cricket match. I am given to understand that soccer fans are prone to hooliganism, although I have never attended a soccer game (what with not wanting to encounter hooligans and all).

It is disturbing to see the proliferation of soccer playing in America, and I fear that soccer is taking young people away from time that might be better spent practicing baseball. It is too much to hope that cricket will take off in this country, and baseball is the closest thing to a true character building sport that we have at present.

Perhaps I am too much of an alarmist. Youth with character will probably always be drawn to respectable sports.

Another Plank in My School Board Platform

My cousin is a pastor whose wife home schooled their five children. Meeting them represented a turning point in my attitudes and beliefs about home schooling. Until then, I had always assumed that home-schoolers were nut cases or folks with an ax to grind with their local school officials. They were very patient with us when we asked whether there were issues with “socialization”, and they pointed out that their children were far more amiable and socially adept than most children of their age despite, or indeed because, they had not been institutionalized from an early age. We had to confess that this is so, and we came to respect and admire their courage in undertaking to home school.

The objections to home schooling that I had always taken for granted as valid (I have no children and never really gave the issue much thought) appear on closer examination to be unsupported.

1. Lack of socialization. If by “socialization”, one means regimentation, then home schooled children are not as “socialized”. There is no reason, however, to imagine that home schooled children will be deprived of meaningful social interaction, eg in the neighborhood or at church, just because they are not forced to attend school with other children. I recall having very little opportunity to socialize significantly at school, and my principal social interactions with other children were outside of school.
2. Poor quality of education. Children in schools actually get very little personal attention, sharing their teachers with a score or more of others, whereas home schooled children get more intensive instruction by someone who loves them and knows them intimately. I have seen no evidence that home schooled children are stupider than children who attend school.
3. Lack of government surveillance. It is certainly true that home schooled children are less often examined and interrogated by officials to determine whether they have been abused or neglected, but I have come to regard this as advantageous. It is a slanderous leap to correlate home schooling with abusive or neglectful parents, and I have seen no evidence that home schoolers are particularly abusive or neglectful.

Families that home school are less of a burden on their neighbors than families who send their offspring to government schools. Home schooling is cost effective and requires little, if any, coerced contribution from people outside the family.

Let me add to my platform as a school board candidate the encouragement of and support for home schooling within the district. Some things that the district might do in this regard:

1.Home schooled children should be permitted to engage in any extracurricular activities sponsored by the schools and to utilize school resources such as libraries and athletic facilities on an equal footing with matriculated students.
2. The option of home schooling should be publicized and promoted, and instructional support should be provided to parents on request. If they wish, parents should be provided with the same textbooks that matriculated students receive free of charge.

3. The district might facilitate or at least cooperate with the pooling of resources by home schooling parents where the need to work prevents some parents from staying at home full time.

4. Home schooled children might be permitted to participate in particular school programs and classes on an “a la carte” basis, eg physical education or foreign language courses or other courses requiring any special equipment or expertise.

I have no doubt that this plank in my platform will be anathema to educators who will accuse me of trying to undermine the public schools. However, in my view, working with home schoolers would improve the schools by decreasing costs and increasing flexibility and choice.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Beware of black squirrels!

This report is disturbing. I was informed once at a party by someone I figured was crazy that black squirrels were carnivores. Now it appears that they attack en masse, at least in Russia.

I have lived around black squirrels for years in DC and New York and never observed any behavior that differed from the gray variety. I don't know how to account for my failure to see the real danger that the black squirrels posed. I shudder to think of all the times I walked by black squirrels with my dogs completely unaware that I was being stalked.


The leaves are all down now, and the wind has conveniently pushed them into piles. All that’s left is to drag them over to the designated leaf disposal area, a low swampy spot I am trying to fill up. We had snow on the holiday weekend, so I couldn’t get the visiting nephews to rake to earn arcade money.

The cold spell meant that the Pond was frozen as well, and we were unable to do any Pond maintenance. At the very least, I want to get this year’s leaves out of the Pond and to make a dent in the silt deposits where the streams enter. We had a massive drenching in the fall with 9 straight days of torrential rain leaving a bothersome deposit of silt and sand in the shallows. The water hyacinths were buried or washed away, so I didn’t get to bring any in to save them for next spring.

I bought a pair of waders for Pond work. We’ve been wading in and lifting leaves from the bottom with a rake. We put them on a tarp and drag them away. It is a very inefficient process and hard on the back, but I don’t know how else to get the leaves out without killing the critters that live in and hibernate in the silt under the leaves. We have several species of frogs, salamanders, crayfish, a water snake, and some reclusive turtles as well as a plethora of unidentified aquatic arthropods and small snails.

Last fall, 2005, when we converted dismal to Pond, we had so much more energy. I estimate that we mined over 25 tons of stone from the mountain with only a wheelbarrow with a flat tire. This year, I feel tired all the time and just can’t get into the swing of home improvement. Some of it is a sense of futility. Creating the Pond was fun, but maintaining it is just plain work. The battle against leaves and silt will never be won, just fought to a stalemate.

A really discouraging thing has been the failure of our project to remedy a very swampy low area of the back yard. For 18 months, we filled it with spoil from various projects to a depth of some 18 inches. This summer, we bought a truckload of dirt and moved it wheelbarrow at a time to the project area (I at least inflated the tire this year) and added another 6 inches. We planted grass and watered it until it took hold. It seemed so promising, but now the same area is a swamp again despite all the backbreaking labor! Mrs Vache Folle is thinking French drains. I (to whom the digging of the drains would fall) am thinking that we should just embrace the seasonal swampiness of the spot and plant it with moisture loving foliage and traverse it with a boardwalk or some such thing.

Perhaps if I threw in some creative projects with the maintenance, I would regain some of my enthusiasm. Maybe there’s a Despair Squid in the Pond.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Bush Is Expendable

As my imaginary readers know, my conspecifics at work include a number of folks who get all their news from Fox, the Wall Street Journal, and right wing rant radio. They have begun to recognize Bush’s incompetence, but they still believe in the policies of the administration. “We can’t cut and run, but Bush is not the right man to be in charge of the war,” quoth one. The war, it is said, is necessary now even if it was a mistake in the first place because a) Iraq will become a terrorist breeding ground if we leave, and b) we have to “fight them over there to keep from fighting them here”, whatever that means. Even some of the Democrats claim that the war must be waged to a victorious conclusion but feel that a Democrat would do it better. Of course, my conspecifics have no more idea of how we will know we have “won” the war than Bush has.

If my conspecifics can be taken as evidence of what the right wing media wants them to believe, it appears that Bush has become expendable. It is the war that must be preserved and, with it, the idea that there is a huge threat from “Islamofascism” that cries out for a military solution and requires bigger and more intrusive government. A lot of phoney-baloney government jobs and defense contracts depend on keeping the war machine revved up. A lot of power is at stake.

It was pretty touch and go for the political-military-industrial complex after the Soviet Union collapsed. People were even talking about a “peace dividend” for a while. It was vitally important to find a replacement enemy, and “terror” fit the bill nicely. It even has the advantage of being an abstraction and all but nonexistent so there is no chance that the threat will ever be neutralized. There won’t be any talk about a peace dividend any time soon.

I do not know what is more breathtaking, the brilliance of concocting the big lie or the idiocy of the electorate in believing it.

My "Blog Against Racism Day" Post

Racism is troubling for me, and I am sometimes challenged to confront my own unconscious prejudices. It is hard to admit it, but I was infected in my youth with some racist notions that I have had to work at to overcome.

When I was very young, the schools in my community were still segregated. The town schools were integrated when I was in grammar school, but the county schools were practically all white even after integration because black people lived for the most part in one particular area in the city. I didn’t know any black kids until the 5th grade when there were a couple of them in my class. Black and white kids did not play together in the schoolyard, and the black kids ate together in the cafeteria. We didn’t socialize at all outside of school. This continued into high school, and the only chance you might have to socialize with black people was in team sports. Even then, contact was largely limited to team activities. I did not know why this was so, and I never questioned it. It was just the way things were.

There were churches for black folks and churches for white folks. Our church had a separate chapel where we allowed black kids that were bussed in to attend “Children’s Church”. We weren’t interested in having their parents in the main sanctuary, and the children of regular members certainly did not go to Children’s Church. Looking back, I realize how patronizing the whole Children’s Church program was, but at the time I volunteered to work in it and thought I was doing good by setting an example for black youth. I never questioned that blacks and whites would worship apart from one another. It was just the way it was.

I had some casual acquaintances among black students and was liked my many. I earned the nickname “John Boy” due to a supposed resemblance to the character on the Waltons. This, and my family’s insistence that black folks were not to be hated because they could not help it that they were born black, allowed me to believe that I was not a racist.

I carried this conviction with me to college in Washington, DC, the population of which is mostly black, where I found, to my consternation that, in fact, I harbored some racist attitudes. I found that I was a little frightened at being surrounded by black people who were not especially deferential to me. I found myself avoiding neighborhoods as dangerous solely because black folks lived there. I had a negative visceral reaction to interracial couples that I had to work hard to conceal. It was a painful but enlightening experience, and I think that recognizing my own racist streak was the first step in recovery.

I think of myself as a recovering racist. In a way, awareness of racism in myself has been advantageous in that I have never been one to labor under the illusion that racism is not real or that black folks make too much of a big deal about race. I realize that it sometimes makes little sense to be “color blind” in a society that clearly is not. Race is a big deal, especially if you are on the receiving end of discrimination.

I try not to discriminate irrationally and to advocate against such discrimination by others. I probably fail all too often. I live where I would probably have to go quite a way to find a black neighbor. I have no black friends, just acquaintances at work with whom I never socialize outside of the office (of course, that’s true of my white co-workers as well). There is sometimes a single black person or perhaps two at my church, but there are usually none, and I don’t know the black parishioners at all (of course, I know only a few of the white members as well, having been attending for just a little over a year). I don’t think I consciously avoided black people in my choice of housing or in developing a social circle, but the society in which I live is structured in such a way that I would have to make a conscious effort to cultivate black acquaintances or to live among black neighbors. I should perhaps make an effort at church to be more welcoming to black fellow parishioners, but it is difficult to decide how else to overcome the obstacles that keep me away from black folks. It would feel artificial and unseemly to cultivate a friendship just as a social experiment, and I am far too antisocial and lazy to make any kind of effort.

Racism as a social fact has made it possible for me and my white neighbors to avoid black people almost entirely without any of us personally engaging in any direct discrimination. The discrimination of others has done the job for us.