Friday, February 24, 2006

Off to Negril

Mrs Vache Folle and I are headed off for a week in Jamaica, so I won’t be blogging for a while. I could use some rest as I am recovering from another bout of bronchitis. Moreover, I would like to be warm for a while. The pathologically frugal Mrs VF does not permit the thermostat to be set above 60. I aim to do some snorkeling and a whole lot of nothing for 7 days.

We are a little apprehensive about the trip because we are staying at a resort, Hedonism, with a reputation for wildness. The Folles are not wild. We’re tolerant of others, but we’re as dull as it gets. Moreover, we recently discovered that the resort is hosting a convention of swingers and wife swappers while we are there. I reckon it’s better we found out ahead of time so that we can avoid some comedic misunderstandings. I doubt anyone will want to swap husbands with Mrs VF, but Mrs VF is a looker. I aim to come home with the same wife I left with.

Another cause for some concern is that Mrs VF and I are the whitest non-albino people on the earth. Our ancestors apparently evolved on glaciers, and neither of us tans. We are apt to burst into flames if exposed to direct sunlight, so we will be easily identifiable by our hats and excessive clothing on an otherwise nude or near nude beach. This is for the health of our skin and, in my case, for humanitarian reasons. When I lived in Barbados, I was often taken for a native “Red Leg”, or white Bajun, because I did not have a tan and because I scurried from shade to shade.

Despite the concerns, I am keen to be off on vacation.

Q: When is Gulag Not a Gulag? A: When it's American!

One of my fascist conspecifics claimed to be offended by folks who referred to American detention centers as “gulags”. I asked him what he considered the critical distinction, and he replied that the gulags were more numerous, that they had a lot more prisoners, and that they operated over a long period of time. I asked him whether the first gulag could have been called a “gulag” when it opened and received its first prisoner, but he didn’t answer. He just said the comparison was “ludicrous” and left it at that. To him, calling an American detention facility a gulag is WORSE than actually running a camp that invites such comparisons.

Now that it turns out that the US is using some old Soviet facilities, I reckon that it is fair by any lights to call them “gulags”. Also, Haliburton is building us some fine detention centers right here in the US of A, the rationale for which Wendy McElroy has some ideas about: These will be “gulags”, plain and simple.

There is something to be said for calling a spade a spade or a gulag a gulag. Let’s not permit tyrants to hide behind euphemisms.

Why Don't Extended Families Live Together?

In thinking about family structure, I often wonder why more of us do not join together in extended families and pool our resources. Wouldn’t both our “nuclear families” be better off if my brother and I shared a household? If we threw the old man and his wife into the mix, we’d be living high off the hog. We’d need one somewhat bigger house instead of the three houses we now occupy, and we would probably enjoy substantial savings on food and services.

My stay at home sister in law could let the dogs out every day and save me about $6,000 a year. She could also do some of the household chores during the day so that we who work need not kill ourselves when we get home. There would be many more adults to watch and love the children. Of course, we live 18 hours away from each other, but my brother lives within 5 minutes of our father.

Any combination of adult siblings, parents, children, etc. would result in a huge savings in costs if we lived together and pooled our resources. I suspect that we bear the monstrous costs of going on our own at least in part because we think that it is worth it. We don’t live with our parents and siblings because we don’t have to.

But this is only part of the equation. There seems to be an unspoken cultural assumption that we ought to live in nuclear and not extended families. Multigenerational families are viewed as unusual, even a little weird. Perhaps this is part of status seeking in that we do not wish to be seen to be struggling and unable to afford independence from our kin. This ethos renders us more dependent on our employers and less secure financially even as it provides us with freedom from social disapproval.

We also recognize that there may be some issues within families, especially when it comes to relations with in-laws. In Yonkers, where multigenerational households were more common, it was said that “you can’t have two women in one kitchen”. This applied to daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law but not to mothers and daughters for some reason I never figured out. These dynamics are not inherently insurmountable, however.

And if your relatives are jackasses, they will be harder to live with than if they are an amiable and considerate lot. I don’t think I could ever live under the same roof with my abusive stepfather or my mother-in-law’s toxic current husband. Otherwise, I think I could handle the rest of the family tolerably well. I actually like my siblings. I even like my Idiot Brother-in-Law although he is a slob and would probably drive his sister crazy.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Moral Arithmetic

JL Wilson sums up my feelings on holocaust denial quite nicely .

Up until I visited Auschwitz last year, most of my knowledge of the Holocaust was derived from the late 1970s miniseries and other movies. Six million dead Jews was appalling, but I reckoned that six thousand or six hundred would have been enough to shock my conscience, and I could never figure out what all the hullabaloo over the exact number was. I think that an atrocity was done when the Nazis killed their first Jew and that each subsequent murder should be considered another equally horrifying count in the indictment of Nazism. In my book, arguing that the Nazis killed only one million Jews or some other number less than six million is not a valid way to absolve them of culpability.

I suppose that it is useful to have the atrocities be of such enormity that they do not invite ready comparisons with our own national sins. If my country killed a few thousand residents of the Philippines to suppress the rebellion there, that was nothing like the Holocaust with its SIX MILLION. If my country wiped out tens of thousands of Indians, that pales in comparison to the SIX MILLION who died in the Holocaust. That was TOTALLY DIFFERENT.

Also, an enormous number means that the events are entitled special status as one of the most extreme examples of state sponsored murder instead of being just another run of the mill series of atrocities committed by states. States kill people in the hundreds of thousands all the time, so there is nothing special in many minds about events that culminate in the deaths of any fewer than say a million people or so.

How many Iraqi and Afghan civilians will the US have to kill as collateral damage before US subjects become concerned about the moral implications? Estimates that the sanctions of the last decade killed a million people left the Americans unmoved for the most part. A possible 100,000 dead and an officially acknowledged 30,000 dead are apparently not all that disturbing to most Americans. Americans rarely talk about the multitudes of Vietnamese dead as costs of that war but are troubled by the 50,000 plus US casualties. Perhaps my compatriots have an unlimited moral capacity to absorb the deaths of foreigners at the hands of the government but a limited capacity to accept American casualties.

Also, I suppose that it is important that the murders be done over a relatively short time period. If the German government killed six million Jews over a two hundred year period, that might not be as disturbing. By the same token, Americans seem to be OK with the instantaneous vaporization of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians on two occasions in 1945.

I don’t understand the moral arithmetic.

Wherein I Flirt with Know Nothingism

I am conflicted about immigration. In principle, in a perfect world, folks would be free to move around without regard to borders, and we would all live free and in harmony amid an ethos of mutual tolerance and respect. However, I don’t live in a perfect world. I live in a world where the people who move into my community or my country influence several levels of meddlesome government. This almost always reduces my freedom.

When folks from Westchester County move up here to Dutchess, they turn our farms into rows of McMansions. They think that our taxes are a bargain (they are compared to where they came from), and they think nothing of voting tax increases to pay for more schools, more police, libraries, parks and all kinds of infrastructure, much of which doesn’t benefit me at all. It’s not that I don’t like the Westchesterites individually. They’re no better or worse than anyone else who feels free to rob me in order to subsidize their desires. At some point, these same people will decide that the process of ruination that they have engaged in has gone too far, and they will vote in a cadre that will curtail development and regulate the crap out of everyone in town. These immigrants are, frankly, destroying my community, and there is nothing I can do about it. Their culture of meddlesome statism is at the heart of the problem.

The same goes for many immigrants from abroad. I suspect that it is no coincidence that increases in government power, and acquiescence in its exercise, have followed closely on the heels of mass in-migrations of people from countries who lack any tradition of limited government and respect for individual liberty. In my experience, my distrust of government and love of freedom are more readily understood and accepted by my fellow Americans with centuries of history on this continent than by descendants of more recent immigrants. I’m not saying that these folks aren’t nice people. They are, like the Westchesterites, no better or worse than other statists with their hands in my pockets. I have also found some more recent immigrants more receptive to libertarian ideals, among them some West Indians and Mexican laborers and entrepreneurs.

Lest you think me a bigot, let me say that I have many likeable acquaintances who descend from Ellis Island Immigrants or potato famine refugees. Mrs Vache Folle has such a heritage and is a perfectly agreeable person. She is also committed to the founding principles of her adopted country. I am all for diversity in religion, customs, language and what not, but the infection of America with statism is not to be borne.

I have proposed disenfranchising immigrants and the descendants of immigrants for 7 generations in order to reduce the influence of the statist meme complex on American politics. If this could be accomplished, I would likely be indifferent to immigration.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Career Options Stymied

If I wanted to become a hunter-gatherer in America today and live as my ancestors did back in the Paleolithic, could I do this without breaking the law? I suppose that I might be considered a vagrant in some quarters and run out of the county. I would almost always be trespassing on somebody’s land or violating the rules for using government land. I would probably violate hunting regulations galore and regulations that prohibit collecting plants and such. If I built a shelter anywhere, I would be camping and subject to time limits and a crap load of other rules. And if I earned my living by foraging, would the IRS impute the value of my food, animal pelt clothing, stone tools, and rudimentary shelter to me as taxable income? If so, could I pay my tax with beaver pelts? If I lived in a band of foragers who roamed the backwoods, I am pretty sure the Bureau of Land Management would try to remove us. If we had any children, the child welfare folks would take them away from us.

If I wanted to be a subsistence agriculturalist in America today, would this even be feasible economically? How would I pay property taxes, assuming I could afford any land? Would my hovel be up to code? The tax thugs might be all over me on account of any bartering I might do.

If I wanted to be an itinerant tinker like the Goat Man who used to pass through our village, I am not sure that I would be allowed to ply my trade in peace. How many business licenses would I have to take out, and how much business tax would be exacted from my meager earnings?

What if I wanted to follow the caribou herd and prey on it? Would I be allowed to do that? Or to drive herds of goats to seasonal pasture and live the life of a pastoralist? Is there a program for primitive goatherds on federal wasteland?

I am just thinking through my options.

Free Market in Family Structure

I share a number of values with the League of the South, particularly interest and pride in southern history and heritage. But this rant against the breakdown of the nuclear family doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with Southern culture:

The gist is that the trend away from marriage and the nuclear family means the end of civilization… yadda, yadda, yadda…. let’s all get back to nuclear families…. stigmaitize bastardy….blah, quack, woof. How does one propose to compel people to form nuclear families and enter into and maintain state sanctioned marriages when more and more people clearly prefer not to do so or are unable to do so?

The author of the article attributes the trend to moral decadence, making us ripe for mass conversion to Islam of all things; however, I reckon that we ought to consider whether the failure lies with the institutions at issue rather than with the people themselves. The institutions exist to serve people, not the other way around. As I see it, a big problem is the state’s meddling in family structure. If left to their own devices, people will by and large form family structures that meet their needs, that are economically and socially strategic. But people are not, in fact, left to their own devices because the state privileges some arrangements over others, albeit not as aggressively as some might wish and certainly with no consistency. Presumably the author of the article cited above would support state intervention to maintain his favorite household dynamic, although to his credit he does not explicitly call for coercion.

I call for separation of family and state. Repeal all laws that provide incentives or disincentives to the formation of any particular family form. Perhaps the nuclear family will regain its popularity in competition with other strategies; perhaps not. In any event, I predict that a variety of family structures would emerge to accommodate the diverse needs of differently situated families.

Focus on Practice

I am in the middle of reading Brian McLaren’s “A Generous Orthodoxy”, and I find it inspiring and thought provoking. One point from the book that resonates with me is an increased focus on practice rather than on doctrine. In my view, it is more important to live as a disciple of Jesus than to think the proper theological thoughts.

One can have a wide divergence of opinion on a range of theological questions, none of which may have any practical impact on how one lives and treats others. For example, if I love God with all my faculties and my neighbors as myself, does it really matter how I conceive of the concept of the trinity? My views on the trinity are not at all apt to inform the practice of my faith and my life within the community. It seems so bizarre to me that people were burned at the stake over this issue. To me, it is not unlike the violent conflict between Swift’s “Big Endians” and “Little Endians” over the right way to break an egg.

I don’t find it necessary or useful to take stands on a lot of theological issues as I reckon that they are entirely speculative and have no practical significance. For example, I don’t know if salvation is universal or particular. I don’t know if hell is anything other than a literary device. Also, my lack of training in theology would make my pronouncements on such subjects ridiculous.

There are some doctrines that, in fact, inform practice in significant ways, and I am beginning to think that what is commonly considered the single religion of Christianity is really two or more very distinct belief systems. A belief in salvation “by grace alone” provides a very different template for living than a belief that requires works or human effort of some kind and a constant focus on righteousness. The latter version of Christianity is much more akin to Islam than to my own beliefs. (It might be interesting to compare the utterances of various American televangelists with assorted mullahs and to see just how closely they track.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Citizenship Test

A conspecific sent me a “citizenship test” by e-mail . I got 28 out of 30 of the answers right, genius that I am. 24 correct is passing. The cover e-mail stated that 86% of high schoolers flunked as did 50% of people over 50. The questions call for some historical knowledge and knowledge about the constitution, but I am not sure that knowing the answers would make you a good “citizen”.

I like to distinguish between the attributes of a good “citizen” and a good “subject” of the state. The former status calls for participation and responsibility, while the latter calls for obedience. The former wants cultivation, the latter domestication. The former requires education, the latter indoctrination. The state doesn’t really care for good citizens; they are a nuisance. The state prefers compliant subjects. The state begets subjects, whereas independent institutions of civil society are needed to produce citizens.

I am not a big supporter of democracy for its own sake. Democracy without the rule of law and recognition of individual rights is as tyrannical as any other form of government, often more so. And democracy in the US is nothing more than political theater. Just about everyone is a “citizen” with an equal vote, no matter how ignorant or unprincipled he may be. The concept of citizen is so debased that citizens in America are indistinguishable from mere subjects.

I wonder if the people of the US would be better off if we were divided into distinct political classes where citizenship and the franchise were conferred on only that part of the population that met certain criteria deemed necessary for the responsibilities associated with citizenship. A class of responsible electors might be maintained to serve on juries, in offices of trust, and as voters in elections. Something must be done; look what the universal suffrage has wrought: Bush. Some criteria that I might suggest:

1. A citizen must have all grandparents born within the US or abroad to American parents. Heck, let’s make it great great great grandparents so as to weed out those potato famine refugees and the Ellis Island immigrants that almost ruined America. This insures that electors and officeholders will have a longstanding stake in America and its founding principles and be untainted by a familial experience with foreign tyranny.
2. No person employed by any government agency or receiving governmental funds for any reason may be a citizen for at least ten years after receipt of the most recent payment. This includes pension benefits.
3. No person employed by or who is an officer or director of a government contractor may be a citizen for ten years.
4. No person who is the business partner, spouse, parent, child or sibling of anyone in categories 2 or 3 above or 5 below may be a citizen while the former is barred.
5. No person who contributes funds to any political campaign may be a citizen for ten years after the contribution. No recipient of funds from a PAC, political party, or similar source may be a citizen for ten years.
6. No person convicted of a crime of violence may be a citizen ever. No person convicted of bribery, election fraud, or larceny may be a citizen ever.
7. Holders of elective office whether or not compensated shall be debarred from voting for ten years after leaving office.
8. Each candidate for citizenship must apply in person under oath and renew in person annually at the county courthouse where he resides. Otherwise, voting and other privileges will be suspended.
9. Any citizen who fails to vote in any election shall be suspended from voting for 4 years thereafter.
10. Any citizen who fails to perform jury duty at least very other year as required will be permanently removed from the citizenship rolls. Non-citizens will not be qualified to be jurors so citizens must take up the slack.

These criteria should insure that voters are not interested in government spending and that those who are interested are disqualified. No thugs are allowed, and you have to care enough about citizenship to fill out a form every year and sit on a jury every other year. This not an elitist program, and I reckon that many elite pork lovers would be cut out of politics. There is no education or literacy requirement. There is really not even a character requirement, but I reckon that the absence of improper incentives would keep the character impaired out of the citizenship racket. There is literally nothing in it for the citizen except duties and the rewards of virtue, i.e. virtue itself.

There should be enough citizens to make it too difficult for anyone to buy their votes.

Random Thoughts

I might be willing to sign on to surveillance if the playing field were equal, if it applied to everyone. Let everyone be surveilled 24/7 and let his activities be published on line for any person to see. If I could see government officials at work with 100% transparency, I would let them watch me do what I do. I have a lot less to hide than they do, and this might be a fair trade. The only trouble is that the populace is so stupid that it would watch Paris Hilton floss before it would keep an eye on the state, so the government would still screw us.

I am the first to admit that my character is a little dodgy, and even I can’t see how so many federal officials don’t resign in protest over the way the Bush regime conducts the government. They ought to be resigning in droves, but it appears that the regime has found thousands of unprincipled hacks to fill all the patronage positions in its gift. Where do you find such a reliable pool of hackitude unsullied by principle? The College Republicans, no doubt.

I hear that some neocons advocate invading and occupying Iran. Perhaps they meant to invade Iran in the first place but a typo led to an invasion of Iraq instead. Or they want a chance to show that they can do an invasion and occupation right, that the Iraq debacle was an aberration or that they have learned from their mistakes in Iraq. I suppose that an invasion of Iran might be pulled off with a few thousand troops and that, provided the people greet us with candy and flowers, the occupation would pay for itself with oil revenue. Note to the air force: don’t bomb the candy and flower warehouses this time. Surely, the Iranians are yearning to breathe free and to cast off the yoke of their democratically elected government. And they love Americans and would surely see us as liberators, not like those silly Iraqis. As long as we have an extra army and an extra trillion bucks lying around doing nothing, what are we waiting for?

Now that the US has set the precedent of pre-emptive war, would Iran or Syria be within its rights to attack the US now rather than wait for the threatened military strikes by the US?

Now that the President has the authority to imprison or kill anyone he likes at any time without any process or checks, can he delegate that authority by issuing “licenses to kill”? Can these be outsourced to private contractors? A lot of people would write pretty hefty checks for campaign contributions if they thought they could get such a license. I reckon a lot of ex-wives would be found to have ties to al Qaeda.

My Problem with Literalism

I have had several discussions lately about perceived conflicts between religion and science. For my part, I am not troubled by any supposed conflict since I am not a Biblical literalist. I don’t feel any need to reconcile the Hebrew Creation Myth with evolutionary theory or cosmology. The former deals with the why of creation, the latter with the how.

For the Biblical literalists I know, science can be a huge challenge to the very foundation of their faith. They must see the scientific endeavor as a vast demonic conspiracy to deny God. For them, the Bible is the inspired Word of God, written under the direction of the Holy Spirit and inerrant and literally true in every detail. Why they think that this is so is a mystery to me, but I would not wish to undermine their beliefs. They are not scientists, and their views on science are not going to matter (except that their children may be disqualified through ignorance from scientific careers).

Biblical literalism is predicated on an absolute faith in the Bible and the process by which it was compiled. To me, it requires several extra steps of faith that I find wholly unnecessary. I can believe in Jesus without accepting the literal truth of any part of the Old Testament. If the Red Sea were never really parted, my faith would be unaffected. If I descend from another species in common with apes, it has no bearing at all on Christianity. If the universe is billions of years old instead of thousands, that is all the more awe-inspiring. If the whole world was not inundated by a God-sent flood that killed all but 8 folks, that is not a problem for me. I can watch the Science Channel or Discovery Channel without having my faith undermined. If anything, the wonder of the universe reinforces my faith.

The greatest danger of literalism is that it renders the religion of the literalist a static, dead thing, like a specimen preserved in formaldehyde. Moreover, the faith of the literalist is like a house of cards. If I debunk the Flood, the whole thing falls apart. I suspect that the appeal of literalism is that it requires less effort on the part of the believer to be discerning. It also makes the believer more likely to adhere to any earthly ecclesiastical authority that makes a plausible claim to Biblical legitimacy; therefore, literalism will always have institutional support. Literalism also reinforces a short-term view of things. If the universe is only 6000 years old and the Second Coming is just around the corner, the outlook is very different from that of one who expects several billion years more for creation to unfold and for the Kingdom to be realized.


JL Wilson opines that many of America’s children are “overdrugged and overdisciplined” I understand the point he is trying to make about tyranny in schools, but I think it all goes back to parents who have abdicated responsibility for discipline and who surrender their children to the state. I visited a friend who was hosting a children’s sleepover this weekend, and it was a little like a visit to a monkey house. If I had to live with some of the kids my conspecifics have produced, I might be grateful for a diagnosis of ADHD and the opportunity to drug them into submission. In my experience working with children from messed up families, I have met a few who merited a genuine diagnosis of ADHD. I have met even more who likely had fetal alcohol syndrome but whose parents preferred a diagnosis of ADHD. That way, the kid got the special program without their being tagged with any responsibility for the kid’s condition.

I have met even more kids diagnosed with ADHD who were in all probability trained to be wild and undisciplined and whose parents finally found them too overwhelming to deal with as they matured. The same parental sloth that created the wild child to begin with allows the parents to rely on drugs. Moreover, the diagnosis of ADHD allows them to deny any responsibility for their child’s behavior. By the time they get to school, they are going to be so disruptive that their teachers will jump at the chance to drug them or transfer them to a special class, and the parents will cheer.

I am all for allowing children as much freedom as possible and encouraging learning and curiosity. But parents don’t do their children or themselves any favors by letting them run wild and having too little discipline. I have remarked before that too many parents today are unwilling for their children ever to be thwarted in any desire or to have to delay gratification for even a moment. You don’t have to beat them or anything, just lay down some rules and structure. Your children are not as stupid as you apparently think. They can be trained to be amiable and considerate human beings who can dress themselves, eat with utensils and use the bathroom by themselves. A little early effort will pay off big time in the long run.

There is a type of parent that I secretly think of as “mooching child owners”. They want to enjoy their children much like extremely expensive pets, but they want to pass the social and economic costs of their hobby onto everyone else. They think nothing of exposing everyone to their wild and undisciplined spawn in public places and are astonished that anyone might be annoyed at, say, being pelted with food by the toddler in the next booth at the diner. They send their imps to public schools paid for mainly by others and expect the schools to discipline them. Their unruly children take up a disproportionate amount of teacher time and school resources and may even require specialized attention, the cost of which is foisted upon the community. To add insult to injury, they want tax credits for having reproduced.

I hope that lazy parents are the minority. Otherwise, in my old age I will be ruled by the generation of the semi-feral.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Good News from Iraq

An acquaintance at church, a retired army officer with sons serving in Iraq, informed me that the economy is booming in Iraq and that the situation is not nearly as bad as the media makes it out to be. He thinks more good news should be reported but that reporters inexplicably hole up in their hotels.

What a relief. I reckon now the troops can go out on the town in Baghdad and elsewhere on weekend passes. I expect a bunch of Iraqi war brides will be coming over as soldiers come off of deployments. I wonder if I can book a vacation in Fallujah.

The GOP must be in a celebratory mood, what with all the success in Iraq. I think that the 2008 Republican National Convention should be held in Baghdad just to show how wonderful things have become under the current regime.

The Stormville Goat Thief

Remember how I bragged about how my neighbors minded their own business? It turns out that some of them are a meddlesome lot after all. Someone, I know not whom except that they live on my road, has stolen the postman’s goats. They did this, not because they wanted goats and saw larceny as their best means of realizing their goal, but because they felt that the postman was an unfit goat owner. Now the goats are rumored to be in a veritable goat Eden while the postman is worried sick about his missing pets.

In my view, the goats seemed well fed and friendly, an indicator that they had not been abused, in the postman’s charge. They had the run of some 120 acres and seemed happy enough. Sometimes, they got in the road, but everybody knows to look out for them. But some busybody decided that the postman did not provide adequate shelter. Evidently, the goat thief feels that the shed provided for the goats is too drafty or some such thing.

I plan to let it be known through the postman’s aunt that the goats have been stolen but are safe. Perhaps the postman will report the theft, and they will be recovered. The thief should have the decency at least to give the postman the cash value of the goats, but then again, we are talking about a thief.

I Still Claim to be Postmodern

bkmarcus at lowercase liberty takes issue with my characterization of postmodernism from the other day. He was fairly gentle in his rebuke and seems to acknowledge that, with additional reading, I might come to see where I have erred. He also honored me by naming a new fallacy of which my argument is said to be illustrative: the Tinman Fallacy. One commits that fallacy by falsely claiming that another’s argument is against a straw man.

I still claim to be a postmodernist and feel that postmodernism has a lot to offer even if some people take it to silly extremes. Some of these people are tenured academics who get to misguide undergraduates, and some are former misguided undergraduates who espouse a kind of hyper-relativism. Most people, however, are not too damaged by this mischief making in the academy. I think that the meaning of the term postmodern is still negotiable, and I am unwilling to surrender it to those who would render it meaningless.

I have graduate training in anthropology, a field that has been infected by some of the worst excesses in postmodernist scholarship, and I know what bk is talking about when he argues against these excesses. I also know what it means to have to pander to academics who affect a kind of mystical post-modernity that masks what appears to be intellectual sloth or inadequacy. In my view, these people are creating a niche of utter irrelevancy for themselves. Many of their colleagues regard them as charlatans and parasites, and their extreme position makes it impossible for them to do any work of significance.

I see problematizing postmodernism on the basis of what the most idiotic postmodernists do and say as akin to criticizing libertarianism on the basis of what the so-called “regime libertarians” might write. I want to reclaim the label or rehabilitate it, if need be. The more important argument is not with the postmodern extremists, although they should be called to task and exposed for the emptiness of their work; rather, I find more problematic those who refuse to acknowledge limitations on human reason and knowledge and how they are informed by unexamined assumptions.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ben Shapiro's Real Friends Would Tell Him to Shut Up

Years from now, Ben Shapiro of townhall-dot-something will look back on his writings and cringe. “Good God!” he will cry, “Was I really ever such an idiot? Why didn’t anyone stop me from being such a horse’s ass?”

I am grateful that nobody ever gave me a column when I was a silly young man so bereft of experience of the world and so full of my own significance. I wasn’t as stupid as Ben Shapiro by a long shot, but I bet I would be embarrassed by some of the opinions I held then.

Doesn’t he have friends who can take him aside and tell him what a fool he is making of himself? The image is from Calvin College's collection of Nazi propaganda. The caption says "Silence is Your Duty". Ben Shapiro agrees with this poster.

There Is a Point, After All

Although I despaired yesterday that raising my carpool conspecific’s (CPC) awareness about the evils of the state will make any difference in the world, it appears that he has changed his deeply held views about abortion as a result of his conversion to libertarian views. He still thinks that abortion is immoral and that he is correct in drawing the arbitrary line of when a legally protected person comes into being at implantation of a fertilized egg. However, he now says that he would not support any coercive measure that would impose his view of the matter on anyone else. He says that he is not exactly “pro-choice” but that he would describe himself as “anti-coercion”. He would not condone anyone’s having an abortion, but he certainly wouldn’t forcefully intervene in another person’s decision personally or by proxy.

CPC indicates that this will probably have a big impact on how he votes. The abortion issue will not be decisive as it once was for him, and he may even vote against “pro-life” candidates who advocate coercion. Instead, he thinks that “pro-life” people should concentrate on non-coercive ways to reduce the number of abortions and to provide alternatives.

I was blown away by this revelation. CPC feels very strongly about the issue, but he is able to recognize that the state is not a desirable solution.

On Submission to Authority

When I was a teenager, I attended Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts at the Omni in Atlanta. If I remember correctly (this was last century, after all), the solution to youth conflicts was submission to authority. The idea was pretty simple. God has ordained several types of authority over us: the state, our parents, the church, etc. Our job is to do as we are told and submit to this authority without question. In submitting, we are resolved of all responsibility for any wrongdoing that we commit under orders from authority. The metaphor used as I recall was that we were under the umbrella of authority. If the state tells me to kill someone, I am not a murderer; rather, I am a good and obedient subject untainted by the act. Stepdad wants to rape you? Go ahead and submit; it’s on his head, not yours.

To a point, the advice to mind your folks and obey the law and what not is pretty good. That will reduce conflict in a manner of speaking. Taken too far and too seriously, it is just crazy talk. I knew it even then. Most of my acquaintances who attended with me bought it, though, hook, line and sinker.

Even now, I hear otherwise sensible people say that Romans 13 requires Christians to obey the government, that the government is ordained by God. (JL Wilson links to a great post on how Christian Nazis relied on the passage in support of Hitler Of course, these same folks backpedal considerably when confronted with the state’s requiring them to do anything they regard as blatantly un-Christian. For example, I know one man who justifies lobbing bombs into neighborhoods in Iraq under the “obey the government” mantra, but he draws the line at recognizing state approved civil unions for homosexuals. Gothard was at least consistent in his authoritarianism.

I interpret Romans 13 as referring not to earthly authorities. It does not make any sense at all in the light of the revolutionary message and mission of Jesus to read the passage as an endorsement of the state. St Paul himself was apparently not all that enthusiastic in his allegiance to Rome, since he was executed by the state and did not support the worship of the Emperor, a legal requirement at the time. The Christian martyrs defied the state and generally won their martyrdom at the hands of the state. The protestant reformers defied civil and ecclesiastical authorities in their day.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day

I have never liked Valentine’s Day. It has always seemed so contrived. Back in primary school, I was chastised by the teacher because I addressed all the Valentine cards for my classmates to “Occupant” and placed them in their Valentine box. After all, I thought, everybody was getting one. I was not partial to anyone in the class, and I did not wish to exclude anyone, but I didn’t think there was any point in pretending that I had put a lot of thought into the ritual. In the same class and on the same day, I got in trouble over the handmade card we were assigned to create. I thought that it would make an interesting statement if I used an anatomically correct heart, but my teacher felt that this was offensive and made me destroy my handiwork and put out a more conformist card. That experience merely reinforced my dislike for the observance of Valentine’s Day.

I am grateful that Mrs Vache Folle does observe the day either and that I am forbidden to give her anything today. No candy, no flowers, no jewelry and definitely no Vermont Teddy Bear, on pain of death. What a woman!

Why I Don't Fly the Confederate Battle Flag

I am a Southron. All my ancestors after about 1800 lived south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and the vast majority were in the south decades before then. All my male ancestors who were not too old or too young served as enlisted soldiers in the Confederate military, and they probably thought that they were defending their homeland. Only a few of my ancestral lines owned slaves, and most were yeomen farmers or craftsmen. I am certain that I am not the beneficiary of any legacy attributable to slave ownership by any of my ancestors. In my mind, the Confederate Battle Flag is a symbol of my southern heritage and history.

Nevertheless, I would not dream of displaying a Confederate Battle Flag, especially where I live in the Hudson Valley. To the vast majority of people where I live, the flag symbolizes racism, and displaying the flag is interpreted as a racist gesture. I don’t see it that way personally, but I am obliged to recognize that my neighbors do.

Certainly, the meaning of symbols is negotiable, and I would like to see the Confederate Battle Flag rehabilitated and recognized as a symbol of southern pride rather than racism. This is made difficult by the use of the flag by the KKK and white supremacist groups and in connection with segregationist politics. My claims of a non-racist meaning for the flag are not as credible as they might be if it was not, in fact, employed as a racist emblem by so many other people. Those of us who want to reclaim the flag should denounce its use in racist contexts.

Some years ago in Yosemite, I admired a beautiful Miwok dress decorated in beads with Miwok images. I saw a photo of the same dress from the 1930s, at which time it included a row of swastikas, a symbol of significance to that tribe. Apparently, it was necessary to remove the swastikas during World War II because the Nazis had ruined it. Almost everyone sees the swastika as a Nazi symbol, and it does no good to point out its importance in some other cultures as an inoffensive symbol. Swastikas are still used to communicate hate, anti-Semitism, authoritarianism and the like, and I would be a fool to wear a swastika on my t-shirt and expect anyone to believe that I was simply honoring Miwok traditions, even if I were sincere.

It doesn’t do any good to whine about “political correctness” if I find myself misunderstood when I display a Confederate Battle Flag or a swastika. I am well aware of what these symbols mean to the majority of my neighbors, and it is up to me to explain myself if I seek to use them to communicate anything else. I doubt that either of these symbols will be rehabilitated in my lifetime. It may be better to try to find some other symbols of southern heritage or Miwok traditions that are not tainted by offensive associations.

What was the Point, Again?

I have been corrupting my car pool conspecific for close to two years now, and he is starting to question the state at long last. Lately, I have been tuning in on the morning commute to Rachel Maddow on Air America, and he is soaking up her revelations about the corruption of the US government and the Bush Crime Family. Today, some news really hit home for him. While Katrina survivors are being put out on the streets, Congress is approving a $7 billion + item of corporate welfare for Big Oil. Big Oil gets to pump on federal lands royalty free!

My carpool conspecific is parsimonious. He has to be, what with three mewling children and a stay at home wife. And energy costs are busting his budget, on both the heating oil and gasoline fronts. He asked me this morning why the news about the oil giveaway was not being shouted from the mountaintops, why people like him didn’t raise holy hell with their elected officials. Finally, he answered his own question, “We’re idiots.”

My car pool conspecific is not an idiot in the dictionary meaning of the word. He has a college degree and is a professional in a challenging technical field. His IQ is certainly well above average. But if it weren’t for me, he would never listen to Air America. He doesn’t read anything but technical stuff, and he doesn’t follow the news at all. He doesn’t read the paper or follow blogs or anything. He is fortunate that he gets his news from me at least, and I have turned him into a doubter from a complacent member of the herd. Nonetheless, he is still as uncurious as ever and extremely vulnerable to misinformation and manipulation. In that sense, he and millions like him are idiots and will always be duped.

This situation is not apt to change any time soon. Like many folks, Carpool Conspecific is out of the house and busy at work most of the day with working hours and commuting taking up more than 50% of his time. When he gets home, he is not yet at “leisure” as he must attend to his offspring’s hygiene, feeding and bedtime requirements. On weekends, he has to attend to all the chores and errands he could not do during the week. When he gets a chance to breathe, he is not likely to want to spend it boning up on current events. He knows he is powerless to do anything about them, so is it not better to be in the dark as much as possible?

I’m not sure that I have done him any favors by disillusioning him about the benevolent state.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Whaddaya Mean "We", Paleface?

Freeman has a good post about the fallacy of the “ambiguous collective” , i.e. when folks refer to an undefined antecedentless pronoun like “we” or “they” in an argument, sometimes in order to effect a conflation of the state and society. An example might be a reference to “our forces”, “our interests” when discussing some governmental activity. I sometimes have been guilty of sloppiness in this regard myself, although I hope that I have not inadvertently reinforced any statist memes thereby. Consider my consciousness raised on this point.

We (me and some other people who might have had the same experience as me) are often called out on the use of the undefined “They”, as in “They have found a cure for something or other” or “They are at it again”. Perhaps we (me and everyone else who may wish to problematize statist memes) ought to call foul on the ambiguous collective fallacy whenever we (the same guys as before) encounter it.

Even Competitive Negotiations Can Benefit from Collaboration

Often when I speak to other lawyers about alternative dispute resolution, they point out that many of the disputes with which they deal are inherently competitive, i.e. they are “zero sum”, “win-lose” situations. I am not ready to concede that the disputes are inherently competitive as they claim, but I do recognize that by the time lawyers get involved they have frequently become competitive and that any relational aspect that they may have had may be beyond salvage. Moreover, lawyers, if they are trained at all, are trained in competitive negotiation, so every situation looks competitive to them. (This is an example of the phenomenon illustrated by the old saying that if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.)

How can you make competitive negotiation something more than a game of bluff and bluster? I can’t tell you how many times I have gone into negotiations expecting an argument, like the character in the famous Monte Python sketch, and end up in a series of pointless contradictions. This leads almost inevitably to a speedy impasse.

One good away out of the dilemma, assuming that someone on the other side has any skills at all, is to put numbers aside and to start talking about “principles”. Even a purely competitive negotiation can become somewhat collaborative with respect to the “process” by which it will be settled. After all, the parties have a mutual interest in reaching a compromise and keeping transaction costs down and should be receptive to working on how to bring this about. The immediate issue becomes “what principles will we employ to arrive at a number?”

Each party has some basis for its offer or demand, and the process will be advanced if time is devoted to listening to and understanding where the parties are coming from. The opening salvo is usually based on the expectation that the negotiation will consist of trading concessions back and forth off of some arbitrary numbers; therefore, the demand is always exaggerated and the offer low-balled. Put these numbers out of your mind and focus on principles, and you may have a chance to get to something relatively quickly that the parties can live with as “fair”. In any event, even if you don’t settle, you will have set the stage for future discussions, something that trading naked numbers will not accomplish.

If I were cynical (and I am), I might suspect that one of the reasons that lawyers favor competitive negotiation techniques is precisely because they so often do not work. Lawyers stand to gain from extended controversy and settlement on the eve of trial or while the jury is out. By then, they have earned gobs of fees.

On an Uninformed Electorate, Pit Bull Profiling and Negligent Shooting

Another good article from JL Wilson contains good advice:

“I'm not saying that we should therefore give up on our goals or ideals, only that we should keep our eyes wide open. Don't assume the next election will be clean, and don't assume that your favorite candidate will do what he promised once he's in office. And think twice before you place that next bet.”

Unfortunately, a lot of folks I know won’t be in a position to heed it. I know quite a few folks who read nothing but their local paper, Sports Illustrated or Field and Stream, and old issues of People at the dentist’s office. They don’t read blogs, good magazines, or books. They watch the local news, mainly for the weather and sports scores. They listen to sports talk on the radio or to a drive time fluff show. They may watch CNN or Fox if there is some big disaster or something, but they are not regular consumers of news. They are blissfully uninformed about the world and what the politicians are up to. Sadly, the next level up from “uninformed” is “misinformed”, eg cable news viewers.

In last week’s New Yorker (link already supplanted by this week, and I can’t figure out how to access the archive), Malcolm Gladwell had an interesting piece on racial profiling in which he uses pit bull bans as illustrations of ineffective uses of generalizations. While people are sometimes attacked by pit bulls, Gladwell points out that the breed is not the stable factor in predicting dog attacks; rather, aspects of the treatment of particular dogs by their owners permits prediction. If you ban pit bulls, bad dog owners will just turn to other breeds. Racial and ethnic profiling are similarly fallacious in that any perceived connection between behavior and ethnic or racial category is usually unstable and, therefore, an unreliable basis for policing.

In the Gladwell article, a representative of the ASPCA points out that just about every breed has at one time or another killed a human being, except for beagles and basset hounds. Beagle and basset owners will be quick to point out that their dogs administer a slow death by aggravation over many years.

If Dick Cheney were a real man he would own up to his mistake in wounding his shooting companion. Mary Matalin claims that the VP “didn’t do anything he wasn’t supposed to do”. Except for shooting a guy, Mary. The VP’s mistake is understandable. It can happen to any inexperienced shooter, especially if drugs or alcohol are involved. He’s not really a hunter and is mainly experienced in shooting captive animals released in his vicinity. He missed military training with its emphasis on weapon safety, and he is by all accounts a fairly inconsiderate person. He was a shooting accident waiting to happen. Unless his victim hurled himself into the trajectory of Cheney’s shot, Cheney is at fault. Every hunter and shooter in America will know at once that Cheney is a poseur and a jackass.

Friday, February 10, 2006

I Don't Believe Bush's Story about a Foiled Attack on LA

When I heard Bush was claiming that his regime had foiled a WTC type attack in LA back in ’02, it didn’t ring true. My BS detectors started going off like crazy. In an election year, the regime wouldn’t have been jumping up and down and bragging about this feat? Bringing it up now seems a little too convenient, and the story itself is fishy- supposedly the plotters planned to use shoe bombs to force open the cockpit door!

Atrios points out that an attack on the LA building Bush referred to had been considered as part of the WTC plot but that Osama had decided to scale back the operation to just 4 planes. This was documented by the 911 Commission. Maybe Bush thinks he should get credit for retroactively causing Osama bin Laden to curb his destructive ambitions back in 1999.

No Anti-Muslim Cartoons on this Blog

I have decided not to publish the anti-Muslim cartoons that have been in the news lately. Actually, it never occurred to me to publish them in the first place. It’s not that I am insufficiently committed to free speech; it’s just that I can’t think of any useful or appropriate purpose to publish them. My imaginary readership is sophisticated enough to find and view the offending cartoons if they wish, and they certainly don’t come here for news.

I don’t know enough about Islam to judge intelligently the degree of offensiveness of the cartoons. I am also not arrogant enough to believe that I have a right to tell other people when they ought to take offense. Presumably, a number of people were sufficiently offended that they reacted violently.

I condemn the violence, of course. I can’t work up hatred for Muslims, however, nor am I willing to attribute the violence to some aspect of Islam, especially since I don’t know much about the religion. I suspect that there are a number of disparate interpretations and strains of Islam and that it has different meanings to differently situated people. Some of them may find justifications for violence in the religion, but that does not mean that the religion is inherently violent. After all, the vast majority of Muslims have not engaged in violence.

Imagine if I took the teachings of various warmongering televangelists and extrapolated from them that Christianity was a religion of war. If I note that the men who dropped atom bombs on Japan were almost all Christians, does this entitle me to conclude that Christianity is a religion of mass murder?

Imagine how Christians must seem to people in the Muslim world. Our government bombs neighborhoods in Baghdad and elsewhere and shrugs off tens of thousands of civilian dead as “collateral damage”. Our right wing media spews out anti-Muslim venom. Our government picks up Muslim people in sweeps and imprisons and tortures them. It must be hard for them to see how superior Christianity is when we are so un-Christ-like.

Asbestos Reform Season

It’s that time of year again. Asbestos Reform is right around the corner. Congress is really going to tackle the issue this time. Right?

The only reasons that I might suspect that the asbestos reform legislation has a chance this year are that the need for the bill has been largely mooted by state tort reform and other factors and that the bill being discussed is a disaster. I oppose the reform for a number of reasons:

What will happen to my phoney baloney job if asbestos litigation goes away for a while?

  1. I believe that tort law is a matter for the states and that the federal government has no authority to regulate it.
  2. The current favored proposal sets up a trust fund for victims paid for by industry and insurers, but the amount of funding is not nearly adequate to pay the benefits called for. The trust scheme will fail.
  3. The mess will likely end up back in the courts several years from now, and nobody’s insurance assets will be around to cover claims.
  4. Congress may decide to socialize the whole mess and let taxpayers foot the bill. This would be corporate welfare plain and simple.
  5. The favored scheme provides for benefits to categories of people who are not currently able to make cases in court and who don’t really have good claims.
  6. The problem of huge numbers of non-impaired nuisance claimants has been all but solved by the states such that asbestos liability should become more predictable and track epidemiological models. We don’t really need the reform any longer.

The wisest course for Congress is to table the bill and then to dangle it as contribution bait next year. They can ride this thing for at least another election or two. If they pass a bill, the funds dry up.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Nobel Peace Prize Nominations

I am hoping to finalize my nominations for the Nobel Peace prize by the end of the month. I will be accepting applications from would be nominees until February 24 when I will be heading off to Jamaica to consider which three of them are nomination-worthy. Rum based beverages and steel drums really focus the mind. I am limiting myself to three nominees so as to enhance the prestige associated with a nomination by Vache Folle. Eventually, I hope that my nominations will be more sought after than the prize itself, what with the filthy prize money attached to it and all.

Your application should include your name and a brief (100 words or less) explanation as to why you think you deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. I don't have the resources to verify your contentions, so we rely entirely on the honor system.

While we do not accept bribes, we do accept gifts and consider a generous nature to be a good thing in a nominee. Please submit your applications in the comment section of this post.

John McCain, Wanker

John McCain comes off as a major wanker in this exchange of letters with Barack Obama:

Witch Hunt in Lodi?

I have been following the case of two Pakistani men, father and son, in Lodi, California who have been charged with making false statements to the FBI. The media often call these “terror related charges”, but the government is apparently not prosecuting charges of terrorist activities. The government alleges that the son attended an Al Qaeda training camp in the capital of Pakistan and then falsely denied this to the FBI. The father is charged with denying that his son attended the camp. Pakistan denies that there are Al Qaeda training camps in or around its capital. Experts agree that the scenario laid out by the FBI is unlikely.

Why wouldn’t the government charge the son with the underlying offense, assuming that attendance of the facility in question violates US law? Does US ally Pakistan tolerate terror training camps right under the nose of its security forces?

This case smacks of a witch hunt.

Dispute Resolution Need Not be Disempowering

I attended a graduate seminar a few years ago at Columbia in designing conflict management/dispute resolution systems. I was pleased that system design would be based on information gathered from its beneficiaries in field research and focus groups, and I reckoned that systems wherein the beneficiaries played the greatest role in informing them would be most successful. Then, the instructor, a highly regarded expert with the federal government, announced that our clients knew only what they “wanted” and that it was up to us to tell them what they “needed”.

This really rubbed me the wrong way. Sure, I expected to be able to add value to the process, but I didn’t expect to impose my views on the clients under the color of authority as an “expert”. Where I come from, “want” and “need” are almost synonymous. We might say things like “the lawn wants mowing”, “that bast**d wants killing”, “nothing else is wanted”, “waste not-want not” and such like. We might use “need” in much the same way.

Each of us, unless we are infants or otherwise incompetent, is the best judge of what we want or need. It is arrogant to suggest that one knows the needs of another better than that person. As an expert, I might suggest that some needs might take precedence over others, that some cannot be fulfilled under the circumstances, or that expressed needs are themselves in conflict; however, I ought not to privilege my own assessment of an individual’s needs over theirs.

This de-legitimization of the avowed needs of clients happens often in conflict management and dispute resolution. Courts, by their nature as coercive instruments, disempower the litigants before them and impose official “justice” on their circumstances. And what passes for mediation much of the time is little more than a preview of what the court might do, ie the mediator looks for a resolution that reflects the likely outcomes in court. Even facilitators and more creative mediators tend to impose their own values into negotiations. I continue to hope that there is a place for collaborative and creative conflict management and dispute resolution processes that are empowering and transforming and a real alternative to both coercion and the tyranny of the expert.

The rub is to find a way to connect disputants with people who are skilled in transformative and empowering mediation. Pastors might be good candidates for training. Marriage counselors and divorce mediators trained in such methods could prove effective. Lawyers, in principle, might be trainable, but for the most part lawyers are selected for combativeness, arrogance, and narrowness of perspective. Moreover, they are part of the coercive court system and used to imposing legal categories on clients’ concerns.

Perhaps, the real issue is how to establish transformative and empowering mediation as an occupation that attracts paying clients and provides the mediator with a decent living. The services of such mediators might be attractive since: (a) disputants could avoid legal fees and the high costs of making cases in court; (b) disputants who value certain relationships (disputes with important customers or vendors) might resolve their disputes while preserving and strengthening those relationships; (c) disputants could maintain privacy as no public record of the proceedings would be maintained; (d) the process would serve as a model for the disputants in future interactions and improve communications between them; and (e) disputants could resolve issues based on their own notions of justice and fairness without regard to the state.

A big problem is that the coercive system trumps collaboration in several ways: (a) all parties have to agree to the process and it will be undermined if any of them goes to court; (b) the coercive system and competitive negotiation are all that many people know; (c) if it is necessary to have a negotiated outcome memorialized in a court order (eg a divorce settlement) the outcome may be sabotaged by the lawyers who become involved; and (d) the disputants’ constituencies may undermine the process and urge coercion. Of course, a major benefit of transformative mediation is that the disputants may learn from the process even if the dispute is not resolved.

I reckon that the most likely place for such mediation to take hold is in business where disputants have ongoing relationships and where players are motivated to avoid irrationally escalating disputes. For example, in a long term construction environment, lots of different players have to collaborate over a long period of time, and lots of disputes will arise. If these can be mediated in ways that acknowledge the needs and goals of the parties and model ongoing collaboration, this adds value.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Some Politics

Digby points to statements by Iowa Governor Vilsack to the effect that Democrats should be careful how they attack the President’s illegal domestic spying:

We can take safely Vilsack off the list of possible next presidents if he all he cares about is process.

Harboring hopes that the Senate Judiciary Committee might do the right thing and find that the President violated FISA? Look at the composition of the committee:

Which two of the Republicans on this list do you reckon will take principled stands? I don’t see it. If anyone, I would go with Specter and Graham, but it would be a major surprise.

Steve Gilliard reports that Rove is putting the squeeze on these Republican committee members and threatening to hold back White House support in the mid-term elections:

Or is Rove threatening that the President will campaign FOR the Senator if he defects from the party line?

Happy "39th" Birthday to Me

Today is my “39th birthday”. It is hard having a birthday so close to Groundhog Day. Everybody wants to put a candle on one side of the Groundhog Cake and call it your birthday cake. You get a Groundhog/birthday gift. The birthday is just an afterthought, which is understandable what with all the hurly burly of Groundhog Day preparations and taking down the decorations afterwards.

Birthdays don’t mean much nowadays. It used to be that you could look forward to some changes in your life. At 16, I could drive. At 18, I could drink and drive. At 21, I could drink hard liquor in every state. At 25, I could rent a car and get reasonable auto insurance. At 30, I could qualify for the Senate. At 35, I could be President. It gets crappier and crappier. What are the next milestones? Eligibility for AARP, more frequent colonoscopies, senior citizen discounts at movies, free admission to National Parks, eligibility for social security, recognition by Willard Scott. Wheeee!

Wherein I Claim to be Multiculural

I am a multiculturalist. I embrace diversity. As a lover of freedom, I can’t have it any other way.

If people are free to pursue happiness as they see fit, they will doubtless follow different paths and come up with different results. No two of us are alike. At some point the differences between any two people might add up to what one might consider different “cultures”. This point is arbitrary, and the line will be drawn differently by different people depending on what they are trying to accomplish and whether they want to exclude or include. If you want to look for it, you can always find more in common with another human being than differences. If you want to distance yourself from another person, you can always highlight and privilege some difference.

I aim to love my neighbors whether or not they embrace all my religion, heritage, traditions or values. I wish them all the best in the practice and celebration of their own faith, heritage, traditions and values, and I hope that I can learn from them.

The only thing I do not tolerate is aggression.

Wherein I Claim to be Postmodern

I’m postmodern. I used to be pre-modern, then I flirted with modernity, and now I am past it. Does that mean that I deny the existence of external reality independent of my perceptions? Or that I hold that all moral propositions are equally valid? Of course not. That is the straw man postmodernism that folks like to rail against. Sure, some college sophomores understand pomo this way for a while, but they eventually come down from whatever they have been smoking and figure out that pomo is not the nihilistic dead end that they thought it was.

What I mean by postmodern is that I acknowledge that, while there is doubtless an objective reality independent of my observing it, my sensory inputs and reasoning capacity are limited. Nature has endowed me with just enough access to reality to permit me to survive and reproduce (joke’s on Nature since I don’t have kids). I have no good reason to believe that the deliverances of my senses and the cognitive modules by which I process them actually approximate reality. Any model of reality that did more than necessary for survival would be a waste of resources.

It follows that I cannot trust the deliverances of my senses and my human reason to render infallible judgments about the world. It also follows that my perceptions and human reasoning may be prejudiced and want examining. In my postmodernism, the world exists; I just don’t have the ideal instruments for accessing the essence of it.

I also acknowledge that my thinking and perceptions are colored by the social order and web of power relations through which I must navigate. Conventional wisdom, common sense, unquestioned norms, “Western culture” all constrain me, and all of these want examining and deconstructing. This does not mean that I reject all of these out of hand; I just don’t want to have anything put over on me without critical analysis if I can help it. I want to know what memes are working on me and how they operate. There are other ideas out there, other traditions, and I am keen to know about them and have the freedom to adopt them if I wish.

I acknowledge that all normative propositions ultimately rest on metaphysical assumptions that are not susceptible of proof. My most profound religious beliefs and moral values rest on such assumptions, and I will never be able to demonstrate through reason that these are correct or desirable. I am an agnostic Christian. I believe, but I know that my belief is a gift from God, not the product of reason. I recognize that other people are seekers as well and that their searches may lead them to other religions and other moral values. This doesn’t mean that I reject my own beliefs.

Americans are not the only Humans

Anti-War quotes the loathsome John Derbyshire’s bragging that he was not moved by the deaths of Egyptians in the loss of the Red Sea ferry: I presume that Derbyshire is a nihilist and that he has no pretensions to Christianity.

Unfortunately, Derbyshire is not alone in considering people who live far away as inhuman, especially if they are members of a different ethnic category or religion. We Americans don’t count the Iraqi or Afghan dead or displaced. We count only human casualties, i.e. Americans.

Last night, I caught part of a documentary “Terror’s Children” on Discovery Time. The film followed the lives of a number of Afghan children and their families in a refugee camp in Pakistan. They were very human. These children work, sometimes more than one job, to help their desperately poor families, and they have little hope for the future. Their lives are hard and have been made harder by US foreign adventurism, and it would not be surprising if these children grew up hating America. It would be surprising if they did not.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Wherein I Claim to be Multi-Racial

I am multi-racial. Whenever I get to check off racial categories on forms, especially government forms, I check all that apply. The census bureau defines the various categories for its purposes here:

Of course, the census data comes from self-identification nowadays. You are what you say you are.

I fit into several categories:

I am “White” because I have some “origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa. “ I am mostly Scots-Irish, German and English, so I definitely qualify for this one.

I am “African American” because I have “origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.” I haven’t found any slaves in the family tree yet, but I ascribe to the “Out of Africa” theory of the origins and migration of modern humans. Accordingly, my ancestors arose in Africa over 75,000 years ago and migrated into Yemen at some point. They were almost certainly dark skinned, given the climate, so I qualify for this category.

I am “American Indian” as I have “origins in any of the original peoples of North America”. I am affiliated with a tribe consisting of my family. I call the tribe the Varnell Cherokees. I am attached to this community. That’s how I qualify for this category. My degree of Cherokee ancestry is actually much smaller than I was led to believe as a child, and our pride in this heritage is disproportionate to the genetic material we carry.

I am “Asian” since my Cherokee ancestors’ ancestors are believed to have crossed the Bering Land Bridge some 10,000 rears ago or so. Accordingly, my ancestors were among the “original” inhabitants of Asia. Also, a number of my European ancestors’ ancestors may have sojourned in Central Asia before settling Europe.

I have not yet cracked the “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander” category.

Oh, and I have remote ancestors from Spain as recently as the 13th Century, and I reckon that this makes me Hispanic.

A Random Thought on Biblical Metaphors

Metaphors are tools. When you use a metaphor, you do so to illustrate a point, and not to assert that an actual similarity or identity obtains between the concepts or items which are being compared. If Jesus says that He is a door, He is trying to make a particular point about Himself. He does not mean that He is, in fact, a door or that He has all the characteristics of a door. You can go too far and start going off on how Jesus must also have a knob or a lock or a peephole since He said He was a door. You can talk about how doors can be open or shut, locked or unlocked, and so on and completely miss the point of the original metaphor by being so caught up in a literalist reading.

The same goes for other metaphors used to talk about God. In some cases, it may be useful to speak of spiritual warfare, as when Paul exhorts us to put on the armor of God. This does not mean that our spiritual life is, in fact, a war or that it even has many of the characteristics of war. Rather, in some way that makes sense in the context of Paul’s letter, spirituality and war have some similarity that can be exploited for Paul’s immediate literary purposes.

And when we say that God is our Father, we do not mean that he is our biological or legal father. Rather, we mean that the relationship in which we stand to God has some similarity to that of father and child such that it is useful to use this terminology for a literary purpose. It does not make sense to take the metaphor beyond what the writer or speaker intended. Saying God is our Father does not mean that God is male or masculine or limited by any such earthly categories. We might just as easily have good literary reasons to speak of God as our Mother.

Misuses of the Concept of Culture

Some Muslims have had a violent reaction to some cartoons published in a Danish newspaper. This has led some to remark that Muslim “culture” is dangerous and a threat to the West.

“Culture” is a social scientific concept which is useful for some purposes. In the hands of lay people, it can be used as rationalization for hatred of people in certain ethnic categories. All you have to do is attribute some unpleasant action taken by a small minority within the ethnic category and attribute it to a “culture” which infects members of the category. A minute proportion of Muslims has rioted or committed violent acts in response to the Danish cartoons; therefore, it is possible to implicate all Muslims in the violence, even if they were not involved, because their “culture” is to blame. The non-participating Muslims have the same “culture”. Ergo, they are just as dangerous and blameworthy as the rioters. QED. This is collectivist thinking at work.

I could play the same game with people in categories of which I disapprove. Pat Robertson says idiotic and hateful things. Pat Robertson is a televangelist. Ergo, televangelists have a culture of idiocy and hatefulness that renders them all dangerous. Some murderous thug blew up an abortion clinic and killed a nurse. He was anti-abortion. Ergo, anti-abortionists have a culture of murderousness. A maniac whacked people with a hatchet in a gay bar. He was anti-gay. Ergo, anti-gay people have a culture of mayhem. Some yahoos burned down a black church. They were racialists. Ergo, anyone who acknowledges race has a culture of arson.

Best Puppy Bowl Ever

I did not watch the Super Bowl. Instead, I spent a considerable amount of time watching Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl II” in which a bunch of puppies are allowed to gambol in an enclosure made up to look like a football field. I was pulling for the beagle, but he was too distracted by the camera to make much of an impact on the field. The halftime show featured kittens.

Friday, February 03, 2006

More Presidential Prognostications

In my election prediction post from yesterday, an anonymous commenter suggested former Governor Warner of Virginia, a Democrat. He fits all the criteria I mentioned- Governor experience, white, male, born 1954, Ivy League law degree, southerner. I don't know his religion, but he is probably Protestant. Better yet, he ran for Senate and lost, so he doesn't have the Senatorial taint I wrote about.

He seems like a credible candidate. I like that he failed in business twice before succeeding (he was a founder of Nextel) and that he didn't want to practice law even though he had a law degree. I don't know his positions on anything, but he has the right characteristics.

Commerce in Space

Battlepanda posted this story about Russian plans to mine the moon:

This is an exciting prospect. I think humans need to colonize space and I have been hoping that commercial opportunities would be discovered. Once there are mines on the moon, you will need all kinds of other businesses to support the operations and provide services and diversions for the miners.

I have a fantasy that when I am retired, Mrs Vache Folle and I will take a second honeymoon to an all-inclusive resort on the moon. It will be like Vegas but with low gravity. Lots of low gravity sports might be featured. Imagine what Cirque de Soleil could do in lunar gravity. People would pay plenty, I reckon, for such a vacation.

Even trips into Earth orbit would likely be a big seller. I imagine a Cunard orbiting cruise.

I have previously suggested that space would be ideal for nursing homes. Elderly folks with impaired mobility might find weightlessness or lunar gravity a boon.

There are bound to be manufacturing processes that zero gravity would facilitate, and the exploitation of minerals could drive a lot of exploration into the asteroid belt and beyond.

The Return of Arthur Silber

Arthur Silber is one of the best and most thoughtful writers in the blogosphere, and I am happy that his recent bout of despair appears to be over and he is writing up a storm at his blog Once Upon a Time ( ).

The GOP Hates Freedom

Freedom Democrats has an interesting graphic display of where the two major parties’ legislators fall on the political map
Except for one outlier, presumably Ron Paul, the GOPers cluster in the Authoritarian region with some Right Conservative guys, while the Democrats mainly inhabit the Centrist, Left Liberal, and even Libertarian neighborhoods.

It seems to me that it would be a lot easier for freedom loving folks to move the Democrats toward the Libertarian area than to drag the GOPers from their gated community in Authoritarian Acres. The GOP hates freedom. The religious right hates freedom. A lot of their duped followers are scared of freedom.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Presidential Prognostications for 2008

In the last fifty years, Americans have chosen their presidents from the following categories:

General Officer
Vice President or former Vice President
Incumbent President
Governor or former Governor

In fact, you have to go all the way back to Herbert Hoover, elected in 1928, to find a president not from one of these categories. Hoover’s highest office had been Secretary of Commerce. I predict that the winner of the 2008 presidential race will fall into one of the categories.

I further predict that no general officer will be elected. The last time was the re-election of Eisenhower in 1956. They don’t make Supreme Commanders like Ike anymore. Moreover, no Senator will be elected. The last time was Kennedy in a squeaker in 1960. Since then, Senators have had to rub the stink of the Senate off of them by serving as Vice President before being electable as President.

Let’s look at the eleven most recent elections by category of candidate:

Year Republican Democrat Winner

2004 Incumbent Senator Incumbent*
2000 Governor VP Governor*
1996 Senator Incumbent Incumbent
1992 Incumbent Governor Governor
1988 VP Governor VP
1984 Incumbent ex VP Incumbent
1980 Governor Incumbent Governor
1976 Incumbent Governor Governor
1972 Incumbent Senator Incumbent
1968 ex VP VP ex VP
1964 Senator Incumbent Incumbent*

* probable fraudulent result (UPDATE: except for 1964 in which case the asterisk is a flub.)

The Senator candidate always loses. Moreover, the VPs who lost in 2000, 1984 and 1968 were all former Senators. (The winner in 1968 was also a former Senator but we now see where that led us.) Senate service seems to be the kiss of death for a candidate. Accordingly, the parties should not nominate Senators if they want to win the election. Five of six elections involving a governor, the governor won. Dukakis was the only governor to be defeated, and that was in the 1988 Battle of Charisma.

I predict, therefore, that the next President, assuming that an election is actually held in 2008, will be someone who has been a Governor or Vice President.

Dick Cheney is out of the question for the GOP because of poor health and excessive evil, and Dan Quayle has not been adequately repackaged, so the Republicans will have to dredge up a Governor, preferably one that is not too overtly insane.

The Democrats have Al Gore who would be a credible candidate. Mondale is too old and too long out of the game. Otherwise they will need a governor. Corzine won’t do because (a) he is bald, (b) he has facial hair, and (c) it would be too soon to cleanse him of his Senatiness.

Also, you have to be southern (Johnson, Carter, Clinton), western (Nixon, Reagan) or fake southern (Bush, Bush). The only northern President since Kennedy was Ford, and he was never elected. So, it will have to be a governor from south of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers or west of the Mississippi River.

Finally, the winning candidate will be male, Protestant, and of European descent. He will have been born between 1938 and 1954. He will have a college education and probably a law degree, one of which will be from an Ivy League or equivalent school.

The Official Groundhog Day Feast

I have decreed that the official Groundhog Day meal will consist of a meat pie. This dish is fitting because a hearty meat pie is just the thing for the depth of winter, and it is dissimilar to the dishes eaten at other holidays. Also, we recently hit upon a meat pie recipe that is pretty good, the leftovers of which I will feast upon this very evening.

You will need 2 deep-dish pie crusts. We used Marie Callender brand, but I suppose any crust will do. Homemade crust would be best of all, but who has time for that? Put the crusts out to thaw while you prepare the filling.

Sautee some mushrooms and onions in olive oil. Use as much or as little as you like, and cut them as finely or coarsely as you like. When these are done, add a pound or two of ground meat and fry it up. We used ground beef, 80% lean, but I reckon any ground up animal would work (no groundhogs, though). Add a can of cream soup. We used cream of mushroom as we had it to hand, but cream of celery or cheddar cheese soup might be good, too. Season the meat mixture to taste. We didn’t put any spices in this time, but we may experiment in the future with chipotle or chili powder or some curries. Bell peppers might be good, but we didn’t have any.

Pour the meat mixture into one of the pie shells. Take the second shell and put it over the top and seal up the crust by pinching them together along the edges. Cut some slits into top crust to allow steam to escape. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. We intended to bake the pie for about 30 minutes but forgot about it. The hour worked out and left us with a solid crust and firm filling.

The pie is even better as leftovers after it has sit in the fridge for a day or so, so you can make it ahead of time (all important what with all the last minute Groundhog Day preparations). It takes a minute and a half on high to nuke a slice. We recommend a pinot noir or a lager to go with it. And a salad wouldn’t hurt.

Happy Groundhog Day!

UPDATE: Iceberg suggests that the official meat should be ground hog, i.e. pork. I hereby decree what he said.

I Love Pit Bulls

When Steve Sailer takes a break from pointing out unpleasant things about brown and black people, he trashes dog breeds that are popular with some brown and black people. My best friend is a pit bull, and he is by far the most amiable and least aggressive dog on the face of the earth. I have known a number of pit bulls, none of whom have been aggressive to people. But my friend scares some people because of the bad press and misinformation about his breed. Also, because of this misinformation, his breed is popular with some real jackasses who actually try to provoke their dogs into viciousness.

Let’s consider some factors that lead to the dissemination of myths about pit bulls:

1. The dogs have been misidentified on some occasions. I am personally familiar with some dog attacks where the media claimed the dog was a pit bull when it was actually some other breed altogether. There are a lot of mongrel dogs, and it is not always easy to tell just what breeds they have in their ancestry. In common parlance, such dogs are often called “beagle mixes” if they have hound characteristics, “shepherd mixes” if they are shaped somewhat like an Alsatian, and “terrier mixes” otherwise.

2. Pit bulls are popular with the dog fighting set because of their physical characteristics, especially their strength and tenacity. And because of their reputation for ferocity, they are popular with gangsters as guard dogs. However, it takes a regimen of training and outright abuse to turn a pit bull into a fighting dog, and most of them don’t make the cut. The pit bulls in animal shelters are often those specimens who were just too friendly to make it as fighters or gangster dogs. They get abandoned by their owners.

3. Because pit bulls are popular with the lower social orders, they sometimes have irresponsible owners who allow them to roam neighborhoods in a semi-feral state. This is a recipe for disaster with any large breed.

Frankly, in my experience the most vicious and aggressive dogs are lap dog breeds. Of course, they can’t do much harm, so people think it is cute when a silky terrier tries to maul them. Larger dog breeds, including pit bulls, have not been systematically bred for viciousness, since such animals would be too dangerous to be tolerated outside the small sub-culture of dog fight enthusiasts. Quite the contrary, larger breeds have been bred to retain puppy behaviors and curiosity so that they will be more controllable and malleable.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Kudos to Bush on the Manimal Threat

In all fairness to GW Bush, he has been way out in front on one of the problems that he mentioned in his speech yesterday. During his administration, we have not been overrun by human-animal hybrids.

The Only Unnatural Acts Are Those Which Cannnot Physically Be Performed

In the Bible Belt where I grew up, just about everything was a sin. Any kind of sex or human contact was sinful. The only human contact not a sin was (a) a firm handshake, and (b) occasional missionary position intercourse between husband and wife, provided that neither party took any pleasure in it and they apologized to one another right away. All earthly pleasure was sin.

I take a different view on sin nowadays. I work off the Golden Rule and the commandment to love God and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. If someone’s activity does not implicate either love of God or love of others, I don’t reckon that it is a sin. Even if it is a sin, I don’t reckon it is any of my business, and it is not my job to go around condemning people for “sins” that don’t affect anyone but the “sinners”. To me, whatever folks consensually do to one another in the privacy of their homes is probably not a sin and is definitely none of my business. It would not be very loving for me to try to impose my views on such private matters on others.

In church, for instance, some of my fellow parishioners live in households with other people, many in state sanctioned marriages. They might touch one another and take pleasure in it. Good for them, say I. They might even engage in sexual activities that I myself would not enjoy and that I would be uncomfortable with. Maybe, the husband is a leather slave or some such thing. It wouldn’t be very loving of me to reject them because I don’t condone the way they play with each other, assuming that I would even know about it. I probably wouldn’t know, but the possibility exists that my friends have some exotic preferences, and it would be uncharitable for me to go around condemning sexual behaviors even in a hypothetical way. Loving my neighbors means wanting them to have all the joy and pleasure they can get. I sincerely hope that people can enjoy sex without all the guilt and baggage that I was loaded up with.

God made human contact pleasurable, presumably so that we might take pleasure in it, not as a cruel temptation. No act of non-violent physical contact, in and of itself, is sinful. The context in which the contact takes place may render it sinful, as in a situation in which it is not entirely consensual. One might be addicted to sex and suffer in other areas of life as a consequence. One’s marriage might be harmed by sexual infidelity. Making a pass at a friend’s wife might be unwelcome and uncharitable.

Those folks who like to go around declaring that "God hates fags" are, in my view, terribly misguided. If there were no gays, do you suppose that they would go around declaring that "God hates anything but the missionary position"? They would have to find someone's business to mind, since they clearly cannot mind their own.

Soylent Green is NOT People After All

It turns out that the "Soylent Green is People" meme that had been going around was an urban myth. The FDA tested samples provided by the manufacturer and determined that they were 100% people free. I confess that I almost went off Soylent Green for a while there when I first heard about the people content. I am so grateful for the FDA.