Friday, March 31, 2006

Climates Change All the Time, so Why Worry

I am pretty sure that global warming is real and that this is going to have some serious consequences such as shutting down the ocean conveyor and putting Europe into an ice age. Also, sea levels will rise for a time. None of this is likely to hit real hard in my lifetime, and I don’t have children whose future might concern me. So bring on the catastrophe! There’s nothing that can be done to avert it anyway. Silly environmentalists.

If global climate change gives you lemons, make lemonade! Try to see the freezing of Europe as a business opportunity, not a disaster. Think of all the blankets, parkas, and insulation that will be sold. Of course, there won’t be any French wine, but Mexican wine will probably pick up the slack.

Also, once the rain forests of Central America die off in the permanent drought to come, think of all the retirement homes that can be erected in the new deserts there. Sure, we’ll lose a lot of monkeys and colorful birds, but Gila Monsters will flourish on an unprecedented scale. Species die out all the time. Heck, humans might die out, but that just leaves room for some other species to take over, so it all works out in the end.

Rising sea levels? Don’t worry; it just means the beaches will have moved. Some folks will lose, but others will win when their property becomes beachfront. Geography changes all the time. Plate tectonics will eventually move whole continents, and nobody’s talking about mitigating the impacts of plate tectonics, are they?

It’s economics, pure and simple, that will save the day. When the earth is almost all used up and it becomes too expensive for humans to live on earth, then it will become profitable to find other planets. Not to worry as long as the old invisible hand is pulling the strings.

Am I ready for Mises?

Detroit Prosecutor of "Sleeper Cell" Target of Grand Jury

The Washington Post reports that a former federal prosecutor who railroaded some men in a “sleeper cell” case in Detroit is under investigation by a grand jury for misconduct in the case:

This is a truly amazing occurrence. Ordinarily, such zealous prosecutors are never held to account for their misdeeds, and they are frequently rewarded for them. It remains to be seen whether anything will come of this case, but I think that prosecutors everywhere could benefit mightily from a healthy dose of accountability. Let’s hope that the possibility of a grand jury probe will have a chilling effect on prosecutor wrongdoing. What am I saying? This will never happen.

My $0.02 on Illegal Aliens

Mrs Vache Folle and I were talking about all the hullaboo over “illegal aliens”, and I suggested as a thought experiment that one solution might be to add up the societal costs of illegal immigration and pay Mexicans half that amount to stay in Mexico. We couldn’t think of any such costs, however. What we did come up with were costs associated with cracking down on illegal aliens. There are the costs of enforcement itself. There are increased costs all along the line for every service or product that Mexican labor is involved in. Sure, some non-Mexicans might get paid more for doing this work, but all the rest of us will pay more for the products and services. On the whole, “society” would gain nothing from the crackdown. The crackdown would in effect be a subsidy for certain categories of entry-level workers, a subsidy paid by all of us in higher prices. Why would we want to do that?

I suppose that you might not like Mexicans or that you might not like it much that your culture and language and values are being challenged by the presence of a competing culture, language and values. It might be worth it to you to pay more for things if you could also get rid of a lot of Mexicans. I understand the sentiment, although I do not share it. I don’t like what all those Ellis Island immigrants did to the country and many of their descendants are still doing, but I advocate deportation only in a tongue and cheek way. I would never advocate the use of force to interfere with the ability of people to migrate for work or other reasons. Perhaps folks who want a more Mexican-free America for aesthetic reasons could contribute money voluntarily to pay Mexicans to go home or stay there.

I myself am an immigrant in a very real sense. I live and work in New York, although I was born in Tennessee to Georgian parents and raised in Georgia. If things had gone differently at Gettysburg in 1863, I might have needed a passport to get into New York and a green card to work here. By happenstance, Georgia is considered the same country as New York, and the imaginary dotted lines that divide New York from Georgia have less significance than the border with Mexico. When I first came to New York, I had an acquaintance from Barbados who mentioned that he been to “the island” over the weekend. I assumed that he meant Barbados, when he actually meant Long Island. He had a place in the Hamptons. He was a hundred times more a New Yorker than I will ever be even though he came from a “foreign” land. I was more of an immigrant newcomer than he was, his having lived in New York for 20 years.

Jesus as King

I have been thinking lately about the metaphors that Christians use to talk about Jesus and how reification can be problematic. One metaphor, that of Jesus as “king”, seems to be a potential source of confusion rather than erudition, especially for folks who don’t really have much experience with monarchy. What might early Christians have meant by describing Jesus as king and talking about the Kingdom of Heaven?

Certainly, the modern constitutional monarch of the sort we have in Western Europe could not have been meant. In what way could Jesus be said to be like such figureheads? I suppose if you have a symbolic Jesus that you use for certain occasions, particularly in service of the state, that you might regard the constitutional monarch as the metaphorical equivalent of Jesus.

What about the kings of the Dark Ages, those bandits who ran protection rackets and lived as parasites on their subjects? That doesn’t sound much like Jesus at all. Jesus doesn’t need serfs to support him, and Jesus has the heart of a servant, not an overlord. Jesus does not rule by force and fraud.

What about the kings of the first century? Surely, Herod was not the template. Herod was a puppet of Rome and a tyrant. Caesar was not even a king, he was simply “Imperator”, the ultimate leader, who maintained the basic form, if not the substance, of the Republic. Imperators did not assume the title of “king” that had been abolished with the rise of the Republic. Besides, the Imperators were a sorry lot, many of them epitomes of evil, and it would be blasphemous I think to liken Jesus to a Caesar or a Tsar or a Kaiser.

Are we meant to look to the monarchs of Israel and Judah? How is Jesus supposed to be like them? Many of them were evil and experienced the wrath of God, or so the Old Testament stories tell us. Even the good ones, David and Solomon, were mighty flawed. And didn’t God, through his prophets, express disapproval of a monarchy for Israel and reluctance to endorse a king?

In my heart, I think the metaphor involves the ideal king, a benevolent monarch who, like the mythical rather than real Lionheart, works justice for Norman and Saxon alike, who embodies rather than makes the law of the realm, who is merciful and compassionate, who guards the widows and orphans, who champions the poor and meek, who insures the rights of all men. Perhaps I am reversing the metaphor and imposing on kingship a requirement that a king be Christ-like rather than having Christ be kingly.

How is Jesus like a king? Does this metaphor serve a useful purpose in American society where the idea of monarchy is almost anathema? Christians may need some better metaphors. Jesus is unlike any officeholder in the modern state. Is Jesus like the Constitution, not as it has been interpreted, but as it was intended as a limit on the power of the state? Or do we avoid blasphemy by eschewing metaphors that involve the state at all?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Best. Steak. Ever.

On Monday, I had the best steak ever. We were at the Rex in Billings, Montana, and we all ordered the 9 ounce bacon wrapped filet mignon. We all had it medium rare or rare. I am a medium rare man myself. The steak was perfect. It was a good 6 inches thick and yet perfectly cooked. It was topped with onion rings and butter and surrounded by thick rashers of bacon. It was perfect. If the animal had mad cow disease, it would still be worth it to have eaten that steak.

I also got a spinach salad with bacon and egg topped with bacon grease dressing. I got extra vegetables rather than a potato, so the meal was South Beach qualified. And no dessert, just scotch, so all in all I made healthy choices. Thank God for Vytorin.

I will dream about that steak and think of excuses to go to Billings more often. I hope I can enjoy regular steaks and that the perfect steak has not ruined the steak experience for me. Mrs Vache Folle is an expert steak cooker who always gets it just right, but I can’t get meat like that 9 ouncer in my town. I am going to ask her to butter my steak next time rather than marinating it in chipotle tobasco.

More Fun with Infanticide

I had fun yesterday thinking up scenarios where you could kill a baby and get a medal for it, so I decided to come up with some more unlikely scenarios for use in future arguments.

Suppose you had a freezer full of human embryos, and they would thaw out and die unless you killed a baby that was about to cut off their power supply. There is only one baby and a thousand frozen embryos, each a “potential human being”, and your only chance to save the embryos is to shoot that baby with a cross bow. You have only one dart, so you can’t chance anything but a kill shot. Do you shoot the baby? What if it is a really whiny toddler? A sullen teenager? An incontinent old man?

There are suspected terrorists holed up in the mountains. A local warlord has them in his power and agrees to turn them over to you if you will sacrifice a dozen children to his deity Moloch. Moloch requires that his sacrificial victims be burned alive in a furnace. There is no other way to get the terrorists who will go on to kill more people in their terror campaign. Do you shovel babies into the furnace? If a dozen babies were in a house where the terrorists were hiding, would you firebomb the house and chalk up the dead babies to “collateral damage”? What is the difference between the two scenarios?

Your country is at war with another country. You suspect that you can get the other side to surrender if you make a show of your brutality. To get the desired impact, you reckon that you will have to kill everyone in an entire city. Do you order the systematic shooting of every single man, woman, and child in a city you have in your power? What if you could drop a single bomb and kill them all at once? If you had to strangle everyone, would that make a difference? Did I mention there are lots of cute babies in the city? Would you do two cities?

A man is wanted for failure to appear in court on a weapons charge. You suspect that he might be armed and might resist apprehension. Do you shoot and kill his wife and baby while trying to apprehend him? A religious group refuses to turn over its leader who is wanted on a warrant and holes up in its compound. Do you set fire to the compound and kill a lot of them, including some babies to save time?

I'd Rather be a Libertarian Lover than a Compassionate Conservative

By way of Freeman the Libertarian Critter, I found Lady Aster Francesca’s blog . The recent post on libertarian solidarity rang true. The money quote for me:

“Libertarianism may not logically require simple human compassion but 'tis my hope it would not make it controversial. “

Kevin Carson sometimes problematizes what he calls “vulgar libertarians”, and her ladyship hits the nail on the head by identifying a disdain for human compassion a big part of the problem. I might go so far as to add a disdain for poor folks themselves as well as the compassion sent their way.

Like non-libertarians, vulgar libertarians may not readily recognize the entanglements among business elites and the state, and one rarely sees firsthand the operation of corporate welfare. Corporate handouts are usually disguised, and few of us are in a position to understand how big business raids the treasury. Their parasitism is invisible.

In contrast, the poor slob on food stamps is right there in front of us at the grocery store. That kid who gets free lunches sits next to us in school. Those people in subsidized housing live in our town. Those old people on Medicare are all around us. Those mooching war widows live on our street. Their parasitism is visible.

I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to ignorance, but I sometimes suspect that vulgar libertarians dream of a world in which those feckless poor folks are at the mercy of their betters and can be controlled, not by states, but by sheer economic power and adhesion. That way, the vulgarian can be free while the poor are kept in line, and all without cost to the vulgarian. That is, of course, if the real elites don’t consider the vulgarian one of the serfs.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

HIV doesn't cause AIDS?

The same issue of Harpers that I referred to in the last post had an article about the politics of AIDS and its impact on research and the approval of drugs. Not surprisingly, politics trumps science at the FDA. I was surprised, however, to learn that the connection between HIV and AIDS has never been established by the usual scientific criteria. I had always been under the impression that this was a solid fact, that there was simply no controversy about the connection. It is taboo to question the HIV/AIDS connection, and anyone who does so will lose funding and face ostracism. An HIV denier is treated like a lunatic Holocaust denier.

The much decried epidemic of AIDS in Africa is also less well established as fact than I had previously been led to believe. It turns out that all kinds of sickness in Africa get classified as AIDS even in the absence of testing for HIV or solid differential diagnoses. This probably generates more foreign assistance than your run of the mill cholera or dysentery problem, but it also leads to the squandering of that assistance on potentially useless drugs to combat HIV. The money would be better spent on sanitation and other public health measures.

What drives this deception and refusal to brook dissent? Why would activists in the US not want to explore the actual etiology of AIDS even if the HIV hypothesis had to be abandoned or modified?

Ticking Time Bomb, My Ass

There was a brilliant piece in Harper’s about torture and the “ticking time bomb” justification for it. The whole issue, including a case for the impeachment of GW Bush and a story on the politicization of science by the AIDS industry, is fantastic, but I can’t seem to find it on their site. Just buy the magazine. Trust me, it’s great.

Whenever I hear the “ticking time bomb” argument, I am pretty sure that I am dealing with an idiot and that pointing out the utter illogic of the argument will be a waste of time. Seriously, when would such a scenario ever happen? You know there’s a time bomb, and you know that the guy you have in custody knows about it. Under those circumstances, if you tortured the guy and got the information needed to thwart the bombing, no jury would ever convict you of anything. No prosecutor would ever charge you. There is really no need for a law legitimizing torture in the case of the ticking time bomb scenario, and the scenario serves only as a red herring to soften us up to the idea of torture as legitimate under any circumstances.

It does not follow that because one might feel justified in taking extreme measures under extreme and highly improbable circumstances that the measures should somehow be considered other than extreme. I summarize the ticking time bomb argument as follows: “If one can imagine a scenario when an evil act might be justifiable, then that evil act is always justifiable.”

Let us imagine a scenario in which the only way to save a trainload of people from certain death is to throw a switch diverting the train onto a siding where a baby is playing in the new path of the train. You might decide that killing the baby is justified under the circumstances, but it does not follow that baby killing becomes less heinous because one might imagine an extreme situation in which it might be a suitable choice. I concede that once you kill your first baby, it probably becomes easier. Perhaps once you imagine killing a baby, it becomes easier to imagine killing them.

Let us imagine that a baby has wandered into a room where it has access to the enabled launch controls of nuclear missiles and that the baby is about to launch the missiles unless you shoot her in the head at once. The baby does not know what she is doing. She is a good baby and very cute, not unlike the Gerber baby. Unless you shoot that baby, millions will die in a nuclear holocaust. Shooting the baby would be understandable, wouldn’t it, but should we by this logic condone shooting babies as policy in less dire circumstances? What if she is about to launch a conventional weapon that will kill at most 10 people? Should you still shoot her? What if she is endangering only a single person or property or government secrets? What if she is crying in a theater?

What if the baby is the child of your suspect and the only way to get him to talk is to torture that baby in front of him by burning it with a soldering iron? What if you were only 10% sure that the suspect had the information you needed? 1%? 0.00001%?

Is there really a continuum along which baby killing on one end is evil and must be avoided and on the other end baby killing is a moral and civic duty? Is there a point on this continuum, the location of which it is reasonable to argue about, where baby killing ceases to be morally objectionable? I submit that it is not useful to think in such terms and that the continuum is an argumentative con job. Baby killing is only appropriate in extreme and improbable examples such as the ones I have described, and, what’s more, it is still a bad thing to have to kill the baby.

As far as I know, nobody tortured by the US or its proxies is believed to have had information about a ticking time bomb. Rather, some thugs suspect, based on God only knows what information, that their victims might know something about something and that torture might get them to talk about it. This is a long way from the ticking time bomb scenario.

So why condone torture? First of all, there is a certain constituency among slack jawed yahoos who think that torturing is manly and that scruples about torture are wimpy. The GOP is going for the votes of the morally handicapped. Secondly, some folks get off on torture. Thirdly, torture is part of a program of terror. One tortures prisoners to frighten others who might become prisoners. None of these is a morally legitimate reason to condone torture.

Ticking Time Bomb, My Ass

There was a brilliant piece in Harper’s about torture and the “ticking time bomb” justification for it. The whole issue, including a case for the impeachment of GW Bush and a story on the politicization of science by the AIDS industry, is fantastic, but I can’t seem to find it on their site. Just buy the magazine. Trust me, it’s great.

Whenever I hear the “ticking time bomb” argument, I am pretty sure that I am dealing with an idiot and that pointing out the utter illogic of the argument will be a waste of time. Seriously, when would such a scenario ever happen? You know there’s a time bomb, and you know that the guy you have in custody knows about it. Under those circumstances, if you tortured the guy and got the information needed to thwart the bombing, no jury would ever convict you of anything. No prosecutor would ever charge you. There is really no need for a law legitimizing torture in the case of the ticking time bomb scenario, and the scenario serves only as a red herring to soften us up to the idea of torture as legitimate under any circumstances.

It does not follow that because one might feel justified in taking extreme measures under extreme and highly improbable circumstances that the measures should somehow be considered other than extreme. I summarize the ticking time bomb argument as follows: “If one can imagine a scenario when an evil act might be justifiable, then that evil act is always justifiable.”

Let us imagine a scenario in which the only way to save a trainload of people from certain death is to throw a switch diverting the train onto a siding where a baby is playing in the new path of the train. You might decide that killing the baby is justified under the circumstances, but it does not follow that baby killing becomes less heinous because one might imagine an extreme situation in which it might be a suitable choice. I concede that once you kill your first baby, it probably becomes easier. Perhaps once you imagine killing a baby, it becomes easier to imagine killing them.

Let us imagine that a baby has wandered into a room where it has access to the enabled launch controls of nuclear missiles and that the baby is about to launch the missiles unless you shoot her in the head at once. The baby does not know what she is doing. She is a good baby and very cute, not unlike the Gerber baby. Unless you shoot that baby, millions will die in a nuclear holocaust. Shooting the baby would be understandable, wouldn’t it, but should we by this logic condone shooting babies as policy in less dire circumstances? What if she is about to launch a conventional weapon that will kill at most 10 people? Should you still shoot her? What if she is endangering only a single person or property or government secrets? What if she is crying in a theater?

What if the baby is the child of your suspect and the only way to get him to talk is to torture that baby in front of him by burning it with a soldering iron? What if you were only 10% sure that the suspect had the information you needed? 1%? 0.00001%?

Is there really a continuum along which baby killing on one end is evil and must be avoided and on the other end baby killing is a moral and civic duty? Is there a point on this continuum, the location of which it is reasonable to argue about, where baby killing ceases to be morally objectionable? I submit that it is not useful to think in such terms and that the continuum is an argumentative con job. Baby killing is only appropriate in extreme and improbable examples such as the ones I have described, and, what’s more, it is still a bad thing to have to kill the baby.

As far as I know, nobody tortured by the US or its proxies is believed to have had information about a ticking time bomb. Rather, some thugs suspect, based on God only knows what information, that their victims might know something about something and that torture might get them to talk about it. This is a long way from the ticking time bomb scenario.

So why condone torture? First of all, there is a certain constituency among slack jawed yahoos who think that torturing is manly and that scruples about torture are wimpy. The GOP is going for the votes of the morally handicapped. Secondly, some folks get off on torture. Thirdly, torture is part of a program of terror. One tortures prisoners to frighten others who might become prisoners. None of these is a morally legitimate reason to condone torture.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Right Wing Has Nobody in the Bullpen

The liberal blogosphere is buzzing about the Washington Post’s choice of right wing blogger to "balance" out its blog. Steve Gilliard has the story covered pretty well: It turns out that the guy, one of the founders of, is a serial plagiarist, an overt racist, and an all around idiot. It’s as if the Washington Post chose just about the worst person they could to be the face of conservatism. Was this a joke of some kind? If so, it is hilarious. Heck, it's hilarious even if it isn't a joke. I don’t buy into the whole “liberal media” argument, so I know the Post was not purposely trying to make right wingers look bad.

I lay it down to the shallowness of the bench on the right wing these days. Principled conservatives don’t allow themselves to be shills for this administration, so you are left with very little talent. It’s like the time the NFL players went on strike, and the owners fielded replacements. That’s what the right wing has to offer these days, posers and wannabes. The Washington Post got one of the best the right wing has to offer.

Let’s say you’re a second rater in any field: academics, law, journalism, punditry, whatever. You’re best bet to amount to anything is to become a right winger. You might even end up on the Supreme Court or get your own syndicated column or TV show. The competition is too fierce on the left and among real conservatives and others. So, I advise all the marginally talented young men and women out there to join the College Republicans today and learn to shill for the GOP. You may well go far, certainly well beyond your level of competence. You could be Director of FEMA or some such thing.

The unlimited supply of idiocy coming out of the right wing “intelligentsia” is what permits tbogg, world o’crap, and a score of left leaning blogs to have regular brilliant and hilarious posts mocking them. Talk about low hanging fruit. I don't read the rightie bloggers because, frankly, they are toxic. I get uncomfortable and embarrassed for them, and every paragraph makes me a little stupider. I leave that to tbogg and company and thank them for their sacrifice.

Who is a Terrorist?

Thunder at Wolfesblog reports on the Commonwealth of Virginia’s definition and description of terrorists:

Among the folks who are officially designated as potential terrorists are “property rights activists”, the “anti-government…movement”, “religious extremists”, and “street gangs”. (Street gangs? Since when do street gangs engage in “politically motivated” violence?)

Among the things to look out for when identifying whether someone might be a terrorist in “research mode” are the following items of terrorist equipment: cameras, tape recorders, binoculars, maps or charts, sketch pads or notebooks, SCUBA gear, and disguises. Good lord, they’re onto me. I have almost all these things in my home (except SCUBA and disguises, although I could probably change my appearance with stuff in my house if I wanted to, eg a hobo costume is fun and easy to make with old clothes and make-up).

Virginia cites a federal definition of terrorism, the main elements of which are:

Political motivation
Against non-combatants
By “sub-national groups” or “clandestine agents”.

I am not sure whether this definition is useful for anything except to exempt military personnel from being considered terrorists while they are killing non-combatants. I doubt that the non-combatant victims of deadly attacks by military forces take much consolation from knowing that they are not being “terrorized” in the process.

Also, the definition sets up political activity such as speech and assembly and association as legitimate objects of surveillance and control rather than inviolable aspects of fundamental civil liberties. From a law enforcement standpoint, that a crime is politically motivated is immaterial except to the extent that such a fact might provide guidance in investigations of particular crimes. Creating a class of “political crimes”, not unlike “hate crimes”, will lead to undue government interference in political activities and expression.

Virginia’s statement of the goals of terrorists sounds like the apparent goals of the Department of Homeland Security: to create an atmosphere of anxiety (this they do with their incessant warnings), to undermine confidence in government (this they do with their willful ineptitude and insistence that they cannot prevent attacks), and to influence government or social policy (they exist to secure more government power and erode personal freedom).

Over twenty years ago, I studied “Political Crime and Terrorism” in law school and concluded that there was probably nothing that a terrorist could do that would not already be covered by existing criminal statutes and that law enforcement had all the tools necessary to investigate and prosecute crimes of terror. Only in crises of legitimacy did governments require more. Countries with special anti-terror laws at that time included South Africa and Israel, and these were wanted in those places solely to maintain the structures of repression on which those governments depended. In American history, we had the example of the War for Southern Independence in which the United States government abrogated every Constitutional principle in the interests of preserving the existing power structure and regime.

Do our rulers perceive a crisis of legitimacy that warrants special anti-terror legislation and programs?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

In Praise of Jimmy Carter

I have just finished Jimmy Carter’s “Our Endangered Values”. This book is written in a very accessible manner and is a quick read. President Carter’s take on the religious right and the neocons is quite interesting. He sees in them a similarity in style in that they are both absolutely certain of their rectitude about everything and unwilling to negotiate with anyone who might disagree with them. I might add that they have similar ideas about power: they want it without limit.

I have always been perplexed at the way some people vilify Jimmy Carter as if he were the worst president in their lifetimes. I have the opposite opinion. He was the best president during my lifetime, and we would have been a lot better off if he had been re-elected. Growth of government was low during his tenure, and he was relatively fiscally responsible. His commitment to human rights abroad seemed to me to represent a commitment to limited government power. He got the hostages out of Iran alive and did not start a war. Back in his day, I was free to travel to Cuba. I wish I had done.

He was the only actual believing and practicing Christian in the White House during my lifetime. He was an outsider, though, and he was torpedoed by his own party. He can hardly be blamed for the crappy economy that prevailed at the time, but I routinely hear people talk about his causing inflation. As if there had not been sky high inflation under Nixon and Ford.

When you examine the national debt and the growth of government and concomitant loss of liberty over the last 40 years, you can lay almost all of it at the doorsteps of Ronald Reagan and GW Bush, not Jimmy Carter. Reagan has been undergoing apotheosis for some time now especially since he died, but he really was a disaster for the country. It galls me to hear folks talk about Reagan as if he had saved America from Carter.

Are Humans Naturally Capitalist or Communist?

Freeman writes at some length about ”libertarian communism” and the notion that it involves an ignorance of market principles: He aptly points out that much of the debate between libertarian “communists” and libertarian “capitalists” arises from a disagreement about human nature. How would humans organize themselves under conditions of complete freedom? Would they be atomistic and competitive or sociable and cooperative?

I reckon that individual humans vary in their degree of natural baseline sociability and cooperativeness and that these characteristics would be subject to the effects of socialization depending on the social environment in which an individual finds himself. A cooperative individual might not thrive as much in a competitive environment, whereas a competitive individual might find himself at a disadvantage among cooperators. In a free society, one might choose from among any number of groupings.

In our present society, humans manifest both rationalized market type relationships and other more cooperative relationships. We ordinarily do not treat our families in the same way that we treat our clients or vendors. We do not think about our churches in the same way as we do commercial enterprises, and it would be considered unseemly to do so. Indeed, we often subordinate rational market relations to other social relationships as when we throw business to a kinsman or friend despite a price disadvantage.

In the “wild”, humans tended to organize themselves in extended family groupings, the size and structure of which varied with the prevailing means of subsistence and other factors. Certainly, the “nuclear family” was not the norm, and relations among extended family members may not usefully be described in the language of capitalism. There were “economies” of exchange and the creation and maintenance of mutual obligations and expectations, but a significant factor in valuation was relational rather than strictly material.

Our wild forebears were considerably constrained in their lifestyle choices by their limited technology, and free men armed with our present level of technology may very well form unprecedented social groupings. The “nuclear” family would probably not have been possible for most people until the last 200 hundred years. As it stands, it is now difficult to maintain households that deviate from the “nuclear” model. It is illegal in some localities for more than three unrelated persons to share a home, and it would be difficult in most areas to get permission to construct a family compound to house a larger group. Even where it is not forbidden, social disapproval of communal living makes it unduly hard, and such families would be subject to increased surveillance by child welfare agencies and other police. Nonetheless, some people form larger groupings despite the obstacles, eg Hasidic Jews, Hutterites.

In any event, in a free society libertarian communists will be free and more fully able to live in communal groups while libertarian capitalists will continue to be free to live alone and count their money or do whatever it is they do, if anything, when they are not engaging in rational market oriented behaviors.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

My Iranian Revolutionary Roomies

When I was a senior in college, I had Iranian roommates. This was during the revolution in Iran and the early days of the hostage crisis. One of the guys, Kassra from Isfahan, was a supporter of the Ayatollah Khomeini, not enough of one to go back to Iran and fight in the revolution, but enough of one to voice support for the Islamic Revolution. The other, Mehran from Teheran, was less certain of his politics. The guys were in an English as Second Language program preparatory to attending some other American college, but their English was good enough that we were able to have many conversations about culture, politics, and what have you. I liked them despite their ambivalence about personal hygiene and chauvinism about their ancient culture. I taught them catch phrases from the “Czechoslovakian Brothers” skits on SNL.

Having these guys as roommates during the trouble with Iran helped me keep things in perspective. The hostage crisis was not a matter of “us” versus “them”. This had nothing to do with me personally or either of my roommates, and I couldn’t get all that worked up about it. I prayed that the hostages would come home safely and that the government would not be pressured into some precipitous act of violence that might get them all killed. At the time, some of my schoolmates were calling for bombings and abandonment of the hostages to their fate. They would rather see all the hostages dead than the US humiliated, as they felt was the case. They took the humiliation very personally.

Kassra and Mehran were very human. Kassra, especially, was a study in contradictions. He praised the notion of an Islamic state under Sharia Law, but he lived a life of decadence, drunkenness and sexual promiscuity while he was in America. He never went to Mosque, never prayed as far as I could tell, and never read the Koran. He was a party animal and would have been right at home in any frat house. Mehran worried about his family and seemed homesick. He had a sweetheart back home, and he wrote really bad poems. Both of them loved to go to the disco, and we would sometimes go to a club called St Tropez on Wisconsin Avenue. Mehran was a chick magnet.

I lost touch with the guys when they went away to some university in Tennessee, but I always felt richer for the experience of having lived with them. That was one real benefit of attending AU, the high percentage of international students and exposure to people from vastly different cultures and backgrounds. I think that my acquaintance with so many aliens has helped me realize over the years that strange looking people in faraway lands are not that different from my fellow Americans. Exposure to this kind of diversity helped to immunize me from nationalistic hatred.

Just Get a Strong Family!

Wouldn’t it be great if we all had perfectly functional families that met all our needs and expectations? We don’t, though, and it is irritating when some folks cite a “breakdown of the family” or some such thing as the cause of some social problem or other. Would a hypothetical juvenile delinquent have been less likely to have turned to crime if he had had a loving father to keep him in line? You bet. But he didn’t, and there is no sense in blaming him for not going out and recruiting a dad in the Ozzie Nelson or Ward Cleaver mold.

It takes the cooperation of a number of people to make a well functioning family, and children who do not enjoy the benefits of such families are hardly to blame for not having them. Tsk-tsking about their weak or nonexistent families is not helpful. Each of us has to make do with the families we find ourselves part of, and there is not much chance that any of us is in much of a position to improve on our family situation. We can resolve to try to be better fathers, mothers, spouses, siblings, children, whatever, but that’s all we can do. Our family is a matter a luck.

We often can’t help it if our marriages turn out badly, and we should be held responsible only for our part in the failure of our marriage. It does no good to point out that the consequences of a failed marriage might have been avoided if one had not been in a failed marriage. That’s like telling a homeless person that his problems would be solved if he got a house. Certainly it is good advice to tell someone to marry well, but this is sometimes harder to do than to say, and most people think they are marrying well when they enter the matrimonial state. I am sure my wife never imagined that I would be such a disappointment, or she would not have married me.

What do those who complain about familial “breakdown” mean by it? Are they exhorting us to seek out new and improved families for ourselves? Do they imagine that their observation is explanatory in any meaningful sense?

The “family” is an abstract concept that encompasses a set of relationships among individuals. It does not exist apart from those individuals, and it consists in interactions among them. If anyone should fall short due to circumstances or character or whatever, needs may go unmet, and dire consequences may ensue. To state that the “family” is impaired in such instances is to employ a euphemism. Let’s call it like it is: somebody done somebody wrong; somebody disappointed somebody; somebody had to go it alone.

Not One of AU's Finest Products

I learned the other day that the unethical federal prosecutor in the “20th hijacker” trial is an alum of my alma mater, the Washington College of Law at The American University. I suppose that I should not be surprised. AU is a fine school, and I am not ashamed of my degrees from that institution, but it has an unhealthy relationship with the federal government. It is situated in Washington, DC and has scads of adjuncts who are high ranking bureaucrats in their day jobs. There are countless government internships sponsored by AU, and among the more prominent field of study are the School of International Service and the School of Public Administration, both of which prepare one for government work. DC is a company town, of course, and most everybody works for the government or is trying to influence the government or is serving burgers to people who are involved with government.

Moreover, that the young woman chose a career as a federal prosecutor tells you a lot about her character in the first place. Being a prosecutor means screwing with people and bringing the weight of government violence down on their heads. Anyone who would do that willingly has a problem. And being a federal prosecutor in this administration, and not resigning in protest, suggests that you don’t have much in the way of scruples at all. Finally, thinking that you need to cheat in a prosecution that you cannot possibly fail to win and that is rigged completely in your favor, suggests a streak of stupidity and poor judgment.

I don’t blame AU, though. Admissions are based on IQ and GPA, not character. Graduation is based on spewing back information on exams, not character. AU is not in the business of building character. By the time you are in law school, it is probably too late to do much about your character flaws. If anything, mine were magnified by the law school experience.

A high IQ and a good memory, while helpful for success in law school, do not necessarily correlate with good character. Indeed, if you consider the most evil bas**rds in power in the country today, many of them have Ivy League educations and above average intelligence. Look at the neocons. They have brains out the wazoo but nothing in the morality or character departments.

Re-Education Camps for Statists after the Revolution

Some of my conspecifics at the office are downright toxic with their willful ignorance and complete disregard for traditional American values. I have always been at a loss to explain how people of otherwise seeming good sense and normal intelligence could be such jingoistic idiots when it comes to the actions of the government. I have come to realize that they simply do not share my values at all. They don’t know what the Constitution provides, and they really don’t care. They don’t understand how I can be so passionate about an ancient document and the ideas it contains about civil rights and limited government.

I have come to think of these conspecifics as “collaborators”. They have been completely conditioned to be willing servants of the state and to find criticism of the state repugnant and disturbing. Taxation is the price of admission to society in their view, and they consider themselves as participating in the government. When they speak of the US government, they always say “we” since they think that there is an alignment of their individual interests with that of “their” government. They may find fault with some things the government does or fails to do, but they do not consider that any subject is beyond the government’s legitimate reach.

When the revolution comes, it will, I fear, be necessary to maintain an agency to deal with the collaborators. They cannot be permitted to run free and set up new governments to satisfy their need to be enslaved. My religious scruples require that I resist the temptation to call for mass executions. I would prefer that no executions take place or that executions be limited to individuals who are parasites rather than mere collaborators. I am convinced that the collaborators are hapless dupes and that they can be re-educated to understand that the state is predicated on force and fraud. If they learn this lesson and still persist in statist activities, then they are beyond human redemption and must be dealt with more sternly.

I propose a system of camps in which collaborators would be housed temporarily until they learned to adapt to freedom. Since they like slavery, it would not be too difficult from a moral standpoint to require them to perform the day to work of running the camps. Also, they could be permitted to engage in work for hire and other economic pursuits in order to earn money to fund the camps. They could be permitted to keep a portion of their earnings as an incentive to work more and to use to practice being free.

The logistics of this program will be fairly simple. The agency will order collaborators, as defined more specifically by the agency, to report to the nearest detention center. They will, being sheeplike, comply voluntarily. The most statist among them will in this way self identify by showing up at the camps. Once there, the detainees will be informed of the requirements for release, one of these being attendance at re-education classes in freedom. They will be asked to sign up for duty in various posts at the camp, excepting guard duty or any other duty that might afford an opportunity to engage in coercion.

The agency overseeing the camps will be staffed by volunteers who will serve as instructors, counselors and guards. The guards will protect the detainees from violence and the facility from theft or vandalism, but detainees will be free to come and go as they please. They will not be told that they have this right, and it will serve as a kind of self-executing test of readiness for freedom. Those who leave will be ready, whereas others will continue to imprison themselves indefinitely.

I hereby put my hat in the ring for consideration as the first Commisar of Rehabilitation.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Freedom by Sufferance

Wally Conger wonders whether it is time to consider revolutionary action, whether other avenues for freedom have been exhausted:

We will never be free of the state in this life. The best we can hope for is a state that at least pretends that we have some rights and that its power is, in principle, limited. What we are moving toward inexorably is totalitarianism, a state that recognizes no limits and that suffers us to be free only to the extent that it is convenient for it to do so.

Such a state might well tolerate my seditious statements and leave me alone to rant against it, not because it cannot control my expression but because it has no good reason to do so at the moment. In fact, the illusion of freedom that allowing me to speak out provides may be far more valuable to the state than the satisfaction of silencing me. Indeed, why silence me if my sedition has no noticeable impact on the acquiescence of its subjects to its edicts? If I start to make a difference, the state can silence me then.

To the extent that the state enjoys willing acquiescence in it, the costs and bother of governing are minimized. The subjects practically govern themselves, and the state can focus its efforts on repression only in those instances where the interests of the state are advanced by it. A rationally run totalitarian state will not repress solely for the sake of repression; rather, repression will be selective and predicated on the needs of the state at any given moment to perpetuate itself and efficiently extract labor and resources from its subjects.

Thus, a totalitarian state might well be marked by plenty of day to day “freedoms” which the state, in its gracious mercy, permits to its subjects. But these are subject to extinction at the caprice of the rulers. The state owns all the fruits of my labors but extracts only a part of it and lets me keep the rest. It may decide to take everything if it pleases, and the only obstacle to this is the state’s realization that it will get more out of me if I am allowed to keep enough of my earnings to live on and support myself while I work for the benefit of the state. In fact, our rulers openly discuss what might be the optimum amount to let us keep in order to maximize state revenues.

The state allows me to occupy my home, but it may, when convenient for its purposes, take it for its own use or to give to another subject for his use. The state grants me privacy until it doesn’t. It can break into my home and shoot my dog if it pleases, and there is not a damned thing I can do about it. The state can eavesdrop on my every conversation and read my mail. If it is not doing so at this moment, that does not mean that the state acknowledges any right of privacy on my part. It just hasn’t gotten around to it yet or seen a need for it.

The state can make anything I do unlawful at any moment. My favorite foods can be made into controlled substances tomorrow, and I can be imprisoned or murdered for possessing them. That it has not done so is solely a function of the needs of the state and not any solicitude for my desires or well being.

The state in this country is ostensibly limited to the powers granted in the Constitution, and I am supposed to have certain rights, but the state has assumed far more powers than enumerated and no longer accepts any limitation. Moreover, the state acknowledges only those rights that it is politically convenient to acknowledge. Our rulers have written the 4th amendment out of the Constitution, and other rights are respected only to the extent that it is necessary to secure optimal acquiescence. The state is not thwarted in any of its objects by any scruples about rights.

Death to Tailgaters

BW Richardson posts about drivers who tailgate This is one of my biggest pet peeves. There is simply no good reason ever to drive right on the bumper of the vehicle in front of you. There is no margin for error, and you are apt to get yourself and others killed.

My Idiot Brother in Law drives this way. He is always right on top of the car ahead of him, and I refuse to be his passenger. He does this because he (a) is an idiot, and (b) suffers from some kind of autism that renders him incapable of realizing the potential consequences of his actions, and (c) is an inconsiderate a**hole. He is not alone on the highways.

I prefer to maintain a reasonable distance between my vehicle and the car ahead of me so that I can react to unexpected events, and this has saved me from accidents on numerous occasions, especially when the car ahead of me is tailgating. This well conceived plan runs into difficulties when the car behind me is right on my bumper and cannot react to my unexpected braking or maneuvers, and I have been hit from behind even when successfully avoiding trouble ahead.

If you are tailgating me, I consider it an act of assault. You are endangering my life, and I would be morally justified in using force to get you to back off. I sometimes fantasize about a death ray mounted in the rear of my car. I don’t have one of these yet, so I use more passive methods to defend myself. Whenever anyone tailgates me, I gradually reduce speed consistent with safety until the offending driver passes me. If necessary, I will reduce speed to 5 miles per hour. Also, I activate my hazard lights and keep them on until the tailgater passes me or backs off.

Even if you are tailgating others, I consider you a jerk and an antisocial menace. You are the jackass who ties up traffic on my commute once or twice a week with your completely avoidable accidents. You create unnecessary stress and make all our lives a little less pleasant by virtue of your miserable existence. You reflect badly on your parents who are doubtless ashamed that they raised up such an inconsiderate b**tard. If you are a tailgater, you are probably a worthless waste of space in other aspects of your life.

Will the non-Evil Republicans Please Stand Up?

I harbor a secret hope of a revolt within the GOP. The GOP has been hijacked by forces of unmitigated evil, and I suspect that there may be Republicans out there who are not happy about it. I have to believe that there is at least a sizeable minority of Republicans who do not hate America and freedom. I reckon that there may be at least 25% of Republicans who are not completely corrupt, and they may be what is needed to force the GOP to return to paying lip service to the Constitution and to American values.


My Republican conspecifics are not much concerned about the erosion of civil liberties, and their response to expressions of concern is to call me an “alarmist”. At what point will they concede that civil liberties are, in fact, imperiled? When the secret police invade their homes and “disappear” one of their family members? Keith Olbermann remarked last night that the “alarmists” who expressed concern about illegal warrantless eavesdropping now seem “prescient” in light of the administration’s claim to have authority to break into people’s homes without warrants.

I concede that, to my knowledge, I have not as yet been surveilled, had my phones tapped, or had my house broken into. I have not been “disappeared” as of yet. It is nonetheless cause for outrage that the Bush regime claims to have the authority to do all of these things with no accountability to anyone and no check by any other branch of government. That I have not been assaulted, invaded, kidnapped or killed is entirely due to the grace and mercy of the regime and not the civil rights that I grew up to cherish. I have given voluntary allegiance to the United States on the basis that the United States is the guarantor of my civil rights, and now that it clearly does not even recognize such rights, any allegiance that it gets from me is nothing more than acquiescence predicated on coercion.

The regime claims, and Congress and the courts have not gainsaid it, that it may order your murder, kidnap you, detain you, torment you, invade your home, seize your property, listen in on your conversations, read your mail, look at all your records, and do anything it damn well pleases in the name of the War on Terror. That an American President would even want such power renders him unfit for any office of trust. Claiming such power is, in and of itself, a breach of his oath of office to defend the Constitution. The smirking Attorney General who seeks to justify these claims makes a grotesque mockery of his office. The regime has declared itself outlaw.

Where is the outrage? The claim of unconstitutional power should enrage anyone who loves America.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Iraq Going as Planned?

The religious right should be celebrating about now, three years into the war in Iraq. Religious authoritarianism is on the rise in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. I heard today that a man in Afghanistan might be executed for converting to Christianity. While this superficially goes against the interests of the religious right in America, on a deeper level it represents a victory. Wouldn’t our American mullahs like to be able to keep the flock in the fold on pain of death? You bet they would!

The trend to secularism and modernism in the Middle East has been nipped in the bud thanks to the religious right and their man Bush. We won’t have to deal with millions of uppity Moslem women who don’t know their place, and that part of the world should serve as a model for what America might become if the religious authoritarians can manage to seize control. It’s not democracy Bush is looking to install, it’s religious totalitarianism. His strategy really is working after all.

Democracy and Tyranny Go Hand in Hand

I had every intention of seeing “V is for Vendetta” this weekend. Instead, I installed two chandeliers in our vaulted ceiling, and the death defying feat of climbing a ladder and doing the work took everything I had. The first chandelier took almost an hour because I kept screwing up and having to take everything apart. The second took five minutes. I can learn, it seems, even under the stress of a phobic reaction to being 8 feet up on a ladder working on a ceiling 14 feet off the floor.

I am overjoyed that the film did so well at the box office. In your face, Michael Medved! If the film helps create a legion of revolutionaries or even troublemakers, I will be even more grateful. The film was panned by a reviewer in the New Yorker. The main complaint of the reviewer seemed to me to be a quibble with V’s methods. Why, asked the reviewer, would V blow up Parliament, a symbol of liberal democracy instead of the dictator’s headquarters? The reviewer could not conceive of democracy as a fount of tyranny.

In this country, Congress is a serious threat to liberty, and the House of Representatives, the more democratic of the two chambers, is by far worse than the Senate at chipping away at freedom. Democracy, without a mechanism for limiting the scope of government, is no guarantee of freedom. Quite the contrary, the majoritarian tendency is to totalitarianism, and a democratically chosen totalitarian state is bolstered by the legitimizing myth that it reflects the will of the people. An elected dictator arguably embodies that will, and it is harder to demystify his rule than if he had seized power through some other means.

Friday, March 17, 2006

KIss Me, Even if I am not Irish!

I first learned about St Patrick's Day in college when I had friends who were Catholics with Irish ancestry. Back in the Bible Belt, we didn't do saints' days; it smacked of idolatry and polytheism and, worse, Roman Catholicism. We didn't have many Catholics in my hometown, and I knew only one Irish family, the O'Donnels, who didn't make much ado about their heritage or religion. That was understandable in view of the anti-Catholic sentiment in the community. For some reason, folks who had never even met a Catholic disliked them vehemently. They were not even Christian, I was told on numerous occasions.

I chalk this up to the history of the people of my mountain community. They were mainly of Scots-Irish Protestant ancestry, and their forebears had doubtless fought Irish Catholics back in Ulster. They still had a tinge of "orange" in them so to speak despite two and a half centuries in North America. I reckon that I am about half Scots-Irish myself. (It's hard to tell the difference sometimes between English and Lowland Scots surnames). My Morrows and Mebanes and Dunlops and Callahans and Scotts are all definitely Scots-Irish.

I really liked my Irish Catholic friends in college, and I loved spending weekend evenings at the Four Provinces on Connecticutt Avenue. I developed a taste for Irish beverages and music and folklore, and I came to wish that I was even a little bit Irish, the green kind rather than orange. Thanks to James Webb, I now refer to myself sometimes as a "Celtic-American", especially when I need some dirt road cred. But it's not the same thing. I am not Irish as in St Patrick's day river dance potato famine fleeing 1860s draft riots Irish. Even my one possible Irish ancestor, Mary O'Brien from my Chastain Huguenot connection, was already in the North American hinterland in the mid18th century and probably was not Catholic.

I console myself on this day for my non-Irishness by acknowledging that my Lowland Scots ancestors originally came from Ireland in the first milennium and that they were Catholic for several centuries before they embraced Calvinism. Also, my Scots-Irish ancestors had a similar culture of hard drinking, brawling and merrymaking before the Baptists got hold of them. To all you Irish folks, let me say on behalf of my people that I'm sorry about that running your ancestors off their land thing back in the 17th Century. If it's any consolation, we got screwed, too, and had to leave for North America in pretty short order. We were just tools of the English. Let's make up and embrace what we have in common rather than fighting the Battle of the Boyne over and over.

Happy St Patrick's Day!

A Dog to its Vomit

Back in ought three, I visited Aberdeenshire and environs, and a number of castles were on the itinerary. In one of them, the wooden beams in an upper storey room were inscribed with verses from the Bible. Among the verses: "Like a dog to its vomit, so returneth a fool to his foolishness." From that moment, this became my favorite proverb. If I had a coat of arms, it would be the motto emblazoned under a pair of rampant retching hounds.

That proverb resonated with me on several levels. In the first instance, we have had a number of dogs over the years who seem to vomit just for the fun of it. Frankly, vomit is about the least offensive substance that ordinarily comes out of a dog, and as the proverb implies your dog might just take care of it for you. I have never understood why dogs do this. It's as if their bodies have said "this food does not meet canine nutritional standards and may be toxic" and their brains have replied "let's eat it anyway".

This sums up some aspects of my own life as well. I have been known to do the same foolish thing over and over again despite knowing the consequences. Thankfully, I have improved over the years, but wisdom comes slowly to me. The proverb is actually helpful in a couple of ways. First, a part of me recognizes that I am about to return to my folly and warns me off with the proverb as mantra. In the alternative, I go with the folly anyway but use the proverb to make fun of myself rather than going into a cycle of self loathing. I have come to think of a number of things as "dog's vomit", things that I have managed to put aside or that I am trying to avoid. This can be especially helpful in dieting, I am finding. That tube of chocolate chip cookie dough with my name on it? Dog's vomit.

The proverb applies even more to the world around me, especially the political sphere. We keep coming back to the same ideas and solutions that don't work and even do more harm than good. Government programs are all dog's vomit. Political parties and politicians are dog's vomit. Why do we reward government failure with more power and resources? We're vomit eating dogs.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

War With Iran Inevitable?

The US is headed to war with Iran. I would bet money on this if I didn’t have a scruple about profiting from evil. I also predict that this will be ramped up big time in advance of the mid-term elections. I hope that I am wrong.

Bush is already making justifications for the war. The nuclear program, which may or may not exist, has been harped on for months. Now Bush is blaming the Shia in Iran for the insurgency in Iraq, a pretty crazy notion since the Sunni minority comprises the Iraqi insurgency and Iran positively loves the new Shia ruled Iraq the US has set up. This is what convinces me of the inevitability of war with Iran, that Bush is making fantastic, illogical claims about Iranian wrongdoing that your average American voter can’t make any sense of. He has got to whip up anti-Iranian sentiment in the US so as to focus the hatred of the American people away from himself and Dick Cheney.

There is nothing like an enemy to get Americans worked up and diverted from what is really going on. Iraqis aren’t our enemies any more now that the US has conquered them, and we can’t seem to get excited about Iraqis and Afghanis. Even the most mindless yahoos tend to think of these folks as victims nowadays rather than enemies. Iranians will fill the bill nicely for at least a few more years.

Also, the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan are no longer exciting or interesting in the sense of providing spectacular examples of American success and prowess. The US is not so good at occupation, but it is real good at destroying things and killing people.

Face it; there would be no stopping the US military if it attacked Iran. Sure, the US is “tied down” in Iraq, but since the forces there aren’t doing anyone any good anyway, why not just redeploy them to Iran? The US has Iran surrounded.

Of course, there will be another insurgency after the invasion, but the conquest will divert and entertain us for months, and the regime will be able to deny the reality on the ground for many months. Meanwhile, the regime will rally the American people to it and be able to silence opposition as giving aid to America’s enemies.

Also, this will cost boatloads of money, but this will be borrowed money that will be paid for by our grandchildren (I hope they repudiate the debt as my nephews have threatened). Meanwhile, much of the money will go to friends of the regime with snouts in the military-industrial trough.

This will cost American lives. We have already seen that the electorate has a complete tolerance for casualties as long as they trickle in at a rate of about a thousand a year. It could be that Americans can handle a much higher casualty rate as long as there is no conscription. And there will be no need for conscription since the force levels already available are adequate to conquer Iran and hunker down. The point is not to succeed in stabilizing the region or governing it, just to smash it, so the US does not need a lot more troops. Besides, with the negative impacts on the economy permanent war entails, there may be more volunteers in the pipeline in the future.

This will cost hundreds of thousands of innocent Iranian lives. Americans don’t care about this. The military could kill every last Iranian man, woman and child, and this would leave the American masses unmoved.

This will alienate our remaining allies. Americans don’t care. Allies don’t motivate the electorate; enemies do. Allies complicate things and limit options and insist on adherence to international law and whatnot.

This will increase hatred of Americans abroad and increase the risk of terrorist attacks. That’s one of the main reasons for the war. Bush needs us to feel that we are in peril, and one way to assure this is to make the phoney baloney danger he has been feeding on these past 5 years into real danger. That way, he can seize more power in the name of protecting us.

This will weaken the US and lead to its downfall as a superpower. Yes, but not before the big power grab and feeding frenzy courtesy of the Treasury. It will take decades for the fall of the American Empire to be acknowledged, and the neocon architects of permanent war will be dead by then.


I have to confess that, while I decry various forms of stereotyping and profiling based on race and ethnicity and other suspect categories, I employ a number of shortcuts to help me navigate my social milieu.

One of these is that I try to see movies that Michael Medved hates. I will go to “V is for Vendatta” this weekend and spend extra money on concessions to reward the theater for showing it. I will do this mainly on the strength of Michael Medved’s disapproval. If Medved likes a movie, I am unlikely to see it. This strategy works pretty well.

Another shortcut is that when someone starts a sentence with “On the O’Reilley Factor last night….” Or “Rush said…” or “Sean Hannity reported…” or “Michael Savage…”, I immediately realize that I no longer need to keep listening to this person and that his opinions are not something that I should heed at all. Unless that person is a satirist or someone who has to follow these wingnuts professionally, I have come to affirm over and over again that the O’Reilley, Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage follower is an imbecile. No exceptions. This is as reliable an indicator of marginally normal intelligence as you could hope for.

In this busy world, you only have so much social capital to go around, and anything that weeds out folks who really aren’t going to be all that interesting or simpatico is a real edge. Motor vehicles can tell you a lot. Vanity plates are helpful. Thanks for marking yourselves. Bumper stickers can be good indicators since they can be either a basis for rejection or something that piques one’s interest. Ribbon magnets are highly suspect. Drivers of Hummers, Escalades, Navigators, Expeditions need not apply for admission to the Vache Folle social circle unless there is some mitigating factor.

McMansion dwellers will have a hard time cracking the Vache Folle social circle unless they have gigantic families and can show a need for the space. Otherwise, I can’t seem to make much of people’s houses. By the time you get to their houses, however, you don’t really need a shortcut since they have usually passed the early tests. Dog owners have a leg up right away; dog haters are out; ambivalence about dogs is suspect.

Your kids say a lot about you, especially the mouths as Jack Handey would say. Seriously, if your kids are really horrible and disrespectful of you, I am sorely tempted to write you off. I will at least know you are really, really lazy. I can live with lazy but not with the bizarre justifications for laziness as some kind of alternative childrearing philosophy. Surly and uncommunicative teenagers lose you points. I have a positive prejudice in favor of homeschoolers.

I wonder why we have so few friends?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Why Are Democrats So Cowardly?

In a post at Battlepanda, Democrats are characterized as "craven":

This is dead on. The GOP screws up monumentally or works some egregious evil every single day, and the Democrats can't seem to take advantage of it. Sure, the President and the GOP have bad poll numbers, but is this helping the Democrats?

Folks I talk to (who aren't all that bright, by the way, but they're all I've got) have a couple of explanations for Democrat wimpitude:

1. They're letting the GOP beat itself up. This makes no sense as long as the GOP is still also beating up on Democrats, and the GOP beating would be a lot worse if the Democrats landed some blows. Also, letting the GOP frame the issues is not helpful, and letting the GOP repeat the mantra that its evil and incompetence are not significant next to the terrorist threat just insures that more folks will believe it.

2. They're afraid negative politics will backfire. As far as I can tell, this has never happened before in the history of the world. The GOP is all negative, all the time, and this got them control of the government. The negatives don't even have to be true to work, the GOP has shown. Nobody is ever held accountable for negative politics, and Americans like their politics mean and dirty. Positive message? Who cares? Go negative while you still can.

My explanation is that the Democrats are playing not to lose. If they get the GOP on the ropes, all the GOP has to do is start another war or allow a big terror attack in the US. Suddenly, Americans rally behind the ruling party and blame the Dems for being obstructionists. Dems want to look tough on security and to characterize the GOP as bad on execution rather than being wrong on fundamentals. This may be a good strategy, but it doesn't do much for the country. If we get Dems in power, it may be just more of the same of everything with no recovery of freedom. The Democrats of 2006 are showing how meaningless the notion of opposition is in this country and that we really are a single party system in all but name. Fortunately for both parties, we Americans are too stupid to notice.

I'm Not as Evil as I Used to Be

JL Wilson links to a test of how evil you are:

I scored 38% evil, more than I expected, so I went back and retook the test and qualified my answers as relating to "the last 10 years". I was considerably less evil, having in the last few years repented of many of my more problematic activities. What a relief.

I have been paying the wages of sin the last couple of days. I smoked like a fiend for over 20 years until September 1999 when I quit for the last time. In 2000, I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, a malady I have been fighting ever since. Among other things, it gives me repeated bouts of bronchitis with which I am laid up these past two days. Although I like to relate my COPD to exposure to the tons of mosquito poison dropped from helicopters in Westechester County in summer of 2000, my smoking did not help the matter. Also, recently (within the last 2 weeks) partaking of a certain product of Jamaica through inhalation probably contributed to my current troubles.

Most of my sins today are sins against myself. I genuinely do not wish harm to others, and I am a far more charitable and forgiving person than I used to be. Chalking up a few spectacular failures along the way has a way of humbling one. Unfortunately, I am more in the mode of not doing others harm than in the mode of doing anyone any positive good, but I am working on this. Some of this has to do with my energy level, and I hope that recent changes in lifestyle and diet will help me manage COPD, depression, anxiety and social phobias better so that I can be a more active member of my community.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Darbyites Should Not Drive

If you claim to be a Christian and think that you might be “raptured” at any moment, it would be sinful for you to drive a motor vehicle or pilot an aircraft or do anything where your presence is required to prevent potentially catastrophic results. Heck, you shouldn’t even be left alone with small children since they would be unsupervised and potentially endangered if you got “raptured” all of a sudden. Leaving a careening driverless bus or airliner is not a very loving act.

For this reason, I predict that God will use this as a test for deciding who gets “raptured”. Anyone driving or flying or babysitting while believing he or she could be "raptured" will be disqualified as inadequately loving and unchristian and left behind.

Incrementalists and Hard-Liners

JL Wilson posts about incrementalists and hard-liners Wilson sees both as having their uses and reckons that he is a little of both at times. I am a Georgian, and our state motto is “moderation in all things”, and I used to strive to be an “extreme moderate”, a living oxymoron like the man who won a medal for humility and had it taken away because he wore it.

Wilson lists some attributes of a libertarian that he regards as essential:

1. Pro-peace/anti-intervention in the affairs of other countries2. Pro-freedom of speech/anti-censorship3. Pro-self-defense/anti-gun control4. Pro-self-determination on health choices and lifestyle/anti-Drug War5. Pro-freedom of association6. A general and substantial decrease in the tax burden.7. A general and substantical descrease in our dependence on government for health, education, and income.8. General and non-prejudicial freedom of commerce and trade.

I agree with him on these points, but I believe that they can all be reduced to a commitment to non-coercion and non-aggression. This is the one value about which I cannot be a moderate. I take a hard line against coercion and aggression. That said, I favor reductions in aggression and coercion over increases of them. In that sense, I am an incrementalist.

Some hard-liners seem to me to engage in catastrophic thinking. It’s either the perfect outcome or nothing for them. Anything less than everything is nothing to them. I am pro-choice as an extension of my commitment to non-aggression/non-coercion, but I acknowledge that folks might have a serious scruple about abortion and I have nothing against non-coercive efforts to reduce the number of abortions. But many of the hard-liners I know on the womb control front are bent on one thing: criminalizing abortion. Nothing other than the use of force to end the practice of abortion will satisfy them.

I am currently reading Jimmy Carter’s “Our Endangered Values”, and he writes at length about the issue of abortion. As the only practicing Christian to serve as President in my lifetime, it is interesting to read how he reconciled his religious beliefs with his responsibilities as a public official. Carter obeyed Roe v Wade as the law of the land but objected to public funding of abortions. He also thought it would be appropriate to address the causes of unwanted pregnancies and the issues that led women to have abortions instead of bringing pregnancies to term. Among the things he promoted was facilitation of adoption.

I disagree with President Carter on the propriety of the government’s spending money to influence the number of abortions one way or another, but I agree that there are ways short of criminalizing abortion and ceding control over women’s bodies to the state to reduce by a lot the number of abortions. My hard-line womb control authoritarians want none of it, however. The fact is that education about contraception results in a reduction in the number of unwanted pregnancies. Teenaged American women, who learn about contraception from each other, are many multiples more likely to get pregnant than their more well informed European counterparts. My hard-liner womb control enthusiasts are against teenagers’ having information about contraception. It’s abstinence or nothing. This stance breeds more unwanted pregnancies which in turn leads to more abortions. This is a pretty bizarre outcome for anyone who thinks abortion is wrong.

Carter reports that close to two thirds of women who have abortions cite an inability to afford the child as a reason for their decision. Any number of non-coercive things might be done by charitable concerned folks to make childrearing more affordable or attractive or to make adoption easier. If women contemplating abortion could be assured that they would have sufficient resources to raise the child or that they would be helped through an adoption process, that would probably have a significant impact on their decision. My womb control authoritarians don’t give a dime to such programs, but they give money gladly to candidates who seek to criminalize abortion. They want to spread the costs of fulfilling their preference that nobody ever have an abortion to society as a whole rather than putting their own money where their mouths are.

I don’t mean to pick on womb control enthusiasts, however. Any position can be subject to catastrophic thinking. I don’t like drug laws, but I would support incremental decriminalization as superior to increased criminalization. I hate taxes, but I prefer tax cuts to tax increases. I hate war, but I would support an incremental withdrawal of troops from Iraq over an escalation or no withdrawal at all. I hate government and regard it as illegitimate, but I would favor abolishing some agencies over adding new ones.

Fun With Ideal Types

I am a big fan of Max Weber, the pioneering sociologist. He had very good advice for would be social engineers. Sociologists, he wrote, could inform public policy by helping to explain what unforeseen impacts proposed legislation or regulations might have, or helping policymakers to calculate the costs of proposals, or rendering opinions on whether policy would have the desired effects. Sociologists could not, however, tell you whether any particular policy or outcome was desirable. In other words, sociology is about what is, not what ought to be.

Another valuable contribution of Weber was his method of constructing Ideal Types as devices for generating sociological questions. An Ideal Type is not ideal in the sense of being desirable; rather, it is ideal in the sense of being unreal, a heuristic useful for thinking about social structure. For example, Weber wrote extensively about what a bureaucracy or a number of other social structures would look like if they conformed to their Ideal Types. In constructing Types, Weber assumed perfect rationality, and research questions arose whenever the actual social structure deviated from what perfectly rational human beings would produce.

I find Weber’s Ideal Types useful for thinking about society even now that I no longer engage in social science except of the strictly armchair variety. I am just another “folk” social scientist trying to navigate a complex social environment. One of the problematic aspects of the device, and what makes it fun, in my view, is that, in order to determine what a perfectly rational human being would do, you have to make some important assumptions about the goals of your theoretical humans. What do you reckon your ideal bureaucrat wants to accomplish? Having decided that, you then determine what a perfectly rational bureaucrat would do under the circumstances to reach those goals. If your real bureaucrat does something different from what you predicted, you have some explaining to do.

One of my favorite mental games is to think about human action that deviates from type by assuming that I got the goals wrong. If you assume that the actor intended the outcome he got, that is one way to explain deviations from type. For example, think about the debacle in Iraq with the assumption that the Bush regime intended everything to happen pretty much as it did. Instead of theorizing that Bush and his minions were incompetent, picture them as evil geniuses. We can’t know what is in another’s mind or what motivates him, but we can judge him by the fruits of his actions, and I find that the evil genius assumption helps me make sense of the actions of the regime. If they were just incompetent, wouldn’t you expect them to get something right occasionally purely by accident? And how is it that every major “failure” of the regime results in increased resources and power for the very people who failed?

Another favorite sociologist of mine is the late MG Smith, whom I consider Weberian to the core. Smith criticized the way sociologists speak about the “function” of social structural elements as if there were some collective motivation at work. For Smith, it was more appropriate to speak of the “effects” of such elements, and he regarded “effects” and “functions” as synonymous. It is fun to think about organizations as functioning to produce some perverse effects. For example, is it the function of the Homeland Security apparatus of the US to render the US less secure by diverting security resources to useless activities? Is a primary function of the US military to redistribute the treasure of the American people to various well-connected contractors? Do political parties function primarily to reduce the number and ideological diversity of candidates for public office?

To me, the world makes so much more sense when I assume a relatively high degree of rationality even when that means acknowledging a lot more evil in the world than I would like to.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Men's Right to Choose?

Angelica at Battlepanda has an interesting post on the argument raised by some advocates of “Men’s Rights” that men ought to be able to state a preference for abortion and thereby avoid any child support obligation if the woman chooses to carry the pregnancy to term anyway .

In my view, while there is some similarity between the right of a woman to control her own body (this involves personal sovereignty) and the imposition of support obligations (this involves property, an aspect of personal sovereignty), the two issues are about two distinct rights and two distinct exercises of power by the state.

In a perfect world, support would be a matter decided by contract between the parents. Neither parent has a “right” to the property of the other absent an agreement, and a child has no “right” to the property of its parents or to any other person. Of course, we don’t live in such a world; rather, we live in a world where the state exercises power over everyone’s bodies and property with few theoretical limits. Our “rights” are of almost no consequence to the state when it deliberates how it will rule over us.

The perfect world I have described would doubtless be troubled by instances of parents who declined to support their children, but I reckon that there would be plenty of volunteers and charitable folks who would intervene and that coercion would not be necessary to solve this problem. The state wants us to believe that it has the solution to this problem: force.

Child support laws are ostensibly designed to provide for the maintenance of children, whether wanted or unwanted, and some states have apparently decided that it is easier to put the burden on the parties most intimately involved with the child rather than on society as a whole. The state could, and does, tax everyone and provide support for children in need and who have inadequate support from parents or volunteers. Perhaps our rulers consider that socializing care for children with parents who are financially capable of supporting them would meet with more public resistance than the exercise of such power would be worth.

The state concerns itself with the support of children in the first place as part of maintaining the illusion that the state exists to serve its subjects. If it did not provide for its most vulnerable subjects, this would be highly visible to the proletariat and raise questions about the propriety or necessity of all the other things the state undertakes. The basic premise of the total state might be undermined and become problematic to the herd. At the same time, every dollar the state spends on ordinary people, such as poor children, is one dollar less for the programs that enrich our rulers.

I would not find a child support scheme that allowed men to opt out before birth any more objectionable than the existing scheme. The upside would be that it would require a recognition that people have a choice about parenting. The downside would be that more children would probably be supported by taxpayers. Other effects might be a change in the number of children born out of wedlock since the cost-benefit calculus would be changed with a concomitant change in the number of abortions.

I Don't Want to Trade with Evil Corporations (and is there any other kind?)

BW Richardson praises BB&T for its refusal to lend to developers who benefit from eminent domain. I would like to be in a position to reward companies like BB&T for such socially responsible actions and policies. I long ago concluded that my power as a consumer is much more significant than my power as a voter.

Back before Mrs Vache Folle and I sunk all our money (and then some) into our house, we had almost all our savings in a “socially responsible” mutual fund. The fund declined to invest in blatantly evil companies, like tobacco or arms makers, or companies that did not meet the fund’s criteria for social responsibility. The fund did pretty well, and we got to comfort ourselves that we weren’t hurting anyone through our investments.

On her radio program the other day, Rachel Maddow interviewed a woman who was involved in the development of the “Blue Pages”, a listing of companies whose actions and policies are consistent with “progressive” values. I think this is a great idea, and I would love to see similar compilations or ratings of businesses on the basis of libertarian values. If possible, I don’t want to trade with folks who benefit from eminent domain, who use government to disadvantage competitors, who feed at the government trough, who gain from slave labor, who are complicit in murder or torture, or who violate any number of my deeply held values.

Does such a compilation/rating already exist? If not, what might it take to get one going? I would pay for a subscription to such a service.

On a somewhat related note, Dr Lenny wonders why corporations even exist: As a corporate tool, I have observed that the corporate form doesn’t seem to provide much in the way of real benefits to investors. Limited contractual liability could be had in other ways, and as often as not the corporate form carries with it tort liability for the acts and omissions of long departed predecessors. Moreover, the added costs of administration, loss of transparency and bizarre incentives that accompany the corporate form eat up any benefits that one might derive as an investor. It does enable executives to enrich themselves and legions of administrators like me to earn a living doing nothing with any bearing on the bottom line.

I confess that I am not all that clear on the basis of left libertarian objections to the corporate form in principle except for the embiggening that it facilitates.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Let's Have More Daylight in Winter

It makes no sense to me that the government grants us an extra hour of daylight in the summer when there are already plenty of daylight hours. Wouldn’t it be better to give us that extra hour in the winter? It’s dark when I get home and even when I leave in the morning most of the time in winter, and I can’t do a whole lot during the dark season.

I realize that the extra hour was added in summer so that crops can benefit. It is another kind of farm subsidy. On the other hand, there is no question that the main cause of global warming is the annual extra 180 hours or so of daylight that Americans use. Accordingly, the program cancels itself out. Any extra crop growth is wiped out by bizarre weather and drought.

It’s time for a change.

Why Would I Care About What Substances Barry Bonds Took?

I can’t seem to get worked up about the possibility that Barry Bonds used “performance enhancing drugs”. It’s not as if they endowed him with superpowers. He could have gotten much the same effect by working out for hours on end in the gym. That would have enhanced his performance just as much, but nobody seems concerned about athletes who work out or who use hypnosis or technological training aids. The drugs were just a shortcut.

What about a guy who practices more than usual? That would enhance his performance and give him an advantage over other players who did not practice so much. Maybe MLB should require all players to eschew practice, stretching, working out, eating healthy, or anything that might give them an edge. All players should have to come to the games equally out of shape, hung over, and out of practice. That would be fair. Then only the most naturally talented players would succeed.

In any event, I reckon it’s up to MLB whether they care about steroids and such. If Congress would stay out of the issue, it would get resolved just fine. If the fans really care, perhaps a competing all-natural league would emerge and succeed.

How Can We Deal With Gender Differences in Classroom Discussions or Meetings?

I consider myself a feminist in that I love women and believe that they ought to have all the same choices and privileges as men. Neither sex should be privileged over the other to the extent that it is not an inescapable function of human sexual dimorphism. Dimorphism entails some differences in capabilities and dispositions that may work to the advantage or disadvantage of either sex in any particular situation. The fact of sexual dimorphism does not have any particular normative implications, however, and I recognize that dimorphism may be abused as justification for policies that unnecessarily privilege one sex at the expense of the other. I also recognize that the plain fact of the matter is that males are privileged over women much more often than the other way around.

Armed with more or less this degree of feminism, I signed up several years ago for a course on feminist anthropology by a doyenne of the field, Sherry Ortner, MacArthur genius and apostle of the great symbolic anthropologist Clifford Goertz. Overall, it was a great experience, and I was exposed to some different schools of feminist thought from the “kill all the men and reproduce by parthenogenesis” school to individualist feminism. Sherry fell somewhere in between, but I’m not sure where since she did not seem to treat the class as a forum for promoting her personal views.

The class was a senior level course, and there were two male doctoral students (I was one of them) and about twenty female undergraduates. Discussion was invited and encouraged, but we male grad students contributed 90% to every class discussion for the first several weeks. Then Sherry announced that she was concerned that the discussions had become “gendered” and let it be known that she thought the guys should be quiet. We accepted that our participation might have intimidated the female students either because we were male or because we were older doctoral students or because of both, and we stopped participating in discussions. In fact, discussions stopped almost altogether for the rest of the semester.

At first, I surmised that the undergraduates weren’t intimidated; they just weren’t all that interested. They wanted to do what was necessary to get a good grade and class discussion, according to some I talked to, just seemed like too much of a chance to say something stupid and attract the negative attention of the professor. They were intimidated by Sherry, her godlike status, and her authoritativeness on the issues presented. They felt that they had nothing to offer to a discussion and had too little grounding in the field to articulate intelligent questions. The male grad students, on the other hand, were keen to get all they could out of their limited access to Sherry and weren’t intimidated by her nearly as much.

I concluded in the end that Sherry was partly right. The discussion was “gendered” in that the female undergrads were intimidated by Sherry while the male grad students were not. There were no female grad students or male undergrads so as to help to rule out age and experience as contributing factors in the different behaviors. In any event, silencing the males/grad students was not enough to solve the problem. That just left space for females/undergrads to speak up, but the intimidation factor was still present and apparently overwhelming.

In teaching and as a student, it had already become apparent to me that females on average spoke up less than males and that they tended to be more tentative in their assertions (except in law school). I don’t know why this is so or whether it is inherent or culturally conditioned or both, but there must be some way to make sure that the contributions of women in class or in any meeting for that matter are fully elicited.

I’m not sure that silencing males is the solution, however, especially in front of the women. That just validates their silence and makes for awkward relations going forward. I have never been sure that the women were intimidated by the men or that the men used up all the air in the room, so to speak. Rather, it seemed to me that the format and structure of seminars or other discourse were problematic and more suited to men than to women. It is, I think, incumbent on instructors to develop the skills required to provide more value to female students and encourage them to talk more openly about their ideas.

One method that I have been toying with is treating questions and tentative statements differently. Instead of providing an answer or confirmation, I examine the question/disguised question/assertion as a topic in its own right. How is it framed? What are the broader implications of framing the question in this manner? We are now discussing, often at length, ideas generated by the student herself and legitimizing those ideas. I have found that this, like any exercise in active listening, helps any student of either sex open up and speak more freely. Moreover, to the extent that the instructor can position himself as a facilitator, I have found that this helps students open up more than when the instructor acts as an authority figure. Also, the instructor should pay attention to the ground rules of civil discourse and help to insure that speakers are not interrupted or cut off, that common courtesy is observed.

I would welcome suggestions about how to deal with this issue in teaching, training and in business meetings.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Pit Bull Blogging

William Jasper Stone after an exhausting round of Monkey in the Middle. He's always the monkey.

Still More on the Church and Authoritarianism

I didn’t intend to “liveblog” my reading of Elaine Pagels, but learning about the early church has been such an eye opener for me. It turns out that the early church was way more accepting of women as participants and leaders in worship and the community of the faithful than the later church. One of the main complaints of the orthodox bishops about the Gnostics was that they suffered women to teach and lead and serve on an equal footing with men. They also employed a set of feminine metaphors in talking about God that undermined the notion of male dominance.

Pagels implies, or at least I inferred, that the orthodox church adopted a number of “pseudo-Pauline” epistles that represented Paul as commanding that women be kept silent in church and that validated the supremacy of men over women.

I am thankful that my own church encourages women to be leaders and take active roles in church despite Paul’s supposed decrees to the contrary. Nonetheless, at least one of my literalist fellow congregants believes that women should be silent and that their activities are tolerable to him only because men have “abdicated their responsibilities”.

Even in the Bible Belt where I grew up, most of the churches I knew about had women in active roles. Some even had women preachers. All had women Sunday School teachers. How did they reconcile this with Paul’s alleged dictates about the inferiority of women and their disqualification from such roles? They didn’t, as far as I could tell. Then and now, it was unlikely that such a passage would be featured in worship or Bible study, and if the issue came up it was dismissed as an artifact of the socio-cultural and historical context within which Paul wrote. That was good enough for me when I was a child, but as an adult Christian I have never been able to reconcile the idea that Paul advocated domination by males over females or that he supported slavery with the teachings of Jesus. If Paul never actually wrote the troublesome passages, all the better as far as I am concerned.

The more I learn about the early orthodox bishops and their authoritarianism, the less inclined I am to trust that their selection of texts for the canon was inspired by the Holy Ghost.