Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Carbon Offsets for Sale

The guy at Max Speak doesn’t care much for carbon offsets:

But this outfit that sells offsets thinks they’re great:

The idea is simple enough. I can help fund projects that reduce other people’s carbon footprints in order to offset my own. I would feel a lot better about tooling around in my SUV if I knew that some peasants in Africa weren’t wasting so much firewood because I helped buy them efficient propane stoves.

Better yet, I reckon I could sell offsets. If enough people send me money, I can quit my job and stay home and use the car a lot less. Also, I can cut down on other uses of energy and raise my own vegetables and such what with all the free time I would have.

Complaining is a Job Benefit

Kevin Carson takes on the Fish! Philosophy: He posts a reader’s experience with it in the workplace.

I am lucky in that I have never worked anywhere where there was an organized effort to improve morale by making workers pretend to be happy. Most places I have worked tolerated grousing, even expected it, and anti-grousing directives were made only on the authority of individual supervisors rather than as an organization-wide policy.

I got a lesson in anti-grousing in one of the worst jobs I ever had. I was a staff attorney at the Board of Veterans Appeals in DC, the entity to which veterans appealed decisions by VA regional offices. There were about 200 lawyers doing the work of twenty, and everything was regimented and measured and micromanaged down to the last detail.

At some point, some efficiency expert had decided how long it should take a staff attorney to work up a particular kind of case. Service connected death? 480 minutes. Disability rating dispute? 240 minutes. Waiver of overpayment? 320 minutes. Each staff attorney was evaluated for efficiency on the basis of hours worked divided by total minute values of cases worked up. I always hit 120% about two months into the quarter and had to twiddle my thumbs the rest of the time or get in trouble for doing too many cases. We were judged on quality based on errors that a special error finding section found in our work. These were spelling and grammar errors, not legal errors, mind you, and I always got 100%. I had nothing better to do than make sure every decision I authored was perfect. That and make a paper clip chain a hundred yards long.

You had to be an idiot to fail to make the grade in that job, but quite a few of the staff attorneys and Board members were barely competent. Every decision on an issue was pretty much the same as every other decision on that issue, so you were just rewriting the same crap over and over again. Service connected death cases really only took an hour to do, not 8 hours. Since the Board almost always denied appeals, you couldn’t go wrong writing up denials all the time. Nobody counted it against you if the Board sent a decision back for edits; it was only the final draft that counted. Sure, doing lots of rewrites slowed you down a little, but if you followed the Board’s rewrite instructions to the letter, you were safe.

The Board members, once staff lawyers like us, hated it whenever we showed any initiative or creativity or looked at cases from an unusual angle, but I was bored enough to try this from time to time and to advocate my point of view with some zeal. The Board members would belittle me and tell me to shut up and write cases up like usual. If I was so smart, why was I working at the BVA? After all, Board members were the folks who had thrived in the soul destroying environment of the BVA, and any sign that you still had a soul was like an unconscious canary in a coal mine.

The mindlessness, boredom, and lack of respect eventually got to anyone who was not completely brain dead, and it was common practice to complain about the system and the Board and what have you. If you didn’t complain, you would go nuts, like my alien abductee office mate, or become devoid of all self esteem. One guy actually had cards printed up with the title United States Attorney and explained that he was technically an attorney who worked for the United States, so self esteem bereft had he become.

I was in my second year at the BVA when my section got a new senior attorney, Wayne, who was also an “Acting Board Member” and next on the list to become a Board member for real. This guy never complained about anything, and if any of the rest of us complained he would say “Nobody’s stopping you from leaving” and point at the door. The BVA was perfect as far as he was concerned, and he was challenged by the requirements of the job and did not understand our discontent at all. To him, discontent was threatening the environment that he had mastered and in which he was succeeding.

After several months of this crap from Wayne, I took him up on his advice and abruptly quit by walking out the door, down the hall and into the section chief’s office to resign. I had been planning to leave the BVA in any event and was waiting for one of Wayne’s invitations to leave so I could screw with him. Since I was the highest rated staff attorney in the entire agency (equivalent to being the smartest moron on the short bus), this caused some consternation, and I was asked by the Chairman, my section chief and a personnel officer why I was leaving when I was doing so well. I told everyone that it was Wayne’s suggestion that inspired me to leave, that his squelching complaints was the last straw. He tried to deny it and to get me to stop saying that my leaving was his fault during my two weeks’ notice period.

I don’t know if Wayne’s career was impacted by my leaving, but I sure hope so.

Report from the Yard

We share our home in the warm seasons with a small flock of brown headed cowbirds. They appear every spring just about the time the juncos leave and are a sure sign that winter is at an end. They eat bugs as well as seeds from the feeders we keep around the place. Lately, they have been pairing off with the black bodied and brown headed males strutting and fluffing their wings at the drab brownish females.

These birds used to be known as buffalo birds because they were first observed following herds of bison on the Great Plains. With human settlement and deforestation, their range has expanded over the years to both coasts of North America. Where we live, the cowbirds appear to conform to ordinary migration patterns of other migratory species, although I have no idea where they spend winter. In any event, while in Stormville they don’t follow any herds of ruminants even though a herd of belted Galloway cattle is located conveniently about a mile to the north of us.

The cowbirds evolved a breeding strategy that took into account their pastoral lifestyle. They didn’t stay in the same place long, so they took to laying their eggs in the nests of other birds much like cuckoos do. I worry a little that they will have an impact on the other songbirds around my house by laying eggs in their nests, but this has not been the case in the 3 years we have been in this house. Will the cowbirds on the coasts evolve to tend their own nests now that they stay put all season?

Meanwhile, our other principal harbingers of spring, the hummingbirds, have been making themselves scarce the past week and visit the feeder very infrequently. We see them around the property more than we see them on the feeder. I hope we have not offended them with Mrs Vache Folle’s frugality inspired home made nectar. There’s store bought nectar now, so perhaps we will be forgiven.

The water snake appears to have a harem of sorts. We saw him basking by the branch with three smaller snakes wrapped around him. He goes from branch to pond and back again by crossing the meadow a couple of times a day, and it has been a challenge to keep him and Jasper apart.

A lot of the tadpoles have matured into frogs, and their twilight chorus is becoming more impressive by the day. Still, many egg sacks have yet to hatch, so I anticipate a bumper crop of frogs this summer despite the water snake’s predations.

Last year’s poison ivy eradication project seems to have been 95% successful in the front and back yards. We will set our sights on the poison ivy on the forest trail this year. This is a priority in view of the reports of increased toxicity due to global warming. No wonder I have been getting rashes where I once enjoyed immunity.
Mrs Vache Folle has caught the gardening bug this year and seems quite enthusiastic about replacing the weeds around the pond with perennials even though perennials cost money. Her English heritage is showing through in her love of order in the garden. She made me move my wildflower bed to a corner of the yard by the fence and have the old bed by the house mown for walking and fetch playing. Next thing you know she’ll want to plant a maze.

We have been working on the troublesome swampy spot this year yet again. We put in the silt and leaf litter from the pond over some river rock, covered this with soil, and put the turf from my new wildflower bed on top of this. Even with settling, this added a foot, and drainage should improve. We have done this with only a third of the swampy region and have decided to put in raised beds next spring over the rest. This is one of the sunniest spots in the yard, and it is too wet for any other use.

Bastards and Bastardy

Some of my conspecifics seem to worry a great deal about bastardy. They see bastardy as a leading indicator of moral and cultural decline. It may very well have a spurious relationship with moral and cultural shifts, but I don’t reckon that bastardy in and of itself should concern anyone. My conspecifics don’t see it that way, though, and seem to take the Dan Quayle view that Murphy Brown’s bearing a child without a husband was immoral per se (although, unlike Quayle, my acquaintances at least seem to be aware that Murphy Brown was a fictional character).

I am pro-bastard and pro-bastardy, so I like to take on the issue from time to time. Sometimes I frame the question to the anti-bastardists by asking if it is the state issued marriage license that removes the taint of immorality from childbearing. So far, almost nobody has admitted to me that they think that it is within the power of the state to decree what is or is not moral, and they inevitably move to arguing about the deleterious consequences of bastardy. They concede that a man and woman might form a family without permission from the state and raise up children just fine, but they imagine that most bastards in the real world belong to single mothers. Single mothers sometimes cannot provide for a child as well as a two parent family can. Even Murphy Brown’s child would suffer from want of a father, and the anti-bastardist reckons that he would be better off if he had never been born even taking into account the presence of Eldon the housepainter.

This leads me to another reframe of the issue. Should a person put off having children until conditions are perfect for childrearing? Children with nannies do better than children without them by almost any measure; therefore, it might be selfish to have children until you can afford a nanny. Nobody admits that they think conditions have to be perfect, but they claim that a two parent nuclear family is the least that a child should expect. Their authority for this assertion is weak, and it is generally conceded at some point that it is an arbitrary metaphysical assumption. The bottom line is that it is believed that a bastard will likely be harmed by the absence of a father in the home and that, as a consequence, the child will grow up all twisted and antisocial and beget bastards of his or her own in an endless cycle of moral decline.

Pretend I am a woman. Suppose I want a child but am not all that marriageable or can’t find a marriageable man. Must I give up mothering altogether? I don’t reckon it’s any of their business, but the anti-bastardist wants me to stay childless until I meet their standards. They lie awake at night worrying that I might reproduce and ruin my life, the child’s life, and society. Please stop pretending I am a woman now.

Most anti-bastardists whom I have known would not advocate the use of force to discourage or punish bastardy, nor would they like to see a bastard stigmatized in any way because of his or her parents’ choices. They just like to broadcast their disapproval of bastardy in the hope that it will catch on and slow down the hellward progress of society. I can live with that even though I have a distrust of anyone who displays such an unhealthy interest in the private choices of strangers.

Some are such zealous anti-bastardists that they advocate stern measures, including removal of bastards from their parents and placement in foster homes, presumably two parent foster homes. I seem to recall Newt Gingrich suggesting this at one time back when he was riding high. That’s harsh and far too costly to put in place, but the zealot reckons that the social costs of bastardy will be mitigated enough to make it worthwhile to pay for fosterage on a large scale. I can’t abide the notion that anyone has a legitimate interest in regulating the reproduction of another human being or interfering in his or her childrearing practices. But there are erstwhile social engineers on both the right who aim to create a Daddy State and on the left who aim to create a Nanny State. They are the real bastards.

Bastards and Bastardy

Some of my conspecifics seem to worry a great deal about bastardy. They see bastardy as a leading indicator of moral and cultural decline. It may very well have a spurious relationship with moral and cultural shifts, but I don’t reckon that bastardy in and of itself should concern anyone. My conspecifics don’t see it that way, though, and seem to take the Dan Quayle view that Murphy Brown’s bearing a child without a husband was immoral per se (although, unlike Quayle, my acquaintances at least seem to be aware that Murphy Brown was a fictional character).

I am pro-bastard and pro-bastardy, so I like to take on the issue from time to time. Sometimes I frame the question to the anti-bastardists by asking if it is the state issued marriage license that removes the taint of immorality from childbearing. So far, almost nobody has admitted to me that they think that it is within the power of the state to decree what is or is not moral, and they inevitably move to arguing about the deleterious consequences of bastardy. They concede that a man and woman might form a family without permission from the state and raise up children just fine, but they imagine that most bastards in the real world belong to single mothers. Single mothers sometimes cannot provide for a child as well as a two parent family can. Even Murphy Brown’s child would suffer from want of a father, and the anti-bastardist reckons that he would be better off if he had never been born even taking into account the presence of Eldon the housepainter.

This leads me to another reframe of the issue. Should a person put off having children until conditions are perfect for childrearing? Children with nannies do better than children without them by almost any measure; therefore, it might be selfish to have children until you can afford a nanny. Nobody admits that they think conditions have to be perfect, but they claim that a two parent nuclear family is the least that a child should expect. Their authority for this assertion is weak, and it is generally conceded at some point that it is an arbitrary metaphysical assumption. The bottom line is that it is believed that a bastard will likely be harmed by the absence of a father in the home and that, as a consequence, the child will grow up all twisted and antisocial and beget bastards of his or her own in an endless cycle of moral decline.

Pretend I am a woman. Suppose I want a child but am not all that marriageable or can’t find a marriageable man. Must I give up mothering altogether? I don’t reckon it’s any of their business, but the anti-bastardist wants me to stay childless until I meet their standards. They lie awake at night worrying that I might reproduce and ruin my life, the child’s life, and society. Stop pretending that I am a woman now.

Most anti-bastardists whom I have known would not advocate the use of force to discourage or punish bastardy, nor would they like to see a bastard stigmatized in any way because of his or her parents’ choices. They just like to broadcast their disapproval of bastardy in the hope that it will catch on and slow down the hellward progress of society. I can live with that even though I have a distrust of anyone who displays such an unhealthy interest in the private choices of strangers.

Some are such zealous anti-bastardists that they advocate stern measures, including removal of bastards from their parents and placement in foster homes, presumably two parent foster homes. I seem to recall Newt Gingrich suggesting this at one time back when he was riding high. That’s harsh and far too costly to put in place, but the zealot reckons that the social costs of bastardy will be mitigated enough to make it worthwhile to pay for fosterage on a large scale. I can’t abide the notion that anyone has a legitimate interest in regulating the reproduction of another human being or interfering in his or her childrearing practices. But there are legions of erstwhile social engineers on both the right who aim to create a Daddy State and on the left who aim to create a Nanny State. They are the real bastards.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Inculcating Shame

I recall some years ago that some wingnuts were harping about how we had a dearth of “shame” in America, that inculcating a sense of shame in folks would go a long way to restoring their version of morality. I reckoned at the time that this was about the stupidest thing anyone had ever said, and it still ranks pretty high. First off, shame just means you try hard not to get caught. Guilt is what they’re really after. Guilt keeps folks in line even when the risk of discovery is low. Or in my case, guilt makes me feel bad about the thing I did anyway even knowing that I would feel guilty about it. (That’s what comes of being made to feel guilty about everything; it loses its punch, much like the expression “see you in hell” loses its power if you use it at the end of every conversation).

Secondly, if a thing is shameful within a particular cultural milieu, it will produce shame. You can’t start with the shame and work backwards to effect cultural change. You have to change the culture first. And nobody can control the culture.

Culture is the sum of ideas, values, strategies, and what have you as expressed by individuals. All anyone should really do about culture, besides whining about it all the time, is to put his ideas and values out in the cultural marketplace and hope that they can compete. Unfortunately, many folks realize that they probably cannot compete in that marketplace (otherwise the culture would already reflect their ideals), or in any event, they don’t want to take any chances. They frequently advocate legislation to advance their values through coercion.

Whenever anybody tut tuts and tsk tsks about some aspect of culture, I always suspect that they are advocating coercion to privilege their favored viewpoint over all others.

Sayanora, Total Army

The concept of the Total Army was developed and put into place after the debacle in Vietnam for a variety of reasons. This concept, in which reserve and national guard units comprised an integral and significant part of overall forces, was put in place, in part, so that it would be unavoidable to deploy “citizen soldiers” in major conflicts. This, in turn, would help to insure that such military action had broad public support. In short, the Total Army concept served as a deterrent to military adventurism.

The neo-con regime which came to power in 2001 is fueled by perpetual war, and the Total Army concept is an obstacle to the foreign adventurism on which the neo-cons pin their hopes. The neo-cons determined that they could undermine the reserve and national guard components of the army through extended overseas deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan before those conflicts became unpopular. By the time popularity for these military actions waned, the reserve and guard components would be “broken”, and this would pave the way for a reorganization of the army with greater reliance on professional active duty personnel. Back up functions could be performed by mercenaries, if need be, and the “citizen soldier” could be dispensed with. This would leave an army much less susceptible to political pressure and more readily deployable at the whim of the executive.

Patriotism Free Memorial Day Weekend

We spent the Memorial Day weekend honoring the fallen by grilling steaks and working in the garden. We had an interesting encounter between Jasper and a water snake, but nobody was injured. It turns out that there are no fewer than five water snakes on the property, all solemnly meditating on the war dead, of course. I found this out when I went looking for my water hyacinths that washed away in Friday’s storm. Alas, the hyacinths were lost, and someone downstream is going to wonder where they came from later this summer when they grow exponentially.

Mrs Vache Folle spent Thursday and Friday at her mom’s place on the shore. Her mom’s current husband is a disabled WW2 veteran who had a lot of parades and other doings scheduled over the weekend. Being a WW2 veteran iseems to be his full time occupation nowadays. Note to stepfather-in-law: this weekend is about dead people, not survivors. If you didn’t die in the war, you have to wait until November to get recognized. But you can’t do enough to honor WW2 vets. Seriously, it’s never enough. They will parade to the last man.

We don’t participate in any patriotic mumbo jumbo on Memorial Day. We’re sorry all those millions died for the state, and we don’t want to encourage anyone else to die by acting as if those combat deaths were anything other than a colossal waste of lives. They all died senseless deaths, and the standard Memorial Day fare is an attempt to make sense of the senselessness and to encourage folks to sign up as cannon fodder. Also, politicians are always involved in the hope of having some of that glorious combat deadness rub off on them.

Some folks went around this weekend putting little flags on the graves of dead veterans, whether or not they died in a war. Who does this? Do they think they are doing good? My great grandpappy, Paul Landen Winstead, served in WW1, and somebody usually sticks a Memorial Day flag on his grave, even though he died in 1963. For some reason, his WW1 service is featured on his gravestone. His being a husband, father and productive member of the community were all deemed less noteworthy than his brief military adventure in France. Ironically, someone actually sticks US flags on the graves of the Confederate dead in the graveyard in my hometown. They died in battle fighting the very state symbolized by an iteration of that flag, but some flag distributing patriot reckons that they would have wanted to be “honored” with the red, white and blue emblem of their enemy all the same.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Mental Eminence as Sign of Progress

The men in my family have a distinguishing feature. Each of us, almost without exception, has a highly prominent mental eminence. One uncle has such a powerful mental eminence that he is known affectionately as the “man in the moon”. This gives us an edge in changing pillow cases, but it confers no other social advantage. I submit, however, that prominence of the mental eminence is a hallmark of an advanced evolutionary state. Look at the chins, or absence thereof, on our hominid precursors.

The australopithecines were chinless.

Homo habilis could not change a pillow case if his life depended on it.

I scoff at the puny chin of Homo erectus. He tamed fire, but he was helpless in the face of an uncovered pillow.

Neanderthal was an evolutionary dead end. I blame the weak chin.

Cro-magnon had a chin you could rest a spoon on.

See the clear trend.

The more prominent the mental eminence, the greater the mental acuity. I predict that the men of my family will one day be recognized as the next step in human evolution: Homo bigchinensis.

Activist Judges

I am sometimes confused by what is meant by an “activist” judge. Sometimes, when wingnuts use that expression, they mean judges who strike down legislation as unconstitutional and beyond the power of the legislature. These judges are said to have substituted their own judgment for that of the elected representatives of the people. In a system of limited government, there are, in fact, areas where legislators may not tread, and it seems to me to be a perfectly cromulent exercise of judicial power to check legislative usurpations. I rejoice whenever a court tells the legislature that it cannot do something. Otherwise, you end up with straight majoritarian tyranny.

In my view, inappropriate judicial “activism” consists of those cases where judges craft remedies that require the state to do something affirmatively that it has not chosen to do. For example, court designed busing of schoolchildren was, in my opinion, overreaching. It was proper to strike down de jure segregation, but the courts need not have crafted a specific solution to the problem. And attacking de facto segregation went over the line since this involved courts’ ordering state action to address a problem that was not a creature of the state. It is one thing to rule that the state cannot require segregation; it is altogether different to order that the state cannot tolerate segregation.

A court may properly rule that a municipality may not take a subject’s property, but I have a hard time imagining a situation in which a court could properly decide that a municipality must take someone’s property by eminent domain. Likewise, a court may strike down a smoking ban, but it should not be able to impose a smoking ban where the legislature has not chosen to do so.

In sum, there are circumstances where I want judges to be active and to challenge legislative overreaching. In other cases, I want judges to defer to the legislature. The former generally involves matters where the legislature has spoken, while the former involves matters where the legislature has not.

The Islamofascistpanhispanicists are Coming!

I am having a hard time finding out whether there really is a conspiracy to restore the long lost caliphate or create an even bigger caliphate encompassing all Muslim territories. This does not seem at all feasible, and I can’t really decide whether I would even care if there were such an entity and a viable group of conspirators set on bringing it about. The same goes for Aztlan. Is it the policy of Mexico to recover territory stolen from it by the US in the 1840s? Or is it simply a fantasy of some individuals who are ill equipped to bring it about? Should I care if some states decide to leave the US and become part of Mexico if I don’t live in any of those states? Or even if I do?

How about this for a conspiracy? Latin America once belonged to Spain and Portugal. Before that, the whole Iberian peninsula was in Muslim control. The caliphate should encompass Spain, Portugal and all of Latin America, plus the part of the US stolen from Mexico. Uh, Oh. Now that I’ve put it out there, someone might pick up on it and decide that this would be desirable. Now we have a whole new threat to fret about: Islamofascistpanhispanicism. Can it be stopped or even contained?

I have sometimes advocated the restoration of the Crusader States as a solution to the crisis in the Levant. As far as I know, I am the only person who advocates this, and I currently lack the means to bring the region under the sway of a Christian king. Should Israelis and Palestinians worry about my proposal? I reckon that they should embrace it, but even if they oppose it out of some misguided reasoning, giving it any credence as a threat would serve only to publicize it and possibly recruit new adherents.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

You Don't Have to Piss on the Grave of his Ancestor to Point Out that Jeff Sessions is a Wanker

Radley Balko reckons Jeff Sessions is a boob: I agree with almost everyone Radley says. Sessions is a boob, and he deserves any harsh criticism he gets. However, Radley goes too far when he writes:

“If Sessions is still whining about how Lincoln killed one of his relatives at Antietam, an ancestor who was fighting for the right to keep black people in chains, I don't think it's out of bounds to point out that the guy has a warped sense of what's important, and tends to nurse unhealthy grudges.”

I would be pissed at Lincoln, too, if he killed my ancestor. He did, and I am. I don’t spend as much time as Jeff Sessions talking about it , though. He seems to work it into speeches where it is a completely gratuitous reference as was the case when he spoke about helping Colombia in its drug enforcement efforts. But that said, it is a big deal when a politician is responsible for the death of a kinsman.

I’m still ticked off at Thomas Jefferson because he, as Governor of Virginia, wouldn’t arrange a prisoner exchange for my ancestor Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Warnack when he was captured by Benedict Arnold at the Westham Foundry. And Andrew Jackson had it in for my uncle Colonel Robert Love after my uncle beat him in a horse race. But I reserve the most anger for Lincoln because he killed several of my kinsmen, including my ancestor Benjamin Burgess, and he tried to burn down my hometown. It sticks in your craw, I tell you. It’s not an unhealthy grudge since you can’t ever get revenge on long dead Presidents, and we ought to be reminded of presidential misdeeds to balance out their apotheosis.

Secondly, Radley assumes too much when he attributes to Jonathan Sessions, CSA, killed in action, the motive of protecting the right to enslave black people. It does not appear that the Confederate soldier Sessions had slaves himself, although some members of his family may have had a few slaves (does having only a handful of house servants somehow make it less egregious?). He may well have been motivated by a desire to defend his homeland from Yankee aggression, to preserve the idea of limited government, to impress his friends and family or any other of the multitude of reasons that led men to fight in the War Between the States. Would you say of a soldier in Iraq that he is fighting to enrich oilmen, even if you reckoned the principal focus of the war was to do so? Why piss on the graves of all those Confederate veterans just to make a point about what a wanker Jeff Sessions is?

Even if Sessions never complained about his murdered ancestor, it would still be fair game to call him on comparisons of undocumented workers to slaves. That’s just stupid in all on its own.

Emotional Investments in Baseball and Politics

I am a baseball fan. I used to be a huge baseball fan and would catch every game my favorite team played on TV, on radio or in person. I felt as if I knew the players and that they were my friends. I wanted them to do well and really pulled for them with all my psychic energy. When the team wasn’t playing, I read about them and listened to sports radio shows about them and talked interminably about them.

I loved the Mariners when I lived in the Pacific Northwest, and whenever the Blue Jays were in town, I had a choice of tuning in to the Vancouver broadcast or the Seattle broadcast. This permitted me to contrast the perspectives of the broadcasters from both teams. When a Blue Jay batsman came to the plate, the Mariner broadcasters would talk about what a dangerous hitter he was and a threat as a base runner and such, whereas the Blue Jay announcers would fret about how crafty the pitcher was and how apt the batsman was to ground into a double play.

This mirrored how I felt as a fan. No lead was too large for my team to squander, but a slight lead in the late innings by the other team was probably insurmountable. The opposing team’s closer was unhittable, but our closer might just blow the save. That Norm Charlton, in fact, blew his share of saves was a factor, but not the entire story. I expected my team to choke for some reason, and this protected me somewhat from the heartbreak of baseball. Being a huge fan was emotionally draining and more than a little psychotic.

When we moved to New York, I never got attached to either the Yankees or the Mets, and I have gradually cut way back on my investment in baseball. I might watch the Braves, my first love after all, from time to time on TBS, but I don’t go out of my way to do so. I find that I am a more dispassionate viewer and can enjoy games for their own sake rather than for the sake of partisanship. I savor good playing on either side, and I don’t really care which team wins. On the other hand, as I said, I don’t follow the game nearly as closely. I reckon partisanship is more of a key to salience than competence in the sport alone.

I find that following politics closely in the news and rooting against the GOP are similar to my experiences as a baseball fan. Because I hate the GOP, I am rooting for the Democrats. This causes me to see the GOP as stronger than it probably really is. I fully expect that the GOP’s base will stick with it and that the GOP will pull something out of its hat to rally in the late innings. I see the Democrats as error-prone and having poor judgment at the plate. They’re playing not to lose and nursing a two run lead when they know they don’t have a solid closer. Worse yet, the umpire is squeezing the Democratic pitchers. The manager puts on the hit and run, but the batter takes the pitch! Add more baseball metaphors here if you like.

I wish that I could treat politics like baseball and invest less psychic energy in it. The trouble is that I genuinely believe that the GOP might just get us all killed. I don’t have to worry so much about the New York Yankees’ starting a nuclear war or setting up a police state, but the Yankees in Washington might do both.

If We Work Hard Enough, We Can Get Oil Up to $100 a Barrel in no Time

The government’s program to increase oil prices has stalled at the $70 a barrel level for some time now, and it is time for decisive action to try to kick prices up to $100 a barrel during the summer season of high demand for gasoline. We all know that there are very important reasons, besides the important goal of enriching domestic oil producers, for working to raise prices: higher prices provide incentives to develop alternative fuels, higher prices keep Americans pissed off at foreigners with oil and bolster flagging support for military adventurism. It’s time to use saber rattling and military action to shut off supplies from Iran and Venezuela. All to the better if we alienate Russia in the process.

But, you might argue, won’t the government be risking a political backlash? The regime can’t get any more unpopular, and the GOP base of wingnuts will stick by the regime no matter what it does. Their “leaders” will make noises about staying home come November, but they won’t. They’ll be motivated by some GOP trickery and come out to vote just like they always do. The religious right is in the bag for the GOP. In addition, the Democrats are so timid and afraid of rocking the boat that they can’t seem to get any advantage from GOP unpopularity. They’re hoping the GOP implodes from the sheer weight of its corruption and incompetence. Also, the regime can blame the oil price increase on hostile foreigners and whip the proletariat up into a frenzy of flag waving and enemy hating and magnetic ribbon displaying. All will be forgiven, since the people will be scared out of their wits and hoping the regime will save them.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

We're All Angles Now

I hear English is the official language of the US now. I propose that as long as we’re making things official and all, let’s have an official dialect. Naturally, I favor the south midlands dialect from my hometown, and I reckon that the “y’all” version is preferable to the “y’uns” version spoken to the east of Fort Mountain. All you dipthong deprived Midwesterners would have to give up your linguistic assault on your countrymen. And grating New York accents would be replaced by a mellifluous mountain twang. Instead of “fuhgeddaboudid”, they’ll be saying “I’ll tell you whut!”

And let’s put an end to neologisms once and for all. The official English language is English as it was spoken in my hometown on the effective date of the designation of an official language. If we don’t insist on this, it is possible that Spanish lexical inputs will infect the language such that we might as well have learned Spanish in the first place. We’ll need one of those committees like the French have to preserve the purity of the mother tongue.

Maybe this is not going far enough. Maybe we should purify the language of all the foreign borrowings that have sullied it since we brought it from the motherland. Let’s get rid of all those cowboy borrowings from the Mexicans, all those French and Indian words, and anything from the Philippines (boondocks is all I can think of at the moment). What the heck. Let’s take the language back to 1066 before the Normans polluted it with their sissified French frippery. Instead of asking for beef or pork, from now on I will be ordering a nice slab of cow or pig. I’m still not satisfied. Let’s go all the way to the language as spoken by the Angles before it became a pidgin for Saxons, Angles, and Danes. That’ll bring us together as a nation.

How Many Folks Can We Imprison? We Don't Know Yet.

I was appalled to learn that 1 in every 136 people in America is behind bars. Is this the optimum number, or can we do better?

Let us assume for the sake of argument that it is undesirable to imprison everyone (except for the guards and rulers) and make them into slaves. Productivity would suffer, and the cost of maintaining the prisons would be prohibitive. Moreover, this would doubtless result in a crisis of legitimacy for the regime.

At some point, the number of prisoners will become disturbing to the “free” population, but this may be forestalled indefinitely by gradual increases in the prison population and demonizing deviants. One important limiting factor will be the burden of taxation on the not currently incarcerated portion of the population. At some point, they may chafe under the yoke and become unduly expensive to control. Long before then, however, the burden of taxation will result in decreased productivity and loss of revenue.

It will probably be necessary to divert funds from other programs into the criminal justice enterprise. Resources now spent on public schooling could go to prisons, and the schoolchildren could be put to work in the private sector jobs vacated by incarcerated subjects and by prison guards. Or we could just imprison them. Basic education could be provided in the prisons, and since most subjects will spend time in prison eventually, education will continue to be almost universally provided.

With a reshuffling of priorities and some serious brainwashing, we could possibly achieve the incarceration of 1 in 3 adult Americans. All old people could be incarcerated, so there would be no need for Social Security and Medicare. Anyone unemployed or on welfare would automatically report to prison. All homeless people could be imprisoned.

In the end, most prisoners would only be slightly deviant, and their prisons would not even need guards or walls. In fact, these prisoners could be permitted to move about freely and to maintain jobs and pay taxes. Their homes could be designated as prison cells and they would be considered on parole subject to their good behavior and tax paying.

Ultimately, everyone will be either pre-incarcerated, incarcerated or formerly incarcerated. That is, if we pull together and make the necessary sacrifices.

Fun With Ideal Types 2

If I wanted to generate problems for sociological inquiry (and who doesn’t?), I would use the time tested Weberian method of constructing ideal types. In a nutshell, Weber’s method consisted of imagining what perfectly rational people would do in a given situation and organization and then focusing on those areas which inevitably deviate from the type. Of course, you also have to generate assumptions about the objects and goals of the people under study in order to decide whether their actions are rationally calculated to lead to the desired outcomes. This approach should work for journalists looking for stories and angles. A journalist might imagine how a rational person would organize reconstruction in Iraq or the response to Katrina and then investigate those areas where rationality seems to have failed.

An alternative approach is to assume that the results achieved were intended and that the actions that led to them were, in fact, calculated to achieve them. In this manner, you might point to the disproportionate number of black people convicted of drug offenses and conclude that drug enforcement programs are designed to oppress and terrorize black people. In this kind of analysis, there are no unintended consequences. You might point to the instability in Iraq and the Middle East and conclude that the policy of the US has been to destabilize the region and to bring about sectarian violence in Iraq. This would be a good way for journalists to question politicians. “Mr. President, how did you arrive at the decision to abrogate the Geneva Convention?” “What is your next step in your plan to obtain dictatorial powers?” “Mr Speaker, will the House of Representatives dissolve itself, or will you wait for the President to dissolve it by decree?”

Another possibility is to add yet another dimension to the construction of the ideal type. In addition to rationality, assume that your subjects are evil or sublimely selfish. This works well in politics. You really can't go wrong by attributing to politicians the meanest, most self centered goals imaginable. Assume that every legislator has only two goals: staying in office and getting richer by the minute. Assume that every President secretly, or not so secretly, yearns to wear a crown. The Founding Fathers did.

I also like to imagine that my subjects' goals are grander than their achievements. Only 1 in 136 Americans is behind bars? What would be the best way to double that accomplishment? I know! Let's criminalize dealing with undocumented aliens. Criminalizing tobacco would be a big boost to the criminal justice industry.

MG Smith's Individualist Perspective on Social Structure

The late Jamaican sociologist and poet MG Smith, while better known for his work on pluralism, earns our gratitude for his problematization of the concept of society as a “system” and of the concept of “function”. While I cannot find that he ever identified himself as such, I always felt that his views were informed, more than anything else, by good old-fashioned bourgeois liberalism. This helped to insure his relative obscurity.

I agree with Smith that it usually makes no sense at all to speak of society as a “system”. Perhaps for some limited purpose, this might do, but for the most part the multitude of individual social interactions does not constitute a system in any meaningful sense. Central planners and social engineers like to think that it does, because their existence would be mooted if it did not.

The idea of “function” also came under attack by Smith, and I reckon that functionalist thinking has clouded the sociological imagination for long enough now. Smith preferred the term “effects” instead of “function”. A social phenomenon may be said to produce such and such effects, and this obviates the need to assume that these were intended by the actors or, worse, by the “group”. “Groups” don’t have intentions or goals; individuals within groups do have these, but the outcome of group endeavors may or may not coincide with individual aspirations.

Smith was also careful to distinguish between “groups” and “categories”. “Groups” are collections of individuals that are organized on one or more principles. “Categories” are collections of individuals based on some common characteristic. The NAACP is a group; whereas, “black people” is a category. The teacher’s union is a group; whereas, “schoolteachers” is a category.

A common theme of Smith’s work in social structure was the problematization of collectivist terminology and thinking, and this was decidedly unfashionable in the mid to late 20th Century. Rational social choice theory was not sexy at all, and it was mainly left to practitioners of the dismal science. He was no libertarian himself, but his perspective may be helpful to libertarians as they frame discussions about the nature of the state and the social order.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Free Pit Bull

Mrs Vache Folle loves dogs and volunteers to walk dogs in shelters and at a rescue group. A lot of these dogs are pit bulls or part pit bull, and because of the bad rap this breed gets, they are difficult to place. One of Mrs VF’s canine friends whom she walks is currently living in a basement for want of a home:

Here’s Capri with Mrs VF:

He is a great dog, and I would seriously consider adopting him myself if we didn’t already have a full house that included Jesse, who is most unwelcoming to newcomers. He comes off as excitable, but that’s because he gets very little attention and exercise. I have no doubt that a couple of weeks as someone’s pet would calm him down considerably. He is smart as a whip and motivated by play and snacks.

If anyone knows of a home in need of a pit bull (and what home doesn’t need one?), I offer Capri for their consideration.

Travesty at AFV

When I am feeling especially dull, I like to watch America’s Funniest Videos There is nothing funnier than a piƱata mishap or drunken wedding guests on the dance floor. I really like the videos of animals and children in spontaneous situations. That Tom Bergeron really puts me at my ease. He has three shows, you know, such is his range as a showman.

Some of the videos seem staged to me. Sure, you just happened to have a video camera on the guys building a shed when the walls collapsed on them. Everybody tapes shed construction, don’t they? A lot of the ones with kids seem really contrived to me. You know the ones, where some too cute to be true kid is set up for maximum adorableness. I’d much rather see candid shots of kids being their funny selves while going about their business.

Last week, there was a special contest on location at Disney World, complete with creepy Disney characters, to determine the funniest video ever. First prize was a quarter of a million bucks. The winner? A woman with her infant quadruplet (maybe it was quintuplets) girls who laughed on cue to their dad’s funny face making. Adorable? You bet. Funniest video ever? You have got to be kidding me. The laughing babies were up against a dachshund who grabbed a lit roman candle and ran amok through a neighborhood while the candle spewed fire at horrified onlookers. That was way funnier than the laughing quads but not even close to being the funniest of all time. The third finalist was apparently not memorable, since I don’t remember it.
As is usually the case, my candidate did not even make the finals. The funniest video ever was a chimpanzee who inserted his finger into his anus, sniffed it, then pretended to faint. What were the producers of AFV thinking? That video had all the comic elements: lower primate, finger in butt, and mock fainting.

You are Probably a Criminal

My father, a factory worker, informed me that his employer uses undocumented aliens as leverage against employees. They come right out and tell employees that if they don’t like their benefits/pay/conditions, there are plenty of undocumented aliens who would gladly take their jobs for less money/no benefits/worse conditions. Dad also reckons that his employer has pull with the immigration authorities since they openly recruit undocumented workers in Mexico and bring them to northwest Georgia. Dad’s proposed solution is to grant the aliens the same rights as Americans so that they won’t comprise an underclass. That way, locals and newcomers will be in the same bargaining position and can’t be so easily played off against one another.

For businesses like my father’s employer, immigration laws are a hammer to be used against workers. You don’t want to enforce them consistently because you want the workers, but you want the laws on the books to use against any of them that get too uppity. This is true of many of the legions of laws on the books. Back when I was a campus cop, we were instructed to enforce parking regulations inconsistently because parking fines were a significant source of revenue for the university. We wanted folks to park illegally, and consistent enforcement would deter infractions and reduce revenues.

Drug laws are a further example. They provide a rationale for an extensive regime of surveillance and policing of impoverished neighborhoods, especially those inhabited by black folks. Drug laws are enforced inconsistently and are used as leverage by police and prosecutors in non-drug cases. The disproportionate number of black drug defendants and convicts is a function of the disproportionate allocation of enforcement efforts to black neighborhoods. Police and prosecutors want to keep drugs illegal because of all the power and resources the drug laws bring to them, not because drug use itself is particularly problematic. The entire criminal justice industry depends on drug enforcement resources to maintain its current bloated state.

There are enough laws on the books to make us all criminals.

Monday, May 22, 2006

When is a High Crime not a High Crime? When It's Classified

Let me see if I understand how this works. Bush commits a crime, violates his oath of office, but he classifies it so that nobody can talk about it and even the Ministry of Justice cannot investigate it. If Bush’s crimes somehow come to light, the journalists that exposed it will be prosecuted for publicizing classified information. The Law Lords are mostly reliable GOP hacks who would gleefully use the Constitution as toilet paper, so Bush need not worry about ever being held to account. Nixon was right. It isn’t illegal if the president does it.

The key is a prostrate, corrupt Congress, and Bush has that in spades. Even Caligula and his ilk maintained the forms of the Republic and pretended to respect the prerogatives of the Senate, except for the part about making his horse a Senator. Will Bush make Barney a Senator? I know he isn’t 30 years old, but the Constitution doesn’t rule out dog years anyway.

Monday Critter Blogging

This weekend we welcomed yet another species of bird to the property, the red winged blackbird. At first I did not recognize him because his epaulets were concealed and he showed only a yellow stripe. I have had an affinity for this bird since I first encountered them in Florida, and I almost despaired of attracting one.

Jasper has been driving off every wood duck pair that lands in the pond. No ducks need apply is his motto. Mrs Vache Folle reckons he is doing them a favor since our back yard would not be a good place to raise up ducklings, what with the dogs and snakes and neighbor cats. Jesse seems indifferent to ducks, but herons raise his ire. So far to my knowledge, no herons have even appeared this year.

The hummingbirds seem content with Mrs VF’s home made colorless nectar. We have just the one pair so far. It seems that they successfully defended the territory last summer.

The water snakes have been keeping a low profile, perhaps going back to their lair in view of the cool weather. I put six water hyacinths in the pond, and I expect that the snakes will enjoy the cover as soon as these double in about a week or so. We put in some other aquatic plants and rescued last year’s pickerel weed from the silt. The lily pads have just broken the surface. We’ll see if the turtles return to hide beneath them.

There was a big ugly air bubble under part of the pond liner, and we loaded it up with boulders so as to submerge it. I aim to add more boulders and make a small island for basking critters.

Whom Would Jesus Tax?

The process whereby I made the transition from authoritarian dupe to enemy of the state was informed, more than anything else, by a parallel transition from misanthropist to Christian devoted to love for my neighbor. Distrust and contempt for my fellow man led me to believe that mankind wanted controlling. This was my fascist period. I would have made a good Republican since I reckoned that folks were basically evil. Over time, as my outlook changed and I began to be more sympathetic, I became more solicitous of my fellow man and considered that mankind was not beyond help. He just needed government programs to educate him and protect him from vice and fraud. This was my progressive phase, and I would have made a good Democrat since I reckoned that folks were basically stupid. Later, thanks to the grace of God, I came to acknowledge the inherent worth of mankind as beloved of God and to love my neighbor enough that I could not condone the use of violence either to control him or to help him. I became a libertarian because I reckoned that most folks were neither inherently evil nor stupid (although individuals might be either or both).

It is my profound conviction that one cannot follow Jesus and support the state. Love of God and one’s neighbor entails a commitment to peace that forecloses any recourse to violence. The state, being predicated on violence, is in opposition to those institutions of civil society, among them the family and the church, predicated on love.

In view of this conviction, you can imagine how I felt when I heard seemingly devout Christians over the last week glorify the state. One man, a Catholic, told me that he went to church mainly in order to set an example for his social inferiors, a position my fascist self understood quite well, and that he reckoned the Catholic Church did not emphasize hell nearly enough to keep folks afraid and in line. While this was not advocacy of the state per se, I know enough of this man’s right wing political leanings to understand that he views the church as an instrument of social control that works hand in hand with the state.

In a different vein, another man decried as evidence of demonic forces at work the failure of 11 out of 16 school districts in the county to approve their budgets. The children need the programs, he argued, but the parents in the community are too selfish to meet the need. In other words, unless you are willing to rob your neighbor to pay for freshman sports and higher salaries for administrators and such like, you are not acting on principles that are “of the Lord”. I am in one of the 5 districts where the forces of coercion achieved victory, and I can look forward to a 10% rise in my school taxes. I do not view this as a loving act by my neighbors in the district.

Another well-intentioned and admirable man complained that a Christian camp at which he volunteers is ineligible for state funding because it includes religion in its programs. Should any Christian institution form such an unholy alliance with the state? Would it be proper to use stolen money to support evangelism? I don’t think so, but I am pretty sure he thinks I am crazy for posing such questions.

Every chance I get, I try to reframe such assertions in demystifying language that exposes the violent nature of the state and its inconsistency with Christianity. This makes me a crackpot, but my co-religionists are obliged at least to pretend to love and tolerate me, and maybe they will begin to question the mythology of the state.

I lay a lot of blame on the reification and abuse of the metaphor of sin and punishment. By the grace of God, Jesus has liberated us from sin. We can’t ever deserve God’s grace; it is gratuitous. Accordingly, striving to be sinless and to stamp out sin in the world is a pointless endeavor. If we focus on sin and guilt and eradicating it and controlling others’ propensity to sin, we deprive ourselves of the freedom that Jesus offers us. It is the transformation of individual human beings thorough the working of the Holy Ghost that makes suitable subjects of the Kingdom. Inasmuch as none of us can do this for ourselves, how arrogant it is to imagine that we can do this for others. And by using ungodly means no less.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Why Couldn't Jesus Have Children?

One of my guilty pleasures a few years ago was the pulp novel “Da Vinci Code”. I will probably go to the movie. Some folks reckon the Da Vinci Code smears Christianity and the Catholic Church, but I don’t see it that way. If anything discredits Christianity, it is those god-awful “Left Behind” novels.

As far as I am concerned, if Jesus had a wife and children that would not have any bearing on his divinity. He was fully human. He consumed food, slept, drank, had bowel movements, and did all kinds of human things. He even died. Would marrying and fathering children have been problematic for him? Is there some prohibition?

But the Bible doesn’t mention a wife and children for Jesus, some might protest. It doesn’t mention a lot of things. If the Bible never reports on any bathroom breaks, does that mean Jesus never went to the bathroom? The gospels are about the ministry and message of Jesus, not his domestic arrangements.

Is it the idea that Jesus might have had sex, even married sex, that gets some folks in an uproar?

Moral Pygmies at Let Freedom Ring

"During WW II the Germans employed a very effective tactic against the insurgents. For every German soldier killed, 50 civilians were chosen at random and publically executed. There’s nothing wrong with this if it saves lives.
Comment by Hogwild • 18May2006 @ 9:13 am"

Tbogg posts on a wingnut blogger at a site ironically called “Let Freedom Ring”

The wingnut reckons John Murtha is a traitor because he spoke out against the Haditha atrocity. What I’ve posted above is one of the comments to the Let Freedom Ring post. Commentary went from claiming Murtha was lying to impugn the Marine Corps and then took the tack of commenter Hogwild once it became clear that the facts were on Murtha’s side.

It is a strange moral logic that approves of mass murder if it “saves lives”. There’s doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the killings at Haditha saved any lives. Rather, it is this kind of wrongdoing that fuels resistance and makes all American service members targets. If it becomes conceivable that the US military would employ the methods of Hogwild, then they have completely lost the conflict and there would be no legitimate reason to prolong the occupation. There are moral costs that the military and the American people should not be willing to pay and deliberate reprisal killings of civilians should be considered beyond the pale.

When I was a judge advocate, one of my chores was to brief soldiers on the Law of Land Warfare. I usually explained this to them by distinguishing between killing someone and murdering someone. Not all killing is murder, but even in the area of combat operations you are not entitled to kill just anybody. Noncombatants, for example. I was always appalled at soldiers’ inevitable assertions that, based on what they had heard about Vietnam, they were just going to kill anything that moved, Law of Land Warfare be damned. And they would not turn in any of their buddies for killing civilians or prisoners. I came to the conclusion over the years that many soldiers do not have any moral scruples whatsoever about murdering people as long as they can get away with it. The military must not tolerate or excuse atrocities. If the military gives any sign that atrocities are acceptable, there will be many more of them.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The NSA Eavesdropper as Your Best Friend

Neddie Jingo shares some stories of how NSA eavesdroppers come through in a pinch:

All Glory, Laud and Honor to the Grand Multiparous Woman

In my post on encouraging higher fertility rates, I forgot to mention one other tool that the pro-natalists can use: denigration of people who don’t have enough children.

I have never fathered a child, primarily as a matter of choice based on a complex algorithm wherein I have constantly evaluated the costs and benefits over the years. On occasion, the analysis has come close to popping into the positive side of the ledger, but a visit by the nephews always resulted in an adjustment of the perceived benefits downward putting the bottom line solidly back into the red.

Because of this, I have been told on numerous occasions that I am selfish, that I owe it to society to have children. Even folks who are not that rude often question my decision in a way that makes it clear that they regard childlessness as pathological. The stigma of childlessness has already been captured in my cost benefit model, and it is conceivable that I might some day father a child just to get people off my back if that factor added to all others put the analysis into the black.

It doesn’t really bother me all that much, but I sometimes mess with people who question my reproductive choices by telling them that I am, sadly, sterile or that I once had three children who died in a fire and thanks very much for reopening old wounds. I usually turn the tables on them by asking them why they don’t have more children. Was your youngest child so horrible that you wouldn’t risk having another? That is, is she a "stopper"? Did you become infertile? It is theoretically possible for a woman to have 15 to 20 live births (more if there are twins and such) if she wastes none of her fecund years, and is it not selfish for families to have fewer children than possible? With fertility drugs, a woman might have multiple births every pregnancy and produce 30 or more offspring. Anything less would be slacking off.

In some societies, such as the Ashanti people of West Africa, grand multiparous women (this is a term for mothers of ten or more) are accorded high honor and prestige. Glenn Reynolds and the pro-natalists should do the same. All grand multiparous women should be feted and honored and held up as exemplars of virtue. Women with fewer than ten children should be less highly regarded but praised nonetheless since it is not always possible to bring every pregnancy to term or to conceive on demand. Women with fewer than five should be pitied, and women with two or fewer reviled for their selfishness unless they are still working on adding to their collections.

As it stands today, having more than two kids makes you suspect unless it is clear that you were trying for a particular gender combination, in which case three is acceptable. Four kids? Are you Amish or something? Five or more? You want watching. Let’s make having only two kids shameful instead of ideal. If enough women have huge families, the childless among us can rest easy knowing that our decision will not lead to the extinction of our race.

Lou Dobbs is a Know-Nothing

In this piece by Lou Dobbs a couple of things stood out.

“If it is necessary to send 20,000 to 30,000 National Guard troops to the border with Mexico to preserve our national sovereignty and protect the American people from rampant drug trafficking, illegal immigration and the threat of terrorists, then I cannot imagine why this president and this Congress would hesitate to do so.”

I reckon that this says more about how unimaginative Lou Dobbs is than about immigration policy. I can imagine a lot of reasons not to do this. First off, that’s a lot of troops from an already overused National Guard. And if we take 30,000 workers from their productive jobs and set them on the border, will we need 30,000 Mexicans to substitute for them while they are on duty? Secondly, such a response is way out of proportion to the “problem”. Although Dobbs sees these as crises, the costs of his solution are greater than the costs, if any, imposed by immigrants and drugs. I don’t know what to make of the threat of terrorists coming over the Rio Grande.

Dobbs also wrote:

“The president also said we need to hold employers who hire illegal aliens accountable — but he failed to say how. What should be the penalties for these illegal employers? How large a fine should they receive? How many years in jail for the executives of such companies?”

I don’t think it’s the Fortune 500 that hires the illegal aliens so much as it is small businessmen in landscaping, construction, maintenance, food service and what have you. You’re not going to nab any fat cat, cigar chomping, spats wearing tycoons when you crack down on employers. It’s going to be your lawn guy. Jail time?! You’d think hiring a willing worker was like raping someone. Who’s the victim? What danger is posed by someone who hires an undocumented worker? The worst anyone should ever get is a citation for such a violation.

That Dobbs really hates him some Mexicans. As far as he’s concerned, they’re all carrying backpacks full of drugs and hiding terrorists under their grannies’ skirts.

Centrally Planned Pregnancy

Shakespeare’s Sister snarks on a Glenn Reynolds piece that calls for collective action to make parenting more fun, easier, less expensive, more prestigious, more rewarding. Pro-natal policies will help to increase total fertility. Shakespeare’s Sister takes issue with the suggestion that loosening safety requirements will make parenting more attractive. (I’m not sure that there are a lot of women declining to have babies because the car seat regulations are just too darn onerous, and I don’t know that I want any part in encouraging such a person to reproduce.)

France has been trying to get French people to have more babies for some time now. “France a besoin des enfants!” The incentives provided so far do not seem to be enough to increase total fertility. The US already has many subsidies to parents from the dependent tax exemption to child care tax credits to public schools. This is still not enough to induce many people to have larger families. I don’t know what it would it take to get a significant increase in total fertility rates; however, since any subsidy will undoubtedly benefit families who would have had kids anyway, each additional child would cost the taxpayers quite a bit.

Moreover, any subsidy program will have unintended consequences and may have an unexpected impact on fertility or create new problems.

My problem is with the very notion of centrally planned demographics. I don’t want the state to have a position on whether folks have kids. It is a small step from a universally pro-natal position to discrimination against the childless or to targeted programs in which the state chooses the kinds of folks it wants to reproduce. The very idea that government has a legitimate interest in reproductive decision-making is highly objectionable. To advocate such a position is as good as saying that citizens are cattle to a beefivorous political class. At least leave us the dignity of being prey.

I reckon a lot more folks would have children if the government didn’t take so much from them in taxes and didn’t act as a drag on the economy. If people kept their own earnings and savings, they could afford to have more kids if they wanted to. To add another layer of government programs to funnel money to would be parents and to engage in pro-natal propaganda would just compound the problem.

There are a number of things that Glenn Reynolds and likeminded folks can do to contribute to a higher fertility rate. Number one: get cracking and have as many kids as you can. Even if you can’t afford them, have them anyway and farm them out to infertile families. Increase the prestige of parenting by lavishing constant gushing praise on any parents you encounter. Help a struggling family have another child by agreeing to subsidize its upbringing and by providing free babysitting once in a while. That way you can make sure that your resources go to families “on the margin” or to the kinds of people you would like to see as parents. If white Christian babies are what you’re looking for, you can focus your campaign on white Christians. If it’s some other breed you favor, invest in families of that ilk. Just leave me out of it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

De Facto Immigration Policy

My view on immigration is laissez faire, but I can see how other people might feel otherwise. For some, it’s a matter of taste; they don’t like Mexicans so much. Others have a more principled objection to immigration policy as it is currently enacted. The flow of immigrants is not, in fact, free and unregulated. It is actually influenced a great deal by what the government does or omits to do.

In a sense, the facts of immigration in America today reflect policy. It is the policy of the ruling elites to encourage a steady influx of undocumented laborers to comprise a class of the un-enfranchised, powerless, and vulnerable. Whether this is a good or bad idea is not the point here. The point is that this de facto policy is counter to the de jure policy as enacted by the duly elected representatives of the people. When the ruling elites don’t even bother to pretend that the laws matter, this is cause for concern.

Moreover, the presence among us of large numbers of second-class subjects who are in no position to complain about anything may be harmful to the working class. The existence of slavery or peonage hurts the working class. And while the undocumented workers are hardly slaves or peons, they are somewhat more powerless than documented workers. This pits worker against worker and works against the formation of class consciousness.

For my part, I don’t reckon the solution is more laws for the ruling elites to circumvent and which will just hurt poor migrants. I am not one to advocate more government power or the use of force on folks who are peaceably trying to work and make a living. The government should, in my view, neither encourage nor discourage immigration. It shouldn’t contribute to crappy conditions south of the border that drive migration to the US, and it shouldn’t interfere with people’s comings and goings. That way, the undocumented worker will enjoy equal protection before the law and will not weaken the position of the working class either in its bargaining position or in the development of class consciousness.

Political Predictions

Democrats will not regain a majority in either chamber of Congress this autumn.

The first female president of the US will be Katherine Harris, elected in 2016, after a stint as Governor of Florida.

The last president of the US will be Katherine Harris, overthrown in a coup in 2020.

GW Bush will not finish his term. He will have “stroke” while clearing brush in Crawford. In an amazing coincidence, Cheney will die of a heart attack on the same day. The Speaker of the House, who will not be Hastert, becomes President. She runs for re-election in 2008 and loses in a closer than expected election.

She loses to Al Gore who serves two terms.

Donald Rumsfeld will be arrested by Spanish authorities and tried for war crimes in Madrid. He will die in a Spanish prison.

News Roundup: Take Good Care of that Uterus, It Belongs to Uncle Sam

According to the Washington Post, the US government is encouraging all women between puberty and menopause to consider themselves “pre-pregnant”(unless they are pregnant, of course): The feds want women to take steps to preserve the health of their uteri so that blastocyst-Americans in the subclinical period of pregnancies are not inadvertently harmed by women’s bad habits or inattention to health. Good advice, indeed. Do healthy stuff. Eat right. Take vitamins. Don’t drink or smoke or use drugs. Get some exercise. Don’t do it for yourself, though; do it for the uterus. And if you’re past childbearing age, who cares about you and your useless uterus anyway? You are a life support system for a uterus.

It saddens me to report that the Carmel Central School District’s $91 million budget proposal passed by 68 votes. I made sure to cast my no vote, and I wish that the option was “Hell, no” instead of just “no”. And the biggest tax and spend board member was elected by a wide margin. Only a little over 3,000 people voted, and I reckon that parents, teachers and other parasites disproportionately voted. So a 68 vote margin of defeat for the voices of restraint should not be taken as such bad news. With a little GOTV work next time, I bet the non-parasitic constituents in the district could defeat the next budget and eventually take over the board. First the school board, then the world! Bwahaha!

On Rachel Maddow, a representative of a business group came on to discuss its pamphlets that tell Americans how to behave abroad so that everyone doesn’t think we are all a**holes. He reported that American brands were losing favor and that anti-Americanism probably contributes a lot to this. One piece of advice he passed on was that if you can’t stop talking, at least turn down the volume. Also, pretend to be interested in what people are saying and about their culture. Listen to people. Be courteous. For my part, I always like to start out by repudiating the US government and declaring myself an enemy of the state. A lot of people pretend to be Canadian, but if too many ugly Americans do this, then Canadians will get a reputation as louts. Then what nationality will we pretend to be? Australian? When the US is declared a rogue state, we probably won’t be doing much traveling anyway.

The wingnuts are not satisfied with GW Bush’s immigration plan. It is light on fascism and brutality. What good is sending National Guardsmen to the border if they can’t shoot migrants on sight? One of my wingnut conspecifics posed this question in earnest yesterday. I wonder why this issue is so hot right now. Are the Visigoths massing on the border? Or is the wingnut base feeling especially powerful at the moment because it’s all the GOP seems to have? Now’s their chance to get Bush to clamp down on all those pesky freedoms once and for all. Don’t worry, GOP, the wingnuts aren’t going anywhere, and they won’t stay home on election day. They’re bluffing as usual.

I saw Howard Dean on The Daily Show repeat last evening. The establishment democrats want him to concentrate on a few key races, but he is going with a 50 state strategy and conceding no territory. His take was that the key race strategy hadn’t been working so well and that it was time to try something new. I am going to vote for Democrats across the board for the next few years just to punish the GOP. Even if the Democrat is an inanimate object, I will vote for it. I bet there’s a whole bunch of folks like me: Bush Democrats, let’s call them. Not Democrats for Bush, but people who will vote Democratic because of Bush.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Vox Day and Deportation

Vox Day is getting a lot of mileage out of his assertion that it is possible to deport 12 million “illegal aliens” because the Nazis deported and killed 6 million Jews in about 4 years. It appears that his statement has been interpreted as advocacy of Nazi-like policies of deportation and genocide; however, I can’t find any indication that Vox Day advocates any such thing. I am not even sure that he is anti-immigrant at all (unless the immigrant is a woman).

Vox Day holds some unusual, illiberal views, and he seems to delight in making provocative statements and then posting some of the criticisms with his own rejoinders. He assumes a persona that is intellectually arrogant. That’s his schtick. He pisses people off the makes fun of them when they criticize him. Sometimes this is entertaining; sometimes it is downright toxic, especially when he puts on his he-man woman haters club hat.

Vox Day’s assertion about the possibility of mass deportation contradicts GW Bush’s assertion that it would be impossible. At first, I thought Vox Day’s statement was gratuitous pedantry. Of course, deportation is “possible”; it’s just not feasible unless you adopt authoritarian means and set up a police state. I am beginning to wonder, though, whether the assertion is a poetic way of making precisely the point that doing what the know-nothings demand requires a Nazi-like society to bring off.

In this subtle way, Vox Day paints the know-nothings as Nazis, and he does it without violating Godwin’s Law. Also, he can plausibly deny that he is making any such accusation when a know-nothing protests. And the protesting know-nothing reveals that he really is a fascist just by protesting.
I am pretty sure that Vox Day knew that he was going to be called a Nazi when he wrote his assertion. IHe seems to be enjoying the foreseeable reaction.

Mea Culpa to Sex Workers

Lady Aster gently chastised me for insensitivity to sex workers in a couple of my recent posts. In one, I perpetuated society’s irrational attitudes toward nudity. In another, I analogized GOP spending to a spree of drinking and patronizing prostitutes (I used the term “whore”) in a manner that might have implied that I believed engaging sex workers is inherently irresponsible. I do not believe this; rather, I just wanted to convey the idea that the GOP views its periods in power as an opportunity to have a big party at the country’s expense. I might have used any number of recreational activities to make this point, but I used the services of sex workers probably because its pejorative connotations cast the GOP in a worse light than, say, going to a baseball game or taking a cruise. I didn’t think this through, and I ought not to have insulted sex workers in this manner by perpetuating the pejoration of their trade. Associating sex workers with the GOP was probably insulting as well.

I am grateful for the chastisement. How else will I ever get “it” if no one will tell me what “it” is? I am a product of my upbringing, but I am sometimes capable of raising my consciousness and changing the way I think and speak about issues. Over the years, I have struggled with racism, sexism, classism, and a boatload of “isms” that have infected my thinking and attitudes. I expect that I have a long way to go and that there are “isms” lurking in the recesses of my mind that I don’t know about yet.

I was brought up to believe that sex was evil except between husband and wife for procreative purposes. Even then, it would be wrong to enjoy it. This really screws you up since you have sexual desires and sex is, in fact, pleasant and fun. Even when you get out of the Bible Belt, you come to associate sex with guilt and shame and self loathing. This takes a lot of the joy out of it, and I reckon the indoctrination is meant to do this.

The indoctrination included the concepts of sexual purity and pollution, especially for females. Girls who had sex were sullied forever, fallen from grace and not fit for marriage. Boys, not being in control of their urges so much, were expected to seek out such girls for gratification; however, they were also expected to repent and to settle down with a “nice” girl. I’m not making this up. This was how it was where I grew up, and this indoctrination has pretty much ruined sex for me. It will probably never be as satisfying as it would have been if the Baptists had not messed with my head.

When I went out into the world, I discovered sex workers, and I have patronized them over the years. I valued their services, and I hope that I valued them as human beings. I went from accepting that sex work was criminal to advocating decriminalization with regulation to advocating complete laissez faire. I came to see that the negative aspects of the trade were by and large artifacts of criminalization and marginalization.

One of my students was an exotic dancer part time in a club in Seattle, and she sometimes caught a ride with me to that city for the weekend. I once remarked to her that I worried about the men who spent their whole paycheck on table dances. She replied that she was worried about them, too, worried that they would come in when it was not her shift! I can trace to that moment a change in attitude about sex work to minding my own business. I wouldn’t have dreamed of regulating a man’s other spending habits. If he spent too much on lawn care, I reckoned that was beyond the control of government. Yet, I was ready to regulate his spending on table dances. Sex was still vice to me, and I reckon that I felt that men were not capable of moderating their spending, that they were helpless in the face of the wiles of those women and vulnerable to exploitation.

I came to realize that it was the sex workers who were exploited, not by virtue of their trade, but by club owners and by the police with arbitrary enforcement of idiotic laws against human contact. The workers did not have the benefit of the protection of the law and were the ones who were vulnerable to violence, harassment, and exploitive practices in the clubs.

God bless sex workers, say I. Now I need to make sure that I don’t contribute through my use of language to the perpetuation of myths about sex work and denigration of their trade. I will probably fail at this from time to time, and I welcome correction.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Keep Off the Gators

We lived in Florida for five years with our three medium sized dogs. Neither I, my wife, nor any of our dogs was ever eaten by an alligator, even though we came in contact with alligators almost every day. We knew that any body of water was apt to contain a gator, and we took care to stay out of harm’s way. We spent a lot of time out of doors hiking and camping and what have you, but we used caution in dealing with gators and venomous snakes. Some gator encounters are just bad luck, though, especially in mating season when they turn up in back yards and mall parking lots.

Some tips for gator safety:

1. If your golf ball lands within 10 feet of a gator, let it go and take a penalty shot.

2. If your golf ball goes into a water hazard, consider it gone forever. It’s not worth being gator food.

3. If you’re playing fetch with your Labrador, check the water for gators first, and keep checking at regular intervals.

4. If you’re water skiing on the Suwanee River, and your friends tell you there are no gators in the river, keep in mind that they are liars.

5. Always assume that there is a gator in any water you can’t see through to the bottom.

6. Don’t molest the gators. Don’t pet the gators. Don’t feed the gators from the barbecue no matter how much they beg or how cute they might be.

7. Don’t go swimming in the dark where gators might be.

One of the reasons we left Florida was the large carnivorous reptiles. It’s good to be back on top of the food chain. Of course, we ended up in cougar territory for a few years, but that's a different story.

Girls Gone Wild

I sometimes fall asleep with the TV on, only to awaken in the middle of the night to an infomercial for some DVDs of “Girls Gone Wild” or “Crazy Party Girls”. Apparently, some guys have made a business of going to Spring Break venues and talking drunken college girls into exposing themselves or engaging in girl on girl action. Actually, the “Crazy Party Girls” are probably strippers pretending to be college girls, but I digress.

I have a few questions. Where were these girls when I was in college? Supposedly, we were less repressed then having no fear of AIDS and having the benefit of the hard work of the Sexual Revolutionaries of a decade earlier. But I sure as heck never had as much fun as the folks in the “Girls Gone Wild” videos even on Spring Break.

Do any of these girls’ parents ever come across their daughters’ exposing themselves on TV? Awkward!!

Will future Senate races turn on a candidate’s having been a Girl Gone Wild? If so, will it help or hurt the candidate?

Do the guys behind “Girls Gone Wild” make money? Do they care?

Diversity Training Gone Wild

Via Rogier Van Bakel
comes a link to the Seattle Public Schools’ policies on race. Of interest is the definition of racism set out in the policy:
“Racism:The systematic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the United States (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians), by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites). The subordination is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society.”

I get it that racism is usually directed at non-whites, but is it really helpful to define racism in such a way that it is impossible to be racist toward whites? Moreover, the definition itself seems racist at its very core. It speaks of racial “groups” instead of “categories” and in doing so implies that race is, in fact, a valid organizing principle. A non-racist approach would specify that race or ethnicity is a “category”, i.e. a single characteristic by which a person may be classified for some limited purpose but which does not necessarily signify anything else.

Note that the definition treats all “Whites” as a monolithic “group” and implies that there are no whites who might have relatively little social power (an error that watching an episode of “Cops” will disabuse one of). Of course, since the subordination must be “systematic”, it takes little note of individual circumstances and complexities.

Van Bakiel quotes the definition of “Cultural Racism”:

“Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.”

Here, the policy compounds its earlier error by suggesting that “Whiteness” is associated with a set of values, norms and other characteristics such as “individualism” and “future time orientation”. The clear implication is that other racial “groups” have, as part their race, sets of norms and values that differ from those of whites. This is as racist as it gets, in my view. The policy claims that there is something about “whiteness” or “membership” in any racial “group” that goes beyond the accident of having ancestors from Europe, Africa, the Americas, or Asia.

This has always infuriated me about doctrine among diversity trainers. They seek to attack racism by acknowledging the significance of race while encouraging white people to raise awareness and make nice. That is certainly a worthy goal, and it is true that white people are often oblivious to the problems of racism endured by non-whites; however, I reckon that it is more desirable to raise consciousness among whites without feeding them a line of crap about how there really are races that come with race specific norms and values. I recall a diversity trainer’s teaching that black people are just naturally more rooted in the present while white folks look to the future, that black folks are more loving while white folks are acquisitive, that black folks are more sensual and white folks more austere. She taught this as if it were undisputable fact and not the least offensive and certainly not racist (since she was black, she could not by definition harbor racist views).

There is nothing, aside from phenotype, that unites folks of various races. White people and black people and people of all hues enjoy a diversity of values, norms and tendencies without any connection to their race. It makes as much sense to lump people together on the basis of height or weight or favorite pizza topping. And asking people to believe that the actions of people in racial categories are determined by their race is going to reinforce racism, not defeat it. The message ought to be that race, for most purposes, ought not to signify, that folks ought not to be prejudged on the basis of their phenotype. To do so is irrational.

We’ve all heard standup comedians riff, sometimes with great hilarity, sometimes not so much, on the differences between white folks and black folks, but we all know that these are gross, albeit funny, generalizations. We also know that cultural characteristics may be shared by folks who have shared experiences such as growing up poor and black in the city or white and middle class in the suburbs. What is not remarked upon is that the existential circumstances of growing up poor make poor whites and poor blacks much more similar in many ways than either is to more affluent folks of any race. Being rural, urban or suburban often means more than being black or white in terms of shaping values and preferences. To focus on the perceived correlates of race is the height of racism.

Racism is the attribution of other characteristics to persons of a particular race other than those following from their shared ancestry, eg vulnerability to particular diseases. The kind of diversity policy promulgated by Seattle’s Schools is itself racist. It is akin to declaring: “I don’t judge a man by the color of his skin; rather, I judge him by the texture of his hair and the width of his nostrils.”

Monday Critter Blogging

We had a new bird this weekend. It waded in the shallow end of the pond and ate up some bug larvae. I have tentatively identified it as a solitary sandpiper. That brings to 28 the number of species of birds that have visited the property in 2006 (and have been seen by us). There are doubtless some nightjars and the like that we just haven't seen, although we hear their calls. So far, the kingfisher has not appeared, but every other bird from 2005 and then some have shown their beaks.

It turns out that there are two water snakes in the pond, and we had the privilege of watching them engage in snake love on Saturday. I reckon we will have about 10 snakes in a few weeks when Janet, as we call the female, gives birth. The male is unimaginatively named Jake. I no longer worry about a plague of frogs.

Time for Militias to Organize

Rumor has it that Bush is going to send the National Guard to the Mexican Border. This is doubtless a sop to the know-nothings, but it will not be effective for any purpose except to garner their admiration. The National Guard is much too busy with foreign adventures to do much about immigrants other than shoot them on sight. Of course, that would probably be fine by the know-nothings.

Is it just me, or is the military intruding into more and more areas unrelated to national defense? Posse comitatus will be ignored, I am certain, since Bush is apparently at war with America.

Meanwhile, what happens to national defense? The young men and women who signed up for the Guard to defend their hometowns are on the other side of the world and now off to the Mexican border. If someone wanted to defend his hometown, he shouldn’t join the Guard.

I reckon what we need is a well-ordered people’s militia. It can’t be part of the government, though, because it will be misused if it is. We may want to arm ourselves and organize for the defense of our communities and to provide as volunteers some of the services that the Guard used to provide, e.g. disaster relief, emergency preparedness, civil defense.

The National Guard is just way too “national” and is too subject to the whims of the feds to be counted on for local emergencies and defense. We can’t even be certain that the Guard will defend us rather than occupy us. And civilian agencies aren’t much use (witness FEMA). I would feel a lot better knowing the volunteer fire department or local militia was coming to my assistance rather than the Guard.

Another function the militia might serve is as a constabulary. Many local police departments could be reduced in size or disbanded or augmented at no cost while militiamen volunteered to patrol the jurisdiction as a deterrent to thieving and other mischief. It might be vital to coopt police departments since they, jealous of their monopoly on force, could be a source of resistance to the activities of the militias.

Local militias would help bring communities together and would be a source of social interaction much as volunteer firehouses are. Militias, which will not be called upon very frequently to defend the community, might maintain cohesion by engaging in voluntary acts of public service from time to time. Of course, each militia headquarters will have a bar to raise funds.

The Bush Bender

In a short article in Atlantic Monthly (subscription required), Jonathan Rauch points out that the conservative “starve the beast” idea was doomed from the start. In sum, cutting taxes without cutting spending makes government seem less expensive; therefore, folks want more of it. It’s like weight loss, sort of, you can’t just diet; you have to exercise because your metabolism adjusts to the change in food intake. The electorate adjusts to the apparently decreased cost of government and develops a decidedly government friendly attitude. You have to tax at 19% or more of GDP to get folks to want to cut back on government.

I don’t think that conservatives ever really believed in “starve the beast”. It was just some simpleminded catch phrase to capture the imagination of the slack jawed yahoos in the new GOP base. I remember listening to Ronald Reagan’s radio show in the 1970s (my bus driver had it on, so it was not voluntary), and his insistence on balanced budgets seemed sensible to me. It was surprising, then, that he abandoned fiscal responsibility altogether when campaigning in 1980. He proposed to cut taxes without cutting spending and this was supposed to result in smaller government somehow. In fact, it resulted in bigger government than ever, and it took Democrats to restore any sense of fiscal sanity until the GOP could come in and break the bank again.

Maybe Reagan really believed the “starve the beast” line, but then again he was not the brightest star in the presidential sky. What is more likely is that conservatives have intended all along to cut taxes, whether responsibly or not, in a cynical ploy to get votes while using high levels of government spending to funnel money to supporters through patronage and contracts. They know that the trough will eventually be empty and that they will lose power, so they scarf up all they can while they have the chance. Then they leave the painful work of cleaning up their mess to the opposition party.

The clean up gets the treasury restocked and ripe for a new round of conservative plunder. The clean up involves sacrifice by people, and they eventually forget how crooked the conservatives were, in part because conservatives have been revising history to portray the last GOP president as great instead of as the corrupt and barely competent buffoon he really was. Reagan was apotheosized even though he was a failure, and you will see GW Bush portrayed positively come 2016 when the next round of conservative hacks arise from the ooze. “I’m a Bush conservative,” the candidate will proudly assert as if GW Bush had not screwed up everything he touched. And the yahoos will have forgotten what a disaster the Bush presidency really was.

It really is an ingenious racket that the conservatives have been running for the last 30 years. Each conservative bite at the apple leaves the country worse off than the last time, and the repair work of the opposition cannot get the country back to the level of health that it enjoyed before the last conservative assault. It’s as if the country had a kind of split personality where every few years it alternates between going to the gym and eating a healthier diet with periods of heavy binge drinking and whoring. It never gets back into shape entirely, and because it has blacked out the drunken years, it eventually falls back into its profligate ways.

America needs an intervention.