Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Feds are Fixing to "Fix" Higher Education

One exasperating thing about discussing my political views is that my statist conspecifics frequently resort immediately to the argument that without government we would have the war of all against all. If I suggest that some government agency is superfluous, I get the whole fear of chaos spiel right out of the chute. The idea that some perceived problem might be permitted to go without a federal governmental solution is so frightening that it brings up visions of warlords and total violent disorder.

I think that the Department of Education is altogether expendable. We did just fine without it up until 1980 when it was established. Now it has 4500 employees and spends $71.5 billion per year. All it does is redistribute money and meddle in local affairs. If it were abolished tomorrow, who, other than the 4500 unemployed bureaucrats and some grant seeking parasites, would miss it?

It seems that the Department of Education doesn’t have enough to do and is now poised to meddle more in post secondary education:

A third of Americans are getting college degrees now, and the DOE thinks that is not enough. The DOE thinks everybody should go to college and aims to help us pay for school if we are short of funds and prepare for it if we are short of abilities. The DOE thinks it can improve on post secondary education through central planning.

What would happen if DOE didn’t pursue this initiative? Would warlords take over the higher education system? I think not. The “system” seems to be doing fine now without the extra DOE guidance. In my opinion, the DOE has contributed to significant problems in the “system” through meddling, especially via financial aid programs.

When I was born, only about 4% of the population got college degrees. A college degree really meant something in those days. When I entered college in 1976, a beneficiary of a local company’s private scholarship program, some 25% of the population had college degrees. A college diploma signified much less, and it was understood that a graduate or professional degree was wanted to provide the distinction that a bachelor’s degree once did. This increase in enrollment and graduation was accomplished without the DOE but was due in part to government financial aid programs and student loans.

Now one in three Americans is a college graduate, and the cost of a college education has skyrocketed at the same time that the quality of that education has gone down. Graduates are saddled with crippling debt and find that their degrees don’t count for all that much in the job market. They have to have them to get jobs that once required only a high school diploma, and employers know that a pretty stupid person can graduate from a college nowadays. There are lots of schools that make a pretty good buck churning out clueless graduates. Tuition and fees go up astronomically as the demand for college increases and because the costs are deferred, reducing the incentive of students to economize.

This is problematic, but it is a problem that government contributed to, and more government interference is not going to make it better. I suspect that cutting back on student loan programs and the enormous subsidy that this constitutes for higher education would lead to necessary corrections through the application of market forces. These will not be painless, of course, but neither is the current situation without its victims. Ultimately, higher education would become less costly, and lower income students will be able to avail themselves of it without mortgaging their futures.

If intelligence is normally distributed, we might expect that 25% to 33% of the population will be minimally capable of doing college level work. This would be the upper limit of how many of us should go to college, and everyone else would be better off with some other kind of non-academic training. But I would not for the life of me impose my view of things on anyone, and I would be content for folks to pursue their own choices without let or hindrance from me or the DOE. But that would be chaos, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

My Sublineage Moves Up in Rank

I just learned that the senior branch of my patrilineage went extinct a few months ago when the last male scion passed away at the age of 84. He left only daughters. My cadet lineage, descendants of William Christian Warnack (1807-1836), is now the only one that remains. There are two sublineages: that of James Singleton Warnack (1854-1923) who begat nine sons who all migrated to Los Angeles around 1910 and that of his younger brother William Mortimer Warnack (1858-1929), my ancestor and founder of the North Georgia branch of the family.

The nine sons of James, a bootmaker and farmer, did pretty well for themselves. Henry Christian Warnack was a journalist and screenwriter of silent films in old Hollywood. John Houston Warnack served in the Philippine Insurrection and also worked as a scenarist in Hollywood and a real estate agent. James Marshall Warnack was religion editor for the LA Times and wrote extensively about eastern religion. Two other sons were pharmacists. Two died young, and I don’t know anything about the remaining two.

My branch, on the other hand, was a lot less accomplished. William had four sons, all of whom were farmers. One died in his early twenties. Two sons, Jim and Claude, got into trouble in 1907 when they got into an altercation with an acquaintance, Chester Wilson, who ended up dead. The three men had been harvesting their corn, and Jim asked to use Chester’s team and wagon to carry his corn to his barn. Chester declined and remarked that it cost money to keep a team. Jim replied, “It don’t cost nothing to act a rascal.” Evidently, these were fighting words in Varnell, Georgia in 1907, as Chester came after Jim with a piece of lumber. Claude intervened by hitting Chester on the head with the brake stick from the wagon, and Chester died from his injuries a few days later. The coroner testified that Chester had “one of the thinnest skulls” he had ever seen.

Claude was tried and convicted of murder, but he was granted a new trial due to erroneous jury instructions about self defense and defense of another. There were two more trials and two more sets of erroneous jury instructions until the appellate court simply overturned the conviction. The case, State v Warnack, is occasionally cited as an unusual application of the law. Ordinarily, one who intervenes in defense of another steps into the shoes of the person he is defending, but State v Warnack is sometimes said to stand for the proposition that the intervenor’s belief is relevant. I was called on in law school to discuss the case inasmuch as my family was involved, but I didn’t know much about it at the time. I have since read the transcripts which I have shared with Claude’s descendants (who did not know about their ancestor’s infamous episode).

Claude’s older brother, Gus, my ancestor, was not involved in the scandal. Gus operated the telegraph for the Southern Railroad, farmed and kept a general store. He was an avid fox hunter and bred fox hounds. Fox hunting in Varnell was nothing like English fox hunting. In Varnell, you drove the dogs out to the woods in the evening, set them loose to hunt the fox, and started drinking while listening to the ruckus the dogs made. Gus was also a champion checker (or “draughts” as he called it) player and an enthusiastic gambler. He liked his whiskey and the ladies of the evening. I knew him as Papa Gus, but he was more widely know as Papa Toog for some reason lost to posterity.

As far as I know, none of Gus’s descendants has ever amounted to anything, although many of us have led happy boring lives and some of us have prospered.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Two Steps to the Inventor of Bingo

I have some interesting connections through Mrs Vache Folle. Her stepfather (who adopted her and her brother, their father having died some years earlier) had an uncle Joe who was a Catholic priest. He didn’t invent bingo, but he was responsible for bringing bingo and Catholicism together: ( And he inspired the creation of many more bingo cards than the game once boasted.

Did bingo save the Catholic Church from financial ruin? Only history will tell. In any event it will all come out in Father Joe’s sainthood proceedings.

Move the UN

Mrs Vache Folle went to the UN last week to attend a ceremony in which the president of Poland was presented with an award for his country’s treatment of people with disabilities. She reckoned it was pretty cool to have earphones through which translations of the addresses could be heard. Too bad she couldn’t get a picture with the prez to send to the family in Poland.

Her principal observation about the UN was her surprise at just how seedy the place is. The facility is pretty much falling apart. It may be time to renovate or, better yet, move. I don’t know if the UN owns the site on which the building stands, but it could sell it for a tidy sum if it does. That’s some prime real estate on the East Side right on the water. And if it leases the site, I am sure it could do better in a less high rent area.

Besides the cost savings, the UN diplomats would benefit from a relocation by getting away from the horrendous traffic that they now must endure. You may be a bigwig in a limo, but you’re not going anywhere fast when New York traffic is backed up (which it always is). Moreover, the cost of living for diplomats and staff might be considerably reduced if they didn’t have to live close to New York City. A more temperate climate wouldn’t be bad either.

Let’s move the UN to, say, Knoxville, Tennessee or Asheville, North Carolina. These are great middle sized cities with lots of amenities and beautiful surroundings. It costs way less to live and work there, and getting around by car is way easier than in New York. It’s not too cold in winter, nor is it too hot in summer. Best of all, the denizens of these cities would be proud to host the UN. Knoxville fairly freaked when it had the World’s Fair some years ago.

The denizens of Knoxville and Asheville are a whole lot friendlier than New Yorkers, let me tell you, and they would love to have all those VIPs and dignitaries come to their town. New Yorkers just gripe about it. Security would probably be a lot easier in Knoxville or Asheville.

Of course, diplomats would have to content themselves with a less sophisticated lifestyle. Instead of fancy Manhattan restaurants, they’ll have to make do with country cooking. Instead of Broadway, they’d have the Grand Ol’ Opry a few hours away or Dollywood. Diplomats would love Pigeon Forge, don’t you think?

Radio Rant

My next door neighbor is one of the most amiable and neighborly folks I have ever known. She is kind and generous, a delightful woman. I was surprised to learn that she tunes in every day to right wing talk radio: Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh. She listens to these toxic asshats all day long and is still a decent human being. I can’t vouch for her smarts, and her listening habits suggest that she falls somewhere on the left side of the Bell Curve. You can’t listen to those jackholes without losing a full standard deviation in I.Q.

I used to listen to Air America during drive time, but they are now on 1600 AM and apparently have a very weak signal. I can’t even get the station at all until I am in southern Westchester. At my house, 1600 AM has the insufferable Armstrong Williams and some right wing Jewish guy. Now there’s nothing worth listening to except maybe NPR.

I used to listen to sports radio a lot. My planned dissertation involved sports and the relationship between competence and salience, and I viewed listening as “fieldwork”. The truth was that I was a sports fanatic and that I was entertained by sports talk. I knew I would never don the pinstripes and play for the Yankees, but I might become one of those super knowledgeable fans who could wax eloquently about the prospects for the team. I would blow the dilettantes out of the water. Sports radio, at least the call in shows, involved having fans call in with their half baked opinions which the hosts, with their superior knowledge and competence, would debunk. The challenge for the callers was to avoid being humiliated and to have at least a plausible argument. I don’t follow sports these days, so it’s all gibberish to me now. It was, in retrospect, a complete waste of time and energy that I spent on sports radio.

For the life of me, the appeal of the right wing jackholes is a complete mystery to me. The three I named have the combined intelligence of an amoeba, and their every utterance is toxic trash. Listening to them is the intellectual equivalent of playing a recording of Pop Goes the Weasel a hundred times in succession. Do their listeners wake up in the morning and say “I feel too smart today and need a little dumbing down”? I suspect that the jackholes are entertaining to their listeners in some sick way. They are certainly not informative. Then again, some folks like cock fighting or bull baiting or watching snuff movies, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that the jackholes have an audience. I am depressed that it seems to be as big as it is, that my nice neighbor exposes herself to a daily dose of toxic spew.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Work Sucks

I am always astonished at lottery winners who claim they aren’t going to quit their jobs even when they have enough money to live on very comfortably without working. If I hit the jackpot, I would not go back to work, not even to work off a notice period. I might not even bother to call in to quit. No, sir, I’d never work again if I didn’t have to. I’d do work, of course, but only what I wanted to do without regard to compensation. Pro bono stuff, maybe. I would do lots of gardening and home improvement just as I do now in my free time.

When I was a kid, I was taught that “hard work is its own reward”. Now I know that unless you’re doing something you love, it isn’t. Work sucks. In heaven, we won’t have to work. All our wants will be fulfilled without the need for toil. In a heaven on earth, robots or genetically modified apes and monkey butlers would do all the work while humans lived lives of carefree leisure. We could all be Eloi without any Morlochs to prey on us if we play our cards right. The robots or lower primates, or even cooperating teams of them, would have to be programmed/indoctrinated with the principle that “hard work is its own reward”. I really can't see any possible downside to creating a race of super intelligent ape workers or an army of servile robots.

In my upbringing, those who lived by the “sweat of their own brow” held an elevated moral status. This was to distinguish them from parasites, not to glorify hard work for its own sake. After all, hard work was one of the curses God laid on Adam when he was kicked out of Paradise. Presumably, there was no work in Paradise.

It has been said that “work makes us free”, but this is surely a cruel lie. Rather, let us look to bring into being the Big Rock Candy Mountain where they will banish “the jerk who invented work”. I am tired of being a monkey butler.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

An Incoherent Post-Colonoscopy Rant

One thing I've learned over the past few years is that if GOP senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Arlen Spectre, heck any GOP senators act as if they are opposing GW Bush on something, they really aren't it. It's all theater. This last episode involving torture is just the latest example. Not one of these guys has any character at all, so if they look as if they have character, you have to know it is a trick. They really piss me off. They don't want to stand up to the regime. They are the regime.

Of course, their counterparts in the Democratic party aren't much better. I remember watching John Kerry "debate" GW Bush. He allowed Bush to desecrate the memory of the fallen soldiers by justifying the war based on not wanting to say they had died for a mistake. All Kerry had to do was say something like: "Shame on you, Mr President, for trying to exploit the fallen soldiers and airmen. They're sacrifice was worth far more than a cheap political point. You don't want to tell the parents of a fallen service member that their son or daughter died for a mistake. Unfortunately, that is the sad duty of an honorable and courageous leader. You are clearly not up to it." But he let it slide, playing it oh so cautious, and he let the election be close enough for the GOP to take it by fraud in Ohio. The Democrats are still playing it safe and failing to mount any kind of effective opposition. They make me sick. They don't want to stand up to the regime, either. They want to be the regime, and they wouldn't mind having all those gnarly powers the GOP has usurped when it's their turn.

I often hear or read some columnist or talking head talking about how "we" lack "political will" to do this or that or the other. If only we had had the political will to win in Vietnam, or now in Iraq. All that is wanting is the "will". To my way of thinking, to will means to want, to desire. If someone says that the problem is a lack of will, he is more or less saying that the public's failure to desire something is problematic, not the pursuit of the thing that the public disdains. We're talking grade A arrogance here. The problem with the Iraq/Vietnam/Omicron Delta 3 war is that the American people don't want to be in it. The solution is to make them want to be in it or to make their desires irrelevant. The public is stupid, and the pundit knows best. The pundits can bite me.

I use to be hooked on cigarettes. I reckoned that I ought to quit for the longest time, but I didn't have the will. I didn't want to quit, so I kept smoking. Nobody made me smoke. There was a subset of my personality, whom I called "Smoking Guy", who was really persuasive about having that one last carton or how maybe just a few cigarettes, like when I drink or have coffee, would be OK; however, he was still me. I didn't have to buy into his arguments. When I decided that I wanted to quit, I quit, seven years ago this month. Perhaps I should have wanted to quit much earlier, but I didn't. And it's nobody's business but mine. Political will is the same. Should I want my country to be in a war in Iraq? I don't think so. On the contrary, I think there is something seriously wrong with you, a kind of moral retardation, if you want your country to be in a war in Iraq. I lack the will, as do most of my countrymen, not because I am foolish or overly tenderhearted (both of which I likely am), but because being in a war in Iraq is, to anyone with an ounce of sense, both idiotic and immoral.

And another thing. Doctors have got to come up with some less medieval way to prep for a colonoscopy, for crying out loud. A gallon of purgative, laxatives and magnesium citrate?! At least they put me under for the actual probing part. Kudos to the highly professional and solicitous personnel at Same Day Surgery at St Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Return of the Despair Squid

I fantasize often about the revolution wherein the people reclaim their lost liberty. Will it ever happen? How can I help to make it happen? I am pretty sure that petitioning the ruling elites to grant us more liberty isn’t going to work. What would be in it for them except the same liberty as all the rest of us? They might have to work for a living and add value to the world instead of being parasites.

The same goes for most of the intelligentsia and the professional class. It’s not that they don’t realize the true nature of the state and just need to have their consciousness raised in order to embrace liberty. They know exactly what the state is about, and they are hooked into the system of parasitism. There’s little to be gained from appeals to them.

The likely beneficiaries of liberty and the principal victims of the state are ordinary working folks who are rightly suspicious of intellectuals. After all, intellectuals have been screwing them and lying to them all their lives. These folks must be recruited to the cause of liberty, and it is going to take appeals to the emotions to make that happen.

Who am I kidding? Those people don't want liberty. They hate liberty, especially when it is exercised by someone else. The best I can hope for is a tax cut and for the state to be too busy to bother me much.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sudoku is Evil

I can't stop playing Sudoku. I am not content with the mere 9 character version played by lesser minds and must work the 16 character "sudoku mega". The on line Washington Post has Sudoku every day: mini, regular and mega. You can make notes in the squares with your mouse. I like to run through each character in every 16 square set and then go back and run the individual sets. I don't put in all the possibilities except as a last resort. I make a note only if there are only two possibilities in a 16 box set for a character. Sometimes, I get almost to the end and find that I have made an error. AAArgh! I have to clear the game and start anew. I cannot rest until I have solved the sudoku mega.

Damn you Japanese game creators!

ADHD For Everyone!

It's ADHD awareness day or week or some interval or another. Because of my background and expertise in child welfare and children's issues, I am sometimes asked by parents whether I think that their child might be ADHD. They describe the symptoms, and I invariably opine that I think the correct diagnosis is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. It's hard to tell the difference, but parents seem to prefer the ADHD diagnosis to FAS for some reason.

ADHD is a real disorder, and some kids have it bad. But not every moderately inattentive or energetic child has ADHD. In my opinion, too many parents refuse to thwart their children in anything, act surprised when their children become out of control and annoying, and welcome a diagnosis of a disorder that gets them off the hook for bad parenting. On the other hand, teachers and some parents seem so intent on controlling children so much that they cannot tolerate any inattention or unauthorized activity. They welcome the opportunity to drug children into submission.

I have observed that parents may be placed in one of two schools of thought with respect to their children's personality and deportment:

A. Parents who reckon that personality and deportment are inborn and genetically predetermined.

B. Parents who reckon that personality and deportment are the result of childrearing practices.

Guess which category has the worst behaved children.

Attitude Adjustment

This morning I realized that I have been mourning the passing of summer and lamenting the arrival of autumn. Every flaming red leaf has been an affront. But summer ends and fall begins whether I like it or not. No amount of mourning or lamenting will change this fact. So I ought to embrace autumn and celebrate its charms instead of contrasting them with those of summer. For the first time this morning, I noticed how beautiful the foliage is and reckoned myself lucky to live in the place to which city dwellers drive to see the colorful fall leaves. Poison ivy is especially beautiful, the brightest red imaginable, and one of the early turners. The maples are promising as well.

Now if I could just figure out a way to make raking seem like fun. Or dredging leaves out of the pond.

More Neocon Moral Reasoning

The other day I happened to catch part of a TV interview with Condoleeza Rice. She insisted that terrorists were different from the US government because terrorists deliberately targeted civilians while the US government killed civilians only as "collateral damage". It seems that the key distinction in Condi's mind is the intent of the killer. The terrorist intends to kill his civilian victims, while the US government killer intends to kill someone else and incidentally kills civilians about whom he is utterly indifferent in the process. The government killer knows that he will kill the civilians through his intentional act, but in Condi's mind that doesn't constitute the same "intent" as the terrorist has.

Imagine you are Condi Rice. You fire a missile at a house full of civilians and kill them. You are a terrorist. Now suppose that there is an Al Qaeda target in the house along with all those same civilians. You fire a missile at the house and kill everyone in it. You are a heroic government servant. See the difference? In the first case Condi was out to get those civilians. In the second case, she didn't give them a second thought. In the first case, the civilians are human, but in the second they are no more significant than inanimate obstacles.

Now that Condi has explained it, I should feel better about those government killers' mowing down civilians. But I don't.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Where is Ali Massoud?

His blog has disappeared.


Scientists are sometimes admonished to beware of the human tendency to reify, i.e. to treat our abstract concepts as if they were real entities in the world instead of heuristic devices. For example, the concept "species" is useful for certain purposes, but it makes little sense to imagine that there really is such a thing as a "species" running around in the wilderness. By way of further example, the concept "tribe" is a more or less useful abstraction, but there are no actual "tribes" in the world, only collections of people who can be fitted more or less into the concept.

Reification is doubtless a useful tendency, else it would not have evolved to be so strong in us. It is almost irresistible, and it takes practice and effort to remember that abstractions are products of our own minds that we project onto the world. For most of us, the exercise makes our heads ache. It frightens us to question the validity and reality of concepts that we have lived with all our lives. For example, we believe that we belong to collectives that really exist and signify, and it is difficult to persuade folks to step back and recognize that the collectives are altogether imaginary. We either fear living without the comfort of belonging or fear acknowledging that we have allowed ourselves to base much of our lives on a lie.

Imagine explaining to a person of average intelligence that the State of New York is imaginary.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Boxes Made of Memes

Our social world is constructed through symbolic interaction (unless it isn’t), and this process can build very effective constraints on our freedom of action. To use a popular metaphor, we find ourselves in a “box”. Many times in my life, I have found myself struggling to decide between A and B while forgetting about the existence of C through Z. Remembering C through Z is a step on the path to personal liberation, but it isn’t easy to do. It takes affirmative effort and practice to “get out of the box”.

Every assumption must be questioned. Conventional wisdom and common sense must be distrusted. The counterintuitive must be considered. The structures of power must be revealed for what they are, for some of them are efficacious only when they are obscure. You must become mad to begin to be truly sane.

In our own lives, something as seemingly simple as the roles we enact should be seen as entirely subject to negotiation rather than as a fixed ideal to which we are driven to conform. What does it mean for me to be a brother, a husband, a son, a neighbor? Each of these roles involves a set of claims on me, and each of them may be deployed by me in order to make claims on others. If I understand the power of the roles and the associated discourse that accompanies them, I can begin to be free to negotiate what they mean and to build brotherhood, son-hood, husband-hood, and neighborhood in a way that liberates and serves me rather than boxing me in.

I am called an American by virtue of my birth within some imaginary boundaries, and this is supposed to impose considerable claims on me. Moreover, I am supposed to embrace these claims with pride and happiness and gratitude for the claims I make in return on America. But it turns out that the claims on me are quite concrete (pay taxes, obey commands, genuflect before the symbols of state) while the claims I have are abstract (freedom from some vaguely specified danger or tyranny). In fact, America itself is an abstraction, a tool for other men to secure my acquiescence in their subjecting me to their extractions and edicts. Once I know this, I can never go back to seeing America as “real” or the term “American” as signifying legitimate duties beyond what I owe to any human being.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Noah and the Marsupials

One of my more amiable co-workers, bless her heart, believes in the literal truth of the Biblical flood story. I don't argue the point with her because it really doesn't matter in our interaction what either of us believes about Noah and the Ark.

I have never been able to buy the idea that the whole entire earth was covered with water and that every person and terrestrial animal not on the Ark perished. I cannot believe that all the people and animals today are traceable to a severe population bottleneck only a few thousand years ago. Human diversity seems too great to have developed in such a short time.

The flood legend has troubled me since I was a child, and my first questions about it concerned kangaroos. Kangaroos, and all marsupials except opossums, are limited to Australia, and there does not appear to be any evidence that kangaroos flourished in the Middle East in Biblical times. There are no literary or artistic references to kangaroos from the Middle East of that period, even though such an odd creature would surely have been remarkable. There is no evidence of contact between the Middle East and Australia, and Noah would have had to travel far through unknown country to retrieve the Australian fauna. Then, following the flood, he would have had to schlep back to Australia with all those creatures to make sure that none were left on any other continent. The same would have gone for African and American fauna and for penguins.

In order to reconcile what we know about kangaroos with the legend of the flood as a global event, we must believe that there was a conspiracy to expunge all references to marsupials from human memory until they were encountered again by the Aborigines. There is no verse in Deuterononomy to the effect that "Thou shalt not eat of the pouched hopping beast". And the platypus would certainly have caught the attention of the diet regulators. Maybe these animals were considered so unclean that they were exiled to Australia? If so, why no mention of it in the Bible? The journey of Noah to the land down under would be a great story in and of itself.

This leads me to believe that the flood, if it happened, was a more localized event.

I Should Be Home Sick

I am in the middle of a severe bout of asthmatic bronchitis triggered by an allergy attack early in the week. Yesterday, I stayed home and went to my doctor who gave me a shot of cortisone and a prescription for antibiotics and codeine. I spent the day in a codeine induced stupor and rested. I used to get bronchitis 4-6 times a year, but under my current doctor's care, I get it twice a year at most during the worst allergy seasons. Right now, it seems to be ragweed or goldenrod that is bothering me so much.

I planned on staying home today, but Jesse Lou Baggett, the Ruthenian Shepherd, got skunked in the wee hours of the morning. I smelled skunk and went out to retrieve Jesse. I nearly tripped over the skunk who was right outside on the deck and who looked as if he was trying to come in the house. Jesse had already gotten a dose and was about ten yards away. He seems to have learned that he ought to avoid the stinky varmint because he did not, as I feared, continue his assault on the skunk while he was so close to me. In any event, the varmint sprayed his whole package of skunky squeezin's around the deck and right by the door. Jesse didn't get too much of it directly, but the noisome odor wafted into the house. There was no way I could stay home and endure the skunk smell all day, so off to work I went.

Fool that I am, I must have pet Jesse on my way out, so my right hand smells of skunk. Washing hasn't done much good. I might as well have stayed home.

GOP Screws the Pooch

JL Wilson posts on how conservative intellectuals are calling for the defeat of the GOP: The GOP has failed spectacularly and doesn't seem to know it or, if they do know it, to care. For my part, I am going to vote for any Democrat this fall, even if the candidate drinks the blood of a baby on TV. For all their faults, the Democrats at least acknowledge the importance of reality, and they can't do any worse than the GOP.

The GOPs best hope to stay in power is to screw up in homeland security and let a terrorist attack happen. This will scare people silly enough to reward the GOP for its failure. An attack on another country, say Iran or Syria, might also do the trick.

In case these tricks won't work any longer because the people have fallen for them one too many times, the GOP has likely put in the fix with electronic voting machines in key districts. We can't afford for the elections to be close enough to steal. So vote early. Vote even if you have to wait in a long line because your precinct has been subjected to vote suppression.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Moral Implications of Race and IQ

I have been following an interesting discussion about inherent racial differences in intelligence. I am convinced that individual human beings vary in their intelligence and that intelligence is more or less normally distriibuted in the population. One of my interests as an amateur anthropologist is understanding why above average intelligence doesn't confer an evolutionary advantage such that geniuses would come to abound. It appears that average intelligence is nature's preferred level of smarts and that high intelligence comes with some countervailing defects, what I call the "Nerd Factor", that renders geniuses somehow less fit than the average schmendrick.

I am agnostic about whether there are genetic differences in intelligence among "races". It is widely supposed that Africans are less intelligent on average than Europeans and that East Asians are smarter on average than Europeans. This may or may not be so, but even if it is so, racial differences in intelligence would be devoid of the moral implications some folks seem to think they possess. We sometimes draw arbitrary moral conclusions and pretend that they result from the "facts".

Here are some conclusions that can't rationally be drawn from the fact of racial disparities in intelligence, assuming it is a fact:

1. I can't tell anything about the intelligence of a member of any racial category until I interact with him. Any assumptions I make will be gratuitous and reflective of my own arbitrary biases.

2. If there is a racial disparity in intelligence, this does not mean that other disparities in wealth, income, health, etc are explained by it in whole or part.

3. I don't get to blame people for having lower intelligence, and I arguably should extend them an extra measure of solicitude rather than holding them in contempt.

4. I don't get to declare that society isn't broken but that some of its people are. Any society that severely disadvantages a substantial portion of the population on the basis of a widely distributed inborn trait is arguably unjust.

5. If there is a racial disparity in intelligence, then the use of intelligence or proxies for intelligence in discriminating among individuals is not "neutral" and is suspect, especially where intelligence is not all that relevant. Literacy is not relevant to civil rights, so literacy tests for voting are not "neutral" and may function to discriminate on the basis of race. Likewise, excessive qualifications for employment, such as useless credentials or degrees or intelligence tests unrelated to aptitude, may function as a cover for racial discrimination.

If there is a racial disparity in intelligence, I don't want racialists to use it as a pretext to deny the existence of discrimination, racism and other social issues. I think that it is better to demur on the factual issue (it may well turn out to be true) and confront the misuse of the issue. Let us call the racialists on their deployment of the "facts" to legitimize racist positions while leaving open the possibility that the racialists are right on the "facts". Instead of "Says you" let us say "So what".

It Was Good to Know Emily

Mrs Vache Folle's grandmother passed away yesterday. Since her primary caregiver, her eldest daughter, died suddenly a few months ago, she had been living with her son in Colorado. It must have been hard on her to leave the house she had lived in since about 1930. We didn't know her until a few years ago. She had been estranged from half her children, including Mrs VF's mother, and so Mrs VF had almost no contact with her or the caregiver aunt. I had been estranged from my father for decades and had reached out to him and forgiven him, and this had been a great boon to me. Mrs VF decided to reach out to her aunt and grandmother and began to visit and call from time to time. We learned a lot about the history of the family and began to understand Mrs VF's mother better for having known more about her upbringing and family history. The aunt gave us the lead that allowed us to find Mrs VF's Lemko kinsmen in Poland last year. I am grateful that we were able to make amends and get to know these women before they were lost to us.

Emily, as Mrs VF's grandmother was known, was born in 1910 just outsdide Wilkes-Barre, PA to recent immigrants from Augustow in northeastern Poland, then part of the Russian Empire. Her father and uncles, who lived with the family, were colliers. Emily had an older sister Martha, not known to most of the family but whom I had seen listed in the censuses of 1910 and 1920. When I asked about her, Emily started a strange story with the phrase "I blame my mother". It seems that Martha's beau, the boy next door had given Martha's mother Josefa a ring to pledge his troth to Martha but Josefa had concealed this fact. The beau came over one evening in 1922 and shot Martha and then himself to death, all in the presence of young Emily. This story might never have become known if we hadn't cultivated a relationship with Emily.

It seems that estrangement ran in the family. Emily's father Wladyslaw returned to Poland in the 1920s to settle an estate. Josefa refused to send him money for taxes on the estate or for passage back to America, and he remained in Poland. Emily recounted this with some glee, so I surmise that there was not much in the way of closeness between her and her father.

Emily married Mrs VF's grandfather while still in her teens and went on to have five daughters and a son. Her husband was a miner, and she worked as a seamstress sewing pockets onto trousers, for which she received a modest pension. Her son became an oral surgeon, and several of her daughters went on to acquire advanced degrees despite receiving no help at all from their parents who, as was the custom in those days, invested in the education of their son and trusted the daughters to marry well. Emily was widowed in 1960 when her husband died of consumption. She lost touch with several of her daughters, including Mrs VF's mother, as soon as they were old enough to leave home.

Emily was a long time survivor of breast cancer. She was a devout Catholic. She made her own wine and kept a cat. She and her daughter lived independently in the house on Spruce Street where she had lived for nearly half a century until this year. It is believed that Emily suffered from a form of autism which interfered with her ability to empathize with others or to form attachments, and I am pretty sure that some of her descendants show signs of the same affliction. Knowing this about her ought to make her daughters a little more forgiving, but I suppose it is too late now to make amends. It is not too late to put down the burden of resentment and anger and to secure the blessings of forgiveness. It is a pity that estrangement from the mother has led to estrangement from siblings and estrangement among cousins. Perhaps the memorial service would be a good opportunity to cultivate relationships.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Still More to Die From WTC Attack

Mrs Vache Folle is acquainted with a man who, due to exposure to dust from the WTC in the aftermath of 9/11, has terminal cancer. A number of volunteers and workers at the site have already manifested severe respiratory illness. Millions of workers and residents were exposed to the dust over long periods, and untold millions of pilgrims visted the site and were exposed short term.

In the 2020s, there may well be hundreds of thousands of cases of mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos from the World Trade Center. This disease takes 20 years or more to manifest and is fatal. What’s left of the asbestos industry by then will pay out the wazoo for claims by folks with mesothelioma or their survivors. I reckon that these companies will all be rendered insolvent by this liability, as many companies have already been so rendered. Some insurers will go under as well.

I suppose it is only fair that the companies who profited from asbestos pay the price rather than socializing it and foisting it on the taxpayers. It is ironic, if I understand the concept of irony correctly, that the corporate form, designed to protect businesses from liability, has actually led to the imposition of massive liabilities as a legacy of business done decades in the past. Many companies with asbestos liability have not been in the asbestos business since the 1970s. The management, the employees, the shareholders, the physical plant of some of these companies have all changed entirely. Not one person who sold asbestos or profited from it remains affiliated with the companies. Yet, because the corporation has perpetual existence, the companies are nonetheless liable for what those other people did a generation ago.

Of course, some companies have only themselves to blame. Dick Cheney was responsible for acquiring an asbestos tainted company and merging it into Halliburton long after the magnitude of the liability was universally appreciated. Dick was no great business genius it seems. The shareholders should have taken some of the billions this cost them out of Dick’s retirement package. They should have a lien on his Vice Presidential salary.

If I were overlord of a company with asbestos liability, I would start restructuring to make sure that we could get avoid the WTC asbestos claims. You can be sure that your insurers won’t be around.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It's Time to Get Over 9/11

I didn’t hear Bush speak last night. I am just not interested in what he has to say, and exposure to his face and voice makes me queasy. I also avoided any of the “five years later” memorials. Our church held one, and I hope it was about healing and forgiveness rather than about fanning the flames of fear and anger. Mrs Vache Folle was inconvenienced yesterday on the train by the presence of legions of volunteer firefighters from the sticks en route to Manhattan to bask in the glow of vicarious 9/11 victimhood and to ensure themselves that they were still heroes. She told me her step-father, the full time War World War II veteran, was involved in a VFW 9/11 memorial. What the VFW on the Jersey shore has to do with 9/11 is a mystery to me, but those old vets never pass up a chance to don their garrison caps and remind us of how they are the “greatest generation”.

Seriously, if you weren’t at the World Trade Center when it was destroyed, if you didn’t lose a loved one there, or if you weren’t somehow personally impacted by the events of 9/11/01, it is time for you to get over it. If you are fearful because of 9/11, you are being irrational. As the Hammer of Truth points out (, you are actually more likely to be shot by a cop than you are to be killed by a terrorist. Lightning should scare you more than terrorism. Driving a car should have you in a state of high anxiety because you are many times more likely to be killed in a car accident than to die in a terrorist attack. You need counseling or medication or something to get you past the fear. It doesn’t help that the government and its lapdog media work day and night to keep you scared, but you have to get a hold of yourself. Don’t listen to those clowns!

You say you are more angry than scared? Since you can’t do anything to reverse the tragedy, and you can’t do anything to bring about vengeance, your anger is just going to make you crazy. Let it go. As hard as it is, you have to try to get out from under the weight of the anger and forgive the maniacs who brought down those buildings. Otherwise, you will be miserable. You will support irrational lashing out at uninvolved third parties out of frustration. Your country will suffer because you sign on to a misguided “War on Terror” and elect evil and incompetent people to high office because they promise to “do something”. They’re “doing something” alright, but it isn’t helping to bring the maniacs and their co-conspirators to justice. You are being played, so get a grip on yourself.

Monday, September 11, 2006

I Was Not Attacked on 9/11

All day, I’ve been hearing about how “we” were attacked five years ago today. I wasn’t attacked personally, and neither was anyone else in my office or my family. I don’t know anyone who was at the World Trade Center that day. I don’t know that I was a target of the maniacs who flew those jets into those buildings. I don’t have any idea what the maniacs thought they were going to accomplish.

It doesn’t feel right to me to say that “we” were attacked when I speak of the destruction of the WTC. I feel sorry for the victims and their families, but I am not one of them and ought not to pretend to share meaningfully in their grief or sense of victimization. There is no adequate reason for me to declare a special affinity with the WTC victims as opposed to all the other victims of war and calamity around the world. Physical proximity seems an unsatisfactory basis (at the time I lived about 25 miles or so from the WTC). Also, that most of the victims were subjects of the same governments that prey on me is not enough to permit me to claim a special affinity with them. Everyone in the world is subject to some government or other.

So I avoid saying that “we” were attacked. Some take the attack very personally as if it happened to them even though they did not suffer the slightest inconvenience as a consequence of the events of that day (leaving aside the governmental response). There is something unseemly about glomming onto the victims and wallowing in vicarious victimhood. Let us instead empathize with the victims and grieve for them just as we mourn every senseless death around the world.

Blessed Are the Commuters

Our pastor preached a sermon yesterday on the theme of “running on empty” and how our suburban lives often leave us empty and depressed. Since our community is becoming more of a suburb instead of a stand alone small town and since I am one of the many commuters in town, I am pleased that the preacher is paying attention to the commuters’ situation. Just last week, I ended up putting 13.185 gallons of gasoline in my 13.2 gallon tank, so I know something about running on empty. I also know about the rat race and substituting having for being in the consumerist trap.

One of the nearby developments of McMansions, the pastor related, had 25 homes in foreclosure. I don’t know what this had to do with the rat race and emptiness and all that. Perhaps the pastor included it to make the dreaded McMansion dwellers seem more human, folks to be pitied rather than despised. In East Fishkill, farms are growing McMansions more and more. Traffic is getting worse. The commuters have kids in the local schools, and they blithely vote to increase taxes. They are resented mightily by the townies who see their arrival as the end of the bucolic paradise that drew them to the area. Those Hummer driving, McMansion dwelling, tax increasing, resource hogging newcomers are turning the place into a suburban hell.

Mrs Vache Folle reckons that the reference to foreclosures will just incite some good old fashioned schadenfreude. The townies already believe that they are morally superior to the commuters, despite their having been blessed with enormous homes and SUVs, and I fear that many of them will take the sermon and the rest in the series as a confirmation that the commuters’ lives are crappier than theirs. This is not what the pastor intends, I am pretty sure.

If our church is to grow, the increase in members will come from the population of commuters. The townies are all churched up by now, and townies are getting scarcer. Some members and visitors are commuters even now. Mrs Vache Folle and I are among them, although we have neither McMansion nor Hummer. When the McMansion and Hummer fail to satisfy, the church can be poised to offer the meaning that the commuter currently seeks in vain in acquisition and status seeking.

And the townies are not immune to the same problems that the commuters face. I counted quite a few massive SUVs in the church parking lot, and I’ll bet some members own some big houses and have pretty big nuts to cover themselves.

In any event, I am looking forward to the series of sermons and to the church’s outreach to the commuter community. We have different needs and more time constraints than townies, and I hope the church makes some programmatic changes to accommodate us.

Friday, September 08, 2006

I Hear Horse Meat is Delicious

Since Air America changed frequencies, I can’t pick it up in my car any longer, so I am stuck with NPR. This morning I learned that Congress is working to outlaw the slaughter of horses for human consumption. This is because horses are special. They are our friends and the trusty companions of cowboys, and they should never be used as food. Glue, maybe, but never food. It’s disgusting to some Congressvarmints to contemplate someone’s eating horseflesh.

Why stop there? What about lagomorphs? Lagomorphs are cute and cuddly. The Easter Bunny is a lagomorph. Should people be allowed to eat such adorable creatures? Heaven forfend!

Seriously, though, is this really what we want Congress to concern itself with? Does what I do with my equine property fall within the enumerated powers of the federal government, for crying out loud? If enough Congressvarmints are disgusted by someone’s eating something, is that really a sound basis for outlawing the consumption of that food item? If it is considered disgusting by most people, it is not apt to be eaten all that often in any event, and the force of social disapproval should be enough to deter a lot of folks from publicly eating the forbidden food.

As if any of us should gave a rat’s patootie about what other folks eat. I wouldn’t eat a house cat, but I wouldn’t intervene if my neighbor wanted to eat hers. I don’t eat dogs, but if you have a taste for things canine, I am not going to try and stop you (just keep your mitts off my dogs).

I have a list of animals I won’t eat for one reason or another. I don’t eat any of my fellow primates. Ceteceans and other sea going mammals are off limits. No carnivores will ever be on the menu in the Folle house. These are my preferences, and I reckon they are pretty good and ought to be adopted by everyone else. However, I would never use force to foist these preferences on anyone else.

Maybe horse meat needs another name, just as cow meat is known as beef and sheep meat is known as mutton. If I order a piece of cow or pig parts in a restaurant, I get funny looks. Let's call horse meat "cheef" or some such thing.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Make MIne Matrilocal

If extended families lived together in America, as I think they might in a society with fewer government benefits, would we be more likely to become matrilocal or patrilocal? I think matrilocality would be more attractive to families for a number of reasons, especially where a more “traditional” division of labor between the sexes obtains.

Matrilocality would be helpful for many women since they would be living among their own family members who would, in most cases, be supportive of them against an abusive or neglectful spouse. It might be less problematic for men to move away from their families. In a patrilocal environment, the women in the household are not kin to one another and are more likely to come into conflict over dominance within the household. I have observed in multigenerational households in Yonkers that the most satisfactory arrangement was matrilocality. Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law were believed to be incompatible, and it was said that “you can’t have two women in one kitchen” in such situations. This saying did not apply to mothers and daughters.

In a society where women, even those who work outside the home full time, are mistresses of the home and guardians of the hearth, this would work out better if the women were related, as in a matrilocal household, versus one where they are unrelated and in conflict for dominance, as in a patrilocal household. Men, even nowadays, don’t take much responsibility for domestic arrangements; therefore, the relatedness of the men in the household makes little difference. Men are said to go out into the world into distinct spheres, and when they come home they tend to defer to women in domestic matters. In truth, we tend to avoid doing our fair share around the house.

Unrelated men are less likely to come into conflict than unrelated women, and husbands in matrilocal households have the option of the “visiting” relationship with their wives, i.e. they may live most of the time with their natal families and visit their conjugal families from time to time. This would be convenient only if the two households were not very far apart. The men would live most of the time with their own kin, and children might have closer relationships with their uncles than their fathers.

If this happened, some folks would doubtless seek to enshrine the matrilocal household as the only legitimate family form. The “family values” fascists among us would try to subsidize matrilocality and penalize other alternatives on the theory that what works for them should work for everybody.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Report from the Yard

Mrs Vache Folle and I had some encounters with wildlife over the Labor Day weekend. Mrs VF was late getting out to retrieve the woodpecker cake (we had rented “V for Vendetta” and didn’t want to interrupt it) and came face to face with her nemesis (with respect to the woodpecker cake) the fat raccoon. He was balanced on the fence and reaching for the prize when Mrs VF and Jesse the Ruthenian Shepherd showed up.

On Sunday, we noticed four adult water snakes and one juvenile basking on the rocks by the pond. I knew we had two adults (Brad and Janet) and two juveniles (Suri and Shiloh), but it now appears we have at least six water snakes. We don’t know the names of the newly found adults. I crossed paths with one of the bigger snakes and experienced it slithering over my ankle. Although I know they harmless, I nonetheless screamed a cowardly scream and had to idle for several minutes to let the adrenaline rush pass.

Jasper the terrier took a break from tormenting the frogs long enough to let the pond water clear up. It turns out that the shiners we put in the pond back in the springtime reproduced, and there are at least a hundred of them. They are the same color as the silt on the bottom, so we usually can’t see them. Of 100 comets, only about 25 remain, but they have grown to about six inches in length. I hope that any of the fish survive the winter. If not, I’ll restock as they are only a dime apiece.

Frogs are less abundant than in years past, and I reckon the snakes are partly responsible. Jasper doesn’t make life any easier for them, either.

Improved Draft

Lew Rockwell reports that Jack Murtha is calling for conscription:
I am adamantly opposed to conscription, but if the draft is reinstated, I have some ideas on how to make it work better for America.

First, let youngsters be drafted in accordance with their parents’ net worth. The wealthier your parents are, the earlier you go, and there are no exemptions or exceptions. This plan will help to insure that we have fewer wars since the ruling elites who decide on these things will be risking their own spawn rather than other people’s kids. Moreover, this is the fairest draft since those who benefit most from war will be fighting it.

Another alternative is to draft social security recipients. Folks in their sixties and seventies are more fit than ever nowadays, and combat can be made less physically demanding to accommodate older troops. Older troops reduce costs since they won’t be getting social security while they get military pay, they have less time after their service to collect veterans’ benefits, and if they are killed we save on their social security. Moreover, since they don’t work any longer, their absence from home won’t have much impact on the economy (except the early bird dinner specials will be lightly attended), and if they are killed we won’t be losing a lifetime of work.

A third alternative is to draft federal civilian employees first, and then state, local and municipal employees until requirements are met. As with the old folks, they are not doing anything constructive anyway, so they won’t be missed. Also, they are already feeding from the government trough, and we will save money by redeploying them to the military. If we run out of employees, we can start in on government contractors and lobbyists.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bush Has the Mooching Old Booze Hound Vote Wrapped Up

When Bush and his henchman Rumsfeld spoke to the American Legion, I was appalled that the old veterans applauded their idiotic statements. Wouldn’t folks who had experienced war first hand know better than to buy into their warmongering claptrap? Then I remembered that these were legionnaires, a group of old codgers who are milking their military service for all it’s worth. Many more thoughtful veterans would just as soon forget the wasted years they spent at war and embrace the lives they subsequently lived in peacetime. Not so the legionnaires who make a full time job of being WW2 veterans and basking in the glory of having made war and come out alive.

The American Legion and the VFW have two main functions. First and foremost, they provide an excuse for old guys to hang out in a bar for hours on end and avoid their wives. It used to be that it was a little disgraceful to spend time and money in a tavern instead of being at home with your family, and the exception was the service club or cultural heritage club that served as a cover for boozing it up. Cricket teams also serve this function. Drinking at these clubs is cast as a public service rather than a vice. Nowadays, it is not so big a deal to stop off for a drink or two, and these social clubs are dying off in many places for want of younger members.

The second main function is to lobby the US government for more handouts to veterans in their situation. Their aim is to separate the rest of the public from as much money as they can and have it spent for their benefit and comfort. Such an organization would tend to support continued warmongering and militarization. If war and soldiering lost any of its significance in our society, their own glory would be diminished, and government largesse to veterans might come into question.

I should not have wasted the psychic energy being appalled. I shouldn’t have any expectations about a bunch of boozy old moochers.

Without Government, It Would be Anarchy!

Ali Massoud has questions about how a free society might deal with judgment proof mischief makers and miscreants:

I sometimes wonder about this as well. If the state withered away, what recourse would I have against a thief or attacker who had no property or regular income to attach? Of course, I don’t have any recourse now, and I’d take the free society with no recourse over the all powerful state with no recourse any day. Supposedly, insurance products will emerge to cover such contingencies. (Of course, my experience with insurance companies so far does not inspire much in the way of confidence, and I hope that insurers would be radically altered in a free society.)

Before long, though, I remember that the free society about which I fantasize will never happen. There’s no sense in worrying or arguing about what problems might arise from an abundance of freedom, because the best we can hope for is some small movements in the direction of freedom. Otherwise, we find ourselves in absurd conversations (this from an actual discussion I endured):

ME: I don’t think that I should be compelled to pay for tennis lessons for other people’s children.

STATIST(knowing my anarchic tendencies): Without the state and its strong military, you would be subject to invasion and dispossession by the Chinese.

ME: How would cutting tennis lessons from the town budget increase my risk of being invaded and dispossessed?

STATIST: It’s the principle of the thing. Once you limit the state in one area, where do you draw the line?

ME: I’d like to find out where the line is. I think we can get rid of a lot of government before we risk crossing your line.

I’ll take my chances with freedom, thank you. Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to attaining a free society is the intense fear that the idea of less government arouses in so many people. They see the state as a safety net, whereas I see it as another kind of net altogether.

Statists frequently play the "bad things would happen in an anarchy" card whenever anyone questions the propriety of state action or power. I would much rather deal with the hypothetical problem that might emerge in an anarchy than continue to suffer from the actual problems that the state produces. I liken the statists' reasoning to arguments such as these:

"You don't want to remove that tapeworm in your gut because you might gain weight and be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease."

"If you stop hitting your head against that wall, you might go for a walk and get run over by a bus."