Friday, April 28, 2006

A Proposal for Darfur

Lots of folks are expected to rally this weekend and call for action to end genocidal violence in Darfur. I agree that it might be a just cause to come to the defense of the victims of violence, but I do not agree that governments should deploy soldiers. That would involve using funds coercively taken from people who may or may not want to contribute to the defense of the victims. Moreover, military personnel are not free to refuse to deploy to Sudan, and many of them were induced (albeit fraudulently) to enlist based on the assumption that they would be deployed in the national security interests of their countries.

It is my understanding that it will require some 15,000 soldiers to keep the peace in Darfur. Assuming for the sake of discussion that it costs $1 million a year to pay and equip one mercenary, a force of 15,000 soldiers of fortune could be had for $15 billion a year. If 100 million concerned individuals contributed $150 a year each, they could field a defense force. If 1 million wealthy concerned individuals contributed $15,000 a year, they could field a defense force. If 1,000 concerned Hollywood stars and moguls ponied up $1.5 million each, that would do the trick.

Also, mercenaries may be able to work more efficiently than government troops such that you might get by with 10,000. And you could hire and train local people to take over the defense of the area with a view to ending the mission of the mercenary force once the locals are trained and equipped. As local forces came on line, the number of more expensive mercenaries might be reduced.

A non-profit should be organized to solicit contributions and retain a private army.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

For Objectivists, A Friend is Someone You Haven't Fallen Out With Yet

Is Objectivism a religion? Was Ayn Rand a prophetess whose writings and utterances comprise a canon to which naught may be added or subtracted? It sure seems like it to me.

I am a religious person, so I understand how one can adhere to a set of metaphysical assumptions and normative propositions, but I do not for a moment claim that I can prove that my assumptions and propositions are correct. They are matters of faith and revelation. The Objectivists, on the other hand, seem to claim that their whole normative system is predicated on a set of self evident axioms: existence is; consciousness is; everything is what it is; and everything acts according to its nature. Fair enough, but they go on to declare that every fact implies a normative proposition, every “is” implies an “ought”! This is an incredible leap.

I will concede that if you have a goal or object, then facts will bear on how and whether you can achieve your goal or avoid a negative outcome. It does not follow, however, that your goal is necessarily morally proper. If I aim to shoot up heroin, and I know that heroin can be gotten on such and such a street, then I ought to make my way to that street. My aim to do heroin is not, however, morally supportable by reference to any fact other than that I have formulated an intention. If my underlying normative premise is that it is good to do whatever I want, then my action is morally good, but its goodness is predicated on a basic irrational assumption.

Objectivists appear to regard the survival instinct as a predicate for normative propositions. They assume that whatsoever advances survival is good, while whatsoever hinders survival is bad. This is itself a moral assumption that cannot be derived from facts. Moreover, it is a shaky foundation for an elaborate moral structure that tolerates no dissent. Would not the right moral choice be entirely up to individual actors who can best judge what promotes their own survival? It makes no sense to me to put judgments about my survival in the hands of others. And what can be said for moral choices in matters where survival is not immediately at stake?

Let us imagine a moral conundrum and see if we can get down to the objectively derived correct moral choice. Hat tip to Lady Aster for a real life dilemma that is instructive. http://www.escortblogs.net/ladyaster.htm

Let's say I have a friend with whom I have corresponded over the years, and he has had some disagreements with some other people I know. As friends, we have shared some e-mails in which he used moderately colorful language concerning the other people, especially about their unwillingness to deal with people outside their in group. Now, my friendship with him threatens my status with the in group, just as he predicted. What ought I to do? (A) Remain true to my friend despite the in group’s feelings toward him and despite their potential ostracism of me? (B) Quietly distance myself from my friend and suck up to the in group? (C) Publish the private e-mails of my friend and publicly harangue him as a lying backstabber in order to embarrass him and ingratiate myself with the in group?

Since I know that the in group will ostracize me and interfere with my scholarly ambitions if I am perceived as sympathetic to my friend, and I want to pursue these ambitions, I am going to pick choice ‘C’. This is the choice that will most surely fulfill my ambitions. 'A’ gets me thrown out of the club. ‘B’ might get me thrown out of the club and at a minimum will make me suspect in the eyes of the haters of my friend. ‘C’ keeps me in the club and scores me points with the spiteful in group. This follows logically from my desire to be part of the in group, but it is not cloaked in morality just because it is rationally related to my immediate goals. My goals could be evil as all get out, and the ends I employ could be evil as well, (indeed are evil in the eyes of most of the world).

Not to worry. As an Objectivist, I can claim the moral high ground by framing my betrayal in terms of my moral evaluation of my friend as an enemy of the Objectivist Movement and someone guilty of grave cognitive errors. The perpetuation of such errors and threats to the Movement endanger the survival of mankind, including me; therefore, I am morally bound to betray my friend. It doesn’t make sense, of course, but the Movement is not about sense. It is about loyalty to the in group and the orthodoxy that underpins their claims to authority.

And did I mention that I’m a wanker?

The League of the South does not Speak for me on Immigration

My Southron credentials are unassailable. Admittedly, I am an expatriate in New York, but I am still a Southron to the bone. I have the requisite Confederate ancestors whom I would put up against anyone’s ancestors who were unlucky enough to be in the war. I grew up in the country in the buckle of the Bible Belt. I grew up Campbellite and Baptist. I am as proud of my heritage as anyone, and I dislike it when folks put down the South and Southerners. I hate Abe Lincoln and centralized government, and I reckon that the more government power is diffused into states and localities the better. If the Southern states broke off to start their own country, I’d be all for that.

For the life of me, I can’t see how being Southern and being anti-immigrant and anti-multicultural have anything to do with each other. Know-nothingism and ethnocentrism are not, in my view, aspects of Southern “culture” that I would like to embrace. Certainly, some Southerners are anti-immigrant and ethnocentric to a fault, and we have had to work mightily to live down a legacy of racism; however, Southerners are not in my experience more know-nothing or more ethnocentric or more racist on average than other regional Americans or other people.

Southerners vary widely in their levels of tolerance for others, and an aspect of Southern “culture”, at least among mountaineers, that I do embrace is our good old-fashioned American commitment to minding our own business. We didn’t have many busybody Puritans in our ancestry; rather, we had individualists who yearned to live free. It has not been third world immigrants who have eroded our live and let live ethos. On the contrary, it has been homegrown religious conservatives who seek to impose their morality on the rest us and homegrown nanny-state progressives who want to protect us from ourselves. The immigrants want to work, tend their gardens, raise their families and be free. They are mainly Christians, albeit Catholics, and they are fully able to adopt the Southern ethos and traditions. In fact, they are in essentials not unlike my own forebears who migrated into the mountains to build lives for their families.

The League of the South http://www.leagueofthesouth.net/blog/weblog.php , with which I agree on many things, seems way off base to me in seeking to legitimize know-nothingism and ethnocentrism as “cultural”, as if these are inherently Southern perspectives that need no other justification. I believe that people of good faith can disagree about immigration and ethnic relations and how to approach these issues, but one ought to justify one’s position on these issues on their own merits. Ultimately, these positions may be nothing more than a matter of taste resting on bedrock metaphysical assumptions or non-rational individual preferences, and if this is so it is best to face it and go on from there since there is no basis for debate over matters of taste. And if these tastes are traceable to one’s upbringing and were widely distributed in one’s social milieu, it does not necessarily follow that they may be cloaked in the mantle of “culture” and rendered immune from scrutiny or examination or criticism.

Also, what’s up with the teenage boy in the masthead?

FEMA to be Abolished, Replaced with Exact Replica

I heard on Air America that the “Senate” Committee that investigated the response to Hurricane Katrina thinks “FEMA” is so f****ed up that it should be abolished. It’s certainly true as far as I can tell that “FEMA” is a big honking waste of money that serves primarily to steer disaster related contracts to cronies of its directors. Abolition would be a good thing, but I am pretty sure that the “federal government” will simply replace “FEMA” with an even bigger “agency”. “Not FEMA” will probably have all the same staff and then some and an even bigger budget. And dollars to doughnuts, “Not FEMA” will be just as crappy as “FEMA”.

I suspect that the “Committee” reached its conclusion in order to exonerate the “administration” of charges of incompetence and indifference. After all, if “FEMA” were so fundamentally flawed in structure that it could not work no matter what, no amount of good management and expert administering would have prevented the inevitable screw up of the aftermath of Katrina. Brownie’s “heckuva job” would be to no avail as long he was hamstrung by an organizational structure that produced failure.

Bush and his co-conspirators realize that the “federal government” does nothing of any significance except to siphon money from taxpayers to personnel and well-placed contractors. There is no sense in trying to make any “agency” effective at anything other than enriching one’s friends and enhancing one’s grip on power. The voters won’t notice, and they will reward even the most spectacular failures with more money and power. The opposition will never point out the reality of the situation, because it hopes in turn to control the money and power machine.

Even those “agencies” that are involved in “national security” are organized not for effectiveness in their ostensible missions but for efficient redistribution of money and for political ends. Accordingly, intelligence “agencies” are managed by political hacks and “intelligence” is created to enhance the political position of the “administration”. That professional intelligence analysts are leaving in droves is of no concern, because the “administration” doesn’t really care about reality; it creates its own reality. The military is a political tool rather than a force for defense. The “administration” knows the threat to America is miniscule and that the military and “DHS” can’t really defend against determined “terrorists”; therefore, the military is freed up to be used for other purely political purposes to make Bush a “war president” and justify secrecy and intolerance of dissent.

The “conservatives” know that big “government” is a wasteful and useless, but they no longer talk about reducing “government”. Of course, whenever they have been in power, they have increased “government”, but they at least used to pretend to favor small “government”. Now, it is manifest that all “conservatives” care about is power and money and that their rhetoric about small “government” was fraud in the inducement.

"Progressives" pretend that "government" can be made to function effectively and efficiently. This is an impossible task in the present political climate, but it at least renders "progressives" vulnerable to criticism. The best Americans can hope for is for "progressives" to be in power subject to a vocal "conservative" opposition. "Conservatives" are at their best when they are in the opposition and whining about waste and taxes.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Airline Business Idea

I heard that Airbus floated the idea of standing room flights where passengers would be basically strapped to a board while standing. Presumably, this would be for relatively short flights only.

What a great idea. I would take it even further and have flights where passengers are stuffed into coffin-like boxes and stacked from floor to ceiling. You would be sedated when you boarded and would be unconscious for the flight. There would be no need for meals or beverages or entertainment, and you could get as many as five times the number of passengers on a single flight as you could with seated passengers. To make it even more convenient, passengers could be stimulated back to consciousness in the baggage claim area.

This scenario would be infinitely preferable to air travel as it is now. I can’t tell you how many times I have been so uncomfortable flying that I envied the dead. The seats aren’t big enough, and if the passenger in front of you reclines the seat you can’t use your tray table. Fortunately, I am usually able to fall asleep, especially if I can throw back a couple of cocktails. My plan would eliminate the discomfort.

Separation of Oil and State

I paid $3.25 for 87 octane gas yesterday. It cost over $40 to fill the tank. Ouch. I am beginning to think about trying to work closer to home. I can’t afford to live closer to my work. I may have to start driving the Civic instead of the CRV. I already carpool with a co-worker, and that helps reduce the pain. If gas gets any higher, that hybrid vehicle will be a lot more attractive. I am hoping that competing fuels will come on the market as the price of oil makes them profitable.

No political solution is required, thank you very much. People will adapt to higher fuel prices both as consumers and as innovators. It won’t be painless, but the end result will beat anything the politicians can dream up. And nobody has to kill anyone in order to solve America’s “addiction” to oil. America is not an addict. America is an abstraction. Individuals have organized their lives to greater or lesser degrees around the availability of oil. Oil fuels our vehicles and heats some of our homes. If it becomes less available or affordable, we will make adjustments. I am not willing to hold a gun to anyone’s head to save a few bucks on gas or heating oil.

Let’s have separation of oil and state. Eliminate the crazy ethanol requirements. Abolish the taxes on gasoline. Stop military activities that benefit oil companies. Eliminate subsidies to oil companies. Eliminate regulatory barriers to entry into fuel production. In the short run, prices will rise, but we already pay more than the stated price because we are taxed to fund these subsidies and military activities. This leads us as consumers to make decisions based on incomplete information. We don’t know what our gas and heating oil are really costing us because we can’t calculate our share of the tax burden. We don’t know what innovations in fuel production have been squelched because oil prices are kept artificially low, and these lost opportunities are a huge cost to us.

Let consumers bear the costs of oil production directly, and they will organize their lives on the basis of the information that is transmitted through prices.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Liberty and License

One of my wingnut conspecifics tells me that “liberty” must be distinguished from “license”. “Liberty”, says he, is the freedom to do, say, think what one ought. “License” is the freedom to do, say, think as one pleases. The former is good; the latter is bad.

The wingnut reckons that doing, saying, thinking what one ought must include obedience to the state. After all, someone has to decide what ought to be done, said, thought so that we’ll know what our “liberties” are and avoid licentiousness. In other words, no individual can rightly decide what to do, say, think without reference to the will of the majority as expressed by the state. “Liberty” means, if I understand my conspecific right, the freedom to obey the state and to live in cases where the state is silent in a manner that does not offend a busybody majority. Well, he can keep that “liberty” and let me have my license. Call me a “licensarian” from here on out.

This is one way that wingnuts can talk about liberty with straight faces. The word means something else entirely when uttered by a wingnut.

Welcome, NSA Spies!

Mrs Vache Folle and one of her conspecifics at the office wrote the US “government” and asked for documents related to its surveillance of them. The co-worker got a letter from the feds claiming that he was not being spied upon, but Mrs VF got no such letter. She also didn’t get any documents. She is possibly being spied upon for reasons that we cannot fathom. Last week, we had intermittent and inexplicable connectivity problems with our cable modem and voice over internet communication device. This problem resolved spontaneously last weekend, and I suspect that the feds were messing with our home computer.

What will they learn about us? If they read our e-mails, they will learn that we are eligible for home equity loans from a variety of sources and that I have access to relatively inexpensive Viagra. We get Democratic Party messages, messages from Impeach Bush, solicitations from Zogby, messages from Louise Slaughter, pictures of dogs and babies, a daily report from Monster. The feds will know my choir rehearsal schedule and that the weather in southern Poland is turning nice.

What will they find out by tracking our use of the internets? They will find out that we checked on movie times, got driving directions, and that I spent an inordinate amount of time on ancestry.com enjoying my genealogy hobby. They just added the 1841 census for England and Wales, and I am keen to track some of Mrs VF’s Shropshire connections.

What about our phone calls? The feds will find out that we don’t make many calls, that we call our parents much too infrequently, and that we don’t answer the phone when telemarketers call (we have caller ID). I don’t remember having any political discussions over the phone, but I probably told some Bush jokes. The one where Bush replaces Monica Lewinsky in hell has gotten lots of mileage.

Our mail is not instructive. Bills and junk are all we get. Both the Democrats and the GOP send solicitations for money all the time. We never get any letters from Al Qaeda. We get the New Yorker, Atlantic, Real Simple, Scientific American. We send away to the book clubs once and a while.

What if they followed us? That would be easy. We are almost always at home, at work, or commuting. The only other places we go often are church, the market, the hardware store, and the nursery.

Perhaps our TV viewing habits are of interest? Comedy Central, E!, SciFi, HGTV, Science Channel, National Geographic Channel, the Simpsons, A&E’s “sell This House”, House, Lost, SpongeBob.

I guess if you put it all together, the geniuses at the NSA can discern a pattern of subversion. We bear watching, that’s for sure, especially Mrs VF. She reads too much.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bird Blogging

The cowbirds are showing up in droves at the feeders these days. The juncos have finally gone to wherever they go this time of year, so I reckon it really is spring now despite its being in the 30s over the weekend.

Mrs Vache Folle spotted a grackle, a first for us at our spread. I didn’t believe her right away and figured she just saw a particularly attractive cowbird, but sure enough we have a grackle. There appears to be a pileated woodpecker up the road on water supply land, but he hasn’t visited our feeders that I’ve seen. We regularly entertain downy and red-bellied peckerwoods.

I started putting out some larger stuff on the ground for the squirrels and bigger birds: peanuts, corn, sunflower seeds, and such like. Yesterday, one of the squirrels was using his tail as an umbrella to protect his head from the rain while he stuffed his face. He had his tail plastered to his back with the fur on the tip spread out like a fan. I had never seen this behavior before.

On the off chance that the hummingbirds show up early, we put up the feeders. Last year, they showed up on May 11 or so, and it would not be impossible for them to be here within the next couple of weeks.

I have been using a lower priced birdseed mix, and it is pretty messy. I am thinking of going back to the “Neat Feast” product we used last year. It attracted a wide variety of birds and left no mess at all. I am encouraging the thistle to grow along the northeast fence instead of fighting it this year. It seems to attract a lot of goldfinches in late summer. These almost never show up at our feeders.

UPDATE 4/25: A Baltimore Oriole dropped in this morning.

Let's Do the Wall Right

To my post about pyramids the other day, jomama http://djomama.blogspot.com/
commented that the proposed wall along the Mexican border might be a similar American monument. I had always assumed the wall would just be a crappy fence of some kind, but I am beginning to think that our American pharaoh has a chance with the wall to ensure his posterity. Let’s face it, Bush’s actual performance in office is not going to look any better with the passage of time, but if he builds the Great Wall of Bush his glory will be magnified for millennia.

The way I see it, the GWoB has got to be a massive stone and masonry wall and built to last. It should be visible from earth orbit and make the Great Wall of China or Hadrian’s Wall look piddling in comparison. It should be higher and wider than any wall of its ilk ever was. In the middle of the wall, let’s have the Tomb of GW Bush. And at intervals along the GWoB, we could entomb past pharaohs who don’t already have spectacular burial places. Grant could stay put, for example, but we would need to dig up and rebury a lot of the other guys. These reburials could be great occasions of state and mark completion of stages of the GWoB. All the libraries of the various pharaohs might be placed with their bodies in their tombs together with their mummified pets and bejeweled simulacra of the symbols of their office. They will need these in hell.

The sides of the GWoB should be festooned with friezes and such like depicting the glorious deeds of the pharaohs. Of course, Bush’s frieze would mainly be about starting the GWoB and would be known as the Wall Within the Wall. A section might be devoted to inscribing the names of the army of martyrs who have been sacrificed at the altar of Bushian “policy”. This would have the added benefit of providing employment to a legion of artists and supporting the development of a school of heroic art that glorifies the state and its leaders.

Boy, will this project stimulate the economy or what?! I figure it will take decades to complete and cost trillions of dollars. A lot of the work will have to be done by Mexican labor, of course, but the workers won’t have to come very far to get their jobs. Whole towns will probably spring up on the basis of GWoB money. Everybody wins. Mexicans get work, and Americans get the Ninth Wonder of the World.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Bloated School District

I reside within the Carmel Central School District and am taxed to educate the 5,000 or so pupils that attend the CCSD schools. Local taxes account for about two thirds of the $83 mm budget, and the rest comes from Albany and Washington, entities that also tax me. CCSD welcomes public input to the budget process, and I read with interest the many ideas that have been put forth. Most of these involve expanding programs and spending more money, but there are some vague cost cutting proposals. The only concrete cost cutting proposal is to hire a full time employee to look into cutting costs!

I will tell the CCSD for free how to cut costs. Firstly, get rid of some of the hundreds of administrative personnel. Secondly, start replacing teachers with paraprofessionals so as to have a less expensive mix of teachers and aides. The teacher student ratio is less than 15 to 1. A teacher/aide to student ratio of 15 to 1 could be maintained at significantly reduced cost without any adverse impact on the pupils. Thirdly, charge fees to participants in extracurricular activities that are not available to every pupil. Fourthly, encourage families in the district to home school and support them in this endeavor by providing access to district resources and programs on an equal footing with pupils in school.

There do not seem to be any advocates for cost containment on the school board or the various constituencies that participate in the life of the district. Parents, teachers, other district employees and pupils all aim to spend more and more money and increase programs ad infinitum. Those of us who fund the district but derive no benefit from it are not well represented. We don’t go to meetings or run for the board because we don’t have kids in the schools and because we are busy earning money to pay for other people’s kids to be schooled. I aim to pay more attention to the activities of the CCSD in the future.

The denizens of the CCSD are perfectly capable of paying to educate their kids. The population is overwhelmingly white and enjoys a median income well above the national average (although housing costs are way out of control). Taxing the childless among us for this purpose is nothing short of larceny, and parents should be called upon to contribute more to school their own offspring. I am all for education, and I would voluntarily contribute to schooling for poor children if I were not coerced into paying for schooling for families don't need my help.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

At Least They Got Pyramids

I was discussing my anti-statist views with one of my fellow parishioners a while back, and she remarked that states were a positive development in the ascent of mankind. By way of illustrating her point, she surmised that, without states, the pyramids would not have been built. She had me there. I had to concede that a state was a prerequisite to pyramid building. I started to say that anyone who wanted a pyramid could hire people and buy materials and build one through purely voluntary means, but I realized that there was probably no good way to amass enough wealth to build a decent pyramid without subjecting a population to your will and taxing the crap out of it.

Were the pyramids worth subjection to a succession of dictators? Did Egyptian peasants under the yoke of their tyrannical rulers look up at the monuments and decide that their subjection was a small price to pay for having pyramids? Maybe knowing that posterity would look in wonder at the accomplishments of their civilization was sufficient consolation.

Think of all the advances in architecture and engineering that pyramid building accelerated! Surely every Egyptian benefited from vastly improved royal tomb construction and corpse preservation technology. Oh, and don’t forget the national pride and tourism revenue that Egypt enjoys today. Think of the pyramids as a shrewd investment in the future, an example of long term planning by a farsighted government. Cheops and Khufu knew that their projects would pay off big time in just a few millennia.

And think of all the jobs that were created by the pyramid projects! The Great Pyramid supposedly employed 20,000 people for twenty years. Think of the boost to the economy! This makes me wonder why the US doesn’t build some enormous pyramids out in the desert to house the remains of its dead officeholders. The grander and costlier the better so as to create enough jobs to eliminate unemployment and stimulate the economy significantly. Best of all, the US will impress posterity thousands of years in the future rather than be forgotten. If that’s not worth some extra taxes, I don’t know what is.

Constitution in Exile

I was browsing in a bookstore the other day and happened on Andrew Napolitano’s “Constitution in Exile”. I had read good things about Napolitano at Lew Rockwell’s site and was tempted to buy a copy. I quickly changed my mind when I read the dust jacket endorsements from Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and several other wingnuts associated with Fox and right wing radio. I had figured the book to be about a return to limited government, but I decided that it couldn’t be based on the identity of the endorsers. Of course, I doubt Bill O’Reilly or the other clowns on the dust jacket actually read the book, or any book for that matter. They don’t seem like readers to me.

If the book is about the virtues of limited government, it will be ironic if it gets read by people who are fans of the endorsers. I should say if fans of the endorsers get someone to read the book to them. Their heads may explode from cognitive dissonance overload. It will be like Captain Kirk when he talks a robot into destroying itself.

Some of my conspecifics who fancy themselves as Constitutionalists in Exile don’t really care much for the idea of limited government per se. They want limitations on the federal government but reckon that individual states can do anything they want. They figure that they might be able to get control of their state and set up a fascist paradise if it weren’t for the buttinsky feds insisting on applying the Bill of Rights to the states. For my part, I apply the idea of limited government to every level. I would limit it out of existence if I could. At a minimum, I would advocate state constitutions even more restrictive on state power than the federal one. I am not looking to limit one level of government just so I can have unlimited government at another level.

I reckon I’ll never know where Napolitano stands on the issue

$3.15 a gallon for 87 octane!

One of my friends from church forwarded an e-mail advocating a boycott of ExxonMobil as a way to express consumer displeasure at oil companies. I wasn’t going to do it since the most conveniently located gas stations for me happen to be ExxonMobil, and I get a kick out of using the SpeedPass doohickey on my key chain. Then I heard about the $400 mm pay out to the retiring CEO and decided that ExxonMobil must be rolling in it. I began to notice that the ExxonMobil prices were about five to ten cents higher than other stations, and I went to a Hess Station instead. I’m not boycotting the company, but I am paying closer attention to prices and rewarding the company with the lowest price.

It turns out that I am a shareholder of ExxonMobil through my pension plan, so I would probably be screwing myself by boycotting that company, but the $400 mm retirement package pisses me off even more as a shareholder. It’s not as if the guy did anything special; he just happened to be CEO when oil prices were exceptionally high. ExxonMobil doesn’t exist for the benefit of management, does it?

What am I saying? Of course it does. That’s the price I pay as an investor for not being mindful of where I put my money. A big part of earnings in the companies I invest in as a passive shareholder supports an infestation of parasitic MBAs.

I am not sure that analysts and fund managers look at the costs of management or that this is reflected in share prices. Things are different in companies that are not publicly traded. My company is wholly owned by another company, which is wholly owned by another company and so on up the line until you get to a government shareholder who has all the shares of the ultimate parent. We have to convince our rather more attentive shareholders that each of us in the managerial class is necessary and adds value in excess of our compensation. We don’t have share prices since there is no market in our shares. We are either profitable or not, and this determines whether executives get bonuses and raises and how much.

But managers of publicly traded companies seem to have a lot less accountability to their shareholders who seem, for the most part, not to be paying close attention to what managers are paying themselves and one another. Of course, these companies still have to be profitable, but they also deal with share prices that fluctuate based in part on perceptions and other factors unrelated to actual performance or prospects. I have got to get me a job in one of those companies.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Decider

The President called himself the “Decider” the other day. I bet he was really thinking “Dictator”. He claims dictatorial powers, and his goons and apologists claim that it is treasonous to question or criticize the Dictator/Decider/Commander/Fuehrer/Epithet of the Day.

If I acknowledged the legitimacy of the US “government”, I would have to concede that the Decider lawfully gets to decide whether to sack Rummy. Firing the old fellow would be like rebuking himself. But you just know Bush thinks he is the Decider of everything, the Decider and Commander in Chief whose will is law. But even under the “government’s” own rules, Bush’s authority to decide and to command is restricted, and I bet that just eats him up inside.

He can’t lawfully command me to do squat, for example, and if he summoned me to the White House I would not go. He is not welcome on my property, and he can’t lawfully enter it. He can’t lawfully decide all that much, either. Much of his authority comes from Congress, and what Congress gives it can take. Much else that he decides is subject to review by the courts or requires a court order to implement lawfully. Bush hates that.

On Air America, I heard a recording of that gluttonous windbag Bill Bennett arguing that it is criminal to publish material “against the president’s wishes”. He was reacting to the Pulitzer Prizes. As Rachel Maddow pointed out in her commentary, the “president’s wishes” are the least relevant consideration in deciding whether something should be published. Bush’s wishes are not law. He is not sovereign of anything but himself.

Bite me, Decider. I wouldn't let you decide where to go to lunch.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Donohoe the Caricature Catholic

If I were Catholic, I would be more than a little perturbed that Bill Donohoe of the Catholic League keeps getting trotted out on TV as the representative of Catholics. If you have a TV show, and you invite Donohoe on as the Catholic, you are objectively anti-Catholic. You are clearly trying to make Catholics look like whack jobs. There are lots of other non-crazy Catholics you could book on your show.

Spring and Grace

Spring elates me. This morning as I drove down the Taconic and observed the blooming flowers and budding trees, I reflected on what a privilege it is to be alive and to be able to appreciate the wonders of spring, of existence. This is an amazing gift for which we owe God unlimited gratitude.

But we are often ungrateful and ask whether this is all there is! If this is all there is, it is quite a lot. We certainly deserve no more. This is what makes the grace of God so wondrous. He loves us and grants, without regard to what we might “deserve”, salvation.

How can humans even imagine talking about “deserving” anything from God? Nobody is entitled to anything from God. You don’t even deserve to exist or to know that you exist, and that you do is an amazing gift even without more.

It is especially troublesome when humans reckon that they have earned through their own efforts some particular boon from God. I have known folks who claim that the recitation of a formulaic prayer gets them a ticket to eternal life in heaven. Others claim that their “clean” living earns them a seat at the celestial table. Others claim that their choice of religious expression does the trick. Nothing a human can do makes him any more deserving of anything from God. God gives freely out of grace, not out of any obligation imposed on Him by ritual magic.

What is the sin that condemns us in the absence of redeeming grace? It is the sin of being human. It is not that we are especially undeserving; it’s that deserving has nothing to do with anything. We don’t deserve spring, but here it is in all its glory. Let us rejoice in it and be glad.

Agorist Class Theory

I read the second edition of Wally Conger’s “Agorist Class Theory” and found it highly accessible and enlightening: http://wconger.blogspot.com/2006/04/agorist-class-theory-2nd-edition.html
It is admirably brief and to the point.

In a nutshell, the agorist recognizes two classes: the political class and the productive class. The former is a parasite and a thief, deriving his living through force and fraud by political means; the latter lives through his own labor and/or voluntary transactions in the market.

I had heard something a little like this theory before, a version so twisted as to be all but unrecognizable and put to use to obscure the very reality that agorist class theory seeks to illuminate. It was the Idiot Brother in Law (IBIL) who held forth on a theory he had gotten from listening to some right wing talk radio goon. Back then, right wingers used libertarian ideas to sell their statist agenda. He said the world was divided into taxpayers and tax eaters, the latter being welfare recipients and the former people with jobs and businesses. IBIL was at the time working in a phoney baloney county job and did not for a moment reckon that he was a tax eater. Moreover, he certainly didn’t consider big government contractors to be tax eaters. The only people in the tax eater class were the poor slobs on welfare.

I can see how agorist class theory puts the state in contrast to productive activities, but I reckon that it wants some tuning up for use as a rallying tool. The local schoolteacher in the public schools is not really a thief and parasite on par with the management of Haliburton. The single mother buying food with food stamps is not nearly as problematic as government contractors and powerful men who raid the treasury of billions. Almost every ordinary person has a schoolteacher, fireman, policeman or civil servant in the family, and they may be so offended by characterization of their loved ones as parasites that the message of the agorist will not be given a hearing. Almost everybody has children or nephews of acquaintances in public schools, and focus on the schools as theft may not be the best way to sell the masses on freedom.

Start with Haliburton and the power elites, not welfare mothers or local civil servants. Shine the light on corporate welfare and show the world the real parasites and thieves. We’re still going to want schoolteachers and firemen; we’re just going to finance and organize things differently. We expect that a free people will be generous to the needy and that a free society will open up opportunities to the poor. The needy and schoolteachers and firemen didn’t make the state; they just have to work for it or depend on it. We want the Haliburtons of the world and those who direct states for their own ends to disappear forever.

I would not necessarily put people who work for government in pursuits over which governments have substantial control in the political class. Nor would I include the impoverished recipients of government aide.

Malkin and her Slack Jawed Followers May be Beyond Rehabilitation

The vile and insufferable Michelle Malkin has, I heard on Air America this morning, posted the phone numbers of some students who protested military recruiting on their campus. Predictably, as Malkin doubtless intended, the students have been deluged with harassing calls and death threats.

Malkin thinks that organizations devoted to state sponsored homicide should not be criticized. She is a tool of the state who spreads the lie that it is fitting and proper and heroic to kill people as long as you do so as part of the state. She also spreads the lie that it is terribly wrong to question the first lie, and she can count on an army of slack jawed yahoos who believe these lies to intimidate those of us who do not. It is disturbing that there are individual subjects of the state who voluntarily, without recompense and with apparent glee, work to protect the legitimacy of the very state that dominates them and robs them.

I am doubtful of the prospects for rehabilitation of folks like Malkin and her followers. I fear that they will never leave the reeducation camps and that they will be a drain on society for years after the revolution. If we are lucky, many of these people will flee the country rather than endure freedom.

Is the Medical Savings Account Plan a Scam?

I have been hearing a lot about how the GOP thinks Americans have too much health insurance. They want to get rid of the tax deduction for health benefits and encourage “health savings accounts” where you set aside money for regular health care and have a high deductible insurance policy in the case of catastrophic illness or injury. I’m sure that some rich basta*rds make out from this plan, but the stated reasoning is that folks overuse health care and drive up costs because they treat their health care as if it were free when they are insured. If they thought more about what they were spending, they might shop around and cause market forces to work on health care. Presumably, a million clinics run by Dr Nick Riviera from the Simpsons would open up around the land to provide cut rate health care to folks of modest means.

I doubt that most people overuse health care and go to their doctors every time they get a sniffle. First off, going to the doctor is a pain in the ass and is almost never enjoyable. I reckon most folks go or take their kids to the doctor when they feel that they have to. Many folks don’t go enough and skip examinations and needed treatment because of the inconvenience of getting care. Might folks go less often if they had to pay more? You bet, but I don’t reckon that is a good thing.

I also doubt that this program will put much downward pressure on the costs of routine care or that routine care is really what drives cost increases. Who is really going to do all that much shopping around for needed care or procedures? I note that dentistry is usually not insured and that it is nonetheless pretty expensive. Moreover, dentists in any given area charge more or less the same price for various procedures and services. For me, the deciding factor is not cost but convenience and my perceptions of the competence of the dentist. What do uninsured folks who cannot afford dentistry do? They do without the care until it becomes an emergency. They lose their teeth, and I don’t reckon that this is a good outcome.

Look at other professionals such as lawyers. Almost nobody has legal insurance, but lawyers are almost always prohibitively expensive for folks of modest means, and they mainly do without legal advice, often to their detriment. If they get in hot water with the police, they are provided with, let’s be frank, bad lawyers. Is this what the GOP wants medical care to look like? Richer folks, like registered Republicans, would be able to afford the high deductible easily and would get the best of care. Not so rich folks would often have to do without.

Is the GOP solution really rationing in disguise? In a nutshell, the GOP plan is to reduce costs by having less affluent folks get less medical care. I’m sure this will mean less waiting time before appointments for those of us who can afford to pay high deductibles, but will it translate to lower fees as doctors compete for our patronage? I rather doubt it. Health care, like good Scotch or wine, is more desirable if it is more expensive. I will still want Dr Hibbard, despite his inappropriate laughter, rather than go to Dr Nick.

Of course, like lawyers, dentists and doctors have state enforced monopolies and limit access to the market for providing medical services. The number of practitioners is kept artificially low, and these limits on the supply side probably have more of an impact on costs and pricing than consumer behavior. How can the market work its magic when access to the industry is so obstructed?

Finally, wouldn’t a policy that led to less prophylactic care for folks lead to more instances of catastrophic illness which, under the GOP plan, would still be subject to all the evils arising from insurance coverage? Doesn’t care for catastrophic illness or injury account for a huge part of medical expenditures in this country?

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Zen of Pond Maintenance

On Saturday, I donned my waders and dredged some leaves out of the pond. This is a rite of spring since we established the pond back in ought four. We live in a forest of maples and poplars, so leaves abound. Moreover, they wash in with the branches that feed the pond. They don’t seem to do any harm, but they will turn the pond into a swamp within a few years unless we remove most of them regularly. The pond critters seem to like the leaves, and I suspect that frogs hibernate down in the muck under them. There are hundreds of big tadpoles and many egg sacks even though the pond only recently thawed. The tadpoles, frogs, salamanders, crawdads, and various aquatic bugs go in and out of the leaves. The water lilies are protected by the leaf layer over winter and are now sending up their pads.

I use some laundry baskets to scoop up the detritus on the bottom, and Mrs Vache Folle carts it away to a swampy spot we aim to fill in. This lets the water out and helps me ensure that I am not harming or capturing any critters. This is going to take a few sessions to get to where I call it good. Then, I will have to tackle the silt that came in last October. We had unusually heavy rains, and the branches deposited a goodly load of sand in the shallow end of the pond. I bought a Pond Vac 2000 that I plan to use on some of the silt.

Jasper took a few dips in the pond to cool off on Saturday. At one point, it was almost 80 degrees outside, and we played with his “Kong” football off and on all afternoon, so he was pretty hot.

The frogs have been singing already, and we have started sitting out on the deck to watch the birds and admire the view. We already have bumblebees, so the hummingbirds may not be far behind. We filled the hanging baskets with pansies and primroses, and put pansies and tulips in the pots on the deck. The daffodils and forsythia are in full bloom.

The pond is a lot of work, but I enjoy every moment of it, and I enjoy having water plants, snakes, turtles, birds and other wildlife around.

Slack Jawed Yahoos and Other War Boosters

I haven’t been able to keep up with blogging for a few days. On Thursday, I went into Manhattan for a meeting with our investment bankers on an M&A matter. I found out when I got there that I was scheduled to make a presentation, and I got to practice my extemporaneous speaking skills. I took Good Friday off, and my home computer has had connectivity problems. What did I miss?

Over the weekend, I read the Sy Hersh article on the GOP plan to murder a lot of Iranians, and this continues to trouble me. There’s nothing I can do about it except to speak out against it, so I suppose that I should try not to get so worked up. A big part of what keeps me up at night is the realization that a lot of my countrymen will cheer on the murderers and use the occasion to stick even more patriotic magnets on their cars.

There is a base of slack jawed yahoos (“SJYs”) to whom the GOP panders and on whom the GOP relies. These people have no scruples about the use of violence either to compel their countrymen to conform to their will or to kill and maim foreigners with or without a stated reason. They listen to right wing talk radio and watch FOX cable news. I am resigned to the presence of the SJYs in the country. They don’t know any better.

What really disturbs me are the otherwise ordinary and decent people who, when the “government” starts murdering people, are fine with it. They will tsk tsk that it is regrettable that people have to die but they will assure me that it is necessary and unavoidable. Some of these people will sit next to me in church worship the Prince of Peace while condoning war. These folks trouble me deeply because they are capable of moral reasoning but eschew it.

I am beginning to like the proposition that Thomas Knapp discussed last Friday: http://knappster.blogspot.com/2006/04/friday-fights-1.html But I doubt that there are enough honorable officers left to form a junta.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Billmon on Bombing Iran

Billmon posts infrequently, but when he does, it is usually something pretty special. This post on the plans of the Bush/Cheney crime syndicate to nuke Iran is brilliant: http://billmon.org/archives/002375.html.

Here are his predictions about how the aftermath of such an attack will play out for most Americans (leaving aside jacked up oil prices and financial instability):

"For most Americans, then, the initial impact of war with Iran could play out in the same theatre of the absurd as the first Gulf War and the opening phases of the Iraq invasion – that is to say, on their living room TVs. And if there's one place where a nuclear first strike could be made to appear almost normal, or even a good thing, it's on the boob tube.

After all, the corporate media complex has already shown a remarkable willingness to ignore or rationalize conduct that once would have been considered grossly illegal, if not outright war crimes. And the right-wing propaganda machine is happy to paint any atrocity as another glorious success in the battle for democracy (that is, when it's not trying to deny it ever happened.) Why should we expect something as transitory as a nuclear strike to change the pattern?

Let's be honest about it: For both the corporate and the conservative media, as well as for their audiences, an air campaign against Iran would make for great TV – a welcome return to the good old days of Desert Storm and Shock and Awe. All those jets soaring off into the desert twilight; the overexposed glare of cruise missiles streaking from their launch ships; the video game shots of exploding aircraft hangers and government buildings, the anti-aircraft tracers arcing into the night sky over Tehran – it would be war just the way we like it, far removed from the dull brown dust, raw sewage and multiple amputees of the Iraqi quagmire.

And to keep things interesting, we’d have the added frisson of nuclear weapons – a plot twist that would allow blow-dried correspondents to pose in borrowed radiation suits, give Pentagon flacks the opportunity to try out new euphemisms for killing people, and encourage retired generals to spice up their on-air military patter with knowing references to blast effects, kilotons, roentgens and fallout patterns."

And the likely political response of the opposition party:

"We’ve already seen a lengthy list of war crimes and dictatorial power grabs sink into that electronic compost heap: the WMD disinformation campaign, Abu Ghraib, the torture memos, the de facto repeal of the 4th amendment. Again, why should a nuclear strike be any different? I can easily imagine the same rabid talk show hosts spouting the same jingoistic hate speech, the same bow-tied conservative pundits offering the same recycled talking points, and the same timid Beltway liberals complaining that while nuking Iran was the right thing to do, the White House went about it the wrong way. And I can already hear the same media critics chiding those of us in left Blogostan for blowing the whole thing out of proportion. It’s just a little bunker buster, after all.

Why should anyone or anything change? When a culture is as historically clueless and morally desensitized as this one appears to be, I don’t think it’s absurd to suppose that even an enormous war crime – the worst imaginable, short of outright genocide – could get lost in the endless babble of the talking heads. When everything is just a matter of opinion, anything – literally anything – can be justified. It’s only a matter of framing things so people can believe what they want to believe."

There is much more, and I fear that Billmon is dead on when he argues that the crime syndicate will not be held accountable by the media, by the opposition party, or by the international community even in the face of an aggressive nuclear strike. I despair that there are any limits to what the crime syndicate might do. Indeed, I suspect that Americans are so “clueless and morally desensitized” that they would return the GOP to Congress in the aftermath of a sexy war in Iran. I don’t think I am being too cynical when I speculate that the timing of an attack on Iran will be in advance of mid-terms but not so far in advance as to risk the novelty’s wearing off before the election I harbor only a slight hope that it is not too late to stop this from happening.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Power of Forgiveness

I have a younger brother whom I respect and admire a great deal. He is my father’s son by his second wife, so he is my half brother and considerably younger than I. I wasted a lot of years that I could have spent having a relationship with him because I resented him. I didn’t even know him, and I resented him.

My parents divorced when I was about twelve years old, and my father faded out of our lives. We had visits for a while, horrible visits that started and ended with fights between my parents and hours of grilling when we got home. My father remarried, and then he pretty much stopped coming around and drifted out of our lives. My father and his wife had my brother when I was fourteen and my sister was eleven.

Then my father and his wife adopted a son, then a developmentally disabled daughter, and then they became foster parents. We learned of this through the grapevine, since my father still lived in the same county. I would make an effort and visit now and again, but this was never reciprocated, and I felt sure that I was not welcome. It drove me crazy that my father had abandoned my sister and me and started a new family and took in every stray kid he came across. I resented my half brother because he had my father’s love and attention that had been taken from me and, in my mind, was my due. I always sympathized with Cain and Esau and the other displaced elder brothers in Bible stories.

Mrs Vache Folle says that children almost always have a favorite parent, and mine was my father. I idolized him and wanted to be with him as much as I could. Then he was gone. I expected him to rescue me from my abusive stepfather, but he never did, and I was heartbroken. I wondered what had been so wrong with me that my father did not love me.

I grew up, went off to college, married and returned only rarely to my hometown. I lost touch altogether with my father and tried not to think about him. The resentment still festered beneath the surface, though, and to try to resolve it I decided to abandon my father’s name. I changed my name legally, and this kind of helped me to put my issues with my father behind me. I decided to forget all about the old man.

About five years ago, I realized after a sermon on forgiveness and some soul searching and prayer that I still needed to resolve the matter of my father and my resentment of him. I decided that I would reach out to my father and forgive him and try to salvage some kind of relationship. I knew that it would be up to me to make the move and to keep up any contacts.

My father seemed sincerely elated to get my call and was almost in tears. We started calling and e-mailing one another regularly (I was shocked that my father has actually initiated contact from time to time), and I have visited him in Georgia on several occasions. We have a better relationship than I would have imagined, and I am freed of the burden of resentment. In the bargain, I have gotten to know my brother and his children, and I aim to cultivate the relationship better than I have so far. I should not have resented him, since growing up with our father was not all beer and skittles, and I am glad to have that behind me as well.

Whenever I have practiced forgiveness, it has been a great benefit to me. I have some more resentment agianst my stepfather that haunts me, and I am praying to be able to forgive him and get out from under the weight of it as well. Having had some spectacular failures in life made it a good bit easier for me to be more forgiving of others. Moreover, seeing some of my peers fail in marriage and at parenting made me realize that nobody sets out to be an absent father or an abusive stepfather.

I Hate the Flag

I am growing to dislike the US flag more and more as I become more disgusted with what passes for the US government. Since I grew up, I have never been a flag waver. I have never owned a flag or displayed a flag sticker. When I was a kid, I was forced to pledge allegiance to the flag, but this was not something that I took to heart, since I understood it to be the imposition of a conqueror. In the third grade, one of my classmates was punished and humiliated for refusing to recite the pledge and salute the flag (the tenets of his religion as a Jehovah’s Witness forbade it). He boldly announced that it was “just a rag” and that he would do homage only to God. I admired him a lot.

It really bothers me that there is a US flag in the sanctuary of my church. It seems to me to be a sacrilege to display a symbol of violence and thievery where we worship a God of peace and justice. But there it is, and I reckon that questioning its presence would just start trouble. I am tempted to remove it quietly and see if anyone notices.

I avoid venues where I am expected to stand for the national anthem, so I haven’t been to a sporting event in some time. I am supposed to go to a Hudson Valley Renegades game in August, and I have to remember to make myself scarce during the anthem. I wish I could just sit out the anthem openly and explain that it is matter of conscience that I do not stand, but I don’t want to start trouble in the church group that I am going to the game with.

My home is a flag free zone. We don’t have a flagpole, but if we did we would fly a black flag or the jolly roger or a picture of SpongeBob.

Long Live Cheetah!

Mrs Vache Folle likes Keith Olbermann, so we sometimes watch Countdown. Last night, it was uplifting to learn from that show that the chimpanzee who played Cheetah in those Tarzan movies is still alive and kicking at age 74. He was underrated as an actor, in my opinion, and the Tarzan flicks would not have been half as good without him.

I loved Tarzan movies when I was a kid, and they frequently came on early on Saturday mornings. I would imagine that I was Boy, Tarzan’s adopted son, and swing from wild grape vines in the woods. Our hogs served as stampeding elephants in my fantasies. There was always at least one elephant stampede in a Tarzan movie, and I would pretend not to notice that Indian elephants were involved rather than African elephants. Everyone knows Indian elephants are better actors.

Anyway, Cheetah made the movies for me, and Johnny Weismuller was, to me, Cheetah’s sidekick. Tarzan never did figure out how to use articles in his speech or the first person pronoun, and I figured he was a little retarded. Without Cheetah, he would never have made it.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Some Observations on Illegal Immigrant Workers

Whenever I get into a conversation with my conspecifics about illegal immigrants, somebody always brings up that they do jobs Americans won’t do. Then somebody else argues that Americans would do those jobs if they paid better and that the immigrants drive down wages. I don’t know if any of this is true since I don’t know what the immigrants get paid and what it would take to get an unskilled American to do a Mexican’s job.

I do know that my contractor neighbor and my landscaper have to pay competitive wages to their workers, whether immigrant or native, or they will work for someone else. This is especially true if the work involves any skill at all. These men, and others I know who hire immigrant labor, report that the immigrants do good work and are reliable.

It seems to me that a lot of the work immigrants do is ad hoc, seasonal or temporary. Americans tend to look for more stable employment and are not as comfortable with the perceived insecurity of jumping from opportunity to opportunity. In my own experience, I have worked a lot of temporary jobs, some of them quite menial, and my fellow temps have often been only marginally employable and unreliable. Good temps get hired to permanent jobs if they want them and fall out of the temp labor pool pretty quickly.

I have employed temps on occasion, both at work and for work around the house, and the arrangement for manual labor is very unsatisfactory. You have to pay $20 or more per hour for unskilled labor, and the worker gets only $6 or $7 of that. It’s hard to keep a good worker in the temp world at those rates, and you end up paying pretty good money for workers who mostly aren’t worth it. It is far better to go down to where the immigrant day laborers hang out and negotiate a reasonable rate for the work.

Back in the day, a lot of the work I am talking about was done by teenagers. I did lots of odd jobs, agricultural work and lawn mowing as a kid, and I liked that a lot better than a steady shift at McDonald’s or Burger King or bagging groceries. Nowadays, it is hard to get a teenager to do any kind of ad hoc work. I would rather my neighbor’s kid mowed my lawn than pay a professional, but there is no willing candidate to do this kind of work. I have lots of jobs around the garden that I put my nephews to work on when they visit, but there are no kids in the neighborhood to hire. They all have regular jobs, if they aim to work, and the rest are bone idle.

Also, there don’t seem to be as many American drifters and hobos looking for odd jobs these days. It is hard to connect with folks who want to work on an ad hoc basis, and the most convenient way to get such workers is to pick up day laborers at their gathering places. And these guys are mainly illegal immigrants.

The News Roundup

Steve Scott has an interesting take on illegal immigrants: http://fromthepew.blogspot.com/2006/04/illegal-immigrants-strangers-within.html.
Some of us can’t stand it that some immigrants escape the notice of the government and get paid in cash “under the table”. Instead of demanding the same freedom for ourselves, we want it taken away from the immigrants.

At the New Yorker (via Lew Rockwell), Seymour Hersh reports that Bush and his fellow conspirators are planning to nuke Iran: http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/060417fa_fact.
Apparently, Bush and his minions believe that bombing Iran will lead the Iranian people to blame their own government and overthrow it. The Iranian people will be grateful to the US for bombing their country and killing thousands of them and will install a pro-American government. And, of course, there will be no wider repercussions.

Rachel Maddow reported this morning on Air America that the DoD has been planting propaganda in Iraq and the US to exaggerate the importance of Al Qaeda and Zarqawi in Iraq. The NY Times was the recipient of leaks about Zarqawi and dutifully published the story of Al Qaeda’s masterminding the insurgency in Iraq. He is not much of a player in reality, but the DoD wants us to think that the ongoing Iraq war is about Al Qaeda, not the resistance of the Iraqi people. I reckon I could be a journalist now that the standards are so low. I took three years of journalism in high school and worked on the school paper where I was editorial editor, so I may be overqualified. Apparently, all you have to do now is wait for the government to announce or leak something and then report what the government spokesman or leaker said. That’s it! You don’t have to check on the “truth” of the matter or follow up at all.

I watched the Science Channel this weekend and learned about the Sun and Allosaurs and our hominid precursors. I also recently re-watched an amazing program about the moon. Scientists reckon that the moon was blasted out of the earth when another planet collided with the earth. It used to be much closer and to produce tides thousands of feet high every day, scouring the land and filling the sea with all kinds of chemicals. The moon also stabilizes the earth on its axis and is responsible for earth’s relatively predictable climate. Without the moon, the earth would wobble wildly like Mars and Venus. The moon is gradually receding, and earth’s day is getting longer. Someday the moon will be so far away that it no longer stabilizes the earth, and then life will get pretty rough. That’s all I need; something else to worry about.

In sports, apparently some baseball was played, and there was a major golf tournament.

In health news, Mrs Vache Folle reports that there is significant arsenic in chicken other than free range chicken. This is added to their feed to kill bugs. Does this impart resistance to arsenic poisoning for frequent consumers of McNuggets? Inquiring minds want to know.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Which is Worse: an Unassilimilated Alien or a Nonconformist Native?

Lady Aster writes about demands that immigrants “assimilate” and suggests that such demands might just as easily apply to citizens who do not conform: http://www.escortblogs.net/ladyaster.htm

The lives of immigrants in the 21st Century are quite different to those of the Ellis Island wave, and there are more opportunities for “transnationalism”. The old country is only a flight of a few hours away and can be reached instantly by telephone and the internets. Accordingly, today’s immigrants can keep in touch with their friends and families and maintain strong ties to the old sod more easily than immigrants of yesteryear. Perhaps this will impede “assimilation”, but I doubt it, and I don’t really care.

The only things I care about newcomers’ adopting are commitments to personal freedom, non-violence and limited government. If they have those, I don’t much care what languages they speak, what gods they revere, what music they make, what foods they eat or whether they adopt any other aspects of my culture. Then again, I am not one who calls for conformity.

I am suspicious of people who are overly concerned about the state of the “culture” since this is just a roundabout way of appealing to collectivist impulses. Those who demand assimilation and conformity for the sake of our “culture” are laying claim to an interest in everything everyone else does or thinks. This facilitates totalitarianism since “culture” is comprised of everything we do as human beings.

I do not have an ownership interest in a “culture”. “Culture” is an abstract notion that purports to encapsulate the aggregate of norms, habits, values, interactions and other social facts as enacted by individuals. The individuals and their norms, values, ideas, and what not are real; “culture” is not real in the same sense. It is an analytical device and useful only for particular purposes. When somebody talks about taking steps to protect the “culture” from unassimilated aliens and non-conforming natives, he is really talking about coercion. “Culture” is a distraction, an instance of legitimizing discourse at work.

In popular parlance, “culture” has become sacrosanct, much like religion. People sometimes claim a right to their own cultural practices and norms as if they needed something more than their claim to individual sovereignty to justify nonconformity. In such discussions, “culture” is enlisted in support of freedom to live as one pleases. In some cases, it is used to support claims to the approval of others, rather than simple toleration. In other cases, it is used to support calls for conformity and coercion. If one’s “culture” is so important, then one has a right and duty to defend it.

“Culture” is one of the most dangerous ideas around when it is reified.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Singing with COPD

The choir is taking a stab at a difficult Bach Cantata for Good Friday. I am comfortable so far with everything but the last movement. It has a lot of runs, and none of the sections is singing together for very long. Being rhythmically challenged makes this a nightmare. Tonight we have a tenor sectional, so I am hoping that we will be able to drill some of the runs and timing. Fortunately, there is at least one other tenor who can read music, and he is much better at it than I am. Also, our director gave each of us a CD to work with at home, and this has been a big help.

I am singing in a duetto that features the tenor so much that it might as well be a solo. I feel pretty good about hitting the notes, especially since the performance is in the evening. In the morning, I am at best a second tenor and more of a baritone unless I get up early and do killer warm-ups. I have been working on interpretation and shaping the piece, which is highly repetitive: “Meine Seele wartet auf den Herrn” over and over with an occasional “von einer Morgen wache bis zu der Andern” thrown in.

My big problem is breathing. There are a couple of longish phrases that I can’t always get through without cheating, and doing so obviously. I have struggled with COPD for the last several years, and it has been only in the last two years that I felt that it was under control enough to sing at all. Back in my youth, I never had to think about breathing, so I didn’t develop any good tricks. Now, I have to be conscious of my breathing whenever I sing, especially solo or in a duet. If anybody knows any good tricks, I would love to learn them.

Singing is one of my greatest joys, and I am glad to be back at it. I am happy that the choir is taking on some challenging music, and I hope we do not disappoint our saintly director too much.

When I was a teenager, I sang in the choir and the youth choir at my church. I was in the chorus at school as well, and I was a member of a touring group that was designated an “Official Stay and See America in Georgia First Bicentennial Singing Group”. In college, I sang in the chorus and was in the Georgia All State Chorus. Later, I sang in various church choirs and community choruses until I ran into lung trouble. I sing at home interminably until my wife threatens to kill me. And in the car. And at the office (the stairwell and the parking garage have great acoustics). I have sung at many weddings, and I have been known to get up multiple times at karaoke gatherings. My rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” is legendary. So, having music in my life again is huge for me. If I can learn to breathe right, it will be a big achievement.

Child Molesters on the Web

I haven’t been erotically interested in 14 year old girls since I was about 17 years old myself, so I don’t know much about what it takes to hook up with them. I do know one thing: there are no 14 year old girls looking for love on the internets. All kids on the internets are really FBI agents or local cops trolling for child molesters. Falling for the cop posing as a kid is like falling for the Nigerian spam scam. It’s a weird sort of crime that consists of a man pretending to be a child to set up a meeting with a cop pretending to be a child.

I used to deal with child molesters as part of my job. They come in a wide variety, but they are much more rare than folks are led to believe. They usually “groom” their young targets for long periods and are known to the child and the family. The creepy pervert waiting in the bushes to abduct and molest your child cold is extremely rare, so rare in fact that there is no good reason to take any steps to deal with such a contingency beyond telling your kids to avoid strangers and to stay out of their cars. That worked for my generation. We didn’t need law enforcement to spend a lot of time and money protecting us from potential molesters. Of course, we didn’t have the internets back then, and child molesters had to try to arrange man-boy trysts in person. It would have been difficult for cops to pose as cub scouts or altar boys in order to entrap perverted scoutmasters or clergymen.

In my career, I dealt with many more accusations of child molestation than actual incidents. In some segments of society, false allegations of child molestation are not unheard of. Having trouble with your neighbors in the next hovel? Call the child abuse tip line and suggest that they are child molesters! That will put them in some serious jeopardy and get their noisy kids put in foster homes for a while. In the middle of a nasty divorce and custody battle? An allegation of child molestation will put your spouse at a serious disadvantage, and you will never be held accountable! Your investigation of a child molester is hampered by a lack of physical evidence? Interview the child repeatedly and suggest what might have happened until the child adopts the narrative as his or her own!

I’m not saying that there are no child molesters and that allegations should not be taken seriously; rather, I’m suggesting that the risk of child molestation is relatively small. It doesn’t really warrant the investment in law enforcement resources and the anxiety that it provokes in parents. Let the kids out to play, for crying out loud! No wonder they’re obese. The risk is minute compared to other risks to which parents don’t blink an eye at exposing their kids. Car accidents pose a risk far greater than child molestation, but parents put their kids in motor vehicles almost daily. Yet the same parents will not let their offspring walk down to the playground and play without surveillance.

That some idiots troll for kids on the internets should not necessitate much in the way of state action. Just explain the dangers to your kids, and that should be enough to solve the problem without imposing costs on everyone else.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Space Business

I believe that it is important for humans to get off the earth and populate the rest of the universe. If we stay earthbound, we are doomed. And I am convinced that the best hope for freedom is the proliferation of humans with every imaginable kind of society throughout the universe. It is hard to control people who have the run of the universe.

I am disappointed that we have done so little and such pointless space-faring so far. We could do so much more, and people will doubtless jump into space-faring in droves if it becomes profitable. I have already presented some ideas for space-based businesses: zero gravity nursing homes, asteroid moving extortion, casinos, selling space burgers to space-workers. I hope we do not have to wait until life on earth becomes prohibitively expensive before space colonization becomes profitable, and I reckon there is a danger that it will become too late at some point.

I think the key is for space colonies to be self sustaining, and to do that they must have a source of revenue. One way to kick start space exploration is probably the tourist industry. Tourism is a remarkable industry in that the resources on which it depends never get used up. Tourists come and enjoy the views and experiences, and when they leave the views and experiences are undiminished and ready for the next batch of visitors. Also, you don’t have to carry a product from space back to earth.

Before long, it will be feasible to transport tourists to and from the moon. I envision a complex at the Sea of Tranquility to take advantage of the first lunar landing as an attraction. A museum and gift shop devoted to lunar exploration would be a draw as would excursions to have your picture taken by the flag planted by the Apollo astronauts. You could rent lunar rovers and space suits and go on tours of craters.

Inside the complex would be an all inclusive resort with gambling, fabulous entertainments, virtual shopping and low gravity sports. Think of the thrill rides that lunar gravity might allow. Guests would be encouraged to pack nothing so as to minimize payload for baggage and to wear casual outfits provided by the facility. At first, the trips would be very expensive, but over time they would become more affordable, and the super rich would find themselves looking for more out of the way resorts or private asteroids.

The resort might employ hundreds of people who in turn would require goods and services that additional businesses would eventually provide. When enough folks live and work on the moon or in space, heavy industry to support them and markets on earth will develop.

I hope to visit the Tranquility Base Resort on my 50th wedding anniversary in ’33 if not sooner. The lunar gravity will feel good to my aging frame.

Fighting the Despair Squid

BW Richardson assesses the mood of the libertarian blogosphere: http://bwrmontag.blogspot.com/2006/04/we-soar-despite-chains.html

I have to confess that I have been fighting off despair for the last few weeks. Things keep getting worse, and I wonder if there is any peaceful way to get the free society I long for. My conspecifics don’t seem to care much about freedom and are content to be governed good and hard.

That said, I am a pretty happy guy. I have a wonderful wife, I love my dogs, I enjoy my church community, and I enjoy my home. I tolerate my job fairly well. I take great pleasure in my food and drink, in books and music, in singing in the choir, in tending my garden, in playing with the dogs. I am still on my mainstream media fast, so I avoid that toxic drivel. Soon, I will give up TV altogether and spend my idle hours outside until almost bedtime. I can almost forget about the damned government from time to time.

So I heed the admonition to cheer up. Things could be worse. I can’t do much about the mess the country is in, so I have to make the best of the things I can control. As BW says, I am still free in my heart.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Will Tom DeLay Make Enough Money Helping Foster Kids?

Tom DeLay claims he wants to spend more time helping foster children, and that, not his legal troubles, is why he is quitting Congress.

That leads to an obvious question: where is the big money in foster care?

You can’t make much as a foster parent, and you will probably spend your stipend on the children themselves unless you can get some economies of scale. Maybe Tom is looking to set up some orphanages where he can stack foster kids up like cordwood and feed them on vats of gruel. He can also put the kids to work in sweatshops and recover a tidy profit.

Maybe foster care can be taken over from states by private entities, like faith-based initiatives, with opportunities to channel state and federal money into “programs” that employ Tom and his kinfolk and cronies as executives and such. Still, that seems like chickenfeed compared to what Tom is used to dealing with. If you add some private contributions, it might be worth his while. Tom could become another James Dobson or some such thing and rake in bucks and peddle influence without being accountable to anyone.

How Much Energy Should Go into Fathers' Rights?

The Birch Blog deals with the issue of fathers’ rights in adoption proceedings: http://www.thenewamerican.com/birchblog/index.php?entry=entry060403-152201 The writer comes at this from a different perspective than I do and is more interested in questioning the motives of the father’s attorneys in a particular case. The father’s attorney decries the fathers’ registries that a number of states have set up to deal with the paternal rights of unwed fathers. I can see the point that it seems unfair to require fathers to register in systems which are not well publicized and to cut off their rights for all time for failure to comply; however, such registries appear to me to be a substantial improvement over past practice. There have been a number of sad cases where unwed fathers have come forward years after a child has been adopted and have disrupted the adoptive family. Moreover, in former days unwed fathers had little chance to assert their rights at all, and registries are one way to do this.

Back in the days when I prosecuted cases for termination of parental rights, the identity of the father was often unknown and, if known, the father often could not be found. We ended up publishing legal notices for John Does or the putative fathers’ names, and this can hardly be said to be any fairer than a registry system. Who reads these notices, for crying out loud? Frankly, paternal rights were nothing more than a big honking pain in the ass in most cases. If the fathers had been around and interested in their children at all, the kids wouldn’t be in foster homes in the first place, and we wouldn’t have been going through termination trials. The idea that the contribution of a sperm cell was enough to confer rights that trumped the interests of these children seemed preposterous, especially where the father apparently didn’t care enough to find out that he had a child, or if he knew, to get involved in the child’s life.

We would have loved for unwed fathers to come forward and rescue their children, but they rarely did. The women who lost their children to the state tended to be of questionable character or drug addled beyond reason, and their paramours, as we tactfully called them, were usually no better. I recall one woman whose five children each appeared to have different fathers, or so she claimed, and she was unable to identify any of the dads. The judge asked her in open court how that could be, to which she replied, “Your honor, did you ever have too much to drink at a party and wake up pregnant?” In other cases, the mother might give a list of possible fathers, all of whom would receive summons and complaints. I got a lot of distraught phone calls from men whose wives had opened the mail and learned that their husbands had been named as fathers of children by some other woman.

To be fair, the Birch Blog deals with a woman who voluntarily gave up her child for adoption, not someone who had her children forcibly taken by the state. In such cases, unwed fathers may be differently situated and more deserving of a more solicitous approach to their rights. Also, the father in that case had come forward to assert paternity. It is not unreasonable to require unwed fathers to assert their rights in a timely manner. I submit that the scenario described in the Birch Blog, a woman is pregnant and puts the child up for adoption without notifying the father even though he is clearly interested in the child, is a rare case. In most cases, in my opinion, men who impregnate women and lose track of them may be presumed, in the absence of an overt claim of some kind to the contrary, to have no interest in their paternal rights. Contributing a sperm, without more, is not enough to warrant a costly state apparatus to protect paternal rights and interference with established adoptive placements. A few well-meaning men will get hosed, but that is a small price to pay for certainty in adoptions.

I have argued before that it is an imposition on the rest of us to have to maintain elaborate systems to adjudicate parental rights. The least costly way to allocate the burdens and benefits of parenting is to require parents to enter into contracts to deal with this. In the absence of such a contract, it seems fair, to all of us, to bestow the benefits and impose the burdens on the mother of the child. Those fathers who fail to take affirmative steps to arrange for paternal rights would have only themselves to blame.

Promoting finality in adoptions is one way to encourage adoption over abortion, if one cares about such things. Other ways are to permit a free market in adoption brokerage and other services and compensation for birth mothers. The Birch Blog seems to suggest that the father’s attorney in the case described is looking to attack the adoption industry in order to promote abortion. This seems farfetched to me since advocates for choice do not as a rule favor abortion over childbearing; rather, they oppose state interference in reproductive decision-making. I tend to think that the advocacy for the father’s rights is sincere and unrelated to abortion.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Free Markets and Total Annihilation

Eventually, another asteroid is going to slam into the earth and wipe out much of life. Those who live will envy the dead, at least for a while until the planet stabilizes or species adapt to new conditions. This happens now and again to all planets, and it has happened to the earth several times, so it is natural and not to be feared. It’s just nature’s way of shuffling the deck. Some species will die out, while others will find opportunities in the catastrophe. This is pretty much the free market on a cosmic scale, and those species that survive will just be those that can seize the eon, so to speak.

Of course, this assumes that a super-volcano eruption doesn’t get us first. Or man made weapons of mass destruction. In any event, whatever happens is probably for the best. Besides, what with all our constant inventions and improvements, we are bound to come up with ways to live without sunlight or organic foodstuffs.

I have been trying to think up ways to make a profit from the business of deflecting asteroids from impacting the earth. How would you get paid for this? The best business model I have come up with so far is to develop the ability to move asteroids, threaten to send an asteroid or two down on desired clients, and collect money from them not to do it. That way, you don't have to wait for an asteroid to threaten the earth naturally, and you will have some leverage with your clients. This is a classic win-win. The whole earth gets asteroid protection, and the investors get paid to do it. The only problems might be if a company claims to have asteroid moving technology but is really bluffing or if too many asteroid movers get into the business. Of course, the free market would make sure that the optimum number of asteroid movers was in operation at all times. Nobody knows how, but it does this.

Perception Trumps Reality

GOP talking points have infected my conspecifics at the office. It’s not lying the country into war that’s the problem; it’s pointing out the lying. What’s worse than running prison camps that invite comparisons to gulags? Comparing them to gulags. Mismanaging the war in Iraq is nowhere near as bad as telling people about the mismanagement. Don’t mention the pattern of fraud and abuse in contracting in Iraq lest that comfort the enemy, but the fraud itself is not problematic.

If the press would just stop reporting that the war, or any other thing the Bush crime family is up to, was going badly, the people would not know it was going badly and Bush’s poll numbers would stop falling. To the GOP, it’s not about winning the war; it’s about being at war. Bush is a “war president”, and that’s supposed to insulate him from criticism. It is not fair to require him to get the war right. That defeats the whole purpose of the ‘war deflects all criticism’ plan.

One of my GOP conspecifics actually said that he thought Bush had failed as a leader because he did not ask the people to sacrifice in the war. He said it as if it were something that was making the rounds among Republicans. Where is that coming from? Is the idea that the war will be a better seller if people are invested in it personally? Isn’t the magnetic ribbon sacrifice enough? And the massive debt that we will be taxed to pay?

I recall a “dialogue” with the fascists at RedState last year in which one of the regulars argued that criticizing the war hurts the troops. He felt that this was morally worse than putting the troops in harm’s way in the first place or in making stupid decisions that got them killed, and he pointed to Vietnam as an example of how spreading bad news about a war could lead to defeat. So, the blunders in Vietnam did not lead to defeat; reporting on them did? I reckon by this logic the US would be “winning” in Iraq if the press would start reporting that it was.

Hmm. This is probably "true", in the neo-con sense of the word.

Inconvenient Historical Events

JL Wilson marks the 25th anniversary of the attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life: http://independentcountry.blogspot.com/2006/04/what-amazing-coincidence.html
I never knew until today that the Hinckleys were friends of GHW Bush.

I’ll never forget that day (actually, I probably will at some point when my mind goes completely). I was at the Circle Theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue watching a double bill of Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” and “Bananas”. During the assassination scene in “Bananas”, the film stopped, the house lights came up, and an usher informed the audience that Ronald Reagan had been shot. I think I could have waited until after the movie to learn about the event.

This was not the only inconvenience that day. After the movie, my friend couldn’t get his car because the streets around GW Hospital, just across from the theatre where he had parked, were closed off because Reagan was inside. What the heck was the point of closing the streets?

The only good thing to come out of the assassination attempt, for me personally, was the joke: “Why did Israel invade Lebanon? To impress Jodie Foster.” That one still slays me to this day.

I don’t think the event would have been as memorable if I had not personally been inconvenienced by it. Also, he didn’t actually die. A lot of people seem to remember where they were when John Kennedy was shot or Elvis died, but few remember the Reagan shooting.

Back in the early 80s, there was a hellish winter day when a plane crashed into one of the bridges across the Potomac and a subway derailed. It was snowing, and this had already practically paralyzed DC. I was down in Foggy Bottom and had to walk home to my Chevy Chase Circle neighborhood. My suffering was nothing to that of the poor people killed in the plane crash, of course, but the personal impact made it memorable. I worked at a movie theater, the Avalon, and I was the only worker to show up. I sold tickets, served as usher, made popcorn, sold popcorn, and started the projector for the 50 or so folks who came to the movies (I don’t remember what was playing). Luckily, the projectionist showed up late, since I had not clue one as to how to change reels.

September 11, 2001 was pretty memorable since I was slightly inconvenienced by it. I had been walking the dogs in the park in Yonkers and was blissfully unaware when my wife called from work in midtown and told me to turn on the news. I was just in time to see the second plane hit, and I remarked that it was long odds that two planes would accidentally crash into the same complex on the same day. I went to work, but my building, an office in Tarrytown, was in “lockdown”, for crying out loud, and I couldn’t get in without sneaking past the guard. The company closed early anyway. That afternoon, I watched from the heights by Palmer Road as the towers smoldered. My wife had a heckuva time getting home that day since Manhattan was shut down.

Douglas MacArthur’s funeral was also memorable because it preempted my favorite cartoons.