Monday, July 31, 2006

More Carzy Conspecifics

I seem to be in a time loop of some sort. I keep having the same discussions over and over again, albeit with different people. I am cursed.

Today I was told by a conspecific that he didn’t blame the oil companies for the high price of gasoline. They were just taking advantage of the situation like good businessmen. He blamed the government for not stepping in and controlling prices. When I told him that I thought the government had stepped in to control prices by raising them to their current levels and beyond, he told me I was “conspiracy buff” and went on calling for the feds to legislate gasoline prices back to less than $2.00 a gallon.

Later, a staunch pro-Israel conspecific defended the IDF’s murder of civilians on the basis that the soldiers should not have to put themselves at risk to avoid civilian casualties. How much risk should they be willing to take to avoid killing children? None at all. On the other hand, by this same man’s reckoning a pregnant woman should be compelled by the state to take on substantial risks in carrying her pregnancy to term whether she wants to or not. I asked him whether IDF troops or US soldiers or cops shouldn’t be held to the same standard as he wants to impose on pregnant women. His rely was that the situations are “different” in that the fetus is “innocent”. The children killed by the IDF aren’t really “innocent” in that by their existence they are shielding terrorists.

Sometimes, I think my head will explode if I have to listen to the “reasoning” of my conspecifics much more.

Israeli Actions Spurred by Irredentists?

If you were an irredentist Israeli dedicated to the annexation of all territory that might be included in the concept of “Greater Israel”, the willingness of the majority of your countrymen to make territorial concessions for the sake of peace would be a most troublesome development. A successful Palestinian Authority and a normalized democracy in Lebanon would play into the hands of those who would make concessions for peace. One of the worst things that could happen, in the irredentists’ view, would be for any kind of normal relations to exist between Israel and Lebanon or between Israel and Palestine.

It would be far better for the ultimate aims of the irredentists for their countrymen to live in perpetual fear of hostile neighbors. There must be a state of perpetual war, and a new consensus must develop among Israelis that annexation is necessary for security. The destabilization and radicalization of Lebanon would be a critical part of the strategy of the irredentist movement. Also, the Palestinian quasi-state must be made or helped to fail at any cost. Hatred of Israel among Arabs must not be allowed to lose intensity.

The irredentists have an opportunity at this moment to reverse the “land for peace” movement (or more properly, the “claim to land for peace” movement) because of their neocon allies’ control of the United States and that country’s involvement in MidEast adventurism. The neocons’ political aspirations depend on the same fear-mongering and instability as relied on by the Israeli irredentists. Also, the neocons are beholden to fundamentalist Christianists who believe that the restoration of Israel to its full glory presages the End Times (when the Israelis will have served their purpose and can finally be killed by God, a contingency which the irredentists know will never come about). This means that the irredentists may well be able to do considerable, if not irreversible, damage before the US is moved to put some checks on the irredentists’ immediate actions.

It is also possible in the irredentists’ wilder dreams that the neocon controlled regime and its Christianist coalition partners are crazy enough to escalate the conflict in the MidEast into a bigger and broader war. They’ve been itching to start something with Iran or Syria but haven’t been able to overcome substantial opposition and the constraints imposed by reality. Even if this escalation costs the neocons control of Congress and gets some of them hanged, the damage done before cooler heads prevail will strengthen the irredentists immeasurably.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

World's Funniest Joke?

Via Lew Rockwell, I learned that the world’s funniest joke has been discovered by scientists:;jsessionid=ATGBVHLUPSAEFQFIQMGSFGGAVCBQWIV0?xml=/news/2006/06/09/njoke09.xml

I have to admit that the joke is pretty funny, but I don’t think it’s the very funniest ever told. It’s nice and brief, and it is not predictable. It’s got death in it. But there is surely a funnier joke.

One of my personal favorites involves a traveling salesman who saw a farmer holding a pig up to an apple tree so the pig could eat the apples on the branches. The salesman stopped and asked the farmer whether it wouldn’t save time just to shake the branches and let the pig eat the apples that fell to the ground. The farmer replied, “What’s time to a pig?” Anything with a pig in it is funny. The classic pig with a wooden leg joke is hilarious no matter how often you hear it. Is the world's funniest joke funny no matter how often you hear it?

My friends and I used to get high and exchange punch lines only. Many of the jokes were familiar classics, but even if they weren’t it could be pretty amusing (especially to someone who was baked) imagining what set up went with an unfamiliar punch line. Sometimes the funniest punch lines were related to pretty bad jokes, e.g. “Here comes Joe with a watermelon!” or “The world’s smartest man just stole my backpack.” This is a good way to recycle your jokes.

We also experimented with a new literary form known as the “unjoke”. Set up: “I met a man the other day who hadn’t had a bite in days.” Punch line: “So I treated him to a hot meal.” See what I did there? You were expecting a bad pun, but I turned it around on you. Here’s another. Set up: “A traveling salesman broke down in a rural area and asked a farmer if he could spend the night.” Punch line: “That would be fine, but I don’t have a daughter.” See what I did there? You get the picture.

Also amusing are “unriddles”. Q: “What has four wheels, a handle and a spinning blade?” A: “A lawnmower.” That cracks me up every time. My favorite unriddle goes like this. Q: “When geese fly in formation, why is one line of the ‘v’ sometimes longer than the other?” A: “Because there are more geese in that line.” I can’t keep a straight face with that one.

Of course, I can never get enough of "No soap. Radio."

I Am Green and Libertarian. Go Figure.

I look forward to Kevin Carson’s posts, especially where he critiques “vulgar libertarians”. In this one, he takes on a Dr Reisman who blasts all environmentalists as “collectivists” just like Hitler:

It has been my misfortune to have known a few self professed “libertarians” who advocated nuking the whales and paving the earth. To them, being green meant being leftist, and they reckoned that one way to establish libertarian credibility was to take the opposite view. If you cared about the environment or principles of stewardship, you were a commie or a fascist. You had to be. Otherwise you would not be able to implement your environmentally responsible ideas.

I’m for freedom, and I’m green. I don’t exist in Resiman’s view of the universe. I see the earth and nature as God’s wonderful creation. The world and all that is in it are God’s own. If I take seriously the commandment to love God, I will cherish His creation. Moreover, I see environmental responsibility as an aspect of good old fashioned consideration for my fellow human beings. For example, I don’t put fertilizers and herbicides on my lawn, not because I wouldn’t like a nice grassy lawn, but because I know that these get into the environment and the water supply. Using them would be inconsiderate of my neighbors’ health and right to live in a pleasant environment. I take seriously the commandment to love my neighbor, and my environmentalism is part of how I show this love. My neighbors include future generations to whom I acknowledge I have a moral obligation.

I hope that my neighbors will show the same consideration to me, and I will not hesitate to advocate environmentally responsible practices. I won’t resort to force, however. I probably won’t socialize much with a neighbor who despoils his land, and I will call him out on it, but I won’t force him to do the right thing. I will only resort to force if I need to do so to protect my own property rights. For example, if you poison my well, I will sue your ass off.

I advocate free market solutions to environmental problems and reckon that a truly free society would probably be less damaging to the environment than what we have now. Reisman and his ilk don’t think these solutions would work, but I don’t think they can legitimately argue the point. They don’t want any environmental controls or individual environmental sensitivity in any event, so they have no room to complain if free market solutions don’t work as advertised. I concede that free market solutions might not work all the time, but I see advocacy and moral persuasion as an aspect of the free market. If enough of us regard environmental responsibility as a moral imperative, our neighbors may become too embarrassed to pollute or despoil. I’ll take my chances with freedom in any event.

NY's "Finest" Not So Fine

Mrs Vache Folle brought home the NY Times yesterday to show me this article about appalling police misconduct in the Bronx:

Several cops pursue a teenager who was smoking weed in a stairwell. When the kid went into an apartment, the cops decided to break in and were confronted by the family dog. The dog allegedly bit one of the thugs and was shot 26 times by the panicky cops. The only good to come of the incident is that a couple of them were wounded by ricocheting shrapnel. For the sake of a little weed, NY’s “finest” killed a beloved family pet and endangered the family whose home they were invading.

NY’s “finest” reckons that nothing inappropriate took place.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

How to Get Cut Out of Foreign Policy Discussions

One of my conspecifics complained to another today that he thought the latter should not criticize the actions of Israel or the US in the Middle East but should save his criticism for the “bad guys”. Why focus on “our” misdeeds and mistakes when the “bad guys” are out to get “us”. Seriously, this is how an adult, college educated person in his sixties sees the world. He thinks that he is part of a good and benevolent “us” engaged in a struggle with an evil “them”. It’s that simple for him. He identifies Israel as a critical ally and part of the “us”, and anyone who opposes Israel in any way is a “bad guy” or an anti-Semitic sympathizer with “bad guys”.

“Israel is not my ally,” I remarked, to which he had no response. “Hezbollah is not my enemy, either.” These statements simply did not register with him as meaningful constructions in the English language, and he went on with his rant to our antiwar co-worker as if I had not spoken. My left wing, antiwar conspecific understands my point of view but disagrees with it. He is almost as collectivist as the wingnut, but he prefers his collective to be less bellicose and to act as an honest broker in the Middle East rather than looking to make war with everyone. The wingnut is downright excited by the prospect of a widening war with Syria and Iran, though he is skeptical whether the current administration is fit to pull it off.

My conspecifics no longer engage me much in foreign policy discussions. They are unable to relate to the way I frame the issues in terms of individual actors with their own agendas in relation to other individual actors. I always bring any issue back to a personal level, and this makes no sense to them. I think it creates cognitive dissonance and makes them uncomfortable. Eventually, I may be spared their uninformed blathering about foreign affairs altogether.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Dershowitz the Douche

It seems Pamela has company in the ranks of morally challenged douches in the form of a law perfesser named Alan Dershowitz. Kung Fu Monkey puts it in perspective:

Atlas Pukes

Tbogg keeps an eye on the morally handicapped and collectivist harpy Pamela at Atlas Shrugs so that other decent people can be spared.

Pamela doesn’t believe in “innocent civilians”:

I am not buying into the innocent civilians meme. If by ignorance, complicity,
neglect or helplessness the Lebanese wouldn't throw Hezbollah out and establish
a strong government, then they must pay the price for the sins of Hizbollah. And
if people put up with dictatorships, theocracies, totalitarian regimes - as they
did in Nazi Germany -- they deserve what Hezbollah deserves. Our only concern
should be who started the war. Hezbollah/Hamas initiated the use of force and so
stepped outside the principle of rights.

By Pamela’s “reasoning”, I (like everyone else in the US of A) am a legitimate target of any Iraqi. I live in the US and failed to topple the Bush regime, due mainly to my helplessness in the face of the overwhelming force the US government has arrayed against me; therefore, Bush’s initiation of force against Iraq is on my head even though I never voted for the SOB and always opposed his warmongering ways. I am fair game for anyone who aims to avenge the aggression against Iraq.

If Pamela wants to be a target, that’s fine with me. She is free to assume responsibility for the misdeeds of the US government all she wants even though she has had nothing to do with them besides cheerleading. I reckon all those who want to be targets and wallow in collective guilt should wear some kind of identifying badge. Ribbon magnets on their cars, perhaps?

As for me, I have nothing to do with what the US government does or does not do. I do not acknowledge its legitimacy, and I do not consent to its exercises of power over me and mine. I generally comply with its edicts solely because of the threat of force it wields against me. I do not do so gladly, only begrudgingly. I pray for the Iraqi people and feel great shame that any of my countrymen or co-religionists support the violence there.

To any who would impose collective punishment, I hope that you will consider that our overlords care little for the lives of their subjects and that they, in fact, reap political benefits from the fear that attacks on their subjects inspire. I would ask that even such as Pamela be spared. She is a pitiable dupe, and she is not really responsible for the crimes of the government that claims to rule over her.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Neocons are Terrorists

Evil acts undertaken under color of law or under claims of authority derived from states are morally equivalent to otherwise similar evil acts undertaken by non-state actors. If Hezbollah is not a “state”, evil actions taken by members or partisans of Hezbollah in furtherance of Hezbollah’s aims are no more or less evil than similar evil deeds undertaken in the name of the State of Israel or the United States. Killing folks who have nothing to do with the conflict between the two armed gangs of Israel and Hezbollah is morally reprehensible whether the killing is done by partisans of Israel or Hezbollah. They are morally equivalent.

The neocon death cult in the United States is not a “state” but it has effectively taken control of the United States government which it uses to legitimize and carry out a program of aggressive war and terror in the Middle East. Its avowed aim is to embroil the United States in perpetual warfare in furtherance of its quest to hold on to power. It is no less a terrorist organization than Hezbollah or Hamas or Al Qaeda just because it uses the apparatus of a state to achieve its ends. It is, in fact, a much more dangerous organization than any of the others I have cited since it has access to destructive capabilities and resources that far exceed those of any other terrorist organization. If the world laments that Hamas has taken control of the apparatus of the Palestinian state or that Hezbollah has influence in the Lebanese state, it ought more to lament the control of the neocon death cult of the US. It wants to and is capable to wage a Global War of Terror.

The “state” does not absolve evildoers of any guilt for their deeds. The idea that it does ought to have been laid to rest at Nuremberg.

Why Does WaPo Still Believe the Government When it CLaims to Have Foiled Another Terror Plot?

I read in the Washington Post yesterday about two of my fellow Georgians who are charged with plotting to attack the Capitol:

The reporting consists entirely of regurgitating the federal government’s story. The men are accused of having photos and videos of sites in and around DC from a recent visit there, of having traveled to the Middle East, and of having “jihad” materials, whatever that means. Oh, I almost forgot the most damning fact. They are of Middle Eastern origin.

I have yet to learn of terror charges that actually panned out, and I simply don’t believe the story. This is because of stories like this one in the Birch Blog:
Time after time, it turns out that terror plots were exaggerations or just plain frame up jobs.

In view of the pattern of government lying and exaggeration, why didn’t the Washington Post demonstrate any skepticism? I would bet that the real story is government deception and that it won’t be told until the Birch Blog tells it long after the harm has been done.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Two Cents on the Stem Cell Veto

JL Wilson and the big angry negro b psycho sum up my views on the stem cell research veto. I don’t want to be forced to pay for this research. I might contribute to such research and approve of it wholeheartedly, but I don’t think federal money, stolen from taxpayers, should be used. Of course, I don’t think federal money should be used for much of anything.

I take issue with all the “Snowflake Babies” and their parents who pride themselves on having rescued some embryos from destruction. Don’t they know that implanting an embryo is very risky, that a substantial proportion of implantations fail and leave the embryo dead? If you think an embryo is a “person”, you would not be justified in endangering it that way. You must keep it frozen or allow it to grow in a medium into an undifferentiated mass of protoplasm. Even thawing is a risky venture. Don’t go there. Of course, if you are like me, you don’t assign personhood to a blob of cells in a petrie dish; therefore, you can do what you like with them.

The veto was the right thing for all the wrong reasons. I have to give it to Bush for keeping a straight face while he moralized on the sanctity of life. I bet he had to practice a few hundred times to get through it without cracking up. It was a good idea to keep the media out since he could not be sure that he wouldn’t totally lose it during the speechifying.

I Forgot About State Abductions

I misspoke in my post about abductions when I said I never knew any abductees. I had repressed the fact that I had been complicit in thousands of abductions perpetrated by my employer, the State of Florida. The agency I represented abducted children every day, often on the flimsiest basis, in order to protect them from their parents.

All it would take was an anonymous tip to a hotline about some inappropriate fondling, and a poorly trained, often incompetent case worker would come to your house and take your children away. They’d be placed with a foster family in emergency shelter. This would traumatize the children, of course, far more than being fondled (even assuming fondling had occurred). You’d get to appear before a judge who would inevitably find probable cause for the state to keep your kids long enough to have them interrogated by an “expert” in sexual abuse. If the interrogation is done properly (or improperly as I believed), the state can get the kid to say anything and even to start to believe that fondling had happened whether it really did or not. Then, if you were the spouse of the alleged fondler, you would have to renounce your spouse if you ever wanted to see your children again. If you were the alleged fondler, you’d have to prove your innocence, an impossible burden, and you might even be subjected to the penile plethysmograph, known in our circles as the “pecker checker”, to test how turned on you got when exposed to images of children.

The state would hold your kids in foster care for several years while you jumped through a set of impossible hoops to get “rehabilitated”. When you failed, we’d petition to terminate your parental rights and put your kids up for adoption. By then, the kids would be a little too old and a little too messed up by their experiences in the foster care system ever to be adopted by anyone except an absolute saint (and there weren’t many of these). The state made it super hard to qualify to adopt and didn’t really even try with most of the less marketable kids. They’d grow up in foster care and group homes or the awful “Boys Ranch” and eventually end up in the penal system.

If you were a noncustodial father, the state would do little to find you and let you know that it had your kids. You’d just be “out of the picture”, and if you showed up you’d have to go through hell to prove your fitness as a parent to get your kids.

In some cases, parents really were dangerous or egregiously neglectful, but we had so many marginal cases and frame ups that we had limited resources to deal with the real hard core abusers or neglecters and their victims. Then again, the more cases we had, the more resources and power we got. It was in the agency’s interests to have a very low threshold for abduction.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Are Children Safer or in Greater Danger than Ever?

Rogier van Bakel posts that in the UK, children are safer than ever by a substantial factor. Despite this, parents are more fretful and anxious than ever.

According to this site, American children are also a lot safer than in the past:

“Between 1980 and 2003, death rates dropped by 46 percent for infants, 51 percent for children ages 1 to 4, 44 percent for children ages 5 to 14, and 32 percent for teens ages 15 to 19.”

I don’t know how to measure the degree of parental fretfulness, but if the parents I know are typical it appears to be very high. Old timers often relate how much easier it was back in the day to raise children and how worried and protective the current crop of parents is.

One source of worry seems to be abduction. Nobody wants his kid’s picture to end up on a milk carton. I have never known anyone who was abducted or who had a child abducted, and I have never conversed with anyone who actually knows a family with an abducted child. On the internet, it is hard to sort out fact from fiction, hysteria and hyperbole from helpful information. The Attorney General of New York cites figures of 4,600 abductions in the US each year, about 300 of these by strangers (rather than family members in a custody dispute), with about 100 of these being murdered.

The White House, on the other hand, thinks there are 50,000 non-family abductions annually in the US.

This alarmist site claims that 800,000 American children are abducted every year, but this includes abduction by family members:

This report has conflicting numbers but suggests that stranger abductions used to run about 300 a year but have declined to 150 a year recently:

Chubb Insurance says that 58,000 children are abducted by other than family every year:

This company that profits from scared parents claims that 725,000 kids go missing every year and that this is getting worse all the time!
I don’t know what to make of these disparate numbers, but I am leery of the higher figures. I don’t know what counts as an “abduction” in these numbers, but if so many thousands were carried off each year, I’m pretty sure I’d know someone with an abducted child. You’d think the Poughkeepsie Journal would have an abducted kid story every day. There would be Amber Alerts every hour on the hour.

Who wants parents to believe that their children are in danger of being snatched by child molesters and white slavers? Why?

I Met JB Stoner

My last post touching on Georgia politics reminded me of the time in 1972 when I met JB Stoner, white supremacist candidate for the Democratic nomination for US Senate from Georgia. He had run for Governor two years earlier and had garnered a disturbingly high number of votes from the district in which I lived. The guy was a racist nutjob and had bombed a black church back in the 50s. I was walking down Walnut Avenue in Dalton when a black limousine with Confederate Battle Flags on the fenders pulled up to the curb alongside the sidewalk. It was JB Stoner! He said, “Young man, I love the white race.” He handed me a stack of flyers and asked me to distribute them to like minded white people. He thanked me and rode off in his limo. I just stood there and gawked like an idiot. I was only 14 years old, after all, and an idiot to boot.

The flyers were about what you’d expect from somebody who was a professional bigot and who ran solely on white supremacy. I am proud to say that I disposed of them in the trash can in front of the Post Office and did not hand any of them out. I had not said that I would after all, and I didn’t agree with JB Stoner’s views at all.

He didn’t get the nomination. Jimmy Carter did, if I remember rightly. I like to think that my failure to hand out those flyers made the difference. (I like to think it, but I know it ain’t so.)

My Fellow Crackers Reject Ralph Reed

Ralph Reed did not get the GOP nomination for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. I am a little proud of my fellow Georgians (I still think of myself as a Georgian even though I am an expat in New York) for recognizing Reed for the corrupt, cynical bast*rd that he is. Lieutenant Governor would have been a stepping stone for that evil little man to higher office, possibly the now dictatorial office of the presidency. When I see or hear Reed, I get a touch of the “Dead Zone” heebie jeebies and sense that he is bad news. He might be the Antichrist for all I know. That’s the vibe I get from him.

Lieutenant Governor would have been a great position for such a scheming little man. It’s about as useless a position as can be imagined, right up there with Vice President, and it gives the officeholder a lot of time to solidify plans and position himself for the next move. He isn’t responsible for anything but gets a lot of publicity and respect. He might even get lucky and become Governor if something happens to the incumbent. And Governor is the requisite bullet point on your resume that comes right before President.

Reed reckoned he was untouchable as a golden boy of the Religious Right, and his arrogance let him engage in some shady lobbying business with Jack Abramoff. Reed forgot that when you hold yourself us a holier than thou, you had better at least try to appear to be holier. Everybody, even religious folks, love to see a self righteous jerk get taken down a notch.

I am happy that my fellow Crackers did the right thing. I am pleasantly surprised considering how many folks I know voted for JB Stoner back in the day.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Let's Call It the Tenth Crusade

What are we going to call the war in the Levant? “The Six Day War” is already taken, and more than six days have passed. And if we’re going to throw in the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascos and call them all one regional “war”, we’re going to need a name that takes it all in.

It has probably never been easy naming wars. The guys who named the “Thirty Years War” were apparently a lot more optimistic than the namers of the “Hundred Years War”. “The War of the Spanish Succession” didn’t take off in the US where it was known as the “French and Indian War”. “The War of 1812” seems pretty unimaginative, and I prefer the more colorful “Second War for American Independence”, not because it’s accurate but because it’s longer. The “War of the Roses” sounds more like a game show than a bloody multigenerational dynastic conflict.

My favorite war name from American history is the “War of Jenkins Ear” where the Georgians fought the Spaniards in retaliation for the loss of one Mr Jenkins’s ear. Of course, it was a little more complicated than that, but the ear lopping is the most memorable of the many casi belli.

I don’t think World War III or IV is appropriate since most of the world is not involved, and I tend to think of World Wars as involving at least a set of European antagonists. Europeans have to fight Europeans to qualify as a World War, and this is not the case here. I would go with the “Tenth Crusade” to lend the whole enterprise some real historical depth. Besides, this captures both the neocons’ wildest dreams and the Middle East’s suspicions. The enterprise has much more in common with the first nine crusades than with any other military adventures, so I nominate “Tenth Crusade” as the official name of the loosely or not at all connected conflicts going on in Muslim countries right now and going forward.

Poised Between Fear and Desire

BW Richardson comes to the realization that setting priorities means doing those things that lead to your most cherished goals:

My trouble is not that I don’t know what I need to do but that I perversely procrastinate about doing it. Right now, I commute over 40 miles each way to work as an administrative functionary in an intermediate holding company for a global services business. Our office exists only for the benefit of the executives, and we spend all our time and energy justifying our phoney baloney jobs. I don’t do anyone any harm in my position, but it is decidedly unrewarding. On the plus side, work is easy, and I don’t have to put in long hours. My bosses are not particularly tyrannical, but they have a hard time concealing their contempt for their underlings. It’s hard to work up a whole lot of enthusiasm for enriching them.

What I think I really want is to be self employed and to work closer to my home. I want to be part of my community, not just sleep there. If I l worked close to home, I could dispense with the dog walker, the lawn guy and big gasoline costs. I would be about $10,000 better off in reduced annual expenses right out of the gate. This translates to over $15,000 of my gross salary.

The trouble is that I have no confidence, no mojo. The last time I was self employed was a spectacular failure, and I am concerned that unresolved character flaws may have contributed to that failure. I would like to think that I learned from my mistakes, but I am not sure.

One big mistake was being undercapitalized and stretched too thin. I had a hard time practicing law and managing the offices and supervising staff at the same time. I reckon that I can solve this by reducing the scale of the operation and by limiting the number of clients. What I would like to do is to specialize in family matters like divorce, both mediation and advocacy, child custody and visitation, adoptions, guardianships and such like. I think I could keep it together if I focused on a limited area of practice and found a niche. Also, I like working with people on such emotional issues rather than engaging in commercial matters, which I find tedious and less rewarding. As for the scope of the office, I reckon that I would let space in an existing firm just enough for my requirements and share a receptionist. I don’t need a secretary or legal assistant, and if work gets to the point where I need one, it’s time to raise fees and scale back. I don’t want to have support a staff or physical plant, and I would like to have time for pro bono work.

My plan would be to ease into practice by moonlighting for a while to see if I could build a base of business before taking the plunge into private practice. Actually, I don’t really relish the idea of practicing law again, but I can’t think of another business that is likely to enable me to cover my nut. I already have the law degree and 20 plus years of experience as a lawyer, so it makes sense to use these skills. I’d rather be a cabinetmaker or some such thing, but I don’t know how to make cabinets or do much of anything besides lawyering.

A big obstacle is licensure. I am not licensed in the state where I live, and I simply hate the idea of taking another bar exam. When I was young, it was easy. I always passed with flying colors. Now I am older and more forgetful, and I reckon it will be harder. I plain don’t want to go through it, and I have been dragging my feet on this for a couple of years now. Every week, I promise I will start the ball rolling, and then I put it off.

Here I am, poised between fear and desire, and I’m stuck on the fear side. I used to be fearless. Failure can teach you to fear.

What I really want is to win the lottery and not to have to work at all.

Worst Soda Ever and Other Observations

I want to warn everyone about Diet Doctor Pepper Wild Berry and Cream soda. This is a soda so vile that tasting it will traumatize you. I inadvertently bought one last weekend, and I still wake up screaming. The memory of that awful taste lingers yet. Beware of any flavored Doctor Pepper.

We finally got to the farmers’ market last weekend and stocked up on free-range chicken and grass fed beef. We grilled a grass fed porterhouse on Sunday and split it. I am determined to keep a stock of this meat on hand and to store enough to last the winter this year. It is so much more flavorful than store bought beef, even the “organic” stuff we always buy. Seriously, that steak could not have been better. Mrs Vache Folle learned from Alton Brown, the anal retentive cooking show host, to let the steaks come to room temperature before grilling and to coat them with a crust of salt, pepper and cumin. Spectacular!

We have enjoyed lettuce and parsley from our vegetable garden, which is mostly a weed infested disaster this year. We are planning on raised beds next year and to make the present garden area into a patio. I am lobbying for a hot tub to put there as well. The raised beds will be easier to work, will be easier to weed, will not have compacted soil, and will not require rows. Also, the dogs will not be able to pee on the vegetables.

The dry season is upon us, and the creeks have slowed to a trickle. The pond’s water level is falling, but the comets and other critters do not seem to mind. If it looks too stagnant, we will put in a pump to circulate the water. This was not necessary last year, but we are keeping our eye on the situation. The scum on the surface makes the pond look pretty bad, but it appears to be ecologically sound.

The season of all cowbirds and grackles all the time seems to have passed with a change in feed to “Neat Feast”, and we are attracting many more finches and grosbeaks now. The goldfinches are especially numerous this year, and our neighbors accuse us of luring them away from their yard with our fancy bird food. The birds will doubtless benefit from our neighborly competition to attract them.

Jasper is not as frog crazy as he was earlier in the summer, but he still has the occasional frog hunting frenzy. The heat is hard on him, and the pond provides some relief. He enters the pond, sees a frog, and the hunt is on.

The baby turkeys are a joy to see. I sometimes have to stop the car to let a line of little turkeys cross the road. These birds travel up and down the hollow every day. They sometimes roost in the woods behind our house.

The pond and the yard are a lot of work, but I derive so much pleasure from digging in the garden, tending the plants, and observing the animals that I would not have it any other way. I feel a sense of profound joy and serenity when I sit on my deck and gaze at the meadow or when I walk the road. I feel as if I have an inkling of how gracious God is to have given us this life and this universe. I wish I could hold on to that feeling longer and export it into other areas of my life.

Idiot Substitutes for Springer

I was running late this morning and caught part of Springer on the Radio on Air America. Springer is on leave, and his substitute was some schmendrick named Jay Gilbert. He went off on some collectivist rant that seemed way out of place on Air America.

First of all, he agreed with the Israeli foreign minister that the Israeli soldiers had been “kidnapped”, not “captured”. Yet, he reckoned that the military response was appropriate even though he tried to characterize the triggering event as a crime. He insisted that it could not be seen as an act of war, yet he approved of Israel's use of war in response. I don’t think you can have it both ways. You don’t deal with a kidnapping by military means. Say a subject of New Jersey was nabbed by a New York gang. Should the Jersey Guard bomb the subway to prevent the New York gang from using it to transport the kidnap victim? Should the NYPD and Transit Police be targeted because they might defend the subway system? Should Jersey blow up some buildings in New York to encourage New Yorkers to turn in the kidnappers?

Gilbert played an excerpt of a report from Beirut. A Lebanese man stated that he did not want to be punished for someone else’s crimes. He didn’t figure it made sense to bomb him in response to something done in the south of Lebanon by an organization with which he was not affiliated. Gilbert reminded the audience that some Lebanese had protested Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed and had attacked some Danes in Beirut, and he reckoned that this made the Lebanese man who had spoken a hypocrite. Gilbert presented no evidence that this particular Lebanese man had ever attacked a Dane or advocated attacking Danes. I reckon in Gilbert’s mind, if you’ve seen one Lebanese you’ve seen them all. All Lebanese are fair game in Gilbert’s mind to atone for the crimes of any single subject of Lebanon or visitor to Lebanon.

This didn’t sound at all “Progressive” to me, but then again I probably don’t know what “Progressive” means. If it means advocating violence and collective guilt, count me out.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Israel is an Abstraction

What are my feelings about the State of Israel? I don’t think about Israel all that much. Israel is just another state, like Ecuador or Burkina Faso, and I don’t care for the government of any country. I wish the people who live in the boundaries claimed by Israel peace and prosperity, but if their government collapsed or was reorganized I would not much care.

Israel claims to have a “right to exist”. I acknowledge the rights of the subjects of Israel to life, liberty and the peaceful pursuit of happiness, but Israel is an abstraction, a fiction around which activity is organized, and as such does not have any legitimate claim to any rights. It makes as much sense to argue that General Motors has a right to exist, that the League of Women Voters has a right to exist, that Pack 2, Den 2 of the Northwest Georgia Council of Cub Scouts has a right to exist. If the Israeli people voted tomorrow unanimously to dissolve the government of Israel, would Israel's claimed right to exist overrule the will of the people?

Do the foregoing views make me an anti-Semite? I don’t think so. I feel the same way about every government all over the world. I don’t dislike Jews at all and have known a lot of terrific Jews in my lifetime. It would be irrational to form an opinion about an entire category of people based solely on the religious category which defines them for the purposes of discussion. I don’t see criticism of Israel as necessarily having anything to do with hating Jews. It certainly could be related to anti-Semitism, but it isn’t in my case. I have known anti-Semitic people who supported Israel and encouraged all Jews to concentrate themselves there, so support for Israel is not necessarily an indicator of pro-Semitism.

It has been my experience that criticism of Israel almost always invites charges of anti-Semitism. If I complained about parking enforcement in Tel Aviv, somebody would call me an anti-Semite. At lunch today, when someone remarked that he thought Israel had overreacted to the taking of its soldiers, one conspecific piped up right away with “a lot of people wouldn’t mind seeing Israel driven into the sea”. This non sequitur put the kibosh on further discussion. The anti-Semitism card must be trumps.

Bedwetters for Bush?

I took a long weekend and did not take in any news, so I was surprised this morning to find that some folks are saying that we are in “World War III”. I hope this is not true, especially in view of the “leadership” we are stuck with. So far, I reckon that the conflict in the Levant is not sufficiently global to qualify as a World War. Of course, the Bush crime family could probably find a way to turn a local war into a global conflagration. And they do realize that scared people become irrational and that irrational people vote GOP.

On the other hand, the incompetence of the regime has been so frightening that starting WW3 might backfire. Are these really the guys you want in charge when the shooting escalates?

The best thing for the GOP would be for the war to stay localized but for people to buy into calling it World War III. That way, they’ll be scared but there won’t be any actual danger. The more such bedwetters the better, since bedwetters vote GOP.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Fight Invasive Species With More Invasive Species!

I watched a National Geographic program about cane toads, an invasive species in Australia. In the 1930s, some growers brought Central American cane toads in to eat beetles that threatened the sugar cane crop. The beetle problem was solved as expected, but the cane toads have proliferated and occupy a big part of Northern Australia. They are venomous and kill anything that tries to eat them, their eggs or their tadpoles. Central American predators evolved immunity, but the Australian critters don’t have it. Even crocodiles disappear when the cane toads move in. They abound and overrun residential areas and are nuisance. Their venom can’t penetrate the skin, but it will kill you if you swallow it or it will blind you if it gets in your eye. Your family pets will die if they bite a toad.

A group of volunteers in Darwin has drawn a line of demarcation beyond which they allow no toad to pass. It’s a tough business killing off toads one by one. A scientist proposes to introduce a toad virus that will arrest their development, but there is some concern about compounding the problem by adding another invasive species. I reckon that importing a few thousand Central American gators with immunity to the venom would be helpful. What’s the downside? They already have crocs, so gators wouldn’t pose a hardship. They’re maybe less deadly even.

In Texas, a scientist imported a species of insect that lays its eggs in fire ants as a means of controlling the spread of the ants. The bug’s life cycle is tied up with the fire ant in that their larvae consume the fire ant hosts and come out of the severed head when they are ready to mate. They mate and commence to poking fire ants during their brief adulthood so there is no big impact on the environment or local ecosystem. Or so they hope.

Water hyacinth was choking up Lake Victoria until a water hyacinth eating bug was introduced into the lake. The hyacinth is under control, snail populations are down, and snail borne disease has been reduced. So far no negative impacts from hyacinth eating bugs have been identified.

I grew up with kudzu, an invasive species that had been introduced to fight erosion. It fights erosion all right, but it grows rapidly and takes over if you don’t fight it constantly. It envelops trees and kills them. It envelops buildings and covers paths and fences. I don’t know why we don’t bring in a kudzu eating critter or two from Asia. If that critter gets out of control, we can import a predator. Tigers would be cool. I’ve never heard of tigers getting out of control. Of course, you’ll get the usual selfish whining from parents about how their kids might be at risk from tiger attacks. I have two words for them. Parental. Responsibility.

I Survived the Tarrytown Tornado!

Yesterday afternoon, unbeknownst to any of us in the company, a tornado passed within a few hundred yards of our office building. It passed by the Tappan Zee Bridge, which is visible from our windows, and passed through Sleepy Hollow, Pleasantville and Hawthorne. This morning on the Sawmill River Parkway, traffic slowed to a crawl as motorists gawked at the destruction the storm left in its wake. In a swath a few hundred yards wide, every single treetop had been snapped off like a twig about twenty feet from the ground. Several buildings had lost their roofs. It must have taken all night for road crews to clear the parkway.

We missed the mess on the Sawmill last night because I had to pick up Mrs Vache Folle at the White Plains train station. The tracks were blocked by fallen trees and detritus between White Plains North and Chappaqua. At the time, I wondered whether nobody in Metro North knew how to use a chain saw, but now I realize the magnitude of the blockage probably required many hours of work to clear. We took the Bronx River Parkway to Route 22 to get to I-684, but some cops had closed the road by the reservoir (it was probably blocked) so that we had to crawl through a residential district in Harrison until we found 684 further north. We were still blissfully unaware of the tornado until we got home when the mother-in-law called to check up on us.

I did not realize that tornados occurred in New York at all. They were frequent events where I grew up in Georgia, but I figured I had put them behind me. Now folks are telling me to expect a hurricane! What’s next? Earthquakes? Tsunamis? Africanized bees? Fire ants? Kudzu? Cane toads? Walking catfish? Snakeheads? Locusts? Famine? Pestilence? Zombies?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Overpaid WH Staffers

From ThinkProgress"

"The Four Most Overpaid White House Staffers

Today the National Journal published a list of salaries for the 403 White House staffers. Here are the four most overpaid:

Deborah Nirmala Misir Ethics Advisor $114,688
Erica M. Dornburg Ethics Advisor $100,547
Stuart Baker Director for Lessons Learned $106,641
Melissa M. Carson Director of Fact Checking $46,500

And yes, there is a White House Director for Lessons Learned. We aren’t making this up. "

I Have Great Personalities

Thinking about the authoritarian personality the other day led me to surf the net for info on personality tests. This site has quite a few, and I took some of them for fun: In the famous person test, I scored as an Abe Lincoln, much to my horror. He was a pretty nice guy except for the bloody civil war thing. In the famous movies test, I scored a “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. I was surprised that I came off as adventurous, what with being such a boring homebody and all.

I was struck by the structure of the tests and the results in that facets of personality were set out as extremes, in either/or fashion. You are either messy or organized, spontaneous or rigid, abstract or concrete, theoretical or real world, and so on. I reckon that I am sometimes organized and sometimes messy, sometimes spontaneous and sometimes rigid. Also, a lot depends on whether I am medicated. And my personality has changed over time and is different in different contexts. I’m not the same person at a party as I am in a business meeting.

Some of the questions seemed to me to require a context. For example, if you ask me whether I am suspicious of people, my answer would depend on whom you mean and in what circumstances. If they are politicians, I am suspicious of them always. If they are hanging out by the ATM at night, I might be suspicious of them. If you ask me whether I am impressive, my answer depends on to whom you are referring. My dogs think I’m great. My nephews are often awestruck by my skills. To most other folks, I’m not so much impressive.

The tests are based on self reporting, and they probably reflect what I wish I was like more than what I am really like. Perhaps I should ask my wife to take the tests for me and provide objective answers.

The Personality Disorder test was fun, albeit disturbing. I have a “disorder” because I am too rebellious and troubled by authority. Is there a cure for this?

I sometimes think that I am not the same person all the time. There is “night guy” who likes to stay up late and drink too much on a school night and who makes plans to get up early and go to the gym. Then there’s “morning guy” who declines the honor of getting up early and who resolves to give up drinking and to exercise in the evenings, only to be thwarted by “night guy”. Maybe these two guys should take the same tests and see how similar they are.

I suppose I should consider myself lucky that I ever developed even one personality. A lot of really good looking people never do.

Fundie Christians to Convert to Islam?

If the mullahs play their cards right, Islam could be poised to win millions of converts in the US. The religious right, that warmongering and authoritarian brand of Christianism, is full of potential Muslims. Islam is more in keeping with their religious beliefs, and they could have all the self righteousness and legalism they can handle without all those inconvenient teachings of Jesus. Nobody could throw Jesus’ teachings about peace and love in their faces when they advocate slaughter and war. Nobody could admonish them for not loving their neighbor when they advocate repression.

Don’t Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and those of their ilk seem more like mullahs than pastors? Pat loves to issue fatwas, after all, and I recall Jerry proclaiming jihad on more than one occasion. Unloading the baggage of peace and love that comes with proclaiming Jesus as lord would really let them live up to their potential as theocrats. Sure, they’ll have to learn a new holy book, but there are probably Cliff Notes.

What the religious right wants is what the Taliban had. And they can’t get it if they are obliged to be merciful, to forgive, to love, and what have you. It’s time that they faced facts and dropped Jesus in name. They renounced his teachings long ago, and now he is just a kind of mascot for them, like Colonel Sanders was for KFC after he sold out.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

John Dean Figured Out the GOP

John Dean was on Countdown last night and on Rachel Maddow this morning. He was plugging his book “Conservatives Without Conscience”, and he contrasted contemporary amoral conservatism with the principled variety espoused by Barry Goldwater.

I was interested to learn that about 23% of the population has what is known as an “authoritarian personality”. These folks need a leader to follow and will follow him over a cliff, drink the Kool Aid, or do whatever the leader decrees. This is why GW Bush’s approval rating has a floor of about 30%. He has the authoritarians in the bag, and there is nothing he can do to lose them. There is also a sizeable number of folks who will tend to authoritarianism if they are afraid, and the Bush regime has spent the last five years scaring the crap out of as many folks as they can in order to secure their fear based loyalty.

The classic definition of an authoritarian includes extreme conventionalism, submission to authority, aggression against those on the outs with the powerful, anti-intraception, identifying with power and toughness, destructiveness and cynicism, projection of their own faults onto others, and an exaggerated concern with sex. I can imagine someone who is conventional and anti-intraceptive, even sexually repressed, not being an authoritarian. You can be quite conservative, I think, without looking to impose your views on others; however, I bet that this combination is pretty rare. By and large, folks who buy into convention and tradition so profoundly will be more than willing to impose them on others, especially if they have aggressive and destructive tendencies and a view of their fellow human beings as evil and untrustworthy.

Such a person will be drawn to conservatism as it exists today and will not be a good prospect for libertarianism unless the authoritarian personality can be treated. They might support a leftist authoritarian state, I suppose, but they will never be able to be free themselves or to tolerate freedom for others. After all, if they are right about what is right and wrong and their fellow men are weak and evil, it follows that a strong government is required to keep them in line and to preserve traditional values. The authoritarian may even have strong principles, but he will readily compromise or even sacrifice them to keep his leader in power or in the name of preserving the collective, party, state, race.

The leaders of the GOP lack principles. They have only an overwhelming will to power, and they will appeal to the authoritarian base cynically and inconsistently, using whatever slogan or bogeyman that appeals to the authoritarian masses at the moment. They will frame issues in terms of war, us versus them, and this will justify the use of any means to achieve political ends. Everything the GOP does makes sense only when you recognize its cynical underpinnings.

Libertarianism appears to start out with 23% of the population as a write off. (It is ironic that libertarians have more or less been in a coalition with authoritarians in the GOP most recently and that authoritarians have co-opted libertarian rhetoric to dupe freedom lovers into joining an authoritarian movement.) On the bright side, recent political history has shown that all libertarians need is about 23% of the population to have tremendous influence. If those numbers can be energized, one of the majors, presumably the Democrats, will be able to position itself as the anti-authoritarian alternative. There’s no need to get a majority to make a huge difference, just a well organized and energized “base”.

What is to be done with the authoritarian herd after the libertarian revolution? My hope is that an increasingly permissive environment over the last few decades will produce fewer authoritarians. Also, I have high hopes for the reeducation camps. All that is needed is to order all authoritarians to report to camp, and they will do it. They can’t help it. We’ll tell them to stay there until they are reeducated, and they will!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Kyl and Graham's Fraud on the Court in Hamdan

It appears that Senators Graham and Kyl didn’t show up for their legal ethics classes in law school:

If what John Dean writes is true, and I think it is, then these men have attempted to perpetrate a fraud on the Supreme Court. This warrants disbarment in my opinion. Of course, Kyl and Graham don’t need their law licenses to work as Senators. Graham will have to resign as a reserve JAG officer, but that would be all to the good for the military.

More Fun With Neocon Moral Reasoning

What’s worse than raping and murdering an Iraqi girl and her family? Reporting that it happened, of course. If I understand the neocons’ moral reasoning correctly, the argument goes something like this:

(a) Rapine and murder get the Iraqi people all worked up against the US. (b) This feeds the insurgency and makes it harder to control Iraq. It also undermines confidence in the troops back home. (c) Therefore, reporting on rapine and murder are harmful to the war effort. (d) Rapine and murder, if nobody knows about it, are not problematic. After all, lots of Iraqi civilians get killed all the time, and nobody much gives a hoot.

What’s worse than illegal spying on Americans? Reporting on it. After all, if you did not know you were being spied on illegally, you wouldn’t be concerned, would you? Now that you know about it, you might just agitate to put a stop to it and hold the regime accountable criminally and politically. This undermines the whole program.

What’s worse than stealing an election via fraud? You guessed it- reporting on it. Revealing the fraud undermines confidence in the system and the very legitimacy of the regime.

I never before realized how much fun it can be to play the neocon moral reasoning game. It’s not whether I am doing wrong; it’s whether my actions might be perceived as wrong that counts and whether this might interfere with what I’m doing. That means all I have to do to craft a plausible argument that will get media cred is to advocate killing the messenger. Now that I understand that being a neocon means that there is no right or wrong, just the silly perceptions of the masses, I can play the game as skillfully as anyone.

US troops caught beheading Iraqi schoolchildren? It is irresponsible to report this since irrational, morally constrained people may react to this news negatively. This will serve only to undermine the Future Terrorist Decapitation Program. Besides, it was a secret program authorized by the President himself (the VP performed many of the beheadings personally), and we all know that revealing secrets is bad, bad, bad, especially since we are at “war”. We will not rest until we get to the bottom of the leak of the existence of this program. The media should focus on what should happen to the irresponsible journalists who broke this story. Bill Bennett will break away from the blackjack table or buffet long enough to rail about treason. Rush Limbaugh will put a bit in his comedy show on the radio about punishing traitorous reporters. And the beheadings will go on as before.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

How the Church Got Between Me and Jesus

When I was in high school, I was very active in my church and in a Christian youth movement. I was a “born again” Christian and hungry for a profound spiritual experience. What I discovered, however, was that the institutional churches were not all that interested in promoting faith that was predicated on anything other than the authority of the institution. If it didn’t come from the church through approved channels, it was suspect.

A group of what were then known as “Jesus Freaks” moved into an old nursing home in town and lived a communal life in accordance with how they interpreted the New Testament. They were mostly young and were not affiliated with any church other than their own church that had worship and fellowship daily at the “commune”.

The community ran a restaurant called the “Yellow Deli” which served some pretty good natural foods. I really liked their salads and papaya juice, and I ate there whenever I could afford it. There would be music in the evenings, and one of my friends sometimes played his guitar there and sang. We got to know the Jesus Freaks and occasionally visited them at their community. This brought down the deacons on us. They warned us that those Yellow Deli people were a “cult” that would try to brainwash us and get us into their crazy commune. Some concerned citizens made a concerted effort to shut the Jesus Freaks down, and I am proud to say that they had failed at least until I left town.

We were under a lot of social pressure to stay away from our new friends, but we stuck by them. I didn’t reckon they were any more of a cult than the First Baptist Church, and their community seemed a lot more Christian than anything else I had ever seen. If anything, they made the deacons look like the Pharisees that had hounded Jesus. I wasn’t recruited or anything, but I probably would have been welcome if I wanted to join the community once I came of age. Knowing them did cause me to rethink the church, and I never again belonged to a church that I didn’t think had the makings of a halfway decent Christian community.

I was also involved in a Tuesday night Bible study that grew from about five participants to a coupe of hundred in the space of a year. I was in an “action group”, a kind of cell in the movement and led less experienced youngsters in forming their own action groups. A benefactor donated an abandoned farm building that we turned into a meetinghouse. We sponsored trips to Christian concerts and training seminars and revival meetings.

When things got cooking, we drew the wrath of the local churches. Our group was characterized as a “cult” that was in competition with our churches, and the volunteer adult leader was persecuted so much that he had to quit leading us out of fear of losing his day job and being run out of town on a rail. Parents were warned not to let their kids get involved with us, all because we offered something in the way of community and experience that the churches were unwilling or unable to offer. Our group encouraged active churchgoing, and we were astonished and hurt that the churches turned on us in this way. I later learned that the leader of Young Life, a mainstream youth organization approved by the churches, had been involved in working against us. The churches were not about to tolerate having young people seek the Lord and experience Jesus except through their mediation.

That was such a disheartening experience that I stopped being as active in church once I went to college. I was a half-hearted member of the Baptist Student Union for a while, and I attended church only sporadically (I sat behind President Carter on occasion). By the time I finished college, I no longer even considered myself a Christian.

I Would Have Been Revolting

Via Radley Balko, I read Tyler Cowen’s post in which he muses about whether he would have supported the American War for Independence had he been alive back in the day:

As a family historian, I have had occasion to ponder the actions and attitudes of my ancestors. These varied considerably depending on their social class, religion, place of residence and other factors.

For example, one of my Quaker forebears signed a letter disavowing the Boston Tea Party and assuring the Crown of the signers’ commitment to good order. His faith prevented him from taking up arms for either side, and he had the good fortune to live in an area where the Crown maintained effective control much of the time.

Another was a Virginia landowner of some significance and Colonel of the militia, and he threw in his lot with the Rebels. He was motivated in part by a desire to get even more land beyond the proclamation line established by the Crown, and he had speculated in lands in Western North Carolina, later East Tennessee. Moreover, had he taken up the Loyalist cause, he would have been a target of his Rebel peers. He had much to gain from the Rebellion and everything to lose if it failed.

Another was a professional soldier from Prussia who came to North America to participate in the rebellion. I suppose he might have gone the other way if the Crown had been hiring and would have offered him equivalent rank and station.

The rest of my ancestors, and the kind of person I imagine that I would have been had I lived in those days, were frontiersmen and yeoman farmers. Their interests doubtless included the opening of lands beyond the proclamation line (elites in the tidewater and piedmont controlled the land there) and pacification of the Cherokee, Shawnee and Creek tribesmen. They had little love for the elites who controlled Virginia and the Carolinas, and it appears that their first impulse was to remain loyal to the Crown. Among the issues that turned them to the rebel cause were the alliance of the Crown with hostile Indians who threatened their homes and the fear that the Crown would arm slaves and Indians for a murderous uprising against the white colonists. Add to that the terrorism employed by Rebels against Loyalists, and you find that you are left with little choice but to embrace rebellion if you live in the backwoods.

If I were lucky, I might avoid taking up arms altogether. I am not aware of any ancestors in the Continental Army, but a number served in the armies of their states as militiamen. Quite a few managed to avoid military service altogether, I am proud to report. I like to think that my ancestors were not so naïve as to buy into the propaganda of liberty and that they made their choices based on the interests of their families as they understood them at the time. I reckon that I would have been a reluctant Rebel for the same reasons that they were.

The results of the Rebellion for my family came in the form of bounty lands, eligibility for extra draws in the Cherokee land lotteries, the chance to speculate in western lands, and the opportunity to drive the Indians from their lands and claim them for their own. The Crown might have afforded the same opportunities if it had not had scruples about screwing the Indians and if it had not chosen to ally itself with them. My family was able to move westward into the Blue Ridge highlands and Cumberland Plateau and to establish farms and enterprises in the wilderness, whereas they had previously been hemmed in by elites in the east and Indians, and the proclamation line, in the west. Otherwise, in terms of laws and liberties, things were not much changed. Rulers in Britain were replaced by similarly minded rulers in the east, and frontiersmen didn’t exert much influence for decades.

Ironically, when the government that the Rebels had fought to establish got control of the western lands and the monopoly on dealing with the Indians, it adopted a policy of treating with the Indians and discouraging encroachments. Moreover, the federal western lands were closed to homesteading and were made available for sale in such large lots that only wealthy speculators had much chance to acquire land. The US Army raided and destroyed communities of squatters in the Ohio valley in furtherance of its policies. Westward expansion was delayed considerably, and it was up to the states to prosecute campaigns of harassment against the Indians and to distribute their lands to whites.

Lost Civilizations not so Mysterious After All

In documentaries and articles about ancient civilizations, the question of why the particular civilization “mysteriously” came to an abrupt end is almost always raised. Was it war? Drought? Famine? Disease? How could such a great and powerful empire disappear in such a short time? This was one of the problems associated with the Mound Building culture that once controlled the area where I grew up in North Georgia or the Mayas who built the ruins I visited in the Yucatan. I confess that I puzzled over this the same as the archaeologists.

Nowadays, I reckon that the archaeological issue has been poorly framed. The question should not be how oppressive, monument building regimes fail to maintain themselves perpetually; rather, we should ask how such regimes were ever allowed to exist in the first place and why they were not discarded sooner. I no longer imagine happy Mayan peasants volunteering to labor on the construction of elaborate ceremonial structures for the benefit of priestly and kingly elites. On the contrary, I imagine them as seizing any opportunity to be free of their overlords. When the Mound Builders or the Mayan rulers fell, ordinary people were probably no worse off for it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Proposal to Cut the School District Budget in Half

aThe Carmel Central School District, which extorts money from us, spends a little over $13,300.00 per pupil per year. I have a modest proposal for reducing the costs of the CCSD significantly. Let us pay half that amount, about $6,650.00 per school age child, to each family within the district who takes its children out of school and home schools them. A family with two children would receive $13,300 or a little over $1,100 a month, and this might be enough to permit a number of families on the margin to have a stay at home parent for a while. At any rate, parents would have more latitude as a result of this subsidy in coming up with childcare arrangements other than public schools. The district budget would be reduced in proportion to the number of pupils no longer matriculating.

Although every parent will not take advantage of this program, it would be a boon to the district if they did. Full participation would permit the district to eliminate almost all the costs of administration. There would be no need for school buses or buildings and grounds, and these assets could be sold off. The windfall from real estate in Putnam County alone would go a long way toward funding the district.

Best of all, the children of the district will receive better educations.

I Don't Ask My Neighbors to Pay for My Hobbies, But Maybe I Should

The Town of East Fishkill, which claims authority over me and mine, held a fireworks display and concert at the main recreation center on Monday, July 3. I am pretty sure that this was financed with “public” funds. My car pool companion took his family and thanked me this morning for my part in financing a good time for the kids. He knows how I feel about forced subsidies.

That I have been taxed to pay for an evening of fireworks and oldies gives me serious heartburn. This is a far cry from the “necessary” police and roads and other “vital” government services that apologists for the state generally cite in opposition to my calls for anarchy. How can the coercive organization and financing of this frippery, this pure entertainment, be justified? One of my statist conspecifics blithely informed me that the public fireworks display is a critical part of public safety! You see, if the town didn’t put on a good show, then a lot more individuals would set off even bigger fireworks on their own and create the danger of fire or personal injury. The town’s display is controlled, with firefighters at the ready, and it is meant to satisfy the cravings of the average subject for Independence Day explosions.

Some of my neighbors must not have gotten the memo since they set off firecrackers and explosive devices well into the night yesterday, much to the chagrin of my Carpathian shepherd, Jesse Lou Baggett. I don’t know how seriously to take my conspecific’s assertions about the justification for the public spectacle. I concede that fireworks are cool and that it is preferable for a variety of reasons to have a single spectacular display rather than a thousand crappy backyard displays. My objection is not to the display but to its coercive organization. Don’t force me with the threat of violence to pay for this entertainment. Pay for it with voluntary contributions or fees.

Of course, the Independence Day fireworks are not the only frippery that East Fishkill subsidizes. The Recreation Department provides playing fields and facilities for softball and baseball, soccer, football, and roller skating. There is an entire “skate park” that I am forced to pay for whether I skate or not or whether I think skating is of such public consequence that it must be financed involuntarily for the public good. If your kids like to skate, and if there is enough demand for a place to skate, surely a businessman will come along to fill that need. Or the friends of skating could voluntarily finance the activity that they love so well. What selfishness and inconsideration characterize those who demand, backed up by the force of law, that their neighbors pay for their skating hobby! Or their baseball, or any of the things that the Recreation Department provides.

The arguments for the coercive provision of these services and facilities strain logic. They are nothing more than a bald appeal to force. “I will make you pay for my amusement because I can.” My “ponies for everyone” plan is as readily justifiable. I may run for town board on this platform. Ponies are nice. People love ponies but can’t always afford their upkeep. East Fishkill could provide each household with a pony and food and shelter to sustain it. You don’t want a pony? Fine. You still have to pay for my pony, though, you pony hating bastard. How can you be against ponies? Are the other recreation programs any less silly than the ponies for everyone plan? They are justified the same way. Softball is fun. Everybody loves softball. East Fishkill could build and maintain some lighted ball fields for softball players.

One of my conspecifics likens the Recreation Department and East Fishkill to a club that gets together for its mutual benefit and to provide goods, such as parks and ball grounds, that are not so easily provided by individuals. The difference, and this is huge for me but apparently not for my conspecific, is that it is involuntary. I can’t opt out (unless I move away where some other town will nail me for its taxes). If I don’t pay, the town will kick me out of my home. The town will even kill me if it thinks it has to in order to evict me from my house in a tax foreclosure. If folks want to form a mutual aid society and go in on some ball grounds or a skating park, good for them. I might even join them. But it makes no moral sense at all to extract money by force from everyone to pay for the amusement of a few or even the amusement of a majority.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Stay Away from Fox "News"

I will not appear on Fox “News”. Don’t even ask me. Save your time and energy and book somebody else. Unless, of course, you are willing to pay me a considerable sum of money. And it will cost you even more, let’s say triple, to get me on Bill O’Reilly or Hannity & Colmes. And if I have to appear with either of the harpies Coulter or Malkin or with Bill Bennett or the crazy Catholic League guy, prepare to sweeten the pot by a factor of ten. I have principles, and getting me to compromise them takes money.

I won’t even watch Fox “News”, and nothing turns my attention off faster than starting a conversation with “On O’Reilly last night” or “On Fox yesterday”. I am pretty sure Fox “News” makes you stupid, and my mind is going fast enough as it is with age without subjecting it to the brain cell destroying rays that emanate from the screen of a TV tuned into Fox “News”.

Lopez on Legitimacy

J Lopez has an interesting take on the concept of “legitimacy”:

When you’re never really given a free choice in the matter, should your acquiescence in government be taken as assent?

The concept of legitimacy has always been problematic for me. Certainly, it is useful to think about the degree to which a government enjoys the cooperation of its subjects in their own governance. But this may derive, as Lopez points out, from fear or resignation rather than happy assent.

And assent is usually gained only through fraud and careful indoctrination. Is a government “legitimate” when it acquires loyalty only through years of government schooling and propagandizing of children to turn them into obedient subjects? How can this loyalty be characterized as voluntary? This process may, in fact, be hardly less expensive for the state than the outright repression of hostile subjects on the verge of revolt.

The Greatest Generation is Yet to Come

My mother in law and her current husband spent the weekend at our house. It was a pleasant visit except for a single bizarre political “discussion” I was forced to have with the husband. He is one of those guys who is milking every last drop of his nation’s gratitude out of his WW2 service. His whole octogenarian life centers on the VFW and the VA (he was largely deafened by artillery and strained his back in the war). He conveniently forgets that he was conscripted and compelled to serve against his will at the time, and now he reckons that his generation was so much better than the present one because they understood that sacrifice was necessary to preserve freedom, whatever that means.

Now he opines that America has to “finish the job” in Iraq. I asked him how he would know when the job was finished and whether he could give me a hint as to what the “job” entailed in the first place, and he replied that the government was the best judge of that and would let us know. He figured conscription would be a good idea since young people these days (including his own grandchildren, I suppose) aren’t willing to sacrifice for the community and answer the call to arms.

“Greatest generation”, my ass. Being mobilized and ordered around by a totalitarian military for years on end had to have an impact on them. These guys learned collectivism in the war and spent the next half-century making sure that America was good and collectivized. They’re the ones who brought us the military industrial complex and the welfare state. Worst of all, their perpetual claims on martial glory and honor in a so called “good” war enable warmongers even today to lie about war and tempt naïve young men and women into military service.

My uncles were WW2 combat vets, and I honor their memories and service because (a) they never demanded to be honored or to be given triumphal parades, and (b) they always told the unvarnished truth about war. These other old men who turn out every Memorial Day to rob the dead of some of their “glory” and every Veterans Day to demand more gratitude and praise, in contrast, frankly disgust me.

I told my step-father-in-law that I thought WW2 had been unnecessary and that all his efforts and those of his comrades had gone for naught. After all, at the end of the war, we had traded one set of murderous dictators for another set, and we never demobilized and returned to normal. I thought the old guy’s head would explode. All he could say was that we would be speaking German if it weren’t for his generation.