Thursday, August 31, 2006

SAT Scores

I was curious about SAT scores in blue states versus red states and have found that such comparisons make very little sense. Scores for New Jerseyites were, to my surprise, lower than scores for Mississippians! It turns out that 85% of high school seniors take the SAT in New Jersey, while only 4% of Mississippians do so:

I surmise that higher educational opportunities for Mississippians are constrained such that only brighter students take the SAT there while more New Jerseyites consider higher education. In New Jersey, the SAT scores might be a pretty good proxy for the intelligence of the senior class, but not so in Mississippi.

Many of my conspecifics cite trends in SAT scores when they talk about funding for schools or teacer accountability, and they seem to think that throwing money at the schools will lead to higher SAT scores. I doubt this very much since the SAT doesn't measure knowledge so much as it measures intelligence, so no amount of schooling is going to make a stupid senior score well on the test. Mississippi may have the key to increasing scores. By discouraging less intelligent seniors from taking the exam, the state average is increased. If New Jersey wants higher scores, it needs to prevent as many stupid students from taking the test as possible.

Scores ought to be falling nationwide over the years as a greater proportion of students intends to go to college. Back in 1947, only about 5% of the population had a college degree. Now it's close to 25%! Accordingly, falling scores should not be taken as indicative of anything to do with school funding or the quality of teaching. This should not be alarming at all. It is entirely to be expected.

My fellow New Yorkers get SAT scores up in their school districts by raising taxes and the cost of living so much that poorer residents are compelled to move away. Since poverty correlates with lower SAT scores, this has the effect of reducing the number of low scorers in the district. The schools are no better for all the money thrown at them. The students are better. In fact, I reckon that the students in the tonier districts would do as just as well on their SATs if they didn't go to school at all.

I don't know what to make of SAT scores, but I am pretty sure that they don't mean what many of my conspecifics seem to think they mean. A teacher whose students score poorly on the SAT is not necessarily a bad teacher. In fact, his job is probably a lot more challenging than a teacher of brighter students. The correlation between money and SAT scores is, in my opinion, spurious. Wealthy districts have fewer low scorers and tend to throw more money at schools, so the correlation does not mean causation.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bush Is Technically Not an Idiot

The other day, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC themed his TV program around the question “Is Bush an Idiot?” I didn’t see it, since I can’t stand that kind of show (except for the Colbert Report), but I think it is pretty obvious that Bush is not an idiot. An idiot is someone with an IQ of twenty or below according to old fashioned scales of intelligence (, and I reckon Bush would score better than that. He can tie his own shoes and wipe his own ass and read at a fifth grade level, so he is definitely not an idiot, technically speaking.

Is Bush an imbecile? Probably not, since imbeciles have an IQ of only up to 49. They’re smarter than idiots, but they’re not as smart as Bush. The best an imbecile can hope for in politics is state legislator or lieutenant governor. I don’t even reckon Bush is a moron (50-69 IQ). The smarter morons can be congressmen or political appointees below cabinet level. At worst Bush is a borderline mental deficient (70-80) like many Senators or cabinet members. However, he probably is of average intelligence, but the ravages of alcoholism and cocaine abuse and lord knows what else have taken their toll on the man. His judgment is impaired, and his moral compass is not magnetized. He is stupid but not abnormally so. He ain't much for book learnin' and fancy ponderin' and such like.

I saw a little of Bush’s interview with Brian Williams on Countdown last night. Bush said historians would be unable to judge his presidency for at least 30 or 40 years. I disagree. Historians can tell right now that Bush’s presidency has been an unmitigated disaster. They won’t know whether the damage is irreversible or whether his attempt to create a fascist police state will succeed, but they will know that Bush is the worst president ever (so far). The larger significance of Bush’s evil and incompetence won’t be known for some time to come, but it is important for intellectuals to speak out now in order to inform efforts to undo Bushian damage. The neocon “intelligentsia” is hard at work defending Bush, and they don’t seem willing to wait a generation to render their historical interpretations. His detractors need not do so either.

My hope is that Bush will live on as a slang word for the combination of evil and incompetence.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Wm N. Grigg is Alive and Well and Blogging at Pro Libertate

Thanks to JL Wilson for solving the mystery of what happened to the Birch Blog:

The excellent writer and thinker Wm Norman Grigg, who wote for the Birch Blog, now blogs at Pro Libertate ( where he continues to serve up some of the best advocacy of freedom and social criticism in all of blogsylvania.

I was leery of reading anything put out by the John Birch Society, but I soon became a regular reader and admirer of Wm Norman Grigg. Where I grew up the Birchers were decidedly authoritarian and hyperpatriotic. Their idea of freedom seemed to be the freedom to live as a Bircher might decree. Grigg is anything but authoritarian, and he is no state worshiper.

His new blog allows comments, and I look forward to discussions among his commentariat.

Everything I Learned About Slavery Was Wrong

My current "bathroom book", by way of explaining why I haven't finished it, is Rough Crossings by Columbia University historian Simon Schama, which focuses on the treatment and plight of slaves in the American Revolution. This is one of the most interesting books I have read on the subject of slavery, and Schama brings the circumstances of the slaves to life by using real life stories of individual slaves caught up in the events.

I have been reading a lot about slaves and slavery over the last several years, and I am finding that I was woefully misinformed in history classes in school. The issue of slavery never came up in any course I ever took in the context of the American Revolution, but it seems clear from Rough Crossings that it was a central issue in the conflict and much on the minds of the Founding Fathers. The British had promised freedom to slaves who had crossed over behind the British lines, and the Americans were so determined to get their slaves back that they insisted on a provision calling for their return in the peace treaty. Despite this, the British Commander honored his government's pledges of freedom to the slaves who had crossed over.

I have for many years been under the impression that everything I ever learned about American history in school was bulls**t. Growing up in Georgia, I was never taught anything truthful about slavery. We barely acknowledged its existence as a fact of history except to be assured that it wasn’t all that bad. The slaves had kindly masters who treated them well. It was nothing like those libelous Yankees would have you believe. The slaves were no worse off than sharecroppers or indentured servants and were assured of room and board, yadda yadda yadda.

I have decided on the basis of my more recent self education on the subject that the horrors of slavery cannot be overstated. Any slave who had a moment of joy or leisure did so entirely at the sufferance of his or her master or mistress. Any slave owner, my slave owning ancestors included (I am relieved that these were few), was immoral and corrupt, and no amount of good works outside of slave owning can redeem him. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, for example, were a**holes for owning slaves and supporting the slave system despite anything else they might have done. I used to reckon that they ought to have been judged according to the times in which they lived, but I now reckon that even then slavery was clearly loathsome and slave owning a grievous sin.

It’s too late to make it up to the slaves. Those who enslaved them ought to have been held to account. Now even their estates are out of reach, having been distributed long ago to heirs and creditors. The governments that enforced slavery still exist, but to fund reparations would require a tax on subjects who have never enslaved anyone or derived a personal benefit from slavery. I suppose that if we liquidated the governments and sold off their assets, the proceeds could go to slave estates as priority creditors. That would be killing two birds with one stone by ending the state and making a gesture to the memory of the enslaved.

The least we can do as Americans is to tell the truth about slavery and acknowledge its shamefulness.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Damn Yankees

If the New York Yankees changed their name to the Knickerbockers or the Highlanders or some such thing, maybe I could like them. But I just can't work up any affection for anything that is called a Yankee. That word has connotations of disagreeableness that I cannot overcome. We used that word to refer to non-southerners, mostly folks in Bermuda shorts and sandals with black socks on their way to Florida in my limited experience. They talked funny, especially those Michiganders and Wisconsonites, and they were our hated traditional enemies. It was the Yankees that burned their way to Atlanta in 1864 and coerced us into staying in their damnable union.

It was inconceivable to me that I would ever live in Yankeeland or even marry a Yankee woman, but I do and did. I figured out that Mrs Vache Folle isn't really a Yankee since almost none of her ancestors was present for the War Between the States. Her one ancestor who served in the Union forces, Shem Lloyd, a recent arrival from Wales, deserted before he saw action, so he almost counts as a Confederate. In fact, a lot of folks up here in Yankeeland aren't Yankees. It would be intolerable if they were all Yankees.

I was shocked when I travelled abroad for the first time and found out that some foreigners reckoned that I was a Yankee. This was appalling.

Me and Porn

When I was about eleven years old, I used to wander up and down our quiet country road collecting soda bottles for the deposit money. It didn’t occur to me back then that the handful of motorists on our road were litterbugs, but there were always soda bottles to be found in the ditches. There was not much else in the way of litter, so I reckon that folks seeded the ditches with soda bottles precisely so that kids like me could glean them for money to buy penny candy.

On a couple of occasions, I happened on some pornographic literature that an obliging motorist had thrown in the ditch. This was real hard core porn, some of it gay porn, and my cousins and I stashed it in the abandoned pig sty that we used as a clubhouse. We pored over the graphic pictures with fascination. We weren’t yet up to much in the way of sexual arousal, so our interest was more scientific than prurient. We couldn’t get straight answers from adults on the mechanics of human sexuality, and observations of livestock teach you only so much. This porn cleared up a lot of our misconceptions and armed us with knowledge. I look back on my exposure to porn at an early age as a positive development.

My father was an occasional consumer of porn, and I would look at his magazines when I visited him. He didn’t encourage me to enjoy his porn, but he didn’t really try to keep it out of my hands. When I grew up, I didn’t become a big consumer of porn. When I was 21, I visited Times Square and checked out the peep shows, but I never went to a peep show thereafter. It just wasn’t that entertaining. X rated movies don’t appeal to me, and I have purchased a grand total of five pornographic magazines in my entire life. Watching other people have sex is not my thing.

Although I don’t have much use for porn, I heartily endorse its consumption by others, and I don’t much care whether kids might be exposed to sexually explicit images. I leave it up to parents how much and what kind of porn their kids consume, and I frankly don’t get the hysteria that some people have about the possibility that their child might see a picture of a schlong. My car pool companion was upset that March of the Penguins contained penguin mortality as he didn't want his children to know about the phenomenon of avian death for some reason that is incomprehensible to me. He aims to conceal from his children as long as possible all information about sex and avian death, and he considers this so obviously a good idea that he has never bothered to articulate any kind of rationale for this policy. He wants homosexuals to stay closeted because he doesn't want his children to know about the existence of homosexuality. It’s none of my business until these hysterics try to inconvenience me by controlling other people’s access to material because they are too irresponsible to monitor their own children's exposure to information that they bizarrely aim to conceal from them.

If I am honest with myself, my porn is the Food Channel and recipe books and magazines. I am more about gluttony than lust, and cooking shows allow me to enjoy vicarious gourmet meals and to fantasize about eating. There is nothing sexier than Rachel Ray in the kitchen. I have a cookbook collection that takes up a whole shelf, and I have been known to drool over the pictures of dishes.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Profiling is a Waste of Time and Resources

Ali Massoud has a great post on ethnic profiling:

Many of my conspecifics advocate one form of profiling or another, but they don't really have it fleshed out how a profiling program would work. They are somewhat like my feebleminded former neighbor who told me he planned to invest in stocks that would increase in value while avoiding those that would decrease in value. He didn't know how to tell the winners from the losers in advance. My conspecifics who advocate profiling argue that the authorities will mostly just bother criminals and terrorists instead of wasting their time and energy on innocent people. The problem is that the authorities don't know who is a criminal or terrorist or who is going to misbehave just by looking at them or their papers.

Consider the case of racial profiling on the basis that darker hued folks are more likely to be convicted of crimes than their lighter hued counterparts. Although this may be so, it is still a small proportion of swarthy skinned folks who commit crimes; therefore, the vast majority of dark skinned folks whom one targets for scrutiny and harassment will be innocent. You will have wasted a boatload of effort and diverted resources to your ill conceived profiling plan. And there are still tens of thousands of light complexioned criminals whom you will need to deal with at the same time that you are checking all black folks so carefully.

Consider the case of ethnic profiling of Muslims. First off, Muslims come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Islam is a religion, not an ethnic category, and you may well find that some folks don't look Muslim to you but, in fact, are Muslims. My pro-profiling conspecifics have only the vaguest notion as to how to identify a Muslim from a non-Muslim. They think of dark complexions and mustaches, but this might just as well describe Mexicans or Cubans or Ethiopians or Arab Christians or Sephardic Jews. Surnames might be a better guide, but a would be terrorist may not use his own name and might try to pass for some other ethnicity, especially if he thought ethnic profiling was going on. So you're going to be profiling a lot of folks who might look Muslim to the idiots you have hired a s screeners, and you will miss a lot of Muslims in the process. Also, only the tiniest minority of Muslims is a terrorist, way below a single percent even if you limit your profile to males of a certain age range. Accordingly, almost everyone you target will be entirely innocent. You will be wasting time and resources in a big way. And, as Ali points out, there are still the whitebread nutjobs to consider.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I Love Homosexuals

I have had acquaintances over the years who claimed that their moral positions were derived from reason. I have long believed that moral propositions are ultimately arbitrary or predicated on unprovable metaphysical assumptions. The moral scheme to which I adhere, not as well as I might like, is derived from the teachings of Jesus to love God and my neighbor. This is my belief, and I cannot necessarily defend it with reason. I can point out what a wonderful world it would be if everyone lived according to these teachings, but this would be based on my personal preferences about the ideal world. I cannot reason my way to the Kingdom of Heaven. Of course, this may be due to some flaw in my capacity to reason.

I have also had acquaintances who claimed that their moral positions were derived from the literal reading of Scripture, and most of these folks have called themselves Christians. Their Christianity bears little resemblance to mine, being concerned in the main with individual righteousness and judging others. They also advocate war, nationalism, and a powerful state, all of which I find incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. They would post the Ten Commandments in the public square, whereas I would rather post the Sermon on the Mount. Ultimately, my acquaintances of this ilk were vulnerable to manipulation by crafty legalistic preachers, and they seem to pick and choose the verses that they count as important. They’ll eat pork chops and scallops and wear blended clothing, but they have problems with homosexuality and sorcery.

When I consider homosexuality, I find that the commandment to love my neighbor prevents me from condemning homosexuals. I am moved to be open and affirming rather than insisting that homosexuals deny their nature or conceal their relationships. Yet, I am reminded from time to time that Paul disapproved of homosexuality and that the Old Testament condemns it. Paul had a lot of peeves, and I don’t reckon that even he considered his letters Scripture when he was writing them. That some Bishops decided to include them in the canon several centuries later does not in my view elevate them to holy writ. Paul’s writings are useful and instructive but hardly on a par with the teachings of Jesus. And the Old Testament passages about homosexuality don’t seem to me to carry any special weight. You won’t find me sacrificing animals or treating my wife as unclean when she menstruates. I also don’t expect my brother to marry my widow after I die. Why, unless I had some independent hang up about homosexuality, would I pick out the Old Testament passages about it and afford them special significance?

I have known folks who claim that their hatred of homosexuality stems from reason. In support of this, they claim that it is “unnatural”. Since it occurs in nature with some considerable frequency, I dispute this characterization. It is true that homosexuality does not lead to reproduction, but neither does celibacy, and I don’t know anyone who condemns celibacy. Ultimately, this moral reasoning depends on the metaphysical assumptions that “natural” is good and that reproduction is always desirable. It also depends on the assumption that the moralizer has a legitimate interest in whether his conspecifics reproduce. It is not outrageous that folks might harbor such beliefs, but they are deluding themselves if they think that they have come to them through reason.

As a libertarian, I reckon that my conspecifics are free to hate whomever they please and to make each other miserable as long as they do so peaceably. I’d rather folks minded their own business and promoted one another’s happiness, but that’s a tall order.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

That's Entertainment!

Just when I thought all the entertainment value had been squeezed out of the tragic murder of JonBenet Ramsey, along comes Karr the confessor. We got to watch his 16 hour plane ride from Bangkok in business class and observe that he ate prawns and sipped champagne along with his Boulder, Colorado government handlers. We also got to see him sporting a mullet and playing the guitar, but this is just a taste of things to come. Next up is his extradition hearing and then the trial of the century. Please don't let him cop a plea. Geraldo needs a stable gig for a while. Nancy and Greta have been pretty much idling, and it's show time now.

The circus is back in town.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Legalize Polygamy!

JL Wilson defends polygamy:

I agree with him. To my way of thinking, central planning doesn’t work for family structure any more than it does for other things. Central planners can’t know the circumstances of individuals and households as well as those individuals and cannot possibly come up with an approved family form that works well for everyone.

In a free society, folks might organize themselves in households and families in a variety of ways. These would be strategic and account for the unique circumstances of the individuals involved far better than any regime devised by legislators. In time, some household and family arrangements might become more prevalent than others, but this does not mean that these should be privileged over other forms by the state.

Legislators who seek to preserve the family in some particular form through central planning are socialists plain and simple.

Is Bush an Iranian Double Agent?

Ron Paul was mentioned on Air America this morning as an intelligent critic of the insane policy of the Bush regime toward Iran. It is getting harder and harder for me to sustain the fiction that the Bush regime has intended the results it has achieved in the Middle East. Unless Bush is really an Iranian undercover operative dedicated to the interests of the Iranian government, nothing he has done makes any sense at all.

The simplest explanation may be that the neocons are idiots so out of touch with reality that they have completely screwed the pooch. What did they think would happen when they orchestrated the invasion of Iraq? Did they really think that the US would be able to go around kicking ass and taking names without significant resistance and that all the pieces would magically fall into place once the region was destabilized? I am beginning to think that they really believed the Iraqis would greet the US as beloved liberators and that they really believe that they can engineer a popular revolt in Iran. I have been hesitant to believe this since the neocons are generally well educated folks who shouldn’t harbor such puerile delusions. But here we are.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I'm Getting an EGD!

I am going into a hospital for an Upper Esophagogastrodueodenoscopy (EGD) tomorrow. That’s a tongue twister of a name for sticking a probe down my gullet all the way to my duodenum. Next month, I am scheduled to be probed from the other direction. You don’t even want to know why. I just thought you might enjoy knowing the word esophagogastroduodenoscopy. I assume that there is such a thing as an esophagogastroduodenoscope and that some folks work as esophagogastrodueodenoscopists. Tomorrow evening I will be postesophagogastroduodenoscopy and will be eagerly awaiting the results. MS Word doesn’t think esophagogastroduodenoscopy is a real word and underscores it with a squiggly red line. It’s a perfectly cromulent word all the same.

Presidenting While Stupid

JL Wilson has been trying to figure out whether GW Bush is evil or stupid:
I tend to go for a third option and reckon that he is evil AND stupid.

I used to quote an axiom, the source of which eludes me, that one should “never attribute to evil that which can be adequately explained by stupidity”. I don’t cite this much any more since I have decided that the distinction usually doesn’t matter. The outcome is the same whether it was brought on by an evildoer or a fool, and neither the evildoer nor the fool is amenable to instruction in the error if his ways.

And when it comes to GW Bush, if there should ever be a day of reckoning for him, he should not be allowed to raise the stupidity defense. Just as a drunk driver can’t get off a charge of vehicular homicide on the basis that he was too drunk to know what he was doing, Bush should never have presumed to become president while stupid. In a charge of “Presidenting While Stupid” (PWS), the accused is morally and criminally responsible for all the wrongdoing that occurs during the presidency. Bush had a moral obligation not to become president while he was stupid and to resign the presidency if his stupidity had its onset after the inauguration. Bush is particularly culpable since he ran for reelection when he was clearly already stupid and after he had already gotten the country involved in an idiotic war.

More Water Cooler Statism

I have decided that my state loving conspecifics are insane. Yesterday, we got into a pretty decent discussion about how the concept of limited government had fallen by the wayside and how the debate today was all about whether governments “should” do things rather than whether they “could” do things. I argued that, notwithstanding the general consensus that government was all powerful, I was going to continue to advocate for limited government or no government at all. This led one of the humans to declare that I was a “primitivist” since without government there would be no large-scale enterprises and no industrialization. America would never have been settled without governments’ taking the lead.

I hate these arguments about would or would not have happened if something different had happened in history, especially when they are stated as some sort of certainty. I usually reply with a “Says You!” and leave it at that. This time, I hastened to point out that the Americas had been settled for millennia without any apparent government action to encourage it. I doubt very seriously that proto-states organized the migrations across the Bering land bridge or over the North Atlantic ice sheet.

And government took over and controlled European settlement only when it became feasible to do so and when private individuals or organizations might very well have set off on their own (anyone ever heard of the Pilgrims?). Government wanted its cut and to assume the right to control land titles, but I don’t think that it generated the interest in the New World. I have no reason to believe that Europeans would not have settled in America without government aid or interference. In fact, I have long thought that it was government interference, through monopolies and restrictions on trade and control of land, that delayed settlement and development rather than encouraging it.

As to large-scale enterprises, who can say what forms of organization might develop if central planners did not decide that the corporate form was the way to go. I reckon that we would have plenty of large-scale undertakings but that the capital to finance them would not be in the control of a handful of men. Rather, capital and control would be spread out among many more people and organizations with different systems for accountability than we see now (which is basically no accountability at all). Are accountability and large-scale enterprises incompatible? I think not.

These are not unusual arguments from statists. The insanity is recognizable when you learn that the foregoing discussion arose out of my arguing that a local government’s provision of free tennis lessons to youth was symptomatic of how far we had gone from the idea of limited government. Tennis lessons are good; therefore, of course the government should provide them and fund and organize them through coercion. Would my conspecific have robbed her neighbor at gunpoint to pay for her tennis lessons? Of course not. Would she have a gang of thugs extract money from her neighbors with the threat of violence to pay for her lessons? That is precisely what she did, although she doesn’t want to look at it that way. Evidently, if her defender’s arguments about government as the creator of all progress throughout history are to make sense in this context, without government we would not have tennis lessons for middle class youth.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Let's Build the Temple Already

Some heretics of my acquaintance reckon that the end of the world is just around the corner. They believe that the Jewish temple in Jerusalem must be rebuilt first and lament that the site of the temple is at present occupied by a mosque. They reckon that some calamity will befall the mosque to make way for the rebuilding of the temple.

I don’t reckon the rebuilding of the temple presages the end of the world, but the idea provokes some questions. Does the temple have to be located precisely on the so called Temple Mount? Is there something magical about that spot that renders a temple located elsewhere unsuitable and unacceptable to God? I reckon that the temple could be built anywhere in Jerusalem. Let’s face it, nobody is going to be 100% happy with the new temple and its design, but as long as you have the holy of holies right, it should do the trick. You won’t have the original ark, of course, but you could have an even fancier one if you wanted.

Now that the way has been cleared to site the temple elsewhere, who would be qualified to build it? Could I form a company, acquire land, and commission the construction of a temple in Jerusalem if I were so inclined? If the builders must be Jews, what kind of Jews do we need? Would any Levite do? Would a high priest have to be installed to lend an imprimatur of legitimacy to our temple? Assuming we could staff the place with priests and moneychangers once it gets built, why can’t anybody who feels inspired to do so build a temple?

If I remember rightly, King Solomon built Temple Number One, and he was not a priest. And didn’t some Persian Emperor sponsor its rebuilding? It seems that there is precedent for government to take the lead in temple building and that it need not be the government of Israel itself. The US, for example, at the urging of folks who want to accelerate the rapture, might fund the project.

Maybe a prophet such as Pat Robertson might turn the resources of the 700 Club to temple building. He could recruit Levites and other staff and turn the whole enterprise over to a high priest when it was ready for business. Would Jews sacrifice their animals at such a temple? Would modern Jews sacrifice animals in any event?

On Praising God

Frequently, when lay people pray out loud in public, they’ll throw in a “we just want to praise your name” or “we just want to thank you for (fill in the blank)” here and there to give themselves a chance to think up their next supplication. I don’t much care to pray out loud in public extemporaneously, but I sometimes have to. I plan to memorize a few short prayers to use in such cases. These may well include some praises.

I wonder what it might mean to praise God and how this ought to be done. Some folks seem to think that praise is the same as flattery. They praise God in order to mollify Him or to get on God’s good side. They engage in cosmic sycophancy and reckon that the more effusively they praise God, the more He will be inclined to grant their wishes.

In a similar vein, others seem to liken praising God to the rewards in operant conditioning. They praise God as they would praise a child or animal when engaged in behavior or exhibiting characteristics the praise giver approves. By praising God for His abundant gifts and generosity to them, these praise givers reckon that they will encourage God to be generous with them.

We cannot flatter or condition God. It is rather for us to stand in appreciation, however incomplete, of what God is. I reckon that it should flow from our acknowledgement of the unspeakable greatness and glory of God. We can hardly address God without praising Him, acknowledging this transcendent greatness in our hearts. Words fail. For me, praising with song is the most satisfying form of expression. Poetry comes closest to expressing feeling, and music has a deep emotional and spiritual aspect. Put these together in song, and you come close to a public expression of the recognition of God’s infinite majesty.

Perhaps when next I am called upon to pray in public, I will burst into song.

How Can I Get Dr Phil's Gig?

It is my misfortune to know that Dr Phil has teamed up with match dot com, an on-line dating service, to dispense his dubious wisdom. Match dot com advertises on the Rachel Maddow radio show to which I tune in every morning during my 40 mile commute. Every morning, we hear his drawled advice: “Don’t want. Get!” He tells us not to bemoan our wants but to go out and make things happen for ourselves.

A particularly confusing piece of advice is that love is not “like the pizza man going door to door looking for a life partner”. This analogy is not apt. Pizza men only come to your door if you have ordered a pizza. They don’t pick up pizzas on spec and peddle them door to door. If somebody has ordered up a life partner, you might be well served to knock on his or her door if you are also looking for one. And isn’t that pretty much what match dot come is all about?

Dr Phil’s advice seems so obvious once you hear it. Homeless? Get a house! It’s that simple. All you homeless people need to get up off your homeless asses and sign some leases. Disease ridden? Get healed!

Some things might be our own fault, as when we decry our loneliness all the while taking no steps to meet people. Of course, we may be socially phobic or have other issues that keep us out of society, in which case Dr Phil’s advice to go out and develop a meaningful relationship will be a nonstarter.

I am pretty sure I could do Dr Phil’s job, and I am not even a “doctor”. Folks would tell me their problems, and I would tell them their troubles are their own fault and due to their laziness and stupidity. I would tell them to fix their problems themselves. They would pay me.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Bush Gets "F" in War on Terror

I’m going to have to give the Department of Homeland Security and the Bush regime a big fat ‘F’ in the War on Terror. Let’s look at the DHS’s own terror level alert system as an indicator of how DHS thinks it is doing. A history of alert status is reported here:

The system was introduced on March 12, 2002 at Yellow Alert. Since then, the alert status has stayed at Yellow or has increased to Orange or even Red (for flights originating in the UK). The alert level has never been reduced below Yellow. Not once. The DHS admits that there has been no progress whatsoever on the terror front despite the billions of dollars we have thrown at the problem. In my book, this is abject failure. The GOP has demonstrated that it is incapable of making America safer. If America were actually safer, wouldn’t the terror alert level have gone down?

When GW Bush or his supporters argue that only the GOP can make America safer, they should be asked to explain why the terror alert status has not gone down on their watch. Progress, had there been any, would be marked by a progression from terror, to fear, to mild anxiety, to annoyance. Instead, we seem to move from terror to more terror. In terms of threat level, as assessed by the DHS, and in terms of our emotional state, following the suggestions of Bush and his minions to remember how grave the threat is, the War on Terror has not gone well at all.

Friday, August 11, 2006

No Way to Wage a War on Terror

The Busheviks aren't interested in fighting terror. On the contrary, they want us to be terrified. Why else would a "thwarted" terror plot result in a raised alert level and the confiscation of liquids from airline passengers? Federal officals, pundits and the lapdog media are telling us to be afraid, that attacks are inevitable and enemies abound. This doesn't decrease our terror. It is designed to increase it. I have noticed that some of my acquaintances who used to wet themselves when plots were announced now just shrug it off. They are all terrored out. Still, it seems that a lot of folks are scared silly enough to acquiesce in the destruction of their country by the GOP.

What would a good and competent president do? Let's imagine a hypothetical president (let's call him President Gore) who wanted to reduce terror. How might he handle the terror plot foiled by the Pakistanis and the UK? His spokespeople would congratulate America's allies on their police work and emphasize that the plot had been thwarted and that there was nothing to fear. Rest assured, he would say, that law enforcement around the world is hard at work tracking would be terrorists. He would urge us to go about our business as usual and to be unafraid. Terrorists want us to be afraid and to change our lives and institutions out of fear. So let's not give them the satisfaction, he would say. Three cheers for President Gore!

The GOP and Joe Lieberman aim to terrorize us. What do we call someone who excites fear for political ends? We need a word for that.

Free Advice for Parents: It's Never Too Early for the "Don't Eat People" Lecture

At choir practice last night, I shared a stupid child's joke about why cannibals don't eat clowns. They taste funny. Our choir director opined that the joke would be good for her eight year old daughter except that she wouldn't know what a cannibal was. I could hardly believe my ears. This woman who in every other respect seems an ideal parent has not yet taught her child not to eat other human beings. I am probably going to give her child a wide berth until she is properly instructed.

In order to excite an appropriate degree of revulsion for the idea of eating other people, it is a good idea to start indoctrinating children in antianthropophagism from the earliest age. Start immediately and keep reinforcing the message until you are certain that your child is not cannibalistic. Another reason to start early is to forestall the possibility that your child will eat someone and acquire a taste for human flesh. Once they have partaken of the long pig, it is hard to wean them from it. And there may be nothing more embarassing than confronting the parents of another child whom your child has eaten.

When you talk to your children about cannibalism, there are a number of approaches you can take. The good old fashioned "God will smite you" works in many cases. For those of a more rationalistic bent, the dangers of kuru from eating dead relatives' brains can be a good starting point. I favor telling children that eating people is not wrong per se, but that killing other people for food is immoral except in emergencies. I tell them when it might be appropriate to eat their neighbor in a survival situation and how to prepare the best cuts. That way, they aren't burdened with an irrational revulsion that would interfere with their surviving an extreme situation.

I bet the government has a free pamphlet "Talking to Your Child About Cannibalism" that you can order form Pueblo, Colorado. Have that talk now before it's too late.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I Am Depressed and Anxious, and I Think I Should Be

Except for Keith Olbermann’s show, I have steadfastly maintained my mainstream media fast for almost a year and a half. My conspecifics continue to get most of their news from cable news networks, and I can see how stupid this makes them. For starters, they seem to believe everything that comes over the air, even when it is plain that the network is simply transmitting the government line. They don’t seem to be the least bit skeptical of the utterances of government spokescritters, one of the main indicia of stupidity if there ever was one. If there really is an anti-stupid pill(, I am going to spike the coffee at the office with massive doses. I think it should go in the water supply along with Zoloft.

Based on what I hear from my conspecifics, tidbits on Countdown, stuff on the internets and The Daily Show’s scathing critiques of the media, I don’t think that I could take in news from mainstream media sources without walking around in a perpetual state of rage. I already find that actual events in the world “endanger my calm” enough as it is without my being exposed to toxic spin and further evidence of the stupidity of my conspecifics. For the first time ever, I have been researching firearms with a view to arming myself for (a) a rebellion, or (b) a post-apocalyptic dystopia. I have not kept firearms since I was a teenager, and I am as pacific a soul as you will ever meet; however, I have a profound sense of unease about the world.

Maybe I need to increase my Zoloft dosage. That’s what I like about the modern world. We maintain a soul devouring, alienating existence and then classify those of us who are depressed and anxious about it as pathological. Am I “paranoid”? You bet. If you are not paranoid, you are not paying attention.

And the more I turn to my faith, the more heartbroken I become. Of course, there is peace and comfort in the arms of Jesus, but there is also a heightened compassion and a tenderness of heart that will not allow you to ignore suffering and that makes you cringe every time you hear the blasphemous utterances spewing from right wing Christianists. Unfortunately, I am not such a good follower of Jesus that I ever actually do anything about anyone’s suffering or ever confront false prophets. I feel utterly powerless to do anything but pray and mourn.

Perhaps if I stopped informing myself about the world altogether, I would be better off.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sue Kelley Running from the GOP Label?

I caught a TV campaign ad for my Congresscritter, Sue Kelley, last night. The Democrats don’t even have an opponent picked yet, and she is already spending money on her reelection bid. If I did not know for a fact that she was a Republican, I would have sworn that she was running as a liberal Democrat. The ad touted her environmental record and concern for Mother Nature in the beautiful Hudson Valley. At the end, the ad referred in writing to the candidate as an “independent”. Her affiliation with the GOP was not mentioned at all. She was shown wearing casual clothes and playing with children instead of dressed in a suit courting corporate donors or pandering to Christianist nutjobs. She didn’t seem evil at all. Of course, I know better.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Book Meme

Freeman, aka The Libertarian Critter tagged me with the book meme. This has been one of the more interesting memes, but it also involved quite a bit of thought. Here goes:

One book that changed my life: I have been influenced by many books, but the most profound influence was “The Varieties of Religious Experience” by William James. This led me to the pragmatists and the idea that belief is involuntary. This was huge for me. I had been spiritually wounded by Baptists and their insistence that I had to make an effort to believe in Jesus in order to be eligible for God’s grace. I was never sure I could will myself to believe anything. I knew I didn’t deserve grace, and it seemed strange to me that grace could be earned by an act of will and ongoing works. To make a long story short, the pragmatists led me to Calvin, and I ultimately received the gift of belief when I stopped trying. This has made all the difference.

One book I have read more than once: Douglas Hofstadter’s “Goedel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” has something new in it every time I pick it up.

One book I would like to have on a desert island: “Swiss Family Robinson” might be good.

One book that made me laugh: “You Are Worthless: Depressing Nuggets of Wisdom Sure to Ruin Your Day” by Scott Dikkers is pants pissing funny. It’s a spoof of self-help books and contains such wisdom as “God is your invisible friend”.

One book that made me cry: Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto”.

One book I wish I’d written: “The Known World” by Edward P. Jones. This book was a masterpiece. Jones shifted from past, present and future in a unique and effective way. This literary device gave the work, centered on a family of black slaveholders in Virginia, a sense of taking place within a larger framework while preserving the intimate connection to the characters.

One book I wish had never been written: “The Late, Great Planet Earth” by Hal Lindsey led a generation to the false doctrine of the rapture.

One book I’m currently reading: Richard Russo’s “Nobody’s Fool”. Russo is good at examining life in small dying towns and towns in transition. This one is set near the Adirondacks in the 1980s.

One book I have been meaning to read: I have meant to read “Ulysses” by James Joyce for 30 years now just to see what all the fuss is about.

Five bloggers to tag with this meme:

Dr Lenny
Steve Scott
Adem Kupi

Patriotism and Baseball

I took the nephews to the Renegades game on Friday. Our church had reserved the left field picnic area. There were spectacular fireworks after the game, which the Renegades lost by a single run after an 8th inning rally to tie the game. A good time was had by all.

I meant to make myself scarce for the national anthem, but I got caught in a conversation with a co-religionist and had to walk away during the song. I took a nephew to a trampoline that was set up some distance away. He asked me why we weren’t facing the flag, to which I replied that I didn’t go in for that patriotic mumbo jumbo. “Don’t you say the pledge of allegiance?” he asked. “Not me,” I replied. “I don’t support the government.” I don’t know if my co-religionists disapproved of me or not, and I don’t care all that much.

Later, in the seventh inning, there was yet another moment of patriotic hooey when someone sang “God Bless America”. I was caught by surprise and had to sit it out while my co-religionists stood and faced a picture of a flag on the screen in center field. If I had known about the seventh inning flag idolatry, I would have made myself scarce. I don’t think the crowd realized how silly they all looked standing and facing a picture of a flag. I was led to wonder whether using computer animated fire to burn a computer animated flag would be “desecration” in their eyes.

I reckon I’ll get some grief in choir practice this Thursday, but I’ll take the opportunity to explain my position fully. If they don't like it, I reckon it's their problem.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Check Out the Comics Curmudgoen

One of my favorite sites is the Comics Curmudgeon at It frequently has me in tears of laughter as it deconstructs the comics.

Acronyms and Names

bk marcus posts about government acronyms:

Acronyms are one way the government bewilders us and obscures its deeds from view. Bureaucrats tend to spew out whole sentences composed of incomprehensible acronyms. When I went to work for the State of Florida, I received a thick binder that defined all the acronyms, thousands of them, that I might encounter. It was months before I began to understand what the bureaucrats were talking about. “CYF and the GAL are working on the PPP right now, but CWLS will need to weigh in before it is finalized. This one’s a priority for OPA.”

Sometimes the acronyms were better than the full designation, especially where the agency name was misleading. For example, I worked for Child Welfare Legal Services (CWLS), but CWLS’s mission was only tangentially related to child welfare. We represented the state and the agents of the other acronymic bureaucracies, and it was their welfare that we advocated. If a child derived any benefit, it was purely accidental.

On the other hand the acronyms could be turned against the state. Health and Rehabilitative Services, known as HRS, was popularly called the “Home “Recking Society” because it contained the overreaching child welfare apparatus. Employees of the Division of Children, Youth and Families (CYF) referred to the division as CYA for “Cover Your Ass” because the organization notoriously revered procedure and paperwork over child welfare.

In the Army, acronyms abounded. We also had ridiculous names for everyday objects that lent them a sense of gravity. We didn’t carry spades; we had “entrenching tools”. We didn’t have toothpicks in our rations; we had “interdental stimulators”. We drove around in “M151 Quarter Ton Utility Vehicles”, not jeeps. We used “P38’s” to open the canned food in our rations, not can openers. I suppose that these objects look better on an inflated budget document than if they were called by their ordinary names. You might get away with charging the government $50 a pop for interdental stimulators, but not for toothpicks. I imagine the infamous $900 hammers purchased by the Pentagon some years ago weren’t called hammers; rather, they were know as “the M311-A/12 personal manual operated metal fastener intrusion devices with reverse extrusion feature” or some such thing.

To this day, I make a game of renaming ordinary objects in my office. On my desk right now, I have a “hand held metal document fastener reversal unit” that I use to remove the “metal document fasteners” applied by “metal document fastener application devices”. I need to remove these so that I can place the documents in the “multifunctional document imaging, reproduction and distribution system”.

The technique of renaming objects seems to have caught on the private sector. I saw an ad the other day for a “sleep system”. The company was selling mattresses, but the ad always used the term “sleep system”. I will not be surprised to find refrigerators referred to as “food preservation systems” and ranges as “cooking systems”. I’d pay way more for a system than a mere appliance. I know the government would.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Pop Quiz

Q: Imagine you are the father of several children killed by an Israeli air strike in Lebanon. You decide to seek vengeance. You don’t know who actually bombed your house, but you know that it was done in the name of Israel with the backing of the United States. You hear that Rush Limbaugh is a staunch apologist for killing civilians and that he subscribes to the view that the subjects of a state are responsible for the actions of that state. Is Rush a legitimate target, assuming for the moment that vengeance is appropriate?

A: No. He is a morally handicapped idiot who subscribes to evil, collectivist opinions, but he is not guilty of the murder of your children. He is not in the chain of command, nor does he have any influence on the policy that led to their deaths. He is just a comedian of sorts whose job is to justify his party’s actions in an entertaining manner. At most, he wants re-education in one of the Revolutionary Cadre’s Humane Rehabilitation Centers.

Q: Imagine you are Condoleeza Rice. Your boss asks you to set some children on fire in order to advance his political agenda. Do you resign in protest?

A: No. You’re Condoleeza Rice.

Q: Imagine you are Jonah Goldberg. You have a long and consistent history of demonizing anyone who disagrees with you and comparing them to Hitler. Should you write an article condemning others for demonizing their opponents and comparing them to Hitler?

A: No. But you will anyway because you are Jonah Goldberg and not yet sentient.

Q: Imagine you are Antonin Scalia. President Bush has taken to issuing bills of attainder and applying laws retroactively in his “war on terra”. This is challenged in federal court, and the lower courts have ruled these actions unconstitutional. The Bush regime has appealed. Do you uphold the ruling of the lower courts?

A: Of course not. The Constitution limits the Congress in this regard but does not restrict the President who can do anything he likes. What are you? Some kind of traitor? The Constitution does not explicitly provide that the President can’t do these things, and the proper remedy is impeachment. The GOP controlled Congress should impeach him if it thinks he has gone too far. Bwahahaha.

Caligula in 2008?

I read a lot about the American “Empire” nowadays, and I concede that the USA has imperial ambitions. But isn’t an empire supposed to yield benefits of some kind to the homeland? As I see it, the USA’s empire is very badly run and actually costs the homeland rather than bringing in any gain.

First off, the huge military alone costs trillions of dollars and is way bigger than the next several states’ militaries combined. In a well run empire, the military would be required to pay its own way. Overseas deployments would be manned by third world mercenaries who would serve for peanuts. Occupied territories would be taxed until they bled to pay for the occupation force and to send dividends back home. If a territory couldn’t be made to pay, the empire would pass on it. Also, non-occupied states could be required to pay tribute in order to keep the empire from attacking or to compensate the empire for defense. Japan and Korea, for example, would be paying billions. Germany and France could afford quite a bit of protection money. Hey, Saudis, nice oil fields you got there. It would be shame if anything happened to them.

Secondly, the British had it down when they ruled much of the world via “indirect rule”. The USA? Not so much. The USA doesn’t seem to get much out of its puppets, and actually has to pay to prop them up. Foreign aid goes out, but foreign booty doesn’t seem to come in.

I get nothing from the empire except a bigger tax bill and more intrusive imperial government at home. I don’t know anyone who gains from the empire, but then again I don’t run in elite circles. The empire looks to me to be nothing more than a basis for extracting wealth from the empire’s domestic subjects and redistributing it to defense contractors and other politically connected businessmen and kleptocrats.

GW Bush is the worst emperor ever. That’s right. Worse than Caligula. Caligula was a dodgy guy, but I am pretty sure his empire turned a profit. If we had Caligula in the White House, we’d at least get bread and circuses.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Forgive Mel Gibson

Shakespeare’s Sister doesn’t reckon Mel Gibson should be forgiven for his recent drunken anti-Semitic tirade:

Mel acknowledged that his statements in a “moment of insanity” might carry weight because of his celebrity. Mel’s apology is just not good enough for the sister of the bard:

“A moment of insanity? Nice try. Normally when people get drunk, their honest thoughts come out, not some crazy shit they’ve never thought before.


The problem isn’t so much what’s in his heart, but what’s in his head—and that seems to be some pretty nasty stuff. And that’s the problem with the kind of “faith” to which conservatives subscribe; it’s not meant to be of the mind. One’s “heart” may have embraced a faith that forbids hatred, but unless the mind follows, unless the mind constructs and embraces a framework of genuine equality, that faith is impotent.”

I strongly disagree. Mel was probably brought up to distrust Jews, and there is a place in the back of his mind where that early instruction in Jew hating is lurking and looking for a chance to express itself. Like when you’re drunk and pissed off royally.

I was raised to believe that Roman Catholics aren’t Christians and that they are untrustworthy, idol worshipping good for nothings. When I learned that Mel was not only a Roman Catholic, but some kind of retro medeival Catholic, I had to fight the prejudice that welled up in me and use reason to overcome my sudden distrust of the man. I have sought over the years to overcome my revulsion for Catholics and have succeeded in befriending (and even marrying) Catholics. I even attend Catholic services on occasion. I have learned that Catholics are indeed Christians and that most of the ones I know are decent folks. I assume, based on reason, that Catholics are no worse than members of other denominations solely by virtue of their Catholicism. Nonetheless, the old anti-Catholic lessons are still rattling around in my head.

And if you get me drunk and piss me off, I might just let some anti-Catholic nonsense rip. I won’t mean a word of it; it will just well up from one of those programs of visceral prejudice that society intsalled in me at an early age. I wish I could uninstall those programs altogether, but it isn’t that simple. You can overwrite them, but they may always be there in your dark side.

I also learned a lot about Jews and black folks and Arabs that turned out not to be so. Nevertheless, those early lessons are doubtless still in the recesses of my mind, attached to some emotional buttons, and I hope that they never pop up in an inconvenient moment. This is one good reason to avoid public drunkenness. You can get you’re a** kicked pretty good if you start spouting off some racist or ethnic slurs in a moment of rage or inebriated dumassery. Also, I know from experience (I was a bit of a binge drinker one year in college) that it is embarrassing to confront an acquaintance the morning after an anti-Semitic or racist outburst.

I give Mel a lot of credit for his apology and for confronting his prejudices. Neither Mel nor I set out to develop our prejudices. They were gifts of our “culture”. They are in our heads, but not our hearts, and the commitment to overcome prejudice and love one’s fellow man is commendable. If you were brought up without prejudice, you were lucky, and you ought to show some solicitude for those of us who were handicapped with irrational ideas from an early age.