Thursday, May 31, 2007

Do USDA Officials Have Advanced Spongiform Encephalopathy?

I probably already have Mad Cow Disease. So do you and other cow eating humans in the US and the UK. We’re probably all doomed. Otherwise, why would the USDA be so keen on keeping meatpackers from privately testing their cows for Mad Cow?

Seriously, I have been wondering how the USDA claims to keep meatpackers from testing their cows. They claim the exclusive authority to license diagnostic kits under a 1913 statute regulating viruses, toxins and serums used to treat domestic livestock. Diagnostic kits are not mentioned in the statute, but USDA holds the threat of criminal sanctions over the heads of would be testers.

I hope this company goes ahead with its plans to test and defies USDA. It’s about time that Americans knew how little testing USDA actually does and that its main concern is protecting Big Beef instead of American cow eaters. Let the federal government explain in court why letting meatpackers test at their own expense is a bad thing. I would pay extra for beef that was less likely to cause my brain to turn into Swiss cheese.

Meanwhile, I might just give up beef for a while.

Web of Life, Schmeb of Life

I finished Capra’s “Web of Life”, wherein a physicist waxes rhapsodically about “systems thinking” in biology. He claims that “systems thinking” establishes that life is inherently creative and that this inherent creativity is the principal force in evolution. I can buy that symbiogenesis, for example, where different life forms have merged, shows that evolution is more complex than previously believed, but I am not ready to accept that life has an inner drive to become more complex. Maybe it does, but how could you ever establish it? Capra rehashes some Creationist critiques of the theory of evolution, like how eyeballs could never emerge via mutation and natural selection. Instead of God, however, he attributes evolution to a mysterious force. This book could have been written by Obi Wan Kenobi himself!

Evolutionary theory is more complicated than it is often presented as being. Sexual selection, arms races, coevolution, interaction among genes, symbiogenesis, the complexities of gene expression, and the like make evolutionary theory more interesting all the time. Sure, it’s complicated, but it isn’t necessary to posit some kind of supernatural or natural but mysterious and ineffable force to explain it. It’s wonderful and awesome and beautiful even without “inherent creativity”. Isn’t the mutability of DNA itself a sufficient basis for creativity? If it weren’t mutable, there would be no mutations and no adaptation. Only replicators that are somewhat mutable evolve.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I Don't Know What to Do about Church

I have not been able to get my preacher’s Pentecost remarks about dead soldiers off my mind for days now. They oppress me day and night, and I have started to look at my church with a jaundiced eye. Frankly, I had avoided political discussions with my co-religionists because I really did not want to know where a lot of them stood. I knew a few of them were pro-war, most notably a retired military man, but I wanted to believe that the membership was by and large anti-war and pacific. Maybe it is, but I really wonder about the silence of the church on the war.

I have been praying about what to do. Do I talk top the preacher about it? Do I take the initiative and lead worship services or prayers for peace? Do I look for a church that is more concerned with peace? Do I just forget about “church” and find an alternative?

If anyone out there has struggled with this and has some ideas or words of comfort, I would love to hear from you.

Are You a Christian Nation?

How can you tell if a particular country is a “Christian nation”? Compare it to the US of A, of course, the archetypal “Christian nation”.

If you tried and nearly succeeded in killing off an entire indigenous population and stole almost all that population’s resources, you might be a Christian nation.

If you invaded your neighbor to the south and seized half its territory under false pretenses, you might be a Christian nation.

If you enslaved millions of Africans and their descendants, you might be a Christian nation.

If you were unable or unwilling to end slavery through peaceful means, you might be a Christian nation.

If you compelled a portion of your subjects by brutal force and waging total war against them to remain under your rule despite their preference to secede, you might be a Christian nation.

If you aggressed against another imperial power to steal its imperial possessions, you might be a Christian nation.

If you brutally suppressed an insurrection of the populace of one of those stolen possessions, you might be a Christian nation.

If you interposed yourself in two world wars and targeted civilians with weapons of mass destruction, you might be a Christian nation.

If you invented, manufactured and stockpiled atomic and nuclear weapons sufficient to destroy the world many times over, you might be a Christian nation.

If you supported an interventionist foreign policy that entailed support for brutal dictators, death squads, assassinations, false flag terrorist attacks, and wars of aggression, you might be a Christian nation.

If you kept the descendants of your former slaves segregated and downtrodden for a hundred years after emancipation, you might be a Christian nation.

If you have one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world, you might be a Christian nation.

If you use torture and imprison people without charges or trial, you might be a Christian nation.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ideas for TV Shows

I have been tossing around some ideas for TV programs, and I think I have hit on a winning formula. Take 60s and 70s TV shows and remake them but with a 21st century edge.

For example, Gomer Pyle USMC’s comedic potential was never fully exploited by having Gomer’s unit deployed to Vietnam. Just think of all the hilarious situations that goofball Pyle could get into in a war zone. In the end, though, he would always pull Sergeant Carter’s chestnuts out of the fire. Imagine Pyle a captive of the VC and engaged in a game of Russian Roulette like in the Deer Hunter. He wins every game! “Golly, Sergeant Carter, back in Mayberry we play this game all the time! Me and Goober was county champs.” Or when Pyle inadvertently massacres an entire village of civilians but it turns out that they were VC after all. Probably.

Imagine Mister Ed where you’re not quite sure if Mr Ed really talks or if Wilbur is just psychotic, especially since Mr Ed is always telling Wilbur to kill people. Mr Ed always comes up with a cunning plan to thwart investigators or to hide the bodies. You could have CSI do a cross episode with the New Mr Ed.

Imagine a Gilligan’s Island a lot more like Lord of the Flies or Lost. Heck, just have the castaways from the SS Minnow on the Losties island at war with the Others. It will be a prequel set in the 1960s even before the Dharma Initiative, which it turns out was funded by Thurston Howell, III. It would explain so much, like all the money and luggage taken on a three hour tour.

Or take I Dream of Jeannie or Bewitched and get rid of the insane patriarchal bastards who want their omnipotent wives/girlfriends to cool it on the gnarly powers. Let them appreciate the women’s abilities and indulge in them for revenge, pleasure, and power. Darren could quit his soul destroying job as an ad man and do anything he pleased, for crying out loud. “Screw you, Larry, I’m king of the world.” Captain Nelson could explore distant galaxies via Jeannie’s powers of teleportation. How could Samantha and Jeannie have fallen for those schmucks? Endora was right. Let’s fix that huge hole in the premise of those shows and make them interesting.

Remember the Flying Nun? In our version, not only can she fly, but she has a variety of other superpowers as well which she uses to advance truth, justice and the Roman Catholic way. She has the Rosary of Truth and the Crucifix of Time Travel in her quiver. She also has the Habit of Invisibility.

Wouldn’t Bonanza be more interesting if the Cartwrights were all werewolves? Only Hop Sing knows their terrible secret.

You get the picture. Isn’t this the kind of programming you’d like to see?

Where is the Church in the Peace Movement?

I was deeply disappointed in church on Sunday when our pastor remarked that Memorial Day was when we were supposed to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers and remember the men and women who gave their lives for our freedom. This he did in the context of the message to the children, an interlude in which he invites little ones down front and interacts with them before dispatching them to Sunday School. (I suspect that this practice was invented to discourage parents from drooping off their small children at Sunday School while they enjoyed an hour or so of childfree bliss instead of attending church.) He encouraged the kids to remember the war dead and maybe even to decorate a grave. All this he said as if dying in war was a good thing.

Sigh. I have been troubled by this episode for two days now. It disturbed my sleep last night. I fretted that one of those children would one day throw his life away for the state thanks in part to what the preacher said in church on Pentecost. There we were ready to celebrate the coming of the Holy Ghost, and then the preacher had to throw in some gratuitous crap about how wonderful it is to get killed for your government. It’s not wonderful, and it’s this kind of bizarre glorification of it that inspires kids to go off and get killed for no good reason. It even has the imprimatur of Christian legitimacy thanks to the preacher and to my patriotic coreligionists.

What should I have expected? My church desecrates the sanctuary with a federal government flag. Frequently, prayer requests are offered up for “our” troops, not to bring them home but to prosper them in their murderous endeavors. The preacher always prays for peace, but I suppose that he is politically unable to advocate forcefully for peace or to deliver a strong peace message. My church is very active in giving and ministering in the community and through missions around the world. It is actively seeking to plant new churches and to transform Southern Dutchess County. But it all but entirely avoids the issue of the war, except to collect Halloween candy for soldiers.

The pastor recently concluded a sermon series on “The Church: Why Bother?”, and I am really starting to wonder why I bother. I reckon if it weren’t for choir, I wouldn’t attend. I am seriously considering whether to resign my membership or whatever you do to leave the church. I don’t feel that I am active enough in the church to bring up my concerns with the pastor.

The Unitarians, who do not claim to follow the Prince of Peace, are more active in the peace movement than my church.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Pie is Good

Pie is better than cake if, like me, you are a pie person. Mrs Vache Folle is a cake person, so she can take pie or leave it. I reckon that means I have a pie hole, while she has a cake hole. I like cake, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that it isn’t pie.

The top five pie fillings:

Lemon meringue
Key lime
Coconut cream

The best pies on earth are, of course, fried pies. There is an orchard and store on the road from Blue Ridge to Ducktown that sells orgasm inducing fried pies. The peach is the best of all, and the apple is nothing to scoff at. Try them hot with vanilla ice cream. Then you can die happy.

I even like meat pies and pot pies. That’s how much pie means to me. A world without pie would be an intolerable dystopia.

My favorite kind of chart? You guessed it. Pie.

Why I'm So Boring

Why am I posting really boring stream of consciousness crap? Because I’m trying not to think about what a huge disappointment the Congressional Democrats turned out to be. I’m trying to keep my brain busy with other stuff so I don’t go into a seething rage. Bear with me.

I Like Headgear Properly Worn

When I was a bairn, most men and women wore some kind of headgear whenever they were outside. The men would wear felt or straw hats, and the women would wear bonnets. It made sense, what with the sun’s beating down on your head.

I am still a hat person. I prefer the felt “Crusher” hat that you can stick in your pocket and have it pop back into shape when you put it back on. I was raised that it was rude to wear a hat indoors, so I usually doff my hat or cap when I go inside. I never put a hat on a bed because that’s bad luck. I know in my head that it’s a stupid superstition, but I can’t bring myself to defy the curse.

I also favor baseball style caps, especially when I’m gardening. I am not a retard, so I wear my caps with the brim forward as God intended them to be worn. I also make sure that the brim has a little curve in it and does not make a straight line like a brand new cap. The straight brim and wearing the cap with the brim askew make cap wearers appear feebleminded. The backwards baseball cap look is acceptable if you are trying to keep the sun off your neck or if you are wearing a mask. Otherwise, it’s retarded.

In Bellingham, I found a Chinese People’s Army cap in a vintage clothing store, and I would wear that when I played baseball in the local amateur league. It was green with a plastic red star in front and a small brim. I still have that cap, but I don’t have occasion to wear it much.
I usually get my working baseball caps for free. I have bought a couple of official caps. I have a Mariners cap that Mrs Vache Folle shrunk by washing it. I have a Braves cap that I don’t wear lest Mrs VF decide to destroy it as well. I have a cap from Jamaica that Mrs VF bought to get rid of our last Jamaican currency before we left Montego Bay. And there’s the Chinese cap. Otherwise, the rest were free.
I have a luxurious head of beautiful hair, so I don't wear hats or caps to hide anything. I've been told that wearing hats will make you bald, but so far that hasn't happened to me in nearly half a century.

Remembering My Grandfather

The most significant male role model for me growing up was my maternal grandfather. He was a North Georgia farmer and lumberjack. In his youth, he was a legendary horseman and marksman. By the time I came along, he was already an old man, but he still worked all day at hard labor around the farm. I loved to hang out with him and “help” him with his projects. He would give me practical math problems to work out, like how much it would cost to put up some barbed wire fencing around a particular area.

Paw, as he was called by the grandkids, always wore denim bib overalls, a shirt and a fedora hat. I have seen a photo of my two grandfathers at my parents’ wedding in 1957, and both men were wearing overalls with jackets and ties. Paw always had a stubby little pencil in the pencil holder, and he would use it to mark lumber and to work out figures in connection with his projects. When he was at leisure in his special chair by the front door, he would use it to work the crossword puzzle.

Paw’s hats would eventually develop a little hole in the peak where he touched it to put it on or take it off, and he would have to go to town to buy a new one. When Paw went to town to the haberdasher, he would stop by the hardware store and chew the fat with some other old men loitering there. He would get into a flat footed squat that a lot of mountain folks assumed when they were resting. I never could get comfortable in that position, and I have a hard time getting up from a full squat like that.

Paw chewed tobacco and smoked cigarettes that he rolled one handed. He lost most of his right hand in an accident at a sawmill in 1910, but he developed full use of his left hand. His cigarettes came out perfect every time. He could draw with his left hand, too, and he designed a few chenille bedspread patterns that my grandmother and aunts used when they tufted bedspreads to sell to tourists along highway 41.

I never knew it when he was alive, but Paw’s mangled right hand had dashed his dreams of becoming a cavalryman. His disappointment haunted him all his days. His skills on horseback and with small arms were undiminished by his handicap, but the army would not take him. So he ended up getting married in 1914 and siring six children, five of whom lived to adulthood. At first, he was a sharecropper, then a tenant farmer, and then, in 1930 or so, he used the savings he had accumulated to buy the old Ford place, then known as Twin Oaks, which he farmed until I-75 came through and took the best part of the land. After that, he still kept a huge garden and some livestock, but he no longer farmed for profit. I grew up on Twin Oaks.

Paw managed to keep the farm going strong even when his four sons, his main source of labor, were away during World War II. I remember finding a bunch of ration books in the smoke house, and my grandmother explained that they hadn’t had to use their ration stamps at all during the war but had made do with what they could supply themselves. Neither of my grandparents ever learned to drive, and Paw used mule and horse power right up into the 1960s to plow the fields, so he didn’t even need gasoline during the war.

Paw admired folks who got up early, and my uncles used to joke that Paw would praise a man who got up early even to steal something. Paw almost never went to church, but he was deeply religious and could recite lots of Scripture from memory. He was superstitious, like a lot of mountain folks, and he lived by the “signs”. Paw’s politics consisted mainly in cussing every time anyone mentioned Franklin Roosevelt. I reckon he would have been a libertarian since he was a big believer in minding his own business. I know he favored Barry Goldwater in 1964.

I didn’t know this until after my grandparents had died, but their marriage had been tempestuous. They hated each other with a passion. This explained why Maw was so verbally abusive of Paw. When I was a kid, I just figured that was how old married folks were supposed to speak to one another. Paw would start on a story: “Back in 1928, when we farmed down by the Conasauga….” Then Maw would interrupt: “It was 1927, you old lying bastard!” Then they’d start yelling at each other and I’d never find out what happened down by the river. Paw frequently warned me to think long and hard before getting married because he had regretted his marriage from the first day. Maw often referred to Paw as “Scald Head”. Of course, she also thought “Little Shitpot” was an affectionate nickname for some of the grandkids. My sister was the “Little Heifer”, much to her chagrin. I was “Dagwood” for some reason.

I was Paw’s favorite, and he made no secret of it. No other grandchild was allowed to spend so much time with Paw. In fact, he couldn’t stand some of my cousins and would run them off if they bothered him. Dagwood could do no wrong, however, and Paw was extremely generous and solicitous to me, especially after my father had abandoned us. I wish I had been more attentive to the lore and wisdom he shared with me.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Is It the Stupid People Who Stand in the Way of Freedom?

Amanda Marcotte takes a gratuitous jab at libertarians in a post about subprime lending. “Do libertarian ideologues long for the return of the poorhouse?” is the caption under the picture that heads the post. Then the post has nothing to do with libertarians. It’s about lenders exploiting the working poor. And Republicans. Leave libertarianism out of it, please.

It’s too bad folks get in over their heads financially. It’s not as if the lenders are keen on having their debtors default. They’re gambling on making a return on folks with marginal credit, and they have assumed the risk that they will get hosed. In large part, that’s why the cost of credit is higher for poor folks. It’s a greater risk, so the return had better be higher.

When folks decry lending to the working poor, they are really saying that the working poor shouldn’t have the options offered to them because they are too stupid, unlike Amanda, to be trusted to make decisions for themselves. It’s not as if every sub-prime borrower is going to default or that an unexpected percentage of sub-prime loans will be bad. Most such borrowers will have been given a welcome opportunity to buy what they want, and it will turn out OK, albeit at a higher cost in interest than more affluent borrowers.

It’s not class warfare. It’s not even predation, unless you count every transaction with the poor as predatory. I reckon Amanda would be on board with preventing convenience stores in poor neighborhoods from selling 40s of malt liquor and lottery tickets. And fast food places should tell would be customers who appear to be too poor that it would be cheaper to cook at home. Furniture rental and check cashing services? Close ‘em down! Some of the customers might get in over their heads.

Thank God the poor have Amanda Marcotte to look after them and tell them what to buy and when and on what terms.

Leave No Child's Behind

Wm Norman Grigg writes brilliantly about the increasingly intrusive child welfare industry, one of my pet subjects and a source of many a rant. It is truly frightening when folks argue that children belong to the state or to “society” because this forms the predicate for the most tyrannical intrusions and extractions. Even otherwise decent people of my acquaintance may be heard to argue that everyone in society benefits from or is affected by the education and rearing of children and that this creates an obligation, enforceable by violence, to fund public education and child welfare. After all, these children are going to be funding our retirements some day, so we had better make sure they are healthy and well reared. Children are, in essence, slaves to be trained and fattened for a life of labor in support of the state.

What is not widely understood is that the child welfare and educational apparatus cannot achieve the grandiose results that its proponents and constituents promise. Even if you embedded a social worker in every household, enough of them would be sufficiently incompetent or apathetic to defeat the plans of the agencies to transform families in accordance with the central planners’ model. Even if every child had his own individual teacher a quarter or more of the children would still turn out to be stupid. They would be “left behind” so to speak.

The Secretary of Education was on The Daily Show repeat last night, and she discussed “No Child Left Behind”. She did not suggest that NCLB was “working” or had shown results, but she seemed to believe in its underlying premise, i.e. that every child is equally educable so that the failure of any child is due to bad teachers or inadequate funding of schools. Teachers have long claimed that better teachers make for better students and that throwing more money at teachers is the way to go. Now they have been taken at their word, and those teachers unlucky enough to work in poorer districts are going to be blamed for test results over which, truth be told, they have almost no influence.

So in the end we get tyrannical programs without any of the intended results. And when the programs fail, their advocates proclaim that they were inadequately funded so that failure is rewarded with more resources and more power. This cycle goes on and on because nobody will admit that the underlying premise of the programs is insane.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Countdown Has Two Fewer Viewers

Mrs Vache Folle and I used to be fans of Keith Olbermann’s Countdown on MSNBC, and we would watch the second half of that show after the repeat of The Daily Show. Then he did one of those Nancy Grace-like pit bull stories yesterday and lost us forever. You are dead to us, Keith.

Abandon Hope

Reading blogs today has depressed me. BW Richardson’s post on how the Supreme Court just flushed the Fourth Amendment down the toilet started the spiral into despair. Then Daily Kos hit me with the Democrats’ folding on a withdrawal timetable for Iraq. Neither of these things should have surprised me, but I had allowed myself the luxury of hope. Note to self: there is no hope.

I was at one time an avid fan of the Seattle Mariners, and I attended, watched, or listened to every single inning of every game that I possibly could. My mood vacillated with the team’s fortunes, and I began to feel as if the players were my friends and that, if I just believed hard enough, I could influence games with sheer mind power. To make a long story short, I was losing my mind. It’s the same with politics. I don’t have an iota of influence over anything political. No politician is my friend, and attending to politics does nothing but harsh my mellow.

I still follow baseball, but I no longer care about any of the teams. I never could get attached to the Yankees or Mets. Somehow, baseball is better this way, and I can watch any game with pleasure and enjoy it no matter who is playing or who wins or loses. I’ve got to learn to treat politics the same way.

From now on, I’m going to stay informed so I’ll know best how to protect myself, but I am going to try harder not to give a rat’s ass. Every day that I am not hauled away to a concentration camp or summarily executed is a good day as far as politics go.

I’m not saying that my heart will no longer be broken by evil and cruelty. It is and will be for the foreseeable future, but I am not going to invest any hope that politicians will be other than evil and cruel.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ron Paul is Not Funny

Anthony Gregory is disappointed that The Daily Show didn’t mock Ron Paul when it covered the Republican debates. Note to Anthony: The Daily Show isn’t really the news, although it’s a better source of information than any of the news channels on TV. I think they gave Ron Paul a pass because he was not funny. The rest of the candidates are great fodder for mockery, but Ron Paul came off as too sincere and respectable to poke fun at.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Is Prosperity Bad for America?

Last week, Brink Lindsey, author of
The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture , appeared on The Daily Show. He argues that unprecedented prosperity in the late 20th Century freed people up to think beyond their immediate material needs and to examine cultural and ideological assumptions. This has fed the current “Culture War” where some righties are unhappy with some of the cultural changes and some lefties are unhappy with some of the economic changes.

Prosperity does weaken the family. We don’t live in extended families or rely on our relatives as much as we used to because we don’t have to. We don’t stay in unhappy marriages because we can afford to get divorced. We aren’t as dependent on authorities as we once were so we don’t have to follow them as faithfully or starve in the hedgerows.

Could it be that the GOP really is trying to give the religious right its desires by putting an end to widespread prosperity? If they can drain the economy with stupid wars and other corporate welfare programs, we who are not at the trough will be less and less prosperous and will eventually have to live with our parents and cousins and what have you. We’ll have to stick together in clans just to survive. That’s the Christianists’ dream. Keep people busy trying to fulfill their basic needs so that they can’t question authority.

Maybe Bushian incompetence is really part of a cunning plan to restore the world to a feudal paradise.

Are You a "Mainstream Libertarian"?

Could I be considered a Mainstream Libertarian? Let’s find out by comparing my views to the official Mainstream Libertarian’s views.

Lower Taxes!

Federal income tax rate reductions, as well as cutting back on all state and local taxes. Making federal income tax rate reductions permanent. Scaling back of capital gains taxes, and an immediate end to estate taxes.

I can live with lower taxes, but what’s up with the priorities on tax cuts here? I would prefer to dismantle the federal government altogether, but if I had to cut taxes gradually, I wouldn’t necessarily start with the estate tax, for crying out loud. Or the capital gains tax. I’d start by eliminating taxes on lower income workers and make my way up the socioeconomic scale. There’s nothing particularly “libertarian” about favoring rich people over poor people in the tax cutting scheme. Given some of the other positions we’ll get to later, it doesn’t look like the tax cuts we’re talking about here amount to much since the government will still need lots of money for the massive Mainstream Libertarian government programs.

Stop the Over Spending

Balanced Federal Budget through spending cuts, not increased taxes. Broad cuts in rates of spending increases for all federal, state and local governmental programs. Reform of Medicare, Social Security and other entitlement programs through greater reliance on private alternatives.

Cuts in the rate of spending increases? Are you kidding me? Balancing the budget? What about slashing the budget? What the hell is “libertarian” about this?

Growing the American Economy

Getting the Government off the backs of small business, and corporations by scaling back OSHA, the EPA and other restrictive Federal Agencies. Right to Work legislation that protects workers and spurs economic growth. Workers' comp. reform that protects small businesses against huge lawsuits and endless litigation.

What does the government have to do with growing the economy? Just get the government out of the way, and watch the economy grow. And some of the other Mainstream Libertarian programs are going to be a huge drag on the economy. The first thing I would do would not be to scale back OSHA and at the same time reduce the remedies of injured workers and their ability to organize! Workers Comp already protects employers from lawsuits, so I don’t know where this is coming from. A libertarian who advocates legislation that favors business owners over workers?

Pro Independence Energy Policy

More self-reliance. Lower gas prices through increased refining capacity and allowance for drilling for oil in Alaska and Coastlines.

WTF is “libertarian” about this? Why would I support government’s tinkering with gas prices and refinery capacity? Are Mainstream Libertarians really Libertarians for Central Planning?

Property Rights

Absolute opposition to Eminent Domain laws when used by local governments to transfer lands from one private entity to another.

That’s it? That’s the Mainstream Libertarian position on property rights? This should be one of the biggest planks in the platform.

Choice in Education

School vouchers and tuition tax credits. Greater emphasis on private and home schooling as an alternative to failing public schools. Opposition to affirmative action laws, and minority preferences.

This is just more government schooling via contractors instead of getting government out of the business of schooling. I’m still getting robbed and mooched off of in this scheme. Minority preferences would be up to the private schools in my libertarian world.

Individual Liberties

An end to petty laws that harass Americans such as restrictions on free speech, bans on religious expression, unreasonable regulations of sexual lifestyles for consenting adults, clogging up our court systems with low level marijuana cases, smoking bans in restaurants/bars, and ticketing law-abiding safe drivers for not wearing seat belts. Also, no federal mandates for speed limits or drinking age laws. Repeal gambling restrictions such as internet gaming ban.

Again, that’s it for civil liberties? “Petty” laws? What about big laws? Only “unreasonable” regulation of sexual lifestyles is of concern? What would a Mainstream Libertarian see as “reasonable” regulation? “Low level marijuana cases” are the only aspects of the war on drugs that bother a Mainstream Libertarian? In a nutshell, the Mainstream Libertarian supports legalization of stuff he likes to do like not buckle up, light up at a bar, have a few bong hits, and gamble. Otherwise, he is all for regulating stuff.

Gun Rights & Supporting Sportsmen

Full rights and protections to keep and bear arms. Protecting rights of hunters and anglers. Lessening of licensing fees. More access for off-road recreational vehicles and other sports enthusiasts on public lands.

Seriously, why would a libertarian want the government to favor “sportsmen” over any other subjects of the state? Open the public lands to homesteading! Lower licensing fees? I dispute the legitimacy of the whole licensing scam! If the Mainstream Libertarian were an avid bird watcher, would he advocate bans on off road vehicles because they disturb the birds?

Strong Defense

Defending our borders, and maintaining a strong and well-equipped Military to protect our nation from any terrorist or foreign state. Using the Military to fight terrorists overseas, when necessary, rather than here at home. Support for the All-Volunteer Armed Forces.

Support for a massive national security apparatus well beyond what is reasonably required for national defense and which is itself a threat to freedom became “libertarian” when? Foreign adventurism? This is why the budget can’t be slashed and why working people have to be taxed out the wazoo. The national security apparatus is a greater threat to my freedom than any of the terrorists in the world. Paying for it keeps me in bondage, and militarism and nationalism make my fellow subjects stupid enough to throw away what freedom we still have.


A foreign policy of diplomacy, cooperation and free trade to promote democratic ideals and freedoms around the world. Assisting with the liberation of repressed peoples from the tyranny of fascist and socialist dictators.

This would be fine if the Mainstream Libertarian wanted to volunteer to liberate some oppressed people or to lend his financial support to promoting democratic ideals and freedom. If the democratic ideals he is talking about involve majoritarian tyranny, count me out. But no, the Mainstream Libertarian is talking about stealing money from his fellow subjects by force and using it to advance his agenda abroad, presumably through violence if necessary.

Balanced Immigration Policy & Protecting our Borders

Protecting our Borders from Illegal Immigration through beefed up enforcement, more Border Patrol and fencing. Allowing for a Guest Worker Program for Mexicans who wish to work temporarily in the U.S., with a criminal background check. Citizenship only for those who learn English. Strict measures to stop terrorists from entering the U.S.

This is not one of my peeves. In a perfect world, peacable folks would move freely across borders. Again, it is odd to see a “libertarian” advocating more government spending and restrictions on whom we can hire to do work. Also, it is curious to see support for a kind of permanent second class subject status. Why would a libertarian care what the official language was? He wouldn’t. He’d let the linguistic marketplace do its work.

I reckon I’m not a Mainstream Libertarian. No secret decoder ring for Vache Folle. I also reckon that Mainstream Libertarians are not libertarian. They’re just run of the mill right wingers who like to indulge in assorted vices. They have apparently decided that some aspects of libertarianism aren't "mainstream" enough, like the "liberty" part. The "arian" part they have kept.

Libertarian is being sucked dry of any meaning. The Mainstream Libertarian lists both Jon Stewart and Neil Cavuto as famous libertarians. He also has Tucker Carlson as a libertarian. It’s a bit like being a Christian and having the Westboro Baptist Church also calling itself Christian or the authoritarians on the religious right calling themselves Christians. I like the neologism “Christianist” to distinguish them from actual followers of Jesus. Maybe I should start using “libertarianist” to describe folks, such as the Mainstream Libertarian, who use the term in a twisted way in order to benefit from its positive associations without actually adhering to any of its principles.

I Was Wrong About Rudy

In my earlier post about Res Ipsa Loquitor’s discussion of the difference between a douchebag and an asshole, I failed to pick up on the concept that the two descriptors are not mutually exclusive. You can have a douchebag who is not an asshole (a vanilla douchebag, let’s call him), a douchebag who is also an asshole (a douchebag with a swirl), or just an asshole.

The key characteristics of a douchebag are a high degree of cluelessness and an inflated sense of self importance. The clueless egomaniac can also be malevolent and qualify for classification as an asshole. GW Bush, for example, is a douchebag with a swirl.

This follow up post was inspired by some discussions I had over the weekend about the appropriate classification of Rudy Guiliani. I had him down as a straight asshole, archetypal even, but some long time New Yorkers have convinced me that he is not as smart as his boosters suggest and that he is among the most egomaniacal of politicians. He probably believes the fascistic claptrap that he spews forth and is, therefore, a douchebag with a swirl. I stand corrected.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Why I'll Never be President

Among the reasons that I am never going to be elected to public office, up at the top would be that I inhaled. Often. Deeply. I liked it and I would inhale again if the right opportunity presented itself. If elected, I would do everything in my power to make inhaling legal, and I will inhale in the halls of power even if it’s not legal.

Another reason would be that I don’t think that I could claim to be a “hunter” with a straight face. I don’t enjoy killing animals. I hate it when I run over anything, even a frog. I don’t even like to kill bugs. You have to be microscopic before I will cease having scruples about killing you. Hunters seem more than a little creepy to me, especially the ones who shoot at fenced in animals released conveniently to be shot. I don’t advocate restrictions on hunting and hunters. I just don’t want any part of it, and I wouldn’t be able to don an orange vest and pretend that I was a hunter to score points with some slack jawed yahoos who reckon that you have to be a sadist to get their votes.

Maybe the hunting claims are back door ways of signaling support for the Second Amendment. “I not only support the right to bear arms: I exercise it on bunnies!” I support the Second Amendment. Period. I choose not to own firearms or to hunt, but I uphold the rights of others to own weapons and to hunt. I don’t have to plead the Fifth Amendment to show that I uphold it, so why should the Second Amendment be any different?

Or maybe the hunting claims are signals that the candidate is not a sissy boy. If so, it’s misguided. Some of the most dandified fops I have ever known were aficionados of the chase or avid fishermen. I would put my manliness up against the manliness of any man. I don’t need to kill a quail with clipped wings to show that I am masculine. If you’re so masculine, Shooty McQuailkiller, why don’t you strangle the quail and bite off its head? Sure, I’m squeamish about killing things and am afraid of some stuff, like spiders, and I wouldn’t get very far on Fear Factor, but that should in no way detract from my manliness and fitness for office. Alas, it does. That’s just the way it is. I am safe from having public office forced upon me.

Of course, if Mitt Romney can call himself a “hunter” based on his taking a few potshots at some vermin back in the day, then I am a “hunter” as well. The thing is, Mitt Romney is not, in fact, a “hunter” and neither am I. Neither is Dick Cheney.

Canned Spaghetti and Sugary Cereal Helped Me Reach My Biological Potential

When I was a bairn in the late 60s, the only Italian food I ever ate came in cans. Even the macaroni served at school came in enormous drums. At home, we ate canned spaghetti and raviolis from Franco American or Chef Boyardee. I was a fan of beefaghetti, and I sided with the cartoon dragon who claimed that the “most scrumptious food in the whole wide world” was beefaghetti and not its sister product beefaroni. Although I longed for the taste of old San Francisco, we never had ricearoni. Even when I visited San Francisco many years later, I didn’t see ricearoni on any of the menus in the restaurants.

The turning point in canned pasta technology was the discovery of spaghettio’s, “the neat round spaghetti you can eat with a spoon”, also known as “the greatest invention since the napkin”. At long last, we could eat canned pasta without the risk posed by fork tines. It wasn’t long before space buggies, canned noodles shaped vaguely like flying saucers, were discovered. One of my roommates in college had a can of space buggies for dinner every night. Seriously, he ate the same thing every single day. Fruity Pebbles for breakfast, a Whopper for lunch, and a can of space buggies. And some jolly ranchers.

I was in high school before I ever tasted pasta that had not been precooked and sealed into a can. My first introduction to high falutin’ dried pasta was some Kraft macaroni and cheese and then some dried spaghetti with a jar of Ragu. These became the base of my diet in college. You could get ten boxes of store brand mac and cheese for a buck at the A&P in Spring Valley. You could put anything in it (ground beef, tuna fish, mushrooms, onions, sausages) and have a complete hearty meal. If we were getting fancy, it was spaghetti with a jar of sauce and maybe some ground meat.

You can imagine what a treat it was for me to discover Belmont, the “Little Italy of the Bronx”, where you could get fresh pasta made before your very eyes. Now I don’t think I could even eat a can of spaghetti. What I once loved is now dead to me.

The same goes for breakfast cereal. The ten year old Vache Folle delighted in Quisp, Honeycomb, Sugar Corn Pops and Kap’n Krunch. I couldn’t get enough of it. Later in college, I moved to corn flakes, raisin bran and rice chex with the occasional heaping bowl of Kap’n Krunch. Then I got all health conscious and started eating muesli and various colon cleansing high fiber concoctions that tasted like twigs and gravel. Then I became carb averse and swore off cereal altogether, not a big sacrifice considering that I had grown to hate the stuff. I bet Kap’n Krunch is still pretty good, though. Note to self: buy a box of KK this weekend. Is it me or has Honeycomb cereal gotten smaller?

Douchebags and Assholes

For language geeks, Res Ipsa Loquitor at Rising Hegemon has an enlightening discussion on the distinction between a douchebag and an asshole. The main distinguishing factor seems to be intelligence. A douchebag has less of it than an asshole. A douchebag might not even be malevolent and could still be a douchebag. RIL’s example is that Bush is a douchebag while Cheney is an asshole. Mitt Romney seems to be a douchebag in contrast to Guiliani, the archetypal asshole.

Evidently, per RIL, a douche and a douchebag are not the same thing, but I don’t know the difference. South Park had an episode in which the cold reader Jon Edwards was crowned Biggest Douche in the Universe by some space aliens. And another episode’s moral was that every election is always between a douche and a turd sandwich. South Park’s writers seem to treat douche and douchebag as synonyms as I have always done.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Children's Rights Discussed at Sunni's Place

There was an interesting thread over at Sunni’s Salon concerning the rights of children in a free society. It was inspired by an article in which the author argued that children are born with complete human rights and that mothers undertake an obligation to take care of their children as a kind of one sided contract that the child can later sign on to or repudiate. The author also argues that children would be free to change parents if they were unhappy with their treatment.

My own take on this is informed by my experience as part of the child welfare apparatus. Traditionally, parental rights in children were akin to property rights, but there has been a trend over the years to looking at parenting in terms of the “best interests of the child” with less regard for parental prerogatives. In a real sense, the state has become the owner of all children and simply lets parents keep them on good behavior.

Some rights in children don’t mean much any more. Your right to the services and earnings of your children is generally valueless in today’s society, especially since they aren’t even allowed to work (I would have had kids if they could pay their own way). And the nature of the parent child relationship is quite different in the 21st century than just a century ago. Children are by and large an act of consumption of entertainment. They are an expensive hobby not unlike having an unusually long-lived and destructive pet. Most parents reckon that they are entitled to the companionship of their children and to enjoy them without let or hindrance from anyone else, even the state. Besides the sense of satisfaction and amusement to be gotten from kids, parents have no reasonable expectation of gain from having children. They have every natural incentive, therefore, to be solicitous and loving in order to induce their children to be pleasant and to maintain contact with them. No amount of enforcement of contracts or rights is going to make your kid like you.

If the concept of the “best interests of the child” inured to the benefit of the child instead of empowering the state, I could get behind it. Let’s recognize children as free people with full human rights from the get go. They are not chattels of their parents or of the state. They have the right to be free from aggression, but they don’t have any right to anything from their parents. Care will be provided in most cases gratuitously and in the spirit of love without the need for a fictive contract or parental rights enforced by the state. In some cases, there will be abuse or neglect, but a free society will develop mechanisms for dealing with this issue, such as allowing any person to petition for custody of any child.

As the libertarian sage Donald Rumsfeld once remarked, “Freedom is messy.” A free society will not be free of social ills such as child abuse and neglect, but at least there will be no monstrous intrusive child welfare apparatus coupled with the abuse and neglect it is ostensibly briefed to remedy.

UPDATE: Sunni pointed out in a comment that the item referred to was not at the Salon but at Sunni and the Conspirators, the link to which is

Some Questions for the GOP Candidates in their Next "Debate"

Do you support an immediate repeal of the 13th amendment or a phased repeal?

If you could eradicate any ethnic category in America, which category would you kill or exile?

If you could abolish the Bill of Rights but could only take away one amendment per year, which amendments would you abolish in your first term?

What is your plan for making concentration camps operate efficiently so the deficit won’t be unduly enlarged by them?

It has been said that execution by stoning is cruel but not unusual and so permitted under the constitution. Do you disagree?

What is your government continuity plan in case you are raptured while in office?

It is said by some that marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman, that woman’s sister, and the handmaidens of the first two wives. Or between a man and his half sister and her maid. Or between a man and a woman and his dead brother’s widow. What is your view of the role of the federal government in promoting such traditional marriages?

Who will be the first 10 Americans to be disappeared when you take office under your unfettered executive powers?

As commander in chief, what sort of uniform will you wear while in office? Will you have really big epaulets?

A Better Way to Pick the President

We watched Lewis Black on HBO on demand last night. Among other amusing observations, he had a suggestion for a better way to select the president than the one we use now. The winner of American Idol throws a dart at a map. A monkey is flown to the location represented on the map where the dart ended up. The monkey parachutes to the ground, and the first person he touches is the new president.

There has got to be a better way to pick presidents. That we could have ended up with two terms of the idiot king or that there is even a remote chance that Rudy Giuliani could become president are manifestations of a profoundly flawed system.

Black’s idea should be given a try. His approach takes ambition out of the picture. Anyone who wants to be president is probably not qualified and presents a danger to the Republic. Such men are generally wanting in character and principles other than self aggrandizement. Accordingly, the selection process should be designed so that self selected candidates are not favored over others. The field of GOP candidates with the exception of Ron Paul all manifested their unfitness for the office in their “debates” each trying to “outfascist” the others. The Democrats are not as obviously repulsive but, except for Mike Gravel, are an unsatisfying lot. Sadly, the system is rigged so that the relatively happy choice of Paul versus Gravel could never be presented to us.

In addition to random selection, more qualifications and disqualifying factors should be considered so that the random selectee will be less likely to be Bushlike or Giulianiesque. For example, the selectee’s name can’t end in the letter “i”. I propose that anyone who has spent more than 25% of his career on any government payroll or as a government contractor or on the government dole should be disqualified. Anyone who has ever expressed any interest in becoming president would be disqualified. Anyone who travels to the vicinity where the monkey is slated to land is disqualified unless it is part of his ordinary routine. If you don’t flee from the monkey, you are disqualified

This system has everything. It’s got public participation via the American Idol balloting. I see a series of dart tosses at progressively more detailed maps until you get down to a neighborhood, but this location will not be revealed until the monkey has been thrown off the plane. The whole world will watch the video from the monkey-cam as the simian seeks out the next president of the US. Finally, the selectee will be vetted for disqualifications, and if need be the whole thing will be done over until a qualified individual is tagged by the monkey.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mocking the Mocker

I usually agree with Steve Scott, but I just can’t seem to work up any indignation over people’s glorying in the death of Jerry Falwell. Jerry gloried in the deaths of the victims of the US government in Iraq and Afghanistan and had the temerity to claim that they were being killed in the “name of the Lord”. People dying from AIDS? God’s glorious wrath for a society’s toleration of homosexuality, per Falwell. People killed in the World Trade Center? More glorious divine wrath because of the gays. Jerry seemed to take great pleasure in death and destruction and was always quick to give God the credit and to enlighten us on God’s reasons. If anyone deserves to be mocked in death, Jerry is a prime candidate for such mockery.

Of course, we’re no better off for Jerry’s being dead. Another like minded preacher will doubtless step into his shoes and continue the message that Jesus loves us (unless we’re gay or Democrats) and is going to kill us (especially if we’re gay or Democrats).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Moochers and Parasites in the Carmel Central School District Are Voting to Rob Me More Today

I probably should vote in the school district election today even though it is really inconvenient for me to do so. If the budget passes by one vote, I’ll kick myself for not voting against it. Then again, most of the voters are going to be the parasites who work for the schools or mooching parents who think nothing of shaking down their neighbors for the benefit of their offspring. The budget will pass, and a bunch of hacks will be elected to the school board whether I vote or not. Maybe I should eschew voting as an expression of my contempt for the district and its thieving constituents. I wish that I could convince myself that I get something out of the school system that I am coerced into paying for, but so far I can’t think of many benefits that inure to me.

It is true that the kids can’t be vandalizing my property while they are in school, so that’s a plus. It’s not worth thousands of dollars a year, though. For a few hundred dollars, I could set traps to deter kids from trespassing.

People who are poorer than me will be driven out of the district by the higher taxes, so I won’t have to live among as many poor folks. This is worth nothing to me since I like poor folks just fine, but a lot of folks see this as a benefit.

My house will be more valuable as the school system excels. My taxes will be higher, too, to offset the paper gains. Also, I don’t plan on moving, so the value of my house is not transmutable into wealth for me.

I still reckon that 99.9999999999999% of the benefit of the school system goes to the mooching parents of the pupils and the tax eating faculty and staff.

Monday, May 14, 2007

My Name is Not Really Vache Folle

WaPo opines that all web sites should require commenters and posters to use their real names. This, it is written, will keep the “hatemongers” at bay. An example of a “hatemonger” is given of a pseudonymous speaker at a school board meeting who advocates for less bureaucracy.

“In any community in America, if Mr. anticrat424 [the pseudonymous speaker] refused to identify himself, he would be ignored and frozen out of the civic problem-solving process.” So says the editorialist.

I, Vache Folle, disagree. Pseudonymous pamphleteers have a long and important history, and they have not been ignored. I use a pseudonym in blogging, and I am unashamed of doing so. I don’t reckon Mr anticrat424’s hypothetical activities were hateful, unless you count a dislike of bureaucrats as hateful. Secondly, there might be very good reasons to conceal one’s true identity other than covering yourself as a hater. Thirdly, the validity of one’s statements should not be affected by one’s identity. If you are telling the truth, it is still the truth even if you don’t give your name.

Why do I go by the moniker of Vache Folle instead of using my real name? I don’t want my employer to know all my opinions on things. I have a stuffy job and some unorthodox views, and these might not mix all that well. I also want to be able to report on the attitudes and opinions of my coworkers without their knowing that I am doing so. I also want to write about religious issues without my coreligionists’ being able to identify me and brand me a heretic. That’s the extent of it. Not too creepy, is it?

Bite me, WaPo. I didn’t want to comment on your web sites anyway.

Something Ate the Comets

Something ate all my larger comets last week. We introduced 100 orange comets into the pond last summer. About 18 of these grew to 6 inches or more in length by the end of the summer. Fourteen of them survived the winter and the pond’s freezing over. Ten of them made it through the Flood of Naught Seven. But not one of them managed to evade the comet eater, whatever it was. I reckon it was that Great Blue Heron that sneaks in from time to time. He came in by day when the dogs were inside and couldn’t run him off. One of my friends reckons it was the neighborhood bear. I’ll probably never know.

There are still as many as a hundred smaller fish, descendants of the original comets, but most of them are not orange. Orange coloration seems to put the fish at a reproductive disadvantage. The surviving fish are hard to see, so they are not as entertaining as the orange guys, but they are probably less likely to get eaten.

We spotted our resident hummingbird on Friday, two days later than last year. We were visited by an indigo bunting on Saturday, a species that is new to our property. The Baltimore orioles and the grosbeaks are back at the feeders, and the juncos are all gone. Spring is officially arrived in the Middle Hudson Valley.

Brad and Janet, our resident water snakes, were back on their basking rock this weekend, and I spotted Suri or Shiloh, one of their offspring, as well. I took the largest water lily, the one that had escaped from its pot and divided it into four pots which I spread around the pond more widely. When these come in, this should provide some shelter for the pond critters. We also added a half dozen water hyacinth, and these should multiply like crazy. I have been faithfully removing silt, and I hope to restore the pond to its usual depth by the end of the month, and this too should make it harder for trespassing birds to treat the pond as their personal smorgasbord.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The God Particle

I slogged through Leon Lederman’s “The God Particle; If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?” It may be possible to make particle physics seem less interesting, but right now I don’t see how. On the other hand, the book is refreshing in that it is written by an actual particle physicist, albeit and experimentalist, a Nobel laureate no less, who avoids waxing mystical about the hidden meaning of the universe revealed in the dance of the quarks and leptons yadda yadda yadda.

My main beef with the book is that you work your way to the end for the big payoff, the so-called “God particle”, the Higgs boson, only to have your hopes dashed. It hadn’t been found yet.

Another disappointment to me is the seemingly endless proliferation of particles and families of particles. I want the universe to have an elegant unitary explanation that physicists can explain to me with a few simple metaphors. This you won’t get from Lederman. You will get a Tom Clancyesque exposition of the technical details of particle accelerators and cloud chambers.

Lederman is supposedly the Jerry Seinfeld of particle physicists, and he interjects humor into the narrative. He’s actually pretty funny for a scientist. Not hilarious, but funny.

To be fair, this was my “bathroom book”, the one I read in short intervals while I’m seated on my throne, and it is possible that the choppy way I read the book influenced my attitude about it. Maybe I should stick to magazines in that situation.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I Wish I Had Learned to Like Superheroes

Both Wally Conger and BW Richardson wrote this week about their childhood introductions to Spiderman and their love of superhero comics. I reckon that I’m about the same age as those guys, but I seem to have missed out on superhero comics altogether. I just never got into them. I watched the old Superman series on TV which even a fan of the Man of Steel has got to admit was pretty lame. And the campy Batman TV series was my introduction to Gotham City’s caped vigilante. I suppose it’s no surprise then that I greeted both those superheroes with an “eh”. Underdog and Mighty Mouse were more entertaining to me.

I grew up out in the country and we went into town to trade every other Saturday. When I was in the third or fourth grade, we began to make stops at the Ace newsstand owned and operated by one of our closest neighbors “Sarge” Miller. I would spend what little money I had on paperbacks, especially the Magnum Easy Eye editions of classics by Poe, HG Wells, Stevenson, H Rider Haggard, Arthur Conan Doyle, etc. When I finally discovered comics, I gravitated to Warren’s Eerie, Creepy and Famous Monsters. I was really into science fiction, horror, and such like. I was, I suppose in retrospect, disturbed. I secretly wished that I were a vampire so I could bite girls on the neck. Had I been born 20 years later I might have been a Goth!

At about the same period in history, there was an afternoon Soap Opera called “Dark Shadows” that featured vampires, werewolves and other aspects of the gothic horror genre. We’d get home from school, watch parts of my grandmother’s “stories” General Hospital and Days of Our Lives, have an ice cold Coca Cola, and enjoy the adventures of the vampire Barnabas Collins and the eldritch goings on at Collinwood. Looking back, Days of Our Lives was creepier.

Another outlet for me was mythology. Hercules, Ulysses and Jason were my heroes, and I loved the stories of the old gods. If Superman had landed on Earth at the time of Homer, would he have been viewed as a god or demigod?

I have since read Michael Chabon’s “Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay” which features the fictional fictional superhero “The Escapist” and I have read everything ever written by Joseph Campbell, including “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”, so I think I understand the attraction of the superhero and how superheroes resonate with boys and men. I just missed the window of exposure at the right age.

One observation and a query. Why are so many supervillians disabled or handicapped, eg the Joker, the Penguin? Like Richard III, they are given some disability that twists them and makes them evil or which is a manifestation of their inner evil. Is this a reflection of a cultural bias against disabled people?

Let's Go to Mars!

I was really into the space program when I was a kid. I knew the payloads and specs of every rocket and followed the plans of NASA and the Soviets like an avid sports fan. Back then the space program as exciting. There was a goal: man on the moon. And NASA was pushing the envelope to accomplish this feat with 1960s technology. Guys with slide rules and computers far less powerful than the one I am typing at now managed to get men to and from the moon several times and all within less than 20 years from initial space launch to final Apollo mission.

Then the Space Shuttle program came, and space exploration became about as exciting as watching planes at the airport. Nobody paid much attention to missions unless they blew up. The problem, as I see it, is that NASA has no big, challenging goal. Everything is 50 years out when, it is hoped, some technological breakthrough will make space travel safer and more affordable. Ho freaking hum. Call me when you’re going somewhere cool.

Of course, now I feel differently about having taxpayers subsidize my entertainment or even my perspective on the manifest necessity for humans to colonize space and bring life to the lifeless void.

Last night on one of the brainiac channels on the TV, there was a show titled “Mars Underground”. It was basically about the vision of an engineer form Martin to launch a manned mission to Mars with currently available technology. This guy shared my views about NASA and its recent tendency to over-engineer everything it touches and to defer anything spectacular to the remote future. The NASA Mars program involved a plethora of stages such as building an orbital rocket factory and a staging area on the Moon. The projected cost: 500 billion bucks or thereabouts. Meanwhile, the guys from Martin came up with a mission design that could be done within ten years and for a cost of only 55 billion dollars over a decade. We could have had men on Mars by 1999!

The idea is to send three unmanned spacecraft to Mars: a habitat, a launcher to get astronauts off of Mars complete with its own plant to make rocket fuel from the Martian atmosphere, and an orbiting spacecraft for the return to Earth. After these systems are tested, a manned craft, a second habitat, and a second launcher for a later mission would meet up with the prepositioned habitat and launcher. The astronauts would live on Mars for 18 months using Martian resources as much as possible to keep payloads down.

Some elegant aspects of the mission design are the use of payloads as shields against the radiation from solar flares (astronauts would sit solar storms out in a central buffered shelter) and the creation of artificial gravity en route by having the craft rotate in two parts on a tether.

The best part of the plan, in my view, is that it could be accomplished by private individuals with a commercial or academic interest in spacefaring. If you got to Mars and settled it, I reckon you would own it. I would invest in the settlement and terraforming of Mars or, if the technology becomes available, the refitting of humans to survive on Mars. How about it, Sir Richard?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Our New Poulan Pro Lawn Mower

We’re kind of broke, what with sinking so much into the house, so we have to retrench and economize. We fired the lawn guy and bought a mower, and we mowed our own lawn for the first time in 8 years since we moved to New York. We have about an acre and a half or more in “grass”, where by grass we mean grasslike vegetation mixed with assorted species of indigenous wild plants. The yard is uneven and features areas where rocks jut up from the subsurface and other areas that are marshy. It took longer to mow than I expected, especially since we bought a self propelled push mower instead of a tractor. I didn’t think a tractor would be safe or that we could use it in a lot of areas. I hope that part of the difficulty is that mowing was overdue and that the length of the grass made it more difficult than it will be when we mow on a regular schedule.

There are some good things about mowing our own grass. We can be on the lookout for wildlife and avoid killing any animals with the mower better than the lawn guy did. We can choose to leave parts of the yard to grow as meadow, something we were never able to get across to the lawn guy that we wanted to do. He constantly mowed down my wildflower plantings. We can make sure to mow just in advance of entertaining guests. Mowing is exercise. I have always liked to mow ever since I was a wee bairn. It was one of the chores I minded least. We should save about $1500 bucks net of the cost of the mower.

We’re not fanatics about the lawn being a monoculture. Frankly, we don’t care what species of plants comprise the lawn as long as poison ivy or poison oak is not among them. Dandelions? No problem. They are attractive when they bloom, and the greens are edible (I hear). We don’t water the lawn except for new areas that have just been planted, and we rely on natural selection to cause the lawn to be comprised of plants that can hack the climate without any human intervention. We don’t fertilize it or use herbicides or insecticides. We just mow it, and we think it looks fine. If it weren’t for wanting space to play ball with Jasper, we might let a goodly portion turn to meadow.

In general, we are not out to control the garden, even the perennial beds. We let things follow their own course and try to maintain a natural look. It’s not that we’re lazy. We put a lot of work into the garden. We just like the “cup garden” concept.

Second Worst State in the Union

Which state, other than Texas, is the worst state in the union? I’m talking the one state you would just as soon kick out of the country if it won’t secede willingly. I’ve never been to Kansas or Oklahoma, so I can’t really opine on their merits, but I think a good case can be made that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is the second worst state. It’s Philly on the right, Steel City on the Left, and Mississippi in the middle.

What’s wrong with Pennsylvania, you ask? It would be easier to list what is right about Pennsylvania: the Amish and the landscape.

Pennsylvania gave us Rick Santorum, and even though they booted him out of office last year, that they would have elected a medieval style authoritarian in the first place speaks volumes about the people of the Commonwealth. That’s just an example of the depravity of Pennsylvanians. Another is the insistence of the people of Erie on spelling “diner” as “dinor”. And what passes for cuisine is barbaric. Pittsburgh style steak is just raw meat waved over a flame for a few seconds. And cheesesteaks are really not all that unless you’re high, in which case they are perfectly edible. The number one tourist attraction? A bell with a crack in it that someone forgot to return under the warranty.

Pennsylvania claims to have ski resorts. It’s a lie, unless by skiing you mean sliding down patches of ice until you slam into some fixed object. Deer hunting? What state doesn’t have deer hunting? You don’t need to go to Pennsylvania to hang out in the woods with hundreds of heavily armed drunks.

I am open to suggestions for second worst state, but my money is on Pennsyltucky.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Why It Took So Long for Europeans to Take Over the Americas

It always puzzled me that when the Vikings discovered North America more Europeans didn’t take an interest in the New World. Heck, the Vikings weren’t all that keen on their discoveries, either, and they seem never to have gotten a foothold much further than the Maritimes.

I have since learned that the Vikings themselves put up serious obstacles to new settlers among their own kind and that getting to the New World and starting a homestead was beyond the reach of most Norsemen. There were closer environs with rich farmland that could be plundered and settled far more easily.

As for the rest of feudal Europe, those with resources to mount a colonization venture would hardly have been interested in doing so. Feudal warlords weren’t interested so much in land per se, but land that was being worked by compliant peasants. If you transported boatloads of peasants to pre-Columbian New Jersey, it would have been difficult to keep them on the manor. The threat of hostile aborigines might not be enough to keep the peasants from going off on their own and starting farms outside your sphere of influence. My native state of Georgia was originally granted to a would-be feudal lord who aimed to set up the Margravate of Azilia. He had to rely on volunteers to be villeins in his realm, and there were just no takers. England had not yet hit on the idea of transporting prisoners to far off places.

The peasants, who might very well have liked to establish homesteads as free farmers in the New World, lacked the means to do so even if they had been aware of the existence of North America. And the noble parasites who depended on them weren’t likely to let them go in any event.

It was, I reckon, the discovery of populous civilizations in Meso-America that made conquest of the New World profitable. The Aztecs and the Mayas and the Incas had a ready supply of serfs to support the Conquistadores and make it worth their while to come over. It was another century before the wilds of North America became remotely attractive for settlement by farmers and before the economic structures of European countries provided the means and the motive to finance such ventures.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Hate Speech

It seems to me that just about anything that is not praise might be characterized as hate speech: Then again, if you laud a category, that is engage in “love speech”, that is often seen as reprehensible as well. If I say that Jews are smart or Africans are athletic, I’m going to get into trouble almost as much as if I say that Jews are cheap or that Africans are lazy.

Saying that Jews or Africans as categories are anything is usually incorrect or irrelevant. Knowing that someone is a Jew or an African isn’t going to allow you to predict much at all about that person, unless you are interested in genetic markers and differential susceptibility to diseases or some such thing. You need to know a lot more about the individual than a few arbitrary categories that he can be classified by. Prejudice is irrational but pervasive, and we probably should cut each other a little slack.

It is a cultural fact is that when a member of a category makes jokes or statements about that category, even if they are demeaning or promote negative stereotypes, that’s NOT hate speech. I’m a person of altitude, so I can crack wise about hillbillies to my heart’s content as long as I don’t go so far as to seem like a self-hating cracker, in which case I am still not as bad as a non-cracker who denigrates my category. I am reminded of Krusty the Clown who, on discovering that he was not technically Jewish, realized that instead of being a self-hating Jew, he was just anti-Semitic, a far worse thing to be.

Another cultural fact is that the weak can criticize in pretty hateful terms the powerful more readily than the powerful can criticize the weak however gently and patronizingly. Accordingly, a black comedian can skewer upper middle class whites with impunity, but an upper middle class white businessman had better not say anything bad about black people (or anything good for that matter).

These cultural facts aren’t necessarily fair or reasonable. They are what they are, though, and it is wise to take them into account. You can argue that they ought to be different, but that won’t make them so until there is a cultural sea change. My favorite radio hosts, Opie and Anthony, can whine all they want about how times are tough for folks who like to make fun of people and be mean for a living (which I enjoy as much as the next guy), but cultural change will not come quickly nor will it become fair or reasonable or rational.

I was surprised that demeaning persons who hold particular political views was included as hate speech in the Wikipedia definition. If that’s the case, I’m guilty of hate speech when it comes to Nazis and other fascists, Stalinists and neocons, just to name a few. If you put yourself in such a category, you have already demeaned yourself, and anything I say will just be pointing out the facts. Your politics are way different from your race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or such like categories. The same goes for religion. Criticizing a religious category is more akin to criticizing the belief system or doctrine than criticizing the adherents themselves. If the Church of Moloch teaches some reprehensible things, then pointing this out is entirely different than slamming someone because of some arbitrary, largely immutable trait. Crazy Bill Donohoe, for example, plays the hate speech card entirely improperly in his smears of critics of Catholicism. Eventually, the concept will become so overworked by Donohoe and his ilk that it will lose its meaning.

I Read the Hate Crime Legislation

I read the text of the new federal hate crimes bill:

The bill is limited in its applicability to crimes that involve interstate travel, facilities of interstate communication, or that otherwise have an impact on interstate commerce. This is laughable in view of the Supreme Court’s determination that there is no activity whatsoever that does not have an impact on interstate commerce. All Congress has to do to assert federal jurisdiction is to recite some mumbo jumbo about interstate commerce.

The bill permits the Department of “Justice” to assist local jurisdictions or to prosecute as federal crimes any violent crimes motivated by the victim’s race, creed, etc. This is restrained (irony alert) to some extent by consideration of the impact of such a prosecution or lack of prosecution on the “federal interest” in stamping out bias motivated crime.

I was greatly comforted by the last section:

“Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

The federales have written themselves a reminder that the First Amendment still pertains. What a relief!

I oppose this bill, not because I don’t think that hate crimes are bad things, but because I oppose all expansions of federal authority. I would have been more comfortable with a bill that limited federal jurisdiction to cases where the local law enforcement and prosecutorial apparatus declined to act, as when a local cop commits a hate crime or when local politics preclude prosecution. Also, I would like to have seen a prohibition on prosecuting cases where a local prosecution had been undertaken.

It should be easy to distinguish a genuine hate crime from a crime that happens to be committed against a member of one of the protected categories but is motivated by ordinary criminal motivations. Of course, that won’t stop zealous prosecutors from pushing the envelope. God only knows how this bill will be abused, but you can bet that it will be.

Bush aims to veto the bill. I reckon he is motivated by his homophobic constituency in the religious right who rejoice in the beatings and murders of gays. Relax, wingnuts, you still get to advocate violence against gays.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Economies of Scale, Schmeconomies of Scale

Kevin Carson gives us a preview of two chapters of his book on organization theory. He takes a critical look at the concept of “economies of scale”. The chapters are interesting, and I never thought I would say that about a book on organization.

I’m a tool in a monstrous global conglomerate, and in my experience economies of scale are rare. They exist, as when combined purchasing power means more bargaining power, but these gains are netted out by the additional costs associated with bigness. The added bureaucracy alone eats up profits like crazy. And upper management gets its information filtered through so many functionaries that they make decisions based on meaningless and inaccurate reports. We spend so much time reporting to our superiors that we barely have time left to do any actual work.

We do best when we allow the operating entities to function more or less independently, when they are encouraged to be entrepreneurial. This means structuring incentives to reward productivity while restraining the urge to control from HQ. This is hard to sustain, however, because upper management in conglomerates are often control freaks who reckon that they know best how to run things centrally.

Another secret I have learned as a tool is that bringing functions in house is rarely cheaper than hiring outside firms. The outsiders can be retained on an ad hoc basis when needed, and they cost nothing when not needed. Insiders find a way to keep busy all the time and expand their work and increase the size of their departments until any savings realized are netted out by increased costs. And you still end up hiring outsiders.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Giving New Life to Lawyer and Ethnic Jokes

People love to tell me lawyer jokes, and I don’t mind hearing them. Nobody is more contemptuous of the profession than I am. When I was sworn in to the Maryland bar back in 1985, the Chief Judge urged us to be intolerant of lawyer jokes. He said that we should claim to be offended by them and to scold the joke tellers and set them straight about lawyers. I heeded him not. Lawyers deserve all the contempt heaped upon them and then some. We’re lucky it’s jokes and not rocks that are used to express the public’s disregard for us.

Anyway, I like lawyer jokes. I even tell them sometimes. One thing I like to do is to change them up by changing the profession to that of the listener. For example, if I’m telling a lawyer joke to a female physical anthropologist it might go something like this: “What do you call a thousand female physical anthropologists at the bottom of the Hudson River? A start.” It’s even funnier, isn’t it? “What’s the difference between a dead snake in the road and a dead dentist? There are skid marks in front of the snake.” “How can you tell when an actuary is lying? His lips are moving.” Try it yourself. The less contemptible the profession, the funnier the joke is in my opinion. “What’s the definition of a shame? When a bus full of hospice workers goes over a cliff and there’s two empty seats.” See what I mean?

And you can tell ethnic jokes all you want as long as you pick a really obscure ethnic category or a fictitious one or an extinct one or one that makes no sense. “This Romanian walks into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder. The bartender says, ‘Hey, that’s neat. Where did you get it?’ The parrot replies, ‘In Romania, they run wild over there.’” “A Klingon, an Orc and a Sentient Duck like in Duck Tales are traveling through the country when their car breaks down. A farmer allows them to sleep in his barn but warns them to stay away from his beautiful daughter. The Klingon sneaks in, ravishes the daughter and is sneaking back when the farmer, who has been keeping vigil, calls ‘Who’s there?’ The Klingon thinks quick and lets out a ‘Meow’ so that the farmer is not alarmed. The Sentient Duck does the same thing and answers the challenge of the farmer with a ‘Meow’. The Orc does the same thing and when the farmer calls out, he replies ‘It’s the cat!’” ” “Why did the Etruscan eat dynamite? So his hair would grow out in bangs.”

Another way to go is to take a category other than ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation and make that category the butt of the joke. “How many cat fanciers does it take to screw in a light bulb? One; is that supposed to be funny!?”

One of my favorite lawyer jokes is about four good friends and golfing buddies. They are a doctor, a minister, a lawyer and a businessman. One day in the clubhouse the businessman reveals that he is dying of cancer and that his dying wish is to take his wealth with him into the grave. He gives each of his friends a third of his money and makes them swear that they will put it in his casket just before it is lowered into the ground. At the graveside, they each put a sack in the casket. A year later, the minister confesses to the other two that he had not, in fact, put the money in the coffin. He figured that their friend had not been thinking straight and would have really wanted the minister to give the money to a charity that helped people with cancer. And that’s what he had done with the two million bucks he had been given. The doctor replied that he was relieved to hear it and that he had put his share of the money in a foundation to research a cure for the cancer that had killed their friend. The lawyer was appalled that they had broken their oath and defied the dying wish of their dear friend. His conscience was clear because he had put in the casket his personal check for two million dollars.

Reflections on Voir Dire

When I was undergoing voir dire for potential jury duty the other day, I was asked if I could apply the law as given to me by the judge even if I disagreed with it. I said that I could as long as it wasn’t patently unjust or offensive. The lawyer rephrased the question to ask if I believed in the “rule of law”. I indicated that I did but that I probably had a different idea of the meaning of the expression. She was using it to cover the statutes enacted by a majoritarian tyranny. I don’t acknowledge the legitimacy of such legislation. It was unlikely to be an issue in a dental malpractice case, but I felt that I had to be honest (and it’s a good way to stay off of a jury).

If it had been a criminal matter, I might have concealed my views on jury nullification to have a chance to mess with the system. I would never convict anyone of a drug “crime” or any other vice related charge.

In orientation for jury duty, we watched a video that harkened back to the days of trial by ordeal, and the narrator implied that the jury system was all that stood in the way of a return to such barbaric practices. (I wonder if trial by combat or trial by ordeal is still technically available). I suppose our jury system will one day be looked upon as barbaric and irrational, especially nowadays when the jury has been reduced to a cipher in most cases.

A joke some lawyers like to tell is that we wouldn’t want our fate decided by people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty. Unless juries are also triers of the law as well as triers of fact, the system is not as valuable as it could be. In some cases, juries have been the last bastion of the common man against the powerful. In southern West Virginia back in the mine owner/miner conflicts, juries were the only part of the apparatus of the state that the mine operators had not suborned. The mine owners tried to curtail the right to trial by jury in the legislature, but the legislators from the rest of the state wouldn’t go along with it. They couldn’t get convictions of agitators. They finally resorted to assassination, but they never got control of the “legitimate” criminal justice process.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Aristocrats!

A reworking of "The Aristocrats" with the GOP as the main attraction:

What Did We Expect When We Elected a White Male as President?

Mrs Vache Folle remarked last night that if a president who was female or black failed as miserably as GW Bush, folks would carry on about how they never should have elected a woman or a black. GW Bush hasn’t just lowered the bar for white male presidents, he has buried it, says Mrs VF. We will know when we have gender and racial equality when women and minorities can screw up as much as GW Bush and nobody remarks on how it figures that a woman or a minority would fail.

It figures that electing a white male as president would be a fiasco. After all, every white male president has been bad in some way, many spectacularly so. I am beginning to see a pattern: elect a white male president, get a bigger government and less freedom.

Chris Hitchens Gets Something Right

Christopher Hitchens was on The Daily Show repeat last night plugging his book about how bad religion is. He made a good point that the characterization of someone as a “person of faith” shouldn’t really be considered a compliment. Calling someone a “person of faith” means that you think that the person has some irrational beliefs unsupported by evidence. Why would we necessarily consider that a good thing?

I am a “person of faith” in that I believe, without resort to any evidence or to reason, in God’s grace as expressed through Jesus Christ. I can’t prove the truth of my beliefs in this regard. They are simply not susceptible to proof. My beliefs are irrational as are all such religious beliefs. I have no reason to boast, and in acknowledging that I am a “person of faith” I don’t expect to be lauded or given any special consideration.

In my opinion, whether being a “person of faith” is a good thing or a bad thing depends entirely on just what irrational beliefs the individual holds. I might be uncomfortable with a follower of Ramtha, the prehistoric warrior channeled by a woman out west, or a Scientologist or a Mormon. I’m not even all that comfortable with Catholics to be completely honest about it because of their acceptance of a top down hierarchy and authoritarian streak. I am way uncomfortable with fundamentalists of any creed. Their irrational beliefs may well inspire conduct that is aggressive and coercive, as the religious right’s warmongering in the name of the Prince of Peace attests.

I don’t see the secularization of society as problematic, and I don’t blame secularization for contemporary social ills. Inculcating irrational beliefs isn’t necessarily going to solve our problems. Quite the contrary, it is just as likely to compound them or to create new ones. I have known a few “people of faith” who reckon that religion is important to keep people from killing each other and to make them behave. On the other hand, a compliant and gullible population is apt to be led to kill and to misbehave. Others have argued that religion gives life meaning and without it we would collapse under the weight of existential meaninglessness and become a world of nihilists. On the other hand, having a prepackaged meaning delivered to you might prevent you from finding the true meaning of your life. In my view, even if my life is meaningless, it is still a marvelous thing in and of itself and a gift beyond measure, and I would be an ingrate to bitch about it.

My faith isn’t about controlling other people or endowing their lives with a meaning that works for me. Frankly, I would rather other people were a bit more ungovernable, and if their particular form of faith turns them into slaves I don’t approve. And speaking of nihilists, the crazy left behinders reckon that the world is about to end soon anyhow, so why bother with making it better?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

More This and That

It turns out that my knee injury isn’t as bad as I had feared. I have a cyst by the lateral collateral ligament and some “degradation” of the meniscus. I’m to try a course of physical therapy to see if surgery might be avoided. Meanwhile, the NSAID is working its magic, and I can do just about anything but run.

The juncos have moved on, and the cowbirds and goldfinches have arrived in force. The hummingbirds aren’t back yet, but we put out some nectar just in case and for any of them that might be passing through on the way to points north. We put out the deck furniture and have been cooking out whenever we can.

We planted some shrubs in the part of the pond by the weir that had washed out. I filled up the gully with silt from the pond and reinforced the rock wall with a patch of pond liner. I also lowered the weir to reduce the chance of overflow in all but the biggest storms. Take that, Mother Nature!

Every day that I can, I am digging out silt and detritus from the pond little by little and putting it in low spots in the yard. I aim to build up a couple of swampy spots by about 18 inches, and the storms provided me with enough silt to do the job.

The forsythia burst into bloom overnight the other day, and the front yard is festooned with yellow. It is quite cheery. A lot of folks on the road have forsythia hedges, and it looks really nice this time of year. The return of color is helping to relieve my winter blues.

Jasper is active despite his recent leg injury and chases the fish now as well as the frogs. Some wood ducks visit the pond from time to time, but Jasper chases them away. He hates him some ducks and squirrels.