Friday, June 29, 2007

Whatever Happened to Judicial Restraint?

EJ Dionne calls the conservative wing of the Supreme Court “judicial activists”. He’s right. Talk of judicial restraint by conservatives was just that: talk.

I am not Transgendered, Not That There's Anything Wrong With It

O&A goofed on a Paula Zahn segment about a family with a transgendered 7 year old son. The family decided to let their son live as a girl and transferred him to a new school where nobody knew he was anatomically male. Evidently, the little tyke is happier wearing girls’ clothing and acting like a girl and playing with girls’ toys. They haven’t castrated him or subjected him to hormones or done anything irreversible, and I reckon that humoring the child in his desire to live as a girl is pretty loving on the part of the parents. They tried to make him play with trucks and be more boyish, but that just made him miserable.

There was a period of a few weeks when a prepubescent Vache Folle fantasized about what it would be like if he were transformed into one of those beautiful lingerie models in the Sears & Roebuck catalogue. He would wear only underwear and live in a colony with other 8 inch tall women in underwear. They would all luxuriate all day and night in their beautiful fancy unmentionables. I may have asked God to turn me into a tiny lingerie model, and I am thankful now that my prayer was not granted. There was nothing sexual about my fantasy. I hadn’t yet become sexual. I just thought the underwear was really special and that the models were so wonderful that I wanted to live in the catalogue world.

I didn’t mention my fantasy to my grandparents with whom I was living at the time. I didn’t think they would understand, and I didn’t want to lose access to the catalogue. The fantasy passed, and years later I began to think about the lingerie models very differently. I didn’t want to be a tiny underwear model in a colony; rather, I wanted to control a colony of tiny underwear models and use them for my sexual gratification. Then I put aside the tiny part and imagined full size lingerie models at my beck and call. I still have a thing for lingerie to this day, but I don’t have any obsession with smallness.

My grandparents couldn’t have fulfilled my stupid fantasy even if they had had a mind to. There’s no way to turn a seven year old into a tiny lingerie model, or at least the technology did not exist back in the 1960s. It wasn’t that I didn’t like being a boy or that I felt that I was really a tiny lingerie model trapped in a little boy’s body. I just thought for that brief period that tiny lingerie models had a much more interesting life than I had. Everybody would love them and want to be around them. I’m glad nobody found out and interpreted it as my being transgendered.

The parents in the Zahn piece have it on good authority that their child is transgendered, so I don’t think that they have misinterpreted their child’s desires. I don’t know what sex has to do with it in a 7 year old, but I don’t reckon that his wish to be a girl is necessarily related to sexual orientation. It would be interesting to see how this all plays out when the child develops secondary sex characteristics and experiences sexual attraction.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

There's Never an Iceberg When You Need One

Sadly, No! on the “Wingnut Boat”.

Time Preference

Some folks seem to think that every person has a “time preference”. Some have a long one and others have a short one. This doesn’t seem right to me. Most people I know have a time preference that varies with circumstances and wants. For example, if I want a cup of coffee, I generally want it now and will go get one without delay. If I am thinking of buying a house, I’ll put a lot of study into it and account for long term considerations. I don’t have an invariant time preference module in my brain, and I reckon nobody else does either except in some pathological cases.

Some folks sometimes remark that poor people have a short time preference, as if their poverty is attributable to an unwillingness or inability to delay gratification. Why rent to own an appliance when you would be better off saving up and buying it outright? If you’re poor, you know that you will never be able to save up for that appliance and that you will never get it if you go that route. Now your choice is get it or do without it. If you want it, you’re going to have to rent to own or buy it on time. The issue of time preference isn’t so simple.

Why have children out of wedlock when you are young instead of getting established and finding a husband first? Is it because you can’t think ahead? No way. You know that you are never going to find a husband who will stick by you and support you and your children. Marriage isn’t going to happen, and it wouldn’t make any difference if it did. Your husband isn’t likely to have job benefits and property. It makes no sense for you to delay childbearing because your opportunity costs are all but nonexistent. You want children, and you don’t have any good reason not to have them now. You aren’t failing to take the long view. In fact, you’re taking it and making rational decisions based on your prospects.

What a Libertarian Government Would Be Like

I have been thinking about Jake Witmer’s idea that a pro-freedom political party has to pretend to be statist to get elected, at which point it can do what it wants and screw the voters to whom it had pandered. That’s how the GOP has gotten libertarians to vote for it, by making libertarian noises in campaigns and then doing just the opposite when in power. They talk about values, and then rule corruptly and immorally. And the libertarians and the religious right fall for it every time. So maybe Jake has a point. Maybe libertarians could masquerade as authoritarians and get the votes of bedwetters and fascists and nannies in order to get elected. Once in power, they’d start abolishing whole departments and repealing scads of laws, all the while telling the public that this is for their security and safety.

I think the secret libertarians will have to seize power and keep it forever by establishing a dictatorship and imposing freedom on an unwilling populace. This will unfortunately involve a massive apparatus for internal security and surveillance and a system of re-education camps. We will want to federalize the schools and compel every student to undergo a curriculum of indoctrination in freedom and informing on statist neighbors and family members.

In order to enhance the legitimacy of the regime and reduce the costs associated with oppressing the people, we will have to maintain a system of entitlements and social programs for the benefit of the public. Let’s say a form of old age pension for every American and health insurance for everyone. That would buy a lot of complacency. Of course, to keep these costs under control, we would have to regulate the lifestyles of the people and take an interest in the minutest details of their lives.

We’ll need a huge defense apparatus to keep aliens from taking away our hard won freedom. We’d probably decide to fight them over there instead of waiting for them to attack. In any event, we’d need to keep the people terrorized so they won’t question what we are doing and will accept the freedom we are forcing on them. We’ll need to gin up fear of some vague and abstract threats.

How to pay for all this? A confiscatory income tax would probably be required. We wouldn’t want to tax people too heavily, because that might cause them to be less productive. We’ll need to figure out a formula for optimal tax rates to get the most out of the people. This is all for their own good, so they should be the ones to pay for it.

Ultimately, legitimacy might be enhanced by having a form of sham elections that give the people the illusion that they are choosing their rulers. We’d set up two ideologically indistinguishable parties that would put forward candidates from whom the people would choose at intervals.

Then we’ll have our libertarian utopia.

A Defense of "Mainstream Libertarians"

Jake Witmer took me to task in a comment on my post about Mainstream Libertarians. While I take issue with a number of his points and would point out that I have never had anything to do with the Libertarian Party, the comment was clearly well thought out and impassioned, so I’m posting it in its entirety:

“The losertarian faction of the Libertarian Party repeatedly nominates people who are the most radical in their foreign policy. I am a friend of Dondero's even though I don't agree with his stance on Iraq. I also favor limited military responses to terrorist training camps in Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

What Dondero says at Mainstream Libertarian is a watered down version of "libertarian". WHy is this both necessary and intelligent? To draw support from the masses of people who are, themselves, "watered down".

In case any of you radical yammerheads noticed, the libertarians usually get vastly less than 1% of any vote. To remedy this, we need to pander, without ideally running candidates who don't know they are pandering. It means doing damage to our enemy, "the omnipotent state". How much damage has any losertarian cost the government? Any government?

I know that the governments of MT, ID, OR, and MO were all put on the defensive by the stellar work that Dondero did on the eminent domain repeal petitions that Eric circulated there. Those petitions helped the people in those states keep their homes. It helped roll back overbearing, tyrannical government. It tied up the resources of morally corrupted judges while those States squealed and moaned about how it would "hurt their ability to plan their infrastructure".

But you guys don't see any of this, because it's dark --where your heads are-- inside your asses.

In 1984, the losertarians ran the most productive people out of the "bigger tent" party of 1980 -result -loserville (340,000 votes with bergland). The Arizona Party shot both its feet off with the same infighting, and overbearing radicalism. SO did the IL Party in 2005 (surrendering ballot access and major party status when all they needed to do was run candidates).

In short -- "Mainstream Libertarian" would not even exist if it weren't for 27 years of "vote for the most radical LP candidate over all others, not matter how much more likely their chances of victory are". The too-radical for victory crowd in the LP created the "watered down" libertarian approach out of sheer necessity.

Now then, I'm a radical libertarian. As such, I support everything that mainstream libertarian does. I support watering down the LP OVERTLY SPOKEN AND COMMUNICATED PHILOSOPHY --because "Americans" or what passes for them these days --- CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH.

Do I want to lose ALL of my freedoms because the Party I'm associated with isn't smart enough to pander (run people who say what it takes to get elected, then do as they please)? NO, I don't. If we have to lie to people who are pointing guns at us in order to not get shot --let's lie!


Simple lesson. This is the same reason that Ayn Rand was an idiot not to support the Libertarian Party, and David Kelley's "big tent" concept.

A pro-freedom party cannot be radical. But the people who run under it can.

Moreover, if I have a choice of decriminalize pot via electoral politics or say I'm going to decriminalize all drugs where that's not popular (and thereby decriminalize NOTHING), I'll choose the small victory.

Liberty loses ground to tryanny over the long term anyway, until the next revolution/rebellion.

Moreover, there are better ways to force the state to adopt liberty than elections. Elections are an advance auction of stolen goods, and as such those with the most to steal lose, and those with the most desire to steal gain. Guess which group has the greatest quantity and which has the greatest quality? ---It shouldn't be hard to see that stealing will be more popular.

If you want to cost the state money, in a direct way, RIGHT NOW, while pursuing an in-your-face radical strategy, GET A BUNCH OF FIJA material and get your ass to your local court of lies!

---Ooooops! That takes GUTS! YOu risk getting arrested! You actually have to KNOW YOUR SHIT to do that!

How many losertarians can and will do that?Virtually none.

Coincidentally, they also NEVER want to walk door-to-door in their districts. Or if they do, they don't want to MAKE SURE THEIR CANDIDATE WILL WIN.

That's always too much work.But sit around and bitch on the internet?

That's EASY. Lots of takers there!”

I reckon he told me. One question. To whom is Mainstream Libertarian pandering? Given that its candidate of choice is the fascist Rudy Giuliani, I’m guessing it’s frustrated libertarians that are being pandered to.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Another Reason to Buy Local

China closes 180 food factories due to shoddy and unsafe practices.

“Formaldehyde, illegal dyes, and industrial wax were found being used to make candy, pickles, crackers and seafood, it said, citing Han Yi, an official with the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, which is responsible for food safety.”

First they killed our dogs. Now they’re after us.

Dissolve the US!

The world would be a lot safer if the United States were abolished. When the Soviet Union broke up, most folks thought it was a good thing. Let’s follow their example and break up the United States. Let the states be independent countries.

How will we divide up all the federal loot? Let’s sell it all off and pay off some of the debt and obligations for pensions and the like and repudiate the rest as odious. The weapons and military installations we will want to destroy or distribute among the states for their militias.

Give DC back to Maryland and let Marylanders decide whether to raze the federal buildings and monuments. We’ll sell the embassies and foreign bases and let the states start over with diplomatic facilities of their own. The states can decide for themselves whether to join the UN or any alliances.

If we can’t dissolve the United States, we should at least kick out Connecticut and Texas.

Karen DeCoster is Proud of Her Huge Carbon Footprint

Karen DeCoster reckons that people who care about their carbon footprint are a bunch of Commies: “The latest craze for people who hate free markets and a rising standard of living for everyone is the obsession with the notion of one's ‘carbon footprint’." Karen refuses to feel any guilt about how much carbon she spews into the environment.

There’s nothing anti-free market or anti-prosperity about giving a shit about the environment and your fellow human beings, Karen. It’s an individual subjective preference, and in the example you cited it’s all being done in the free market. Nobody’s trying to make you stop drinking water from Fiji. Sure, they’re making some normative propositions with which you disagree, but you’re doing the same thing in your post by claiming that your preferences are superior to those of the people you are criticizing.

I prefer to support local merchants and farmers and to get as much stuff as I can from nearby. Ideally, I would like to know the person from whom I’m buying. There are a lot of good reasons for this preference. If I want small businesses in my community to flourish, and I do, I need to patronize them. I like to interact with other human beings on a more personal level. I think my food supply will be more secure and safer if it is produced by folks I know and who are more accountable to me than some anonymous producer far away. If I want farms in my community to prosper, and I do, I should support them with my consumer choices. And if I want to live more simply in order to keep from unduly screwing up the environment, one way to do that is to stick with local stuff with a lower cost of transport.

I think I am a better person for making these kinds of choices than someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about these things. As a believer in free markets, I don’t reckon that I am obliged to buy the cheapest thing available or to set aside my religious scruples when I consume. Hell, I’m way more powerful as a consumer than I am as a citizen. My choices as a consumer have much more of an impact on the world than my votes or my political activities. And I’m not going to be shy about sharing my views on these matters even if it makes people like Karen uncomfortable.

I recall some economics grad student telling me that my socially responsible investment choices were irrational because the return on investment was slightly lower than what I could get if I invested in evil. How could it be irrational when I was fulfilling my subjective preference to avoid participating in socially irresponsible businesses? It never occurred to the future economist that anyone would take morality into account in economic behavior, even though he was assuming that return on investment was a superior preference, itself a moral judgment.

It is insane, i.e. irrational, to buy water from Fiji if you are trying to fulfill subjective preferences about your impact on the world and other people. If you don’t give a shit, that’s your privilege. You can spew as much carbon as you like, but I don’t have to approve. You can be proud of your profligate ways if you like, but you can’t make me cheer you on. I get to tsk, tsk at you and bask in my moral superiority. You don’t get to question my commitment to free markets and prosperity, though.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

If the Office of the Veep Isn't In the Executive Branch, What Is It?

The Rude Pundit tells us what the office of the Vice President is. My favorite: “Because his office is not an entity in the executive branch, but actually a breach in the space/time continuum, Cheney is free to enter at will his own dimension, the realm of Cthulhu and the slime beasts.”

Psalm Singing

I was asked to lead music at church one Sunday in late July. In the summer, we cut down to one service, and the choir takes the summer off. We meet in a tent during part of the season.

I decided I would like to try to give the congregation a taste of what church music was like when our church was established 250 years ago. The church is celebrating its quarter of a millennium anniversary this year, and having some 18th century music might fit in with the festivities nicely.

It turns out that church music was pretty boring back in the day. They sang exclusively from a psalter, some version of the Geneva psalter Calvin liked so much. I’m going to go with English translations instead of subjecting the congregation to songs in Dutch. As far as I know, nobody speaks Dutch in the whole church. I’m also thinking of working up a kind of medley and having the choir director write harmonies. We’ll start with the plain old psalms in melody and then add some interest by bringing them up to date with harmony and instrumental accompaniment. Or maybe the choir director will veto the whole idea.

Maybe we should just go with the plain a cappella psalm singing. It really is beautiful just the way it was written.

Ill Fitting Labels

BW muses about labels. The best insight in my opinion: “ the end we are 6 billion people who view life 6 billion different ways.”

Every label I might apply to myself is inadequate or misleading. If I call myself a Christian, I will probably get lumped in with some people whose religion bears very little resemblance to mine. You know, the ones Barry Obama says have “hijacked” religion. I have adopted the term “Christianist” (I don’t remember who coined this expression) for them because they use the name of Jesus Christ but don’t seem to know much about Him or His teachings.

If I say I am Dutch Reformed, almost nobody will know what this even means. Some folks will know the TULIP mnemonic perhaps. I’ve forgotten what the LIP part stands for. If I say I am a Calvinist, I will definitely be misunderstood by most folks. I blame Weber.

I am an anarchist, but I don’t know if I fit any of the subcategories of anarchism because I just don’t know much about them. I’m all for business and entrepreneurship, but I have come to have a lot of contempt for big conglomerates. I’m for free markets and free enterprise, but I don’t give a rat’s patootie about “capitalism”. I don’t worship WalMart. I prefer to buy stuff from local merchants and farmers when I can.

I am a Southerner, but I don’t get NASCAR. I don’t hunt or fish. I do eat fried foods and grits, and I talk with a twang, especially when I’m drunk. I occasionally have taters with breakfast, something my father considers a barbaric Yankee practice. If I have to read out loud, my accent kicks in for some reason. I have learned to speak Standard English and can conceal my regional origins if I wish. I’m pretty sure pro wrestling is fake.

I’m a Celtic-Anglo Saxon-German-Huguenot-Prussian-Dutch-Cherokee American, but I can pass for a WASP in a pinch. I’m a cracker and a redneck, but I have had a lot of book learning, and I prefer wine to beer. I hated “Smokey and the Bandit”. I like French movies.

Just when you think you have me pegged, I throw you a curve. Would you have been able to predict that I am a cricket fan?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Quote of the Week

"Every human government uses the substance, the time, the service of the subjects to enrich, gratify the appetites and lusts, and to promote the grandeur and glory of the rulers. And it is not true that in democratic or any other kind of governments the people themselves are rulers. They choose the rulers, at the instigation of a few interested leaders, then these rulers rule for their own selfish good and glory as other rulers do."

David Lipscomb

McMansions Suck

I missed the East Fishkill Republican Caucus last week because I was out of town. I know this because I got a letter from a would-be candidate for the board of supervisors. His pet peeve seems to be that water and sewer service have not been “standardized and regulated” and that, horror of horrors, some people have private contractors providing water and sewer service. This is a Republican, mind you.

He also has a scheme to limit further development by buying up empty land so nobody can put in more McMansions. The fact is that the McMansions aren’t selling like they used to, so development is liable to slow down in any event without the town’s robbing its subjects to buy land. Lots of McMansions are in foreclosure, so it makes little business sense to go ahead with any new subdivisions at this point. Of course, some development projects in the works will probably go ahead because of sunk costs. Mortgage rates are up, so buying power is down. One of my neighbors is taking a huge loss on his house that he bought mid-boom and has to sell during the bust.

That’s the way real estate goes: boom and bust. Some poor slobs always get into the boom too late and lose their shirts. They think the boom will go on forever or at least until they cash in. Here’s a handy rule of thumb: If I buy real estate, the boom is just about over.

What is the lure of the McMansion? They’re big is all. They’re right on top of each other, so there’s no privacy, and there are no mature trees. The commutes are long, and the mortgage payments are a big nut to cover. McMansions in East Fishkill run $750K to $1 mm or more. Taxes are high and getting higher all the time. Folks have little time to enjoy their monstrous houses, and they definitely don’t have much chance to get involved with the community. The houses want a lot of furniture and are expensive to heat and cool. The workmanship is often shoddy. It’s probably not worth it in the end to have the extra square footage. At least that’s how I look at it. Evidently, McMansion buyers think otherwise. They’re ruining the town. I bought an existing house and replaced a resident, so my impact on the town was neutral.

If there are lots of empty McMansions in the subdivisions due to foreclosures and slow sales, will the neighborhoods go to seed? Will tweakers squat in the vacant houses, or will renters move in? Eventually, the houses will be divided into apartments and the lawns paved over for parking. East Fishkill will become Yonkers, and residents will move to Vermont to get away from the blight and sprawl. They’ll commute via teleporter.

Vacation's Over

I had a fun and relaxing week at Virginia Beach, even with the kid. I have to admit that he was not all that bad, but spending a week with him still validated my decision to live childfree or die.

We did the usual stuff. I got a massage at the Edgar Cayce Center. It was a little unusual in that I have never before had my brow ridges or belly fat massaged. I noted in the waiting room that one of the Cayce Center’s axioms was “Be the change you want to see.” I mulled that one over for a couple of days, and it’s still rattling around in my mind. I don’t really even know what changes I want to see, so I don’t know what to be.

I have been way too complacent and seem to have embraced mediocrity.

The company I work for is on the block. The future is uncertain. I could be out of a job in a few months. Now I wish I hadn’t sunk all that money in new bathrooms. The bastards in management knew about this for months and kept it from the employees. I don’t believe anything they say anymore.

Maybe this will be the kick in the pants I need. Or maybe it will lead to ruination. I could turn to the bottle and take up the life of a drifter, something I had planned on doing back when I was a teenager before I got sidetracked with college and law school and jobs and such like. Maybe I will get another pointless, soul destroying corporate gig. Maybe I’ll move to West Virginia and hang out a shingle. I’m a pretty good fry cook, so I’ve always got that going for me.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Off to Virginia Beach/Back on 6/25

I'm off for a week's vacation in Virginia Beach. I hope to take in some of the festivities surrounding the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown colony, but I aim mainly to lounge around a lot and eat seafood.

We're taking Mrs Vache Folle's middle nephew, who will turn twelve on the trip. I don't know what we were thinking when we agreed to take him, but he is our favorite of the three brothers. He had better not be whiny. I'll put him on a bus back to Wilkes-Barre at the drop of a hat.

Why Karl Rove is Always Smirking

I have always wondered why Karl Rove always has what we like to call down South a “shit eating grin” all the time. Then I realized it’s because he has to say shit like this:

“You know, the Bush doctrine—‘Feed a terrorist, arm a terrorist, train a terrorist, fund a terrorist, you’re just as bad as a terrorist,’ ” he said. “It’s going to remain our national doctrine, and it’s going to be very difficult, I think, if not impossible, to dismiss this, just as it will be to dismiss the doctrine of preĆ«mption. In the future, the country is not going to let the dangers fully materialize, and we’re not going to allow ourselves to be attacked before we do anything about it. The question was, did we have the right intelligence about Saddam Hussein? No. Was it the right thing to do? Yes.”

It’s just not possible to say this kind of thing with a straight face. The irony of it has got to have the man on the verge of pants pissing hysteria. He had to have practiced saying that for days before he could get it out before losing it. Karl knows that his own government has, is, and will feed, arm, train, and fund terrorists whenever it suits them. He’s basically admitting that his government is as bad as a terrorist.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

You Can Alter Reality With Your Thoughts. Who Knew?

Money is magnetic energy. You are a magnet attracting to you all things, via the signal you are emitting through your thoughts and feelings. Discover how to become a powerful magnet for the creation of personal wealth. Relationships can be completely transformed, no matter what it's like right now. Learn how to transform every single relationship you have in your life. Concerned about your health? Explore ways to open yourself up and become a powerful magnet to wellness and health starting from wherever you are now.

It turns out, according to these guys who make money talking about “The Secret”, that you can get what you want by thinking about it hard enough. This is more than positive thinking. They reckon that you can alter reality with your thoughts. It’s based on science. They have some quantum physicists on board who will explain it to you for a fee.

I’m a skeptic. If thinking about something a lot and intensely attracts it to you, I would be beating beautiful women off with a stick. I’d also be wealthy beyond anyone’s dreams and would have superpowers and the ability to travel through time. I fantasize about those things constantly. I’m open to having these fantasies come true, but they haven’t. Perhaps you have to attend a seminar or buy the tapes to figure out how to think properly.

Another flaw in the whole scheme is that you can’t really will yourself to believe something. Belief is involuntary. In order to will myself to believe that a gob of money is coming my way, I have to become delusional. I’ll be happy, what with my ship coming in any day now, but eventually I’ll be very disappointed. I bet after a seminar, I’d be pretty enthusiastic, but this would wane. I’d have to go to another seminar to get a fix. Pretty soon, I’d be at seminars and The Secret clubs all the time just to bolster my irrational belief system.

Oh, wait. I forgot. It’s based on science. Once the scientists explain it, I’d believe it wholeheartedly to be sure.

Then the trouble would be that I would have only myself to blame for being a loser. Here I’d be, armed with the knowledge that I could transform reality with my thoughts, and yet I’d still be the same broke ass schmendrick as ever. I must really suck as a human being if I don’t get real rich and real happy real quick.

Why are rich people on average more content with the social and economic order of things? Why are they so damned positive? Is it because of their sunny outlook that they have prospered? Or could it be that they approve of the system because they are thriving in it?

You have got to check out some of the teachers of The Secret. One is described only as a “Visionary”. Another is listed as a “Philosopher” but he’s really a chiropractor and motivational speaker.

Yes Indeed, I am a Journalist. Why Do You Ask?

Scott Gant writes favorably in WaPo of potential federal legislation shielding “journalists” and granting them certain privileges of non-disclosure.

The most interesting feature of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 is its broad definition of a journalist: Per Gant, “[t]he bill's safeguards apply to anyone engaged in ‘the gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.’ " This differs from prior proposals which limited the definition of journalist to professionals engaged by established news organizations.

Gant: “As journalism returns to its status as an activity rather than a profession, it is appropriate to rethink what it means, and consider carefully how non-traditional journalists should be treated compared to those who work for established news organizations.”

Gant has nailed it. Journalism is an activity, and it benefits in my opinion from its being snatched from professionals and dispersed throughout the internet. The amateurs and upstarts have done a much better job than the pros in the last few years.

Professionalization of any activity benefits only the insiders in the guild. The activity becomes less creative, less valuable to consumers, and more expensive. The example of journalism’s morphing into court stenography and its being salvaged by amateurs on the internet demonstrates what good things might happen if other activities were de-professionalized.

Will the broad definition of journalist make it into the final bill? If not, the whole thing should be scuttled. If Congress wants to reprofessionalize journalism and favor the lap dog media, one of the best ways to do this is to grant special privileges to the pros and establish credentialing criteria that cuts out the citizen journalist. This would have the effect of stifling the flow of information. It wouldn’t be the first time that a law had an ironic title.

Quote of the Week

“One thing you don’t want to be in France is waterfowl—they find more ways to fuck you up if you’re a goose or a duck.” Steve Earle

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Libertarians for Collectivism

Wally Conger takes on “pragmatic libertarians” and likens “pragmatism” to a sickness. Pragmatism is taken to mean being “practical” about bringing about a free society, i.e. taking baby steps and shooting for incremental change. The critique does not so much pertain to pragmatism as a philosophy, and I reckon that a radical libertarian might be a pragmatist in the sense of emphasizing practice over ideology.

Mr Conger’s foil is one Pete McAlpine, who wrote:

“Some years ago, I came to the conclusion that collectivism is the natural order of human existence. Collectives are real, not imaginary as many individualists would like to think. Collectives, from tribes to nations to civilizations, are real, held together by force, threat of force, memes and/or maybe even morphic resonance. Collectives are macro biological organisms. Individualism plays little or no role in the primal bloody processes which give rise to them.”

Collectives are imaginary in the sense that they have no existence outside the minds of individuals who comprise them or must cope with them. I don’t think anyone thinks they aren’t real. A collective is an organizing principle or meme complex which informs individual behavior and which is used strategically by individuals.

For example, I may appeal to my kinsman based on considerations of “family” to assist me in some manner, and he may be persuaded by this argument to do so. We are still individuals acting as individuals although there has passed between us the legitimizing discourse of the “family” and the kinds of claims kin may make on one another. On the other hand, my kinsman may have come to regard such claims as negotiable, in which case he might not be so readily persuaded or might require assurances of reciprocity.

The state which claims me as a subject may argue that I owe a duty to serve in its armed forces and to put myself in danger as a “patriot”. If I have been sufficiently indoctrinated, I may be persuaded that this is the case and be willing to risk life and limb in furtherance of the agenda of the ruling elite. I am no less an individual in doing this. It’s just that I am a deluded individual infected with a viral meme complex that makes me believe that I am obligated to the state, that this abstraction is pursuing its interests, and the ruling elites also promote the interests of the collective rather their own.

If I am less well indoctrinated, the state will have to compel me to serve, employing indoctrinated or self interested thugs to threaten me with violence if I do not comply. It is much less expensive and inconvenient to rule me if I can be programmed to regard the state and its claims on me as legitimate. Having to use force is a manifestation of problems with maintaining legitimacy. If I resist or acquiesce, I do so as an individual. The thugs who menace me are also individuals acting for their own reasons.

It is the calling of the radical to problematize collectives predicated on force, not to embrace them. Perhaps it is the fate of humanity to evolve into a hive mind, but I do not aim to promote such a development. There is nothing unnatural about or wrong with collectives per se. Of course, humans will band together for mutual aid and society. What libertarians rightly object to are collectives based on violence and the creation and maintainence of a delusional populace.

Collectivism is pathological, a debilitating cognitive disorder, and libertarians, once cured of it, ought not to risk reinfection in the name of being practical.

Morphic resonance? Please. Whether you examine humans on the cellular level, as individuals, as parts of societies, as parts of the biosphere, as parts of any larger system depends on what you are trying to determine. Humans are collections of cells, individuals, members of societies and parts of larger systems. We are not, as a factual proposition, more of one of these than another. We choose to think about humanity in one or more of these ways for our own purposes. For me, my life as an individual is the most significant, and I'd wager that most folks have a similar personal outlook. When I was an anthropologists, sometimes I would look at a collective rather than individuals. If I were an evolutionary psychologist, I might take an interest in the whole species and its relationship to its environment. If I were a planetologist, I might look at how humans fit into the whole system. From a political standpoint, whether you emphasize the individual or the collective says a lot more about you than about humanity.

"It's pronounced ahs-wee-pay!"

Steve Scott reckons most folks wouldn’t name their daughter Jezebel because of its association with a wicked woman in the Bible. I looked it up on, and it turns out that there are quite a few women named Jezebel, mostly Hispanic. It would be almost unthinkable for non-Hispanics to name a child Jesus, but Hispanics seem to have no qualms about it. I don’t know why Jesus is a taboo name in some ethnic categories, but I speculate that anyone named Jesus might be seen as uppity. It’s the same reason so few people are named Jehovah. There is a Jehovah H. Jesus listed in the Milwaukee directory, but I bet his parents didn’t name him that.

There aren’t many Satans or Lucifers running around, for obvious reasons, and we all recognize that names go in and out of fashion. When I was a kid, Debbies abounded. Now you’re more likely to run into a Tyler than a Debbie.

My ancestors used to adhere loosely to a naming convention in which the sons were named according to birth order after the paternal grandfather, the maternal grandfather, the father, and then up to great grandfathers and so on. Daughters were named for their maternal grandmother, paternal grandmother, mother, and so on. Names would repeat over generations, and this is helpful in researching genealogy.

Nowadays parents seem to give no heed to family tradition and pick names with no family history. By chance alone, my names have antecedents among my ancestors. My folks didn’t know about these ancestors when they named me. In fact, I was named after Dennis the Menace because my father was reading the funny pages in the waiting room when I was born and thought Dennis the Menace was especially amusing that day. My parents had agreed on Christopher, so there was some bother about the last minute change, and neither of my parents ever called me Dennis much. My mother called me Christopher, and my father called me Toby, a nickname I abandoned after the miniseries roots caused me to be subjected to merciless ribbing that I should insist on “Kunta Kinte”.

I have heard folks talk about how they came up with names for their kids. In many cases it was a process of elimination. Names would have bad associations personal to the parents, and they couldn’t bring themselves to use them. For example, I reckon Penelope is a lovely name, but I can’t help associating it with a really mean fat girl who stabbed me in the hand with a pencil in the 6th grade. Mrs Vache Folle and I both have ancestors named Jemimah, and that would make a nice name for a daughter if we ever had one. The trouble is that Aunt Jemimah, the syrup huckster, has ruined the name for me.

I have a string of Nimrods in my ancestry (Audie Murphy had the same ancestors), but it would be tough to be named Nimrod these days. bk marcus explained this in a post last April. Bugs Bunny is to blame.

I favor the classics in naming myself. Give me a Mary, a Margaret or an Elizabeth any day over a Heather, a Tyler, or a Rhiannon. Of course, I’d have to call them Polly, Peggy or Patsy according to tradition.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Alternatives to the Crappy "Debates"

Why do they call the mindless Q&A sessions among candidates on TV “debates”? These guys aren’t debating one another; they’re mostly just throwing up slogans and talking points. Half the time, they don’t even address the questions from the reporters. I don’t think I would learn anything useful from the “debates” even if I actually watched them, which I quit doing some time ago. There have got to be better ways to get to the candidates’ positions and values. I have a few ideas myself.

Let’s have candidates go on the Actor’s Studio and be interviewed by the professor. They’d intersperse clips of old speeches and political oeuvre and get the candidates to open up about their philosophy of politicking and their methods. Politicians are, after all, just like actors. They pretend to be statesmen and give largely scripted utterances. Those who can do improvisational material well are much admired but rare.

Let’s have the candidates live together in a house with cameras everywhere and see how they interact. You can learn a lot about people from their day to day dealings with others, especially their rivals. We’ll find out pretty quickly who is the biggest douchebag. We’ll give them tests of leadership and see how they do. One week, a candidate will be responsible for putting on a fashion show. The next week, another will have to cater a wedding reception. Let’s see how they handle these tasks before we entrust them with the fate of the world.

I think we would learn more from a program of “Dancing With the Candidates” than we do from the “debates”.

Let’s have the candidates sit in on panel discussions with former presidents and high officials from the US and abroad and run through various scenarios. Then we’ll have the panelists critique them and question them.

Let’s have the candidates go on the show “Thank God You’re Here” only with actors improvising a crisis of some kind and calling on the candidate for leadership. The candidate won’t know what the scenario will be until he walks onto the set.

The possibilities are endless: “Candidates’ Cribs”, “Amazing Presidential Race”, “Candidates’ Fear Factor”, and so on. Every single one of these ideas would be more useful to the electorate than the “debates”.

Monday, June 11, 2007

More Flawed Moral Reasoning

I recently had another one of those weird conversations in which one of my conspecifics failed to recognize the moral equivalency of morally equivalent scenarios. He went off on how a suicide bomber is an immoral murderer while military killers are not. Here’s the scenario I put to him.

Ali the Jihadist goes into a grammar school in Baghdad and blows himself up, killing 100 children and some faculty in the process. Stone cold murderer? No question. The US military finds out that Ali the Jihadist is in a grammar school in Baghdad and lobs a missile on it, killing Ali, 100 students and some faculty members. Stone cold murderers? Of course not, says my conspecific. The US military didn’t intend to kill the children. They were just “collateral damage”, whereas Ali the suicide bomber set out to kill the children. That made all the moral difference in the world to him.

The US military in my scenario, and in actual cases in which collateral damage is inflicted, knew about the presence of the children, knew that they would be killed in the operation to get Ali, and carried out the attack with this knowledge. How can anyone plausibly claim an absence of intent under these circumstances? Both Ali the suicide bomber and the US military considered the children expendable in furtherance of their political agendas.

Flag Day, Schmag Day

My town has gone all out for Flag Day. In the same way that it hangs wreaths on power poles at Christmas, it puts a USG flag on just about every pole. You aren’t going to get confused about which gang’s territory you are in while driving through East Fishkill.

Why would Flag Day be such a big deal for East Fishkill? No useful town purpose is served by displaying all those flags, and I suspect that someone on the town council owns a flag store. Anyway, it makes me grind my teeth (newly braceless by the way) to think about how money was robbed from me to pay for those damned flags and for personnel to install them and take them down when flag season is over.

It’s officially “National Flag Day” since it is supposed to commemorate the adoption of the national flag in 1777. Since I have stopped believing in the legitimacy of the United States government, I won’t be flying any US flag on Flag Day or any day for that matter. If you see me with a US flag, you’ll also see me with a box of matches.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

PhDs = Evil

Black Guile reckons the PhD system is f***ked up. He’s right on the money.

"It has to be pretty clear, therefore, that the point of a PhD is not to provide more education. It's to filter out all characters who might question the (state-backed) schooling machine, and to assure that the leftovers are sufficiently broken and cowed to keep their eyes on their own little area of knowledge, not look around, and not ask any threatening questions."

Historical Precedents for an Attack on Iran

If the US attacks Iran, the Iranian people will rise up and overthrow their government. How do I know this? History. Remember after Pearl Harbor when the American people revolted and lynched FDR? Or when the British invaded in the War of 1812, Americans begged to be taken back under British rule. They greeted the redcoats with Union Jacks and flowers. Remember how the people of Britain overthrew their government when the Germans started lobbing rockets at them? How about the way the Russians toppled the Czar when Napoleon marched on Moscow?

My Parents Were Right. I Never Amounted to Anything.

It hit me today that I am probably never going to have a trophy wife. Even if I get rid of the current Mrs Vache Folle at some point, I didn’t turn out to be successful enough to attract a trophy wife. Also, I can’t afford to keep a wife who does not work, and it seems to me that trophy wives are looking to be kept. In any event the current Mrs Vache Folle is way better than I could do on the market if I were single. I could have done a whole lot worse, let me tell you.

I also realized that I am never going to participate in a threesome. I never have done, and there’s no prospect for it to happen in the future unless I hire two professionals to work me over. I never seem to have enough extra money to spend on prostitutes and I don’t even know where to find one where I live now, so I should just kiss the threesome dream goodbye.

I am never going to win the lottery, so I should probably take the lottery winnings out of my retirement planning picture. Retire? I doubt it. I will have to work until I die.

I will never even be nominated for an Academy Award. I will never write a novel or epic poem.

There are lots of things that I am never going to do. Most of them I never planned on doing, like scaling El Capitan or riding a bull in the rodeo, but some of them I always imagined I would accomplish. I wanted to learn to fly but it is unlikely that I will. I wanted to learn to play the banjo, but it smacks of effort and is unlikely to happen. I always meant to compete in a triathlon, but now I am too out of shape even to think about it. I dreamed of running for the school board, but now I can’t be bothered. I never saved anyone’s life. I never made a difference in a child’s life except to contribute to their need for therapy in the future. I doubt that I will. I just don’t have it in me.

I should just face it. I’m going to go to the office, come home and putter in the garden, watch TV and surf the web. And then I’ll die, unloved and unremembered. In heaven, I’ll have to live for eternity with the knowledge that I was a useless drone my whole life.

There's Nothing Wrong With Being Negative When the Situation Calls For It

One concept that I encountered frequently in my studies of the West Indies and West Indians was “negativity”. Negativity, it is said, perpetuates all kinds of social ills. You’ve got to be “positive” to get anything accomplished. It’s a load of crap, of course, but it is said so often that folks actually start to believe it. Charges of negativity are most often used to stifle criticism and to make victims of social ills blame themselves.

While it is fitting to try to keep on the sunny side of life, it makes no sense to deny that problems exist or to obscure their causes, unless you are the cause. I have known quite a few managers who regard any kind of complaint or criticism as manifesting a “bad attitude” even when the criticism or complaint is well founded. There is no problem except for the critic and his pesky negativity. Problem solving skills get you nowhere, whereas a sunny disposition counts for a lot.

Among West Indians, the concept of negativity serves to keep people in their places and to perpetuate the status quo. The so called “barrel crab mentality” is blamed for a lack of social mobility. Like crabs in a barrel, where any crab that is about to escape gets pulled down by the others, West Indians supposedly prevent their peers from succeeding by “talking them down”. The mechanism by which this negative talk works its magic has never been described to me, and I am a skeptic when it comes to claims about “mentality”. The fact is that there are plenty of barriers to social mobility in West Indian society that have nothing to do with the mentality of would be social climbers. Pointing these barriers out gets you labeled as “negative” and a “barrel crab”.

The same myth prevailed in New Town, the African American section of my hometown. Black folks couldn’t get ahead because other black folks wouldn’t let them. It wasn’t segregation and racism at all. They had only themselves to blame.

In 1999, one of the contestants in the Barbados calypso contest took the concept of negativity and turned it on its head in her social commentary. She dressed as a nurse and sang a piece entitled “Are You Positive?” She was referring to HIV, which was a huge problem that nobody wanted to talk about. She was able to comment on it by using the call for “positivity” in a novel way. Social commentary in calypso is one of the few acceptable outlets for complaints about society. Calypso artists can be as negative as they like as long as they put it to a happy tune.

Joel Osteen and his ilk are looking to get all kinds of people to blame themselves for their problems and to accept whatever crap we are fed with a smile on our faces and a song in our hearts. “You’re dying of pancreatic cancer? Look on the bright side. The man who died from it yesterday would love to be in your shoes!”

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Bugs in Our Morality Modules

I have been reading lately about how some basic moral judgments seem to be “hard wired” in our brains. It makes sense that some behaviors and attitudes would be more conducive to living in social groups than others and that these would be favored by both natural and sexual selection. If a moral judgment is innate, it is not necessarily superior. It turns out that our moral reasoning module is flawed and inconsistent.

I tried a couple of experiments on some of my conspecifics to see if they made moral judgments similar to the subjects of the experimenters I had been reading about. I asked them to imagine that a trolley was out of control and was bound to kill five track workers unless they turned a switch and diverted it, in which case it would kill only one person. Everyone agreed that it would be morally right to turn the switch, and some even argued that there was a moral duty to act. Then I asked them to imagine that they were chief of staff at a hospital where five patients faced immediate death unless they received transplants of various organs. Would it be morally permissible to kill one healthy person and distribute his organs to save the five patients? Of course not, my subjects protested.

I asked them what was different about the two scenarios. They hemmed and hawed. One declared that the transplant scenario was uncertain, that there was a chance the patients would die anyway. If it were completely certain to save lives, presumably it would be okay to harvest organs over the objections of the owner.

The second scenario I asked them to imagine involved their waking up to find that another human being had been attached to them and was sharing their kidneys. He was a famous concert pianist who would die unless he got to use their kidneys for nine months. There was some risk of injury or death to them from the process, but such complications were rare. Would it be right to demand that the pianist be detached? Everyone agreed that it would be. Would it be right to demand that he be detached if they had initially volunteered for the process but changed their minds after a couple of months? Not so much according to my conspecifics.

The parallels to abortion were not lost on my subjects, but they generally likened it to the scenario with the volunteer. If a woman had been impregnated involuntarily, however, that would be a different matter for some. For others, who framed the issue in terms of the “right to life”, the voluntariness did not seem to matter. What about the pianist’s right to life? The hard-core right to lifers could not reconcile their views.

It happens every day that morally equivalent scenarios are treated differently. If I deliver an explosive device to a target via an automobile, I am a murderous car bomber. If I deliver it via a missile, I am a heroic service member. This is true even if the targets are identical. If I rob you of your money through thinly veiled threats of violence and spend it on tennis lessons, I am a criminal. If I compel you by governmental process to pay for tennis lessons in your community, I am a public-spirited community leader. If I shoot a hundred thousand innocent people in the head in order to terrorize their government into submission, I am a mass murder and a terrorist. If I kill them all at once with a nuke, that’s okay. If I am a soldier or a policeman, I am justified in killing an entire household in order to avoid the most miniscule risk to myself, but if I am a pregnant woman I must accept even greater risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth rather than terminate the pregnancy.

We’re apparently hard wired to get it wrong much of the time. We are way too susceptible to moral trickery.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Culture of Poverty

Back when I was an anthropology undergrad, the “Culture of Poverty” concept had not yet been branded politically incorrect and stripped of all respectability. We got to study it in some depth. I didn’t like the concept, not so much because I thought it was condescending, but because I thought it took the term “culture” way too far and got things backwards.

It is a fact that poor people have different challenges and must use different strategies to get by than more affluent folks. The existential similarities of poverty lead to similar adaptations, and this may appear to outside observers as a kind of “culture” in which an ethos of poverty is transmitted from person to person and from generation to generation. Poverty produces these social phenomena, and while they may appear to outsiders to reinforce or perpetuate poverty, the social phenomena do not in fact cause poverty.

Some of my conspecifics simply deem poor people irrational and/or immoral because they do not understand the choices poor folks make. Why don’t those poor people get checking accounts instead of using costly check cashing services? Why don’t they save up to buy a TV instead of renting to own? Why do they have children they obviously can’t afford instead of waiting until they are financially established and married? These questions wouldn’t even make sense to the impoverished. Almost everything poor folks do is completely rational within the context of poverty.

I have also heard many folks talk about the “short time horizon” of poor folks as if time horizon was a fixed characteristic. Time horizon varies within individuals as much as it does between individuals. I want some things right now. Some things are for the longer term. I don’t have a generalized all purpose time horizon applicable to every desire. Nobody does. In the context of poverty, thinking in the long term often makes no sense at all. You’d better enjoy what you can right now and take advantage of immediate opportunities because you are not going to be able to set anything aside for a rainy day. Every day is a rainy day when you are poor.

If you are poor, it does not pay to be ambitious or hopeful. Odds are, you will be poor until your dying day. You are probably not going to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and escape from your poverty. You are deluded if you think differently, and you will be whole lot happier if you accept your condition and get on with the business of being poor. If you pooh pooh the ambitions or dreams of your neighbor, you are not trying to bring him down. You’re not guilty of “negativity”. You’re just telling the truth. So enjoy a 40 and buy some lottery tickets and find whatever pleasures you can. I don’t blame you at all. I reckon I’d do the same in your position.
You are not doing poor people any favors by repeating the myth of social mobility or holding out the promise that schooling is an escape route. Very few will become professional athletes or entertainers or bosses of organized crime syndicates. A handful will move up to lower middle class status. Everyone else will stay poor, and the myth of mobility will just make them feel worse about it.

Jesus said that there would always be poor people. Jesus loved them and was particularly solicitous of the poor. I cannot, therefore, despise them and call myself a disciple of Jesus. That there appears to be a strong correlation between poverty and low general intelligence by no means renders the poor despicable. On the contrary, we are endowed with whatever intelligence we will ever have from infancy, and we deserve no more credit or blame for this characteristic than we do for our height or bone structure. A society that makes no allowances for the third of its members that aren’t smart is a failure. The neglected members are not failures.

It does not surprise me when my conspecifics despise the poor, but I cringe when libertarians are contemptuous of the poor. Some of them seem to envision a “free society” wherein everyone gets only the justice and security he can afford. The affluent will be free and will get to lord it over the poor who won’t be so free. The poor will be useful as serfs, albeit under voluntary contracts of serfdom. I see the poor as the principal beneficiaries of freedom. They will be liberated from barriers to entry into small business, liberated from the burdens imposed by the state, liberated from dependency on the state, liberated from surveillance and an oppressive criminal justice apparatus, and they will benefit greatly from the free flow of wealth that was once diverted to the state’s destructive purposes. They will also find that their neighbors will be able to be more generous and charitable in times of need.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Immigrants Ruined America

Immigration is on the minds of my conspecifics lately. Some want to put a stop to immigration altogether and to deport all 12 million or so illegal aliens. They don’t have anything against individual aliens personally, or so they claim, but they feel that immigration is ruining the country.

The irony is that the most virulent immigrant bashers among my conspeciifcs are immigrants themselves, being children or grandchildren of some of the unwashed masses that made their way through Ellis Island. Immigrants ruining the country? It’s too late to worry about that now. The Ellis Islanders already took care of that. The influx of millions of people from authoritarian countries with no heritage of freedom probably did not do anything to strengthen the American ethos of liberty and personal responsibility. Is it a coincidence that the decline of America into a majoritarian tyranny and nanny state accelerated in the decades after the arrival of the Ellis Islanders?

If we want to reverse the deleterious impact of immigration, we will need to deport the descendants of the Ellis Islanders. Here’s what I propose. Let’s deport anyone who did not have at least one ancestor in what would become the United States by at least 1861. I am willing to give the descendants of Potato Famine refugees a chance to assimilate, but we should review their status in the next ten years or so and give them the boot if they don’t make progress.

Pond News

Mrs Vache Folle bought me some new orange comets to replace the ones that were eaten by the heron a few weeks ago. I had forgotten how tiny they are when you buy them at the pet store. They joined the population of non-orange comets which were born in the pond and make them all easier to see by their presence in the schools. The lilies are big enough now to shelter them from airborne predation, and next spring I aim to put in some floating cover to make up for the absence of the lily pads.

May was so dry that the streams quit running, so I suspended sludge removal operations and raised the water level by repairing the weir. I had split some of the lilies and spread them out, and these are all thriving and fixing to bloom. Water hyacinths have been hard to come by, but the five specimens I was able to find have doubled in size over the last couple of weeks. The pickerel weeds that got buried in sand look as if they are trying to spring back to life. If Jasper would quit stepping on them when he chases frogs that would be a big help.

We have trained Jasper to hunt frogs only in the shallow end of the pond and to avoid the deep end on the other side of the central berm. That keeps the lilies intact and keeps Jasper from most encounters with Brad and the other water snakes. Most of the wildlife prefers the deep side, so I find the vast majority of tadpoles, salamanders and fish in that area. I stumbled on a crayfish walking across the front yard on Saturday, so I introduced him to the pond. The previous representative of the crustaceans, Lefty the crawdad, had died in early May, perhaps a victim of my aggressive sludge removal campaign. We had turtles a couple of years ago, but they never came back. Jasper probably makes the pond rater uninviting for them. He won’t let ducks hang around, either.

I put the pond sludge along the creek bank to raise it and the yard extending out from it for about 15 feet a foot or so. Mrs Vache Folle tossed some grass seed on it and neglected it. Naturally, it is now quite grassy. Since I suspended the sludge removal, the project of raising this low spot is incomplete, but I hope to finish it in October.

I bolstered the sides of the pond on either side of the weir with more liner and big rocks, so I am hoping that fall and spring stormwater will be contained and channeled into the weir instead of running over the pondside perennial beds. We’ll see if it works.

Big Doings at the Historical Society

I attended the grand opening of my town’s historical society’s recently relocated and restored one room schoolhouse. There was a band, and some guy from the historical society expounded on the history of schooling in the town. There were quite a few old folks who had attended one room schoolhouses, and I was surprised to learn that one room schoolhouses had been the norm in the town until the 1950s. Dutchess County must really have been the boondocks back in the day. Even my pitiful impoverished Appalachian community in North Georgia had multiple room schoolhouses in the 1950s.

There is still an operating one room schoolhouse not far from where I live, and it serves children of the members of the Bethel Baptist Church in Shenandoah Corners. The head teacher spoke briefly at the event.

This particular structure is believed to date from about 1820. The society did a great job of moving it and restoring it. It joins the Palen homestead, an18th century farmhouse restored and furnished with period furniture, and a carriage barn complete with some old sleighs and carriages. All these historical society resources are situated in the midst of an ordinary subdivision, and I would never have known about it if the head of the society hadn’t filled me in. It’s a pretty impressive set up for a small town historical society.

I am thinking of joining the society since I am a history buff, but I have some concerns. The opening of the schoolhouse included a flag raising, the pledge of allegiance and the singing of the national anthem, all gratuitous jingoism having nothing to do with the event or the purposes of the society. Also, I learned in conversation that the society is funded mostly by the town, that is its activities are paid for with money extracted from the subjects of the town by force. I am given to understand that the society aims to become independent of tax dollars, and I reckon that is a worthy goal. I am still mulling over the ethical angle.

My town has a full time historian on the payroll. I did not know that. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what an official town historian is for. Perhaps she is responsible to revise history in order to bolter the agenda of the current town regime.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Another Thing to Fret About: Black Death

That plague infected monkey in Denver got me to wondering how you would know if you had the Black Death instead of the flu or that bug that’s been going around the office. So I looked up the symptoms, and the main initial ones are swollen and sore glands. Now every time I get a swollen gland, I’m going to worry about whether I have bubonic plague. Then again, I am descended from people who didn’t die of the plague the last several times it raged through Europe, so I can be somewhat optimistic that I could survive it.

I never should have looked up the symptoms. I almost always begin to imagine that I have some of the symptoms of any disease I read about. That made it especially hard for me to work at the VA where I had to review vets’ medical records. At one point, I was convinced I had PTSD except that I couldn’t pinpoint a sufficiently traumatic event to pin it on. The time I almost stepped on a snake probably wasn’t enough to trigger the disorder.

I know I’m a little nuts, but I am also justified. A number of my family members died or almost died because serious illnesses were misdiagnosed as minor ailments. My grandfather died at 51 years of age from cancer that had been treated as lower back strain. My brother had lymphoma that went untreated for way too long because he was diagnosed as having a simple musculoskeletal problem with his hip. He’s lucky to be alive. That’s just a couple of examples. The quality of medical care in my hometown is not too good, I’ll admit, but these were pretty big mistakes even for small town doctors. My dad went way too long without bypass surgery because his doctor couldn’t figure how why he was having so many heart attacks!

I don’t take it for granted that my knee pain is due to a mechanical injury. I want to make sure I don’t have knee cancer. My tombstone will read: “I told you I was sick!”

Every Generation Makes Idiotic Fashion Choices

I look back at old photos of my teen years and cringe at my fashion choices. It’s not that I was unfashionable. Au contraire, I strove to conform.

My nephew laughed until he almost wet himself on seeing my photo from Homecoming 1973. I sported double knit polyester bell bottom pants with a cuff and a natty checkered design, a burgundy double knit polyester sports jacket with wide lapels, a nylon shirt with pointy collar and a white bow tie as big as my head. My hair was feathered and held in place by a crust of hairspray. My shoes were two toned and stacked. I was beautiful, like an Easter egg.

On less formal occasions, I would wear my shirt collar over my jacket collar or lose the jacket and wear a shirt with a wild design. On really casual occasions, we wore bell bottom jeans and tee shirts. Converse All Star basketball shoes were a must. I had a pair of jeans with pictures of trees on the legs. I also had a crushed velvet vest that made me look like Keith Partridge, or so I believed.

Our music was annoying to our elders at the time. Now, of course, you can sometimes hear Steppenwolf in the elevator. As the 70s progressed, music devolved into disco.

I remember looking at my parents’ yearbooks and photos from high school and thinking that they all looked as if they were already 40 years old as sophomores. They didn’t look like kids at all, but by all accounts they frightened their elders with their clothing styles and music.

I’m not so much frightened as amused by youngsters’ music and fashion. The era of enormous pants and hip hop was hilarious. It seems to be passing. How can I tell? Because rural white kids are just now adopting it in some places. Anyway, kids in big pants and improperly worn headgear or do-rags seemed like clowns to me. I just couldn’t look at them with a straight face. How do you evade law enforcement with your pants around your knees and your shoelaces untied? And if your sneakers light up, you are an easy target. Could it be that big pants and untied shoes were created by cops to make kids easier to catch?

I predict that in 40 or 50 years, rap and hip hop will be considered “elevator music”. Old coots in rest homes will wear giant pants and listen to podcasts of gangsta rappers while their grandkids look at them as the lamest people on earth. The grandkids will freak the codgers out, what with their well tailored clothing and well groomed hair and good manners. The youngsters’ music will be rebelliously melodic and require real talent to perform.