Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Murphy Brown Still Pisses Off Some Folks

The conspecifics astonished me today at lunch by announcing that Dan Quayle had been right about Murphy Brown. How so, asked I? She was a role model, and it was her obligation to set an example for the lower orders.

I reminded them that Murphy Brown was a fictional character, but they replied that the TV show sent a message in the “culture” that it was OK for unmarried women to reproduce. I pointed out that Murphy Brown was wealthy and perfectly capable of bringing up a child with every advantage, more so in fact than most couples of modest means. A child is generally better off in a two-parent family, they insisted, and poor women might see the show as validating bastardy in their case.

In a nutshell, a wealthy woman who wants a child (but who is not keen to marry) is supposed to forego motherhood as an example to poor women who can’t afford children on their own without husbands. By the same reasoning, I should not buy a stereo, because a poor person who can’t really afford one might try to acquire one based on my example. They might be tempted to rent a stereo and pay too much.

By this reasoning, I shouldn’t engage in any hobbies or consume anything beyond the bare necessities because I want to set an example for the poor.

Bad News and Good News

The bad news is that the universe is going to expand to a point where matter and energy are so thinly spread that everything fizzles out in the “heat death”, or the expansion will reverse with the universe falling back into an information destroying singularity. The good news is that this is more than 10 billion years away, so we still have time to plan.

The bad news is that long before the universe dies, the sun will explode and wipe out the inner planets, including Earth. The good news is that this is still at least 5 billion years from now, and humanity should be able to find new digs before then.

The bad news is that long before the sun blows up, the moon will escape from Earth’s gravity and fly off into space. This will mean that the stabilizing influence of the moon will be gone, and Earth will wobble on its axis and experience hellacious shifts in climate such that complex life forms will not be able to survive. The good news is that this is still over a billion years away.

The bad news is that an asteroid is probably going to smash into Earth and cause another mass extinction at some point in the next few hundred million years. The living, if any, will envy the dead. The good news is that this is not likely to happen within the next century, except for that thing in 2036, so we have time to work out an asteroid deflection system.

The bad news is that humans have developed weapons capable of killing everyone on Earth but have not evolved moral capacities beyond those of their hominid precursors. The good news is that these will not become widely available for another thirty or forty years, and then nutcases will only be able to afford a few such devices. Accordingly, there will be substantial numbers of survivors.

The bad news is that environmental degradation due to global warming, the detonation of numerous nuclear devices, and other causes will result in widespread famine, disease, and pestilence. Weakened humanity will fall prey to new strains of microbes and viruses. The good news is that a remnant will survive, albeit with primitive technology.

The bad news is that the remnant will not be able to deflect asteroids and will be wiped out in the mass extinction event described above. The good news is that some life forms will survive, and Earth will become replenished. The Age of the Slime Mold will begin.

The good news is that there are alternate universes in which this fate is avoided.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Conservapedia Rocks

Tom Tomorrow reckons “Conservapedia” is awesome: I agree.

I can’t figure out if it’s for real or is a parody. Would anyone be able to tell the difference? Dinosaurs on the ark, indeed. Everyone knows that the velociraptors would have gotten loose and eaten all the other animals plus Noah and his family, except maybe the Tyrannosaurus would have survived.

In addition to the one describing Noah’s exciting visit to Australia to gather up the marsupials and monotremes, I would love to read the lost books of the Bible that describe Noah’s trip to the New World to collect the llamas and New World monkeys and other species indigenous to the Americas. I speculate that he must have sent his sons on these amazing expeditions.

Presidential Prognosticating

I’ve decided to do some early presidential prognosticatin’ in the wake of Tom Vilsack’s withdrawal from the race. I reckon it was a good idea to call it quits since his election would have been unprecedented. The American people have never elected anyone president with “sack” in his name. We’ve had adopted presidents before, such as Leslie King a/k/a Gerald Ford, but none of them was saddled with a “sack” in his surname.

One assumption I make in my predictions is that the unprecedented will be avoided.

No Mormon has ever been elected, nor has a publicly announced follower of Reverend Moon, so I don’t expect that to happen in ’08. (Although having your Messiah handy to talk to on the phone regularly could be a real plus). JFK opened the door for the Roman Catholics, so I don’t see Catholicism as a bar to the office, as long as the candidate isn’t one of those really Catholicky Catholics. It will be some time before we see a Scientologist in the White House. Still, my money is on a mainstream Protestant in ’08, and I imagine that the more credible candidates will belong to Protestant denominations.

Nobody with a vowel, other than a silent ‘e’, at the end of his name has ever been elected, that is to say we have never had an “ethnic” president. I don’t really count Irish as ethnic since there have been Irish and Scots-Irish folks in America for centuries. Accordingly, Guiliani’s election would be unprecedented, and I am hopeful that his political career will come to a close soon. The only way we’ll have an Italian-American president any time soon is if Nancy Pelosi succeeds Bush and Cheney after they leave office early for some reason. Bill Richardson, being 75% Mexican, is out also.

No woman has ever been elected (tough luck Senator Clinton). Nobody of admitted recent (within the last three centuries) African descent has ever been elected (so long Senator Obama). Nobody over 70 years old has ever been elected (sayanara Gravel and McCain). Nobody under 42 years old has ever been elected.

Since the War Between the States, nobody, other than Herbert Hoover, who was not an incumbent or a sitting or former Vice President, Governor, Senator, or war hero general officer (Grant, Garfield, Eisenhower) has been elected. There are lots of general officers running around, but none are what we might consider “war heroes”. The incumbent is ineligible, and Cheney is slightly less popular than the BTK murderer, so we are looking at a former VP (Quayle and Gore are all that fit the profile), a current or former Senator or a current or former Governor, between 42 and 70 years of age, male, of Northern European descent, mainstream Protestant or Roman Catholic. Others need not apply.

That means the only Democrat candidates (mentioned so far) who can be elected are Biden, Dodd, and Edwards. (I reckon a draft Gore campaign is in order.) The GOP so far has Brownback, Gilmore, Huckabee, Thompson, and Hagel who could be elected without setting a precedent.

Maybe this would be a good election for something unprecedented after all.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Boycott Evil Connecticut

The Poughkeepsie mall and the Danbury mall are about the same distance from my house, and the latter is a hundred times nicer. I will not shop there, though, because I am boycotting Connecticut. I decline to visit Connecticut or buy anything from there or support the Nutmeg State with my consumer dollars until the denizens thereof repent of their evil ways. I am slapping sanctions on Connecticut because of that state’s evil fruits, the evilest of which is Joe Lieberman. I urge my fellows to follow suit and shun Connecticut until the Nutmeggers recall or otherwise stop inflicting Joe Lieberman on the world.

In fact, from now on, let Connecticut be known as the Nutbag State and its denizens Nutbaggers as long as Joe Lieberman holds an office therefrom. There is something seriously wrong with the Nutbaggers for them to have returned Lieberman to the Senate as he has no redeeming qualities. I have heard that he was not even cute when he was little.

Where Political Power Comes From

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours."
Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”

- The Gospel According to Luke

This was part of one of the readings on Sunday morning. The part where the devil claims that all earthly government is in his gift really stood out for me. Note that Jesus does not dispute this claim, but declines to worship the devil. How are we to interpret this? I don’t reckon that there is any inducement the devil could offer to entice Jesus to worship him, but it would be a feeble temptation indeed if the devil were lying about his ownership of earthly government. I reckon that the devil spoke truly in this instance and that this represented what would have been a great temptation. So, I conclude that political power derives from the devil, and those who seek it must somehow please the devil to gain it.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Solution is to Disqualify Evil and Stupid People from High Office

I have been thinking about whether people are mostly evil and stupid and what the implications of the distribution of evil and stupidity within society might be. For my part, I am not entirely misanthropic. I recognize that all of us are sinners who fall short of the glory of God, but folks seem to me to lie somewhere on a continuum between complete depravity and saintliness. I tend to think that their level of goodness/evil is normally distributed with most folks clustered around an average that is more or less honest and peaceful but not perfectly or consistently so.

It has also been my experience that cleverness/stupidity and goodness/evil are independent variables. Accordingly, you can be evil and smart or evil and stupid or good and smart or good and stupid.

Now, the proportion of the population that is very good and very smart will be very small indeed, and they would be just the kind of folks that would make a good ruling elite. The trouble is that the rest of the population will probably not be able to distinguish among the smart folks who are evil and those who are good and there won’t be any way to make sure that only the smart/good combination acquires power. By what principle will the rulers be chosen? If it is the hereditary principle, what is to say that the heirs of the good and smart will in turn be both good and smart? I reckon intelligence might be hereditable, but goodness/evil surely is not. If the people choose, they won’t be able to choose wisely because the evil candidates will pretend to be good. Moreover, actually good folks might well want to avoid positions of power and wouldn’t seek office in the same numbers as evil pretenders. The government will, therefore, inevitably be evil.

How can a government be chosen that would give goodness a fighting chance? First off, you would want to disqualify the evil and stupid quarter of the population right off the bat. The good but stupid fourth is a little harder to cope with. Do you disqualify them because they might easily be manipulated, like Jar Jar Binks when he was inexplicably given Princess What’s Her Name’s proxy? It should be easier to distinguish between the good and evil among the stupid because they may be less adept at concealment, and I would recommend trying to devise a way to keep the good but stupid eligible for public office. This would mean that there would be twice as many good people as evil people eligible to govern and twice as many smart people as stupid people in the candidate pool.

If the legislature were chosen at random from the eligible population, then you would be likely to have one that is two thirds good and only one third evil. Of course, all the evil legislators will be smart, while only half the good ones will be, but there will be just as many smart good legislators as evil ones. I reckon goodness is more important than smartness in any event. Also, the smart but evil will probably have to pretend to go along with goodness because they won’t be willing to identify openly as The Evil Coalition. Besides, each evil legislator will be absorbed with self aggrandizement more than the good ones and might not be able to come together to do organized evil as they do now in the mostly evil Congress and state Capitols.

If we could come up with a way to identify evil, in crafty smart folks, then we could get them out of the picture altogether and limit positions to the good no matter how stupid they might be.

Of course, this scheme will only work if I get to set the criteria for what is evil and what is good.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Miscellany and Progress Report

I was doing great on my diet and exercise regimen until I had to go to Montana for two weeks. The gym in the hotel sucked, and I contracted the Norwalk virus and just didn’t feel like working out. On the positive side, I didn’t feel like eating either, so I didn’t gain any weight. I actually lost three pounds and found myself at 232 when I got home. I worked out for a week then contracted a lingering case of bronchitis and missed another week and a half of working out. Because I was down about being sick, I ate too much comfort food and gained back the three pounds I lost in Montana. Now I’m better and have been to the gym three times this week and am getting back in the swing of things.

The bathroom remodel has been something of a nightmare. The downstairs bathroom is almost done and is usable. The steam generator is great, especially if you are stuffed up. All that is left is to install the shower door (we are using a curtain for the nonce) and to put up two square inch finishing tiles in a couple of places. We painted last weekend, but Mrs Vache Folle is going to want to put on another coat. She always does. Of course, all this took a month to accomplish and went way over budget.

The upstairs bathroom has been gutted. The contractors came over late last week, gutted the room, and disappeared for several days. As of last night, we had a whirlpool tub sitting on the living room floor and a lot of questions about just how the contractors are going to get that behemoth up our narrow stairway and into the bathroom. I’m betting they will have to remove an exterior wall and bring it in from outside as the contractor suggested might be the case. They had to saw the old hot tub into pieces to get it out of the room.

We are very happy with how the downstairs turned out and are keen to see the upstairs completed. All the dust that is getting kicked up is killing my lungs and contributed, I suspect, to my bout of bronchitis. I have been sneezing and dripping nonstop for weeks.

In the “it’s always something” department, the new shower drain has started giving off the odor of sulfur. Either we have inadvertently tapped into a wormhole straight to hell, or there are some sulfate reducing bacteria somewhere in the system. I poured bleach down the drain to some good effect, but we are having the Culligan people, the contractor, and the boiler maintenance folks take a look at various parts of the system to try to find out where the bacteria dwell. The problem seems limited to the shower drain so far. The water tank may be the culprit, or even the water softener. It might even be the well, in which case we’ll want to shock it with some chlorine.

The most recent storm buried the pond deicer under two feet of ice, so I unplugged it. I hope the fish make it.

We actually socialized with other human beings this last weekend. On Saturday, we met some other couples at a bar and listened to a pretty good jazz trio. On Sunday, we had a couple Mrs VF knows from the train over for dinner and cards, and a good time was had by all.

A Person of Faith in 2008!

Mitt Romney reckons that the next President should be a “person of faith”. It doesn’t matter what irrational belief incapable of demonstration the candidate harbors, as long as he has “faith”. A scientologist would do, as would a follower of Ramtha. The latter would at least have the benefit of the wisdom of the spirit of a warrior dead for millennia conveniently channeled by some woman out west. Talk about historic perspective! A candidate who believed in the “Left Behind” eschatology would know just what to do to hasten the end of the world. A follower of the Christian Identity Movement might have some new ideas, let me tell you. Whatever the faith of the candidate might be, the country stands to benefit, albeit in dramatically different ways. In Romney’s favor, he will have the infallible guidance of the President of the LDS church to fall back on, and that has got to be a comfort to his supporters. I’m holding out for a Tiplerite who will devote the resources of the country to the colonization of space and conquest of the whole universe. A snake handling, poison-drinking President might be a refreshing change.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wherein I Pile on that Wanker George Will

bk marcus reports that George Will had a cup of coffee with libertarianism before he went to England and became an authoritarian twit:

I wonder if Will likens himself to an old style aristocrat or if he just acknowledges his inferiority and the necessity for the world to be ruled by his betters. Perhaps Will fears that he will run wild if he is afforded too much freedom. I read Will’s “Statecraft as Soulcraft”, and I resent that I will never get back the hours I spent doing so. The basic premise is that most folks are evil and stupid and must be ruled over strictly by the small minority of worthy elites. These elites should, as part of statecraft, cultivate in their subjects desirable ways of thinking and moral values, the “soulcraft” part. This requires a pretty substantial apparatus for propagandizing and surveillance of the riff raff.

I confess that, in some misanthropic moments, I have flirted with this notion from time to time, but I always come back to the realization that I am the riff raff the elitist authoritarians are talking about. To adopt their position would be to embrace my moral inferiority and accept that I should be made to pay for regulation and surveillance by my betters. Liberty should be defined as the right to do and think as my betters decree, not as the right to do and think as I wish. The latter is the dreaded “license”, the giving in to which would see the ruling elite cast aside.

Of course, if I could delude myself into identifying with the ruling elite and thinking that I am one of them, I might be able to adopt the authoritarian elitist mindset. I know some folks who have managed to convince themselves that they are more like the robber barons than their working class neighbors, and they manage to hold on to this delusion despite their complete lack of influence in the world and their sharing much more in common with working folks in the way of concerns and lifestyle and what have you.

The worthy elite that Will and his ilk lionize do not exist, and there is no way to manufacture an appropriately public spirited aristocracy. Jet setters can’t be bothered with surveilling and regulating the hoi polloi, and no true gentleman would want any part of politics. The ideal of the aristocrat with his sense of noblesse oblige has never been found in nature except in isolated cases. It is nothing more than a part of the legitimizing discourse by which would be elites claim authority.

The authoritarian elitist position has at its core a paradox. If humans are naturally evil and stupid, then their human rulers will probably be evil and stupid as well. Accordingly, any government constructed by humans will inevitably be the fruit of evildoing and stupidity and not a check thereon.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

If I Denied the Holocaust, it was Accidental

JL Wilson reports on Canada’s sending a resident to Germany to be prosecuted for holocaust denial that took place in Canada:

I don’t have any reason to believe the Holocaust didn’t happen. Sadly, genocide is not all that unusual. My uncle was in on the liberation of a concentration camp and told me what he saw. I visited Auschwitz. I watched a TV miniseries back in the 1970s. I have spoken with some survivors. I’ve seen some documentaries on the History Channel. That’s all I really know about the Holocaust. I’m pretty sure it happened. I wish that it hadn’t.

I’m a little worried about Canada’s dealings with its resident, though. I could be inadvertently in trouble if the US follows suit. If you take my Last Thursday Creationism Theory, wherein I speculated that the universe was created last Thursday complete with memories and records that give the appearance of a prior history, I suppose that might constitute holocaust denial. It denies all history from before the Creation. Then again, I don’t really advance this theory as being true, only that it is an extremely remote possibility, one that cannot be proven either to be true or false. Would this get me jail time in Germany? If this blog is available in Germany, can I be extradited to Germany for holocaust denial based on the Last Thursday Creation concept?

I suppose that I could change the concept to the Creation Just When the Holocaust Started Theory to get around this potential legal problem. I would point out to the authorities that the Holocaust is not singled out in the Last Thursday Creation Theory as being more of an apparition than any of the rest of history. If any of the rest of apparent history happened, so did the Holocaust.

Wherein I Admonish the Religious Right

Is the United States a “Christian nation”? No, the USA is neither Christian nor a “nation”. The USA is a fictitious entity, an organizing principle around which the powerful legitimize their claim to rule over some 300 millions. Its subjects are of many nations. Some of its subjects are Christians, but the USA itself is by no means Christian. Behold its works. The emissaries of the USA kill and maim people in Iraq and elsewhere and provide no witness of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The agents of the USA and its subordinate political units imprison many thousands of its subjects. They forcibly extract wealth from its subjects and burden them with countless regulations and surveillance. These are not the fruits of an organization inspired by Jesus.

There are among those who call themselves Christian who support the USA in its acts of violence and its plunder of the people. They are the religious right, and their influence is great. If they will repent and recall that Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers”, they can put an end to war and serve as a blessing to the whole world. They can be a great witness of the revelation of Jesus Christ to the Muslim world if they will open their hearts and submit themselves to Jesus’ teaching and the transformative workings of the Holy Spirit. I pray that God will convict them of the error of their ways and that a great awakening will occur among them so that they may become the light of the world and not bringers of grief. But they are burdened with false prophets who preach war instead of peace, hate instead of love, judgment instead of mercy, slavery instead of freedom. May God grant the people the discernment to cast out these spawn of serpents from among them.

When Jeremiah spoke the truth that the Chaldeans would destroy the city, he was called a traitor and an abettor of the enemy. They cast him into a cistern to die because his words might make the doomed warriors’ courage fail them. So it goes with prophets even now. They who speak out against war are called abettors and comforters of the enemy and demoralizers of the warriors even though they speak the truth. The warriors cannot be trusted with the truth. War cannot be sustained without falsehood. The warmongering preachers of the religious right are the guiltiest liars of all, for they libel God with their lies and are responsible for so much grief. I pray that the people turn from them and turn to Jesus. They have a tremendous opportunity to bring peace and to secure the blessings that inure to peacemakers.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

GOP on the Horns of a Dilemma

How can a GOP presidential candidate win in 2008? Nominate someone who will pander to the Christianist authoritarian base of 25% who will then convince more than third of the rest of the electorate that he was just pandering to those nutjobs and didn’t really mean any of it. It would help if the Christianists played along and pretended that they were unhappy with the candidate’s positions but would vote for him anyway while holding their noses. That’s the tried and true method that has worked so far since 1980. Of course, in 2008 there will be the Bush fatigue factor to reckon with, and anyone who can be tied to Bushevik policies will have a hard row to hoe.

The dilemma facing the GOP is that a peace candidate or a libertarian leaning candidate might have a genuine shot in the general election, but the Christianists are rabid for war and hate freedom and wouldn’t support him in the quest for the nomination. Accordingly, the GOP must pin its hopes on (a) a favorable outcome in Iraq, something they aren’t going to be able to bring about; (b) some way to blame Democrats for the unfavorable outcome, something that we have to hope the Democrats will be able to fend off; or (c) a dramatic escalation of the conflict that will make the electorate nostalgic for the current debacle. A monumental disaster of epic proportions may be what the Busheviks are building up to, because they know that massive failures by government are often rewarded and that a frightened populace will act irrationally and against its own interests. If the Busheviks can put us all in some kind of real danger, the fear factor may throw everything wide open. The electorate won’t be looking for a capable statesman, but will be looking for an apparent action hero.

"What Paul Meant"

I was blown away by Garry Wills’ “What Paul Meant”:,,9780670037933,00.html .
I have always felt uncomfortable with some of the utterances attributed to Paul as being inconsistent with his overall program. It turns out that almost half of Paul’s letters were definitely not written by him, but were written later by unknown authors with theological agendas. Moreover, a few items in the genuine letters are generally regarded by scholars as interpolations.

An exciting aspect of “What Paul Meant” is the invitation to read the authentic letters of Paul for what they were. They were letters to particular gatherings dealing with specific crises. Paul didn’t set out to write books of a Bible but to deal with immediate issues which arose in the various gatherings. His views appear to have evolved over his 17 year ministry and can be related to the unique circumstances of the gatherings he was addressing. Your theologically smug Corinthians wanted different advice than the Romans with their clashes between Jewish and Gentile believers.

A point I had never reflected upon before is that Paul’s letters preceded the Gospels by decades and reflected concepts in circulation immediately after Jesus’ ascension. By the time the Gospels were composed, Christianity was becoming more institutionalized, and the authors may have had an interest in bolstering emergent ideas about church governance and hierarchy and precedence. Even if this were not the case, a reader in the present century brings a lot of institutional baggage to the terms Paul uses. For example, the concept of a “church” is loaded with two millennia of semantic additions when Paul was referring simply to a “gathering” or assembly of believers. The “offices” familiar to us today were “functions” in Paul’s day.

Another intriguing aspect for me of “What Paul Meant” is the author’s problematization of the emphasis in modern Christianity on “personal salvation”. When Paul wrote about rescue, he was writing about the rescue of nations and the whole of Creation. The life in Christ was a life in community, not one of isolated individual personalities in separate communion with God.

“What Paul Meant”, especially when read alongside “What Jesus Meant”, is liberating. If I am willing to accept responsibility for interpreting Scripture in the light of the authors’ likely intentions and the context of authorship, I am rewarded with new insights and wisdom. I have come to have a new appreciation for Paul and the beauty of his letters and the significance of his mission.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Steve Scott Makes Me Think on a Monday

I’m a faithful reader of Steve Scott’s blog “From the Pew”. Steve writes about Christianity from the perspective of a layman and struggles with many of the same issues that I do as a churchgoer and believer. Two recent posts were intriguing to me. In one, Steve wonders why the Lord’s Supper is so skimpy and formalistic: In another, he suggests that the doctrine of “justification by faith” has become a kind of gnosis:

I’m with Steve on the Lord’s Supper. Once a month, our church hands out little cubes of white bread and mini shot glasses of grape juice, and we celebrate “communion”. I reckon we “commune” with Jesus and one another every time we gather and that we might do better to have an actual meal together, during which we would remember Jesus and the sacrifice of His Body and Blood. The ritual itself seems like an afterthought.

I’m not so sure I follow Steve on the doctrine of “justification by faith alone”. He does not seem to view it as central. I am a firm believer in the sufficiency of grace and that repentance and right living flow from grace, not the other way around. No amount of righteousness or law abiding will ever render any person deserving of salvation. On the contrary, we don’t “deserve” it, not one of us. There is nothing any of us can do to earn it, and if we become loving and faithful followers of Jesus, it is the Holy Ghost at work within us that brings this about.

This point is central for me. The grace of God frees us from the power of sin and enslavement to purity codes. It in principle allows us to live in perfect freedom and unity in Jesus and not subject to any earthly authority. I recall a discussion with a Baptist acquaintance who argued that my conception of grace did not provide an adequate basis for social control of the people! I don’t reckon Jesus was about granting some men power over others. I concede that my view of things undermines claims to authority, but I don’t have a problem with this.

There are lots of “Christians” who reckon that they have earned their salvation and that they are, therefore, justified in imposing their codes of righteousness on their fellow man. They are entirely comfortable declaring who is in and who is out, who deserves salvation and who does not. They regard my idea of a completely sufficient grace as “promiscuous” and a scandal. This leads them to authoritarianism and enslaves them to impossible standards of righteousness in the confines of which they can scarcely move. Their Jesus is wrathful and judgmental and unrecognizable to me. Their religion has little resemblance to mine. They might as well be followers of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god of the Aztecs, such is the magnitude of the difference as I see it.

A problematic aspect of my view of grace is that it does not necessarily translate into the individualistic type of Christianity that has become so prevalent in America. If the emphasis is on “personal salvation” or a “personal relationship” with Jesus, the focus tends to be on self improvement and self criticism, and this gets you back to codes of righteousness and measuring how much Bible study and quiet time you squeeze in. If the emphasis is on the community of believers, on the gathering and how we love one another and interact in unity, then my view of grace is easier to absorb. We love others as ourselves because they are ourselves, our being one in Jesus. We are siblings in Jesus and stand in perfect equality one to another, the highest calling’s being to serve not to rule. What could be less loving than self righteous condemnation of our neighbors and fellow believers? Doesn’t self righteous condemnation minimize the sacrifice of Jesus?

If I understand Steve right, he is problematizing an attitude about the doctrine of “justification by faith alone” wherein the faith itself becomes secondary to knowledge of the doctrine or is replaced by this knowledge, in which case the knower of this knowledge can go about his business more or less untouched by it. The knower can know the doctrine and yet decline to live the faith, comforted in the assurance of his personal salvation. I confess that this may well be one of my failings. I struggle with a sort of social phobia and have to force myself to get out of my cocoon and enjoy fellowship or seek opportunities to be helpful or supportive of others. A lot of this is because I am tired after work and a long commute, and I fail to recognize how rejuvenating fellowship can be. “Good thing God has extended His grace to me since I can’t be bothered to expend any effort on behalf of my fellow man.” I am grateful to Steve for inspiring me to think this through.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

My Purpose

We filed our tax returns this week, and this reminded me of my true purpose in life. My primary function is to finance six levels of government. I serve the state. I am a serf. In return, the state lets me keep a portion of my earnings and to maintain a household. The state has calculated how much to let me keep so as to maximize its return from me. It does not let me keep too much, for that would mean less money in the hoard; rather, it lets me keep just enough that I have an incentive to be as productive as I can.

My secondary function is to feed an army of contractors. The bathroom remodel has progressed glacially. Four weeks in, and the downstairs bathroom is not done, and the upstairs one has not even been started. We ran out of wall tile and had to order more from Italy. The commode hasn’t been delivered. The vanity is sitting in the middle of the room. The shower fixtures are in boxes in the foyer, and the shower door hasn’t even been ordered. The floor has not been grouted, and we have had to go to a Laundromat the last couple of weeks because our washer and dryer are in the foyer. On a positive note, the tile we picked out looks great, and the oversize shower promises to be quite satisfactory. The floor is no longer on the verge of collapsing and is level. The room is warm thanks to an expansion of the radiator and a heating system under the floor tiles.

My tertiary function is to satisfy the desires of my canine masters, Jasper and Jesse. I walk them. I pet them. I play ball with them. I let them in and out a hundred times a day. I share my meals with them. I maintain a large fenced yard and pick up their feces for them. I put up with dog hair in my ice cubes.

My quaternary function is to keep the 35 plus species of birds that visit my house well supplied with bird seed and suet and to maintain the pond for the benefit of the goldfish, shiners, crawdads, water snakes, frogs and salamanders who dwell therein.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Why Conservatives Aren't (Intentionally) Funny

Why aren’t “conservatives” funny?

The answer seems obvious to me. It’s not, as Doug Giles suggests, that they are too nice. On the contrary, they’re mean, and mean is rarely funny. They like to bully, and bullying is rarely funny. The butts of their jokes are often the poor and the oppressed, and that’s just not funny most of the time.

“Conservatives” are funniest when they are just being themselves, when they don’t intend to be funny. What could be more comical than Ted Stevens’ explaining how the internets work, for example? The linked to column by Doug Giles is also a hoot. Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly are veritable self-parodies. Nobody is more uncomfortably hilarious than William Donohue, self appointed defender of Catholicism. "Conservatives" can't tell a joke, but they can be a joke.

I put “Conservative” in scare quotes because I don’t think the label means what it might once have meant. In fact, one of the funniest things about the “Conservative” movement is how radical it is. How is it that big government, interventionism, authoritarianism and such like came to be an integral part of the “Conservative” agenda in just a few decades? Hypocrisy is fodder for comedians, and “Conservatives” have taken hypocrisy to a whole new level. Using the label “Conservative” as it is used nowadays is analogous to calling oneself a vegetarian even though one eats meat or calling oneself a libertarian even though one supports a massive federal national security and surveillance apparatus.

All my life, “Conservatives” have seemed a mirthless lot, tolerable only because of their unintentional ridiculousness. They were the crotchety old fart who would shoot at us schoolchildren if we wandered onto his land and who railed against the Jews at every opportunity. They were the geeky dateless guys in YAF in college that didn’t have the social skills to get into a D&D game and hung out together and rooted for their favorite Central American death squad. They were my Idiot Brother In Law ™ who destroyed almost as many brain cells listening to Rush Limbaugh as he did by drinking and who, while employed by the County, railed against those “tax eating parasites” in government. They were fat little fundamentalist preachers who, with a straight face, proclaimed from their pulpits (or cushy couch on a TV set) that Jesus had sent some catastrophe somewhere to kill a bunch of sinners, because that’s what the Prince of Peace is all about, killing people.

Maybe some real funny comedians have “Conservative” political leanings, but they aren’t making a living by being political in their acts. Dennis Miller became a lot less funny when he became a warmongering stooge. His rants are just mean spirited now.

“Liberals” are generally better at humor. Of course, there are joyless nannies on the “Liberal” side that are as authoritarian as any “Conservative”, just about different things. Nannies have no sense of humor, but they can be made sport of just like “Conservatives”.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Incitement to Genocide

The indispensable Wm Norman Grigg problematizes an evil neo-con cabal’s efforts to bring about war on Iran under the pretense of enforcing the Genocide Convention:

It seems that some of the neo-con ilk reckon that the Iranian president’s advocacy of destroying Israel amounts to “incitement” to genocide and that the rest of the world (the US and Israel) should invade Iran to apprehend its president and to try him for that crime. If necessary, the US and Israel should kill every last Iranian to accomplish this. Mr Grigg aptly points out the irony of advocating genocide in order to punish advocating genocide.

Let me add my two cents. Alan Dershowitz is one of the jackholes making this argument. He is a lawyer and should know that advocating something and inciting it to happen are not the same thing. If he does not know this, he is a bad lawyer. If he knows it and advances this idiotic argument anyway, he is a bad person.

If I say that the Amish are a scourge on the land and ought to be dispersed or destroyed, this is not incitement to genocide. I don’t have the means to bring this about, and I am not addressing anyone with the means or will to bring it about. Moreover, in order to count as incitement, the action I am inciting should be capable of being carried out imminently and there should be a strong likelihood that it will be carried out imminently. Suppose I urge the Adjutant General of the Pennsylvania National Guard to wipe out the Amish. The Guard certainly has the means to carry out my plan, but there is very little probability that they will do anything of the sort based on my say so. Accordingly, I have not committed incitement to genocide. If I am part of an angry Amish hating mob marching on Lancaster County and I give a rousing speech exhorting mayhem and murder, that might be an incitement to genocide even if it does not come off.

The president of Iran has allegedly argued that the destruction of the state of Israel would be a good idea. I don’t know if he advocates killing Jews. He apparently does not have the means or inclination to attack Israel or to commit genocide, nor does anyone whom he was addressing. Those entities with the means to commit genocide against Israel are ostensibly allies of Israel or, at worst from the Israeli standpoint, indifferent to Israel. There is no basis to argue that imminent genocidal action based on his words was likely, especially since no such action has yet occurred. Accordingly, the Iranian president is not guilty of incitement to genocide, and no indictment should be returned against him.

There is a better case to make against Dershowitz for inciting genocide against Iran. He has influence on the Bush regime and its main constituency, the insane religious right, and the Bush regime is itching to attack Iran.

Look at Me; I'm Dancing!

I attended my first ballroom dance class last night with Mrs Vache Folle. I missed last week’s class, so I was at a severe disadvantage. At least I hope that is why I was so hopelessly clumsy and singled out by the instructors several times for remedial instruction and to serve as a cautionary example to the other students. At one point, the lead female instructor had her hands around my throat. Despite my ineptitude, I had a very good time and look forward to the next class. I now have a rudimentary command of the waltz, box step, foxtrot, rhumba, and meringue.

I reckon my main problem, besides my being rhythmically challenged, is that my movements are too broad and dramatic, a legacy no doubt of having come of age in the disco era. I aim to take smaller, more controlled steps from here on.

I’m not looking to dazzle anyone with my dancing skills, just to keep from embarrassing myself on social occasions when dancing is called for. Until now, I couldn’t dance a lick and had to content myself with “free style” or disco moves that, now that I think of it, must have looked ridiculous.

When I was in Barbados, I recall feeling very awkward when people were dancing (as they usually were at some point in social gatherings). The popular dance at the time was “wukking up” which looked a lot like vertical dry humping from the back. I figured that I could perform the moves, but I didn’t know the etiquette. How do you ask someone to “wuk up” with you? “Pardon me, Miss, but would you like to simulate anal intercourse on the dance floor with me?” And are you supposed to remain flaccid or to manifest turgidity? Maybe my classes will get to “wukking up” later in the course, and these mysteries will be solved at last.

Once again, I blame the Baptists for another of my shortcomings. Dancing was evil, you see. This was because it was fun, for one thing, and all joy was forbidden. We were supposed to live joylessly and look forward to the release of sweet, sweet death. Secondly, dancing was seen as an occasion for other sins. Dancing would lead to lust, which was bad enough in and of itself, but this might also lead to sexual contact, than which there was no worse sin. Thanks a lot, Baptists!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Security Overkill

In going to court every day over the past couple of weeks, I was vexed by the security measures at the federal building. At the main entrance, we had to empty our pockets, have our bags x-rayed, and walk through a metal detector. If we made it beep, we had to be examined with a wand by a security officer, one of three or four on duty in the lobby. Then we had to show ID and have our name, address and phone number written down. Finally, we were issued numbered badges. When we got to the floor where the court was, we had to go through security all over again, this time under the aegis of federal Court Security Officers, four or five of whom appeared to be on duty at all times, doing a whole lot of nothing. Metal detector, x-ray, and wand all over again.

This added a lot of time to getting in and out of court and doubtless represents a large expenditure of tax dollars. On the other hand, I am heartened by the idea that it might reflect a healthy contempt on the part of the public for the federal government. In any event, the federal government, particularly the judiciary, is so fearful of the public that it finds it necessary to screen everyone who has business before it and to deploy a squad of goons to protect itself. This fear is not, I hope, entirely misplaced. Unfortunately, the security measures taken are probably disproportionate to the actual threat.

I reckon the most likely threat to the court is from accomplices of detained criminal defendants who might attempt to liberate their colleagues by force during a court hearing. Such defendants are usually accompanied by law enforcement officers who ought to be able to fend off all but the most organized and well planned of such attempts. Moreover, armed rescue attempts seem to be mighty rare and were extremely rare even when courts had little security besides a somnolent bailiff or two. Accordingly, we ought to be able to dispense with one or both of the screening operations and to make do with one or at most two security officers. Spread out over the whole federal judiciary, this would represent a substantial cost savings and free up thousands of bureaucrats for productive employment. The only downside to these cuts would be a marginally increased risk to court and prosecutorial personnel from what is already a miniscule threat. If these cuts result in a lot of killings or hostage takings, then they could be revisited.

Gentlemen of the Bar

I had the misfortune of spending the last two weeks in a civil trial and in the company of an army of lawyers. I am not so naïve as to believe that lawyering is a gentlemanly profession (or that it ever was), but I have become spoiled over the years by my association with lawyers who, without exception, have represented my employers with honor, integrity and honesty. It is a testament to my employers that we retain only the most gentlemanlike of counsel and we avoid spurious arguments and dishonorable or misleading tactics. This is, on the one hand, a tactical decision since we have determined that civility, integrity and professionalism play better with jurors. On the other hand, it reflects the moral and ethical ideals of the folks with whom I work, and I could not imagine any of them tolerating any sharp or dodgy practices by our lawyers.

At trial, our lawyers were their usual civil, honest, and honorable selves and put on a hell of a case. Argumentation was genuinely helpful to the jurors. In contrast, most of our opponents’ lawyers were ill mannered, contentious and devoted to sowing confusion. They were partners in a large “respectable” firm from Chicago, but their conduct in the trial was deplorable. They took every opportunity to confuse and mislead. Fortunately, this seemed to be transparent to the jury. That the judge seemed to condone this conduct was disappointing to me, but I suppose that this is the state of law practice these days. That judge usually hears criminal matters, so I reckon he was used to shady practices by prosecutors and probably didn’t even notice what was going on.

If I ever have to go back to practicing law, I hope I manage to do so in a gentlemanlike manner. I know that it can be done.