Friday, March 30, 2007

In Defense of Italian-Americans

I don’t hold it against Rudy Giuliani that his old man supposedly worked for mobsters at one time. What Italian-American doesn’t have mobbed up relatives? Mrs Vache Folle’s current stepfather, for example, is the son of a capo in the Lucchese crime syndicate. He got whacked in a gang war back in the 1930s. That doesn’t make the stepdad a mobster himself.

The more recent generations of Italian-Americans have had more career choices than their forebears. Antonin Scalia, back in the day, would have had to be a mobster or an organ grinder. They didn’t let Italians into law talkin’ school back then, and they certainly didn’t let them sit on the Supreme Court. Rudy would have run a speakeasy or some racket if he had been born in an earlier generation. No way would an Italian have been appointed US Attorney back then.

Nowadays, I would estimate that less than half of Italian-Americans are in the Mafia. Many of them have been partially assimilated into American society and culture, but I don’t reckon they will ever abandon their quaint Italian ways entirely. They will probably always wear lots of jewelry and eat noodles for every meal, but they won’t necessarily steal.

Italian-Americans contribute immensely to the patchwork quilt of diversity that is America, especially Sicilians with their combined African and European heritage.

Chocolate Jesus

On the radio this morning, I heard that one of the New York rags was all offended about someone’s making a six foot statue of Jesus out of chocolate. How do they know it is Jesus? Nobody knows what Jesus looked like. If I were the sculptor, I’d tell any Christian that was offended that the statue is actually the prophet Mohammed. Then I’d tell Muslims that it was Krishna, and so on.

I am a follower of Jesus, but I can’t seem to get worked up about a chocolate Jesus effigy. I definitely won’t participate in a riot over it. I also love chocolate, so I reckon making an image of Jesus out of chocolate is a good thing. And we eat His body all the time in bread form, so what’s the big deal about eating a piece of a chocolate Jesus?

Was the sculptor aiming to mock Jesus? I don’t have any idea. Folks are free to mock my religion all they like. It is understandable that a nonbeliever would find it foolish. Far worse are the Christians who make a mockery of the faith through their practice of it.

I bet the people who are offended by the chocolate Jesus are some of the same people who get all excited when the Blessed Virgin Mother appears on an English muffin.

Miscellany and Progress Report

I have not been to the gym as much as I’d like because I blew out my left knee. I have a hard time walking on it, let alone working out. I want to see a surgeon and get this thing fixed.

Quite a few of the comets survived the winter and have become active now that the pond has mostly thawed.

The bathroom remodels that were supposed to be done on Groundhog Day are still in progress. The downstairs is finished except for the cedar bench that is supposed to go in the shower. We even painted. The steam shower is terrific, and I love the heated floor tiles.

Upstairs has been slow going. Mrs Vache Folle likens it to differential calculus in that the work progresses but never quite gets finished. My carpool companion likens our situation to Murphy Brown and her live in housepainter Eldon. The whirlpool tub has been problematic due to leaks and due to an ancient clog in the drain, but this seems to have been solved. There is a hole in the living room ceiling, though, and several planks of siding are missing.

Our neighbor who had the portable toilet on his driveway for several months has removed it. I reckon he recovered from his intestinal disorder that required a pit stop on the way to his mailbox.

I aim to put pansies in the window boxes this weekend and break out the deck furniture, but Mrs VF reckons that this will cause at least one more snowstorm. If I also buy a snow blower, that should cancel out the flower jinx.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Hideous Dog

I am a dog person. I can’t imagine not having dogs. But if this were the dog in question, I would seriously consider giving it a pass:

Via yournamehere at Death Wore a Feathered Mullet

Cylonophobes as Secret Cylons

If you are weirdly and obsessively Cylonophobic, you could be a closeted Cylon. Look at Colonel Tigh. He’s all about Cylon bashing and the so called “Cylon agenda”. Doesn’t he seem like he’s probably a Cylon himself? He has that look about him. You know what I’m talking about.

There is an unsubstantiated rumor that a certain GOP Senator from a border commonwealth famous for its fried chicken and bluegrass is a Cylon.

East Fishkill Not as Thieving as I Thought

I should apologize to East Fishkill. It turns out that the lion’s share of my real estate taxes goes to the school district and to Dutchess County with East Fishkill’s cut being less than a $1,000. That makes more sense in view of the services I get from the town. I don’t know why Dutchess County gets more than the town or what Dutchess County even does. Every square inch of Dutchess is in some town or hamlet or municipality, isn’t it? What is left for the county to concern itself with? Courts or some such thing no doubt. There may be a sheriff and a jail.

Out of the nine grand extorted from us, over seven gets shoveled into the maw of the insatiable Carmel Central School District. The CCSD is proud of its high per pupil spending, as if gross inefficiency in delivering schooling were something to crow about. It seems to me that decreasing per pupil spending would be the goal if the CCSD were really responsive to the unfortunates subject to its power to tax. The CCSD must be responsive more to its employees than to its constituents since its goal is to spend as much money as it can get.

The thing that really disturbs me is that the population of the CCSD is relatively affluent and intelligent such that schooling their children ought to be much less challenging and concomitantly less expensive than schooling in a district with lots of poor and/or stupid children. Yet, the opposite is the case. The CCSD pays more per pupil than its counterparts with needier pupils! How can we suffer this to continue? Incredibly, school board members run on and get elected based on a platform of increased per pupil spending. The delivery of schooling, it seems, is subject to some other kind of economic logic than any other service.

Of course, I am being intentionally obtuse. Per pupil spending is not really related to the quality or efficiency of schooling. It’s about erecting barriers to entry into the district. If taxes and per pupil spending are high enough, property values will rise, and poor people won’t be able to afford to live in the district. The poor folks you already have might even have to sell out and move for want of the means to pay their increased taxes. Everybody wins! It’s discrimination and it’s perfectly legal. Nudge nudge, wink wink. It’s costly, though, and I don’t mind having working class neighbors. It's not worth $7,000 a year to me to make sure that I live among yuppies exclusively. I also hate being robbed. And one of these days, I could get taxed out of my home.

Yonkers in Westchester County had its school system under federal supervision because of racial discrimination. Meanwhile, the neighboring town that included Bronxville was able to discriminate freely because its schools were in separate villages, and each village could manipulate its taxes such that poor folks, many of whom would be black, would not be able to afford to live in the village and have children in the village schools. If Yonkers could have divided itself into separate villages instead of being a single municipality, it would have been able to effect segregation of its schools just like Bronxville and Scarsdale.

An Open Letter to Michelle and the Bedwetters

Dear Michelle Malkin and the Rest of the Wingnut Bedwetters:

I know John Doe. I have worked with John Doe. John Doe is my friend. You are not John Doe.

The John Doe I know is too courageous to want to turn his country into a police state in order to assuage an irrational fear of terror attacks.

The John Doe I know doesn’t crap himself in fear every time he encounters someone of a swarthy hue or contemplates the existence of Muslim people.

The John Doe I know doesn’t wet the bed each night because he is afraid to go to the bathroom on account of terrorists hiding under the bed.

John Doe you ain’t. John Doe knows that to defeat terror, you have to stop being afraid. And you have to stop trying to make other people afraid. That increases terror, dummy!

You and John Doe? Not the same person. John Doe is not a coward and he is not interested in making bank on other people’s cowardice.

Stop slandering John Doe, Michelle and Bedwetters of your ilk. Stop hurting America.


Vache Folle
Friend of John Doe

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Everything You Need to Know About Wilkes-Barre

Mrs Vache Folle was born and raised in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. She shook the dust of that loathsome burg from her feet as soon as she could. From time to time, it is necessary to visit Wilkes-Barre because of the poor slobs in Mrs VF’s family who never escaped. Wilkes-Barre is as seedy as it gets. The sun never shines on Wilkes-Barre. Its only redeeming quality is that you can get drunk there cheaply. You will want to be drunk if you are forced to spend much time in the W-B (as nobody calls it).

The country missed a great opportunity back in 1973 when the town was laid waste by Hurricane Agnes when its levees broke. The place could have been bulldozed and made into a serviceable storage space for nuclear waste. Incredibly, the town cleaned up and resumed its uncalled for existence. It’s still there on the banks of the Susquehanna being inferior to its “twin” city, Scranton.

I thank God every day that I never had to live in Wilkes-Barre.

Hands Off Sub-Prime Lending

Chris in Paris thinks regulating sub-prime mortgage lending is a no brainer:

Chris writes:

“Congress is now talking about putting in place regulations, years too late to have any impact on the economic crisis that this is triggering, but having regulations in place for this sector is basic common sense.”

Appeals to “common sense” always make me suspicious. It usually means that you have no cogent justification for your position and are playing intellectual three-card-monte. I reckon what Chris really means is that some folks are too stupid to be allowed to engage in economic transactions without government supervision.

I am not sure that we are in the midst of a “crisis”. The homeowner in foreclosure is in a crisis, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything to me. The risk of default was calculated into the lending scheme, and I am sure that there are many debtors with sub-prime loans that are not in default or foreclosure. The lenders and underwriters and secondary markets knew what they were about when these loans were floated, and they made a profit on them. Even with defaults, I reckon this sector will have been profitable. I presume that the borrowers needed the loan proceeds and were in the best position to decide whether to take out the loans. Besides, the loans are secured by the real estate and will not have to be written off altogether.

But for nannies like Chris, stupid poor people have to be protected from themselves and the possibility that their transactions might be imprudent. In some cases, the transactions will be imprudent, but there is no reason to believe that regulators and central planners will be in a better position to make such judgments for people they don’t even know.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Libertarians for Law and Order

In a comment to my recent post about Rudy Giuliani, a commenter remarked that “sane” libertarians are for “law and order”, that Rudy’s enforcing the drug laws vigorously was not antilibertarian. “Libertarians for Law and Order” is a wing of the movement that I hadn’t encountered before, and I was taken aback. I should not be surprised, I suppose, since there are “Libertarians for War and the Massive National Security Apparatus”. There may even be “Libertarians for Lieberman”, “Libertarians for Prohibition”, “Libertarians for Censorship”, "Libertarians for Central Planning"and “Libertarians for Authority” as well. I am so new to the libertarian scene, I suppose, that I have not begun to appreciate what a big tent libertarianism is.

Tiger Kilgore Swam the Big Muddy in 1865

When I was in Georgia a couple of weeks ago, I visited a cemetery in Chatsworth, Georgia where I understood that a number of Kilgores, to whom I am related, were buried. I ran into an older fellow there who told me he was also kin to the Kilgores, and we compared notes. It turned out we were third cousins once removed and descendants of Abner Kilgore.

He related a family legend about an uncle Samuel Marion “Tiger” Kilgore who had had to swim across the Mississippi River to escape Union soldiers. He tired and resigned himself to drowning only to find that he was on a sand bar and in less than two feet of water. He was able to rest and wade out of the river. He was so elated that he had not drowned that he made quite a ruckus. His companions said they thought a tiger was coming through the woods, and this is how he got his nickname.

I had heard a family legend from my grandfather about an uncle of his who had a similar experience swimming the Mississippi, but I never knew which uncle he was talking about until I ran into that fellow in the cemetery. There were some differences in the story, most notably that he was returning from the Transmississippi at the end of the War Between the States, that he had had to walk from Texas to his home in Georgia.

I love agood family legend as much as the next guy, but I am a little skeptical about the part of the story where Tiger’s traveling companions thought a tiger was approaching. As far as I know, there have never been any tigers in North America outside of zoos since the Pleistocene. Moreover, whoops of joy do not approximate the roar of a tiger, even assuming that former Confederate soldiers knew what a tiger sounded like. Samuel Marion probably got his nickname in some other, more humiliating context and later tried to attach it to his adventures in the WBTS.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Rudy the Libertarian?

If you are going to tout a candidate as libertarian, I am given to understand that the candidate should have a first rate “libertarian resume”. I have been informed by Eric Dondero, whose own “libertarian resume” is said (by him) to be impressive, that Rudy Giuliani is “libertarian”. Although Eric doesn’t think much of folks’ using their own judgment ( ), I thought I would take a gander at old Rudy’s CV and how libertarian it is.

First off, I was going to give Rudy a plus on the libertarian ledger because of his draft dodging back during the Vietnam War. He bravely declined to be part of the federal government’s slave army, and he managed to avoid the draft thanks to a letter from his boss, a federal judge for whom Rudy was clerking. It’s hard to give Rudy credit for staying out of the slave army by sucking at the federal government’s teat as a civilian employee. I reckon the two cancel out from a libertarian perspective if I am to be as generous as I can.

After two years of clerking for the court, Rudy might have parlayed this experience into a legal job in the private sector as a productive member of society. Instead, he chose to remain a parasite on the taxpayers and work in the ironically named Justice Department. He worked his way down in the lowerarchy of the Office of the US Attorney to become chief of the Narcotics Unit. An enthusiasm for drug prohibition and a career as a bureaucrat are hardly indicative of a libertarian streak. Rudy was such a zealous bureaucrat that he landed a gig as Associate Deputy Attorney General.

He was parked at a big law firm during the Carter administration when he was displaced by Democrats at the patronage trough, but he was immediately brought back to Justice as Associate Attorney General when the GOP regained control of the spoils. He became US Attorney for the Southern District of New York where I recall his being a huge publicity hound. He was fond of the public “perp walk” when he had you arrested, but there was no equivalent publicity when he dropped charges. He was a drug warrior, among other things.

He was parked at some law firms after Reagan left office until he was elected mayor of New York City in which post he served two 4 year terms. From 1968, when he finished law school, to 2002 when he left the mayoral palace, he spent all but 9 years as a parasite on the taxpayers, hardly anything a libertarian would crow about. And his tenure as mayor is not regarded as a great flowering of individual liberty in the city. On the contrary, Rudy was an authoritarian prick. He was especially hard on sex workers and adult entertainment, and he was no friend of drug users. Marijuana arrests in NYC went from 720 in 1992 to over 60,000 in 2000.

Rudy got a lot of credit after the World Trade Center attack, and I got the impression that he believed that he had single handedly brought the city together in the wake of that tragedy. What a glory hound. I didn’t see Rudy running into any burning buildings or breathing a crapload of asbestos in the cleanup. One thing Rudy is good at is squeezing every ounce of attention and publicity out of a tragedy, and if he becomes President he will doubtless stand out in the role of publicity hound. There is nothing particularly libertarian about Rudy’s performance at the WTC.

Since Rudy left office, he has traded on his name and fame as a “security” consultant and investment advisor, although for the life of me I can’t figure out why anyone thinks Rudy knows anything in particular about either thing. I don’t know much about Rudy’s client list, except that it included the government of Venezuela, so for all I know he has worked tirelessly for personal freedom since leaving government employment. He wanted to be a Senator at one time, so he clearly wants another government gig.

Rudy doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would let the bloated powers of the presidency diminish on his watch. On the contrary, Rudy might turn out to be the last president ever elected.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Think of the Children

According to Digby ( The AG can’t quit because then nobody would be there to look after the children or to protect us from “illegal immigrant porn moguls”.

Paul the Spud ( takes up the theme of how the “think of the children” argument is reserved for the indefensible or desperate cases. He reckons that the AG will next claim that he “needs to spend more time with his family”. I lifted this image of Helen Lovejoy (the “won’t someone think of the children” lady from the Simpsons) from Paul’s post.

It turns out the AG reckons he is indispensable to the welfare of America’s children. Accordingly, how could he in good conscience resign?

The trouble with the “think of the children” argument is that it works all the time with lots of people, even those who should know better. In the AG’s case, however, the child welfare meme is probably so far removed from his situation that it won’t be what saves him, if anything does.

Consider all the regulations of our activities that are predicated on what some stupid and poorly supervised child might possibly do. There are serious calls for more regulation of the internets because some parents are too indolent to counsel their children about making dates with pederasts on line. My TV viewing options are restricted because some child somewhere might see a nipple. I can’t release Siberian tigers on my property to control the deer population because some parents are too lazy and neglectful to keep an eye on their toddlers.

Predicting the Future

On the O&A radio program this morning (it is one of my guilty pleasures), there was a repeat of an old bit about predicting the future and getting it wrong. Anthony read from a list of predictions that did not pan out. Some examples: Lord Kelvin’s announcing the impossibility of heavier than air flight in 1899 and the likelihood that X-rays were a hoax. The CEO of IBM declaring that there was a world market for at most five computers. A silent movie mogul’s wondering who might possibly want to hear actors talking. A Boeing engineer’s prediction that the 10 seater was the biggest aircraft that would ever be built. In each case, credible people with some degree of authority or expertise were incredibly wrong.

When I think back to my childhood in the 1960s, it was widely assumed that we would all have hover cars and live in underwater habitats by now. There would be colonies on the Moon and on Mars and even interstellar travel. Most diseases would be cured or curable. I’m still waiting for my hover car. On the other hand, the more pessimistic predictions of an overpopulation or nuclear war induced dystopia have not materialized either.

In the 1970s, there were a lot of End Times predictions based on the geopolitics of the moment. Hal Lindsey achieved some fame by pitching the idea that the apocalypse was right around the corner and that the US and the USSR were the major players. The collapse of the USSR was not part of his scheme, nor did he predict the current “clash of civilizations” so dear to apocalyptic preachers these days. I suppose one of these days some preacher will come close to getting something right. You’d think that the Millerites’ Great Disappointment would have made folks leery of preachers who make a living out of telling folks that God is fixing to kill them.

A lot of people make predictions all the time and are even paid to do so, but it seems to me that a lot of them are not held accountable or tracked in terms of their success or failure. Economists, for example, don’t have batting averages, so to speak, to indicate how often they have gotten it right. Pundits and politicians can get it wrong time and time again without being called on it. The promoters of the war in Iraq, for example, are still making predictions and being published in major media outlets. Shouldn’t their columns be labeled with some indicator of how prescient or misguided they have been? Shouldn’t government spokescritters have to wear a placard showing their percentage of truth telling?

If I were a futurist, I would be sure to make my predictions far enough ahead that I won’t be around to be called on them. “A billion years hence, we will no longer use hover cars but travel through the medium of pure thought.” I could also make them vague and ambiguous enough, like Nostradamus, that they can be made to fit any circumstances that arise. “A ruler will emerge who will call himself a peacemaker but who will do battle on the ancient plain.” I could also make lots of inconsistent predictions in the hopes that one of them will pan out and I will be cited as prescient. “The Democratic/GOP candidate will win in 2008.”
Or I could just start calling myself an economist or a pundit, in which case I need not concern myself with my accuracy.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Good Post at Upaya

MDM at Upaya has a thought provoking piece on how a “thick dialectical libertarianism” might deal with “exploitation”:

DeCoster versus Postrel

Karen DeCoster takes on Virginia Postrel at Lew Rockwell’s blog:

Postrel dumps on “deductivist” libertarians while praising “empiricists”.

This issue, or rather a closely related issue, is very close to my heart. One of my ambitions in life was to be an “applied anthropologist”. Even my choice of a career in law was driven by a desire to be a social engineer. Anthropology, I reckoned, would better inform my understanding of human nature and how to engineer society for the betterment of mankind. The promulgation and implementation of public policy was the highest calling. In sum, I was a wanker.

My career path was derailed on a couple of accounts. In the first instance, I came to believe that cultural and social anthropology as these are presently constituted have no useful or beneficial application. Secondly, I came to understand what Weber meant when he wrote that social science cannot tell anyone what he ought to do. At best, social science can make predictions about the consequences of a particular public policy. In the end, human values and goals are predicated on underlying metaphysical assumptions, not on anything that can be empirically derived. Social scientists cannot legitimately counsel anyone on what they ought to want or what values to adhere to. At best, we can give advice on how to achieve our goals or what the likely outcome of the application of a value to the social order will be. Thirdly, any work in this arena by a social scientist is most likely to be deployed in the interests of ruling elites and maintenance of the established order.

I value liberty for its own sake. I derive this value primarily from my religious convictions. These convictions are not subject to any empirical test. For me, liberty is the end. For Postrel, liberty is the means to achieve some other ends. Presumably, to her way of thinking, too much liberty would be a bad thing if it led to a deviation from her vision of the good society. Even the state deploys such reasoning when it decides that giving its subjects more liberty through lower (but not too low) taxes will result in more revenue to the state.

Perhaps I am reading too much into Postrel’s essay. It is possible to read it as simply calling for more pragmatism (assuming you didn’t know any of Postrel’s other views). Maybe it isn’t much different to say that liberty leads to the desired end state than to say that liberty is the desired end state. Then again, in the former formulation, there might be an optimal level of liberty that falls well short of what most libertarians I know see as desirable. What is optimal depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If I am a ruler, I will want to give my subjects as much liberty as necessary to keep them governable and productive at minimal cost and maximum profit, but not so free that they overthrow me. Would I then be a “libertarian” despot? In such a formulation, anyone is a libertarian who advocates any freedom at all. If I allow my slaves to breathe as they see fit so that they might be more productive, then I am quite the liberal.

I also see liberty as desirable for its own sake because I do not presume to know what is best for my conspecifics. Central planning in culture, religion, or other areas of life doesn’t work any better than it does in the economy. My species will probably do better in the long run if it is free to pursue diverse goals and follow diverse values. The more diversity the better. Someone is bound to get something right that way. If Virginia Postrel became queen of the world and could impose her vision of the good society on every human being, who is to say that that would be a good thing? Her utopia could very well be my dystopia.

I agree with Postrel that libertarians should be willing to ally themselves with those who move in the direction of more liberty. Tax cuts are a good thing, but taxation is still theft. I prefer the thief who takes less to the thief who takes more. Public policy is important, but why would a libertarian look first to solutions based on violence and coercion? Wouldn’t a libertarian want to exhaust the possibilities of peaceful, voluntary methods before calling in government goons? It had better be damned important to do so and all but impossible to deal with any other way.

Let’s face it. The libertarian utopia is a long way off. We have to deal with the state as a social fact or risk being killed or imprisoned. We acquiesce in it because we are pragmatists, even though we deny it legitimacy. If we begin to grant it legitimacy, we have lost our souls, and to call ourselves libertarian is self delusion.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Dinesh D'Souza Critiqued by Slightly Less Nutty Guy

What does it take to make VD Hanson seem reasonable? His plucking the low hanging fruit of a D’Souza rant for criticism:
(Actually, low hanging fruit would be harder to pick than getting fodder from D’Souza’s ravings. It’s more like fruit that fell off the tree, was eaten by a lagomorph, excreted by said lagomorph and devoured again for double digestion before being redeposited. Seriously, D’Souza is crazy. Of course, this is the guy that gained his 15 minutes of fame by arguing that his fear of negroes was justified.)

I have one quibble with VDH, however. D’Souza may have been on to something when he suggested that right wing Americans form an alliance with traditional Muslims against liberalism. The Christianist right and Islamists are very much alike. They both decry the decadence of the West and long for an authoritarian state to enforce their religious strictures. VDH ought not to have dismissed this outright, given that most of the GOP core constituency wants to impose something very like sharia law. In a comical turn, VDH remarks that he feels more akin to those dirty hippies Christopher Hitchens and Joe Lieberman than to any of the ayatollahs.

Who is a LIbertarian?

Who gets to decide who is ideologically pure enough to be called a “libertarian”? Nobody and everybody. The meaning of the term is, like most words, contested. It, like many words, can be bandied about so indiscreetly that it loses its descriptive power. It can be an epithet on the one hand and a badge of honor on the other. I find myself thinking at times when someone claims to be a libertarian or describes someone else as such: “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

I have come to accept that the term “libertarian” can be used in a relative sense. You can be a Stalinist in every respect but if you also advocate decriminalization of marijuana, you are more “libertarian” than the Stalinist who supports the prohibition of weed. An outright fascist who advocates for the freedom to gamble is more “libertarian” than a fascist who supports the prohibition of gambling.

For me, one test of whether you are really a libertarian is a commitment to the principle of limited government. If you advocate decriminalization of marijuana but at the same time acknowledge that it is within the state’s legitimate police power to criminalize it, then that is rather different than claiming that the state has no legitimate business regulating pot in the first place. If you buy into the notion that the state can legitimately do as it pleases without any inherent limits, I don’t think you really qualify as a libertarian. There is a big difference between arguing that the state ought not to engage in an activity because it is not good policy to do so and arguing that the state cannot engage in it as a matter of principle.

A libertarian, in my view, has to accept that some undesirable situations may persist in the absence of regulation. I ask people to think about government by imagining whether the problem to be solved or the service to be offered is so important to you that you would be wiling to send goons over to your neighbor’s house to rough them up to make it happen. That is precisely what you are doing when you support a government program or regulation. You are resorting to violence, and many us have scruples about the use of violence. The trouble is that the violent nature of government is obscured, and many who would not dream of robbing their neighbors directly support taxation for their own pet projects and causes.

Libertarians can disagree on how much government is necessary and still be “libertarian” in the diluted sense that they support less government than someone else who is more statist than they are. If you support more government than I do, you are less libertarian than I am. At some point, you will cease to be a libertarian in my view and probably a lot sooner down the statist road than you might like.

I reckon it ultimately boils down to the non-aggression principle. For me, there are only extreme circumstances under which I would dispatch goons to my neighbor’s place. My religious principles dictate peacefulness and toleration in all but the most limited cases. I cannot love my neighbor and rob him or threaten or coerce him at the same time. I cannot love my neighbor and at the same time let my own cowardice induce me to rob him, restrict him, coerce him and send his children off on military adventures to address some minute risk to myself. If I support the so called “War on Terror”, that is precisely what I would be doing, using violence to mitigate a danger that is far less than the risk that I will be struck by lightning or killed in an auto accident. If I am a frightened bedwetter, that doesn’t give me license to infringe on the liberties of my neighbors to assuage my panic.

Let’s recap. If you advocate decriminalization of some activity as good public policy, for example because it will increase state revenues, you are probably not a libertarian in my book. If you deny the state’s legitimate authority to criminalize the activity in the first place, that’s libertarianism. I get to decide whom I think is a libertarian and who is not one. Maybe I will set myself up as the herald of the ideology and issue credentials.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Libertarian Comedian Eric Dondero Makes Me Laugh

I had to check out the pro-war “libertarian” Eric Dondero’s blogs after reading some of his comments on Independent Country. I am convinced that this is a parody, and I find his postings comical. His schtick is to declare himself a true libertarian while espousing entirely statist viewpoints. This could be a swipe at Virginia Postrel and Tom Palmer and their ilk.

In a particularly hilarious post, he endorses Rudy Giuliani for President despite Giuliani’s fascist leanings because Eric thinks Rudy would be the greatest “warrior” ever in the White House. Even funnier are those who comment on his posts without seeming to realize that the site is not real.

Eric claims to have an impressive libertarian resume and to be the single most influential libertarian political consultant on the planet. He speaks “10-15 languages”, apparently so many that he has lost count. He says that Lew Rockwell is a lefty liberal and not a libertarian at all. He claims that Dana Rohrbacher was a founding father of the modern libertarian movement.

I laughed until I almost wet myself. Thanks, Eric, for your humorous take on libertarianism.

I Call Steve Scott Butter Because He is on a Roll

Steve Scott is on a roll

In one post, he takes on what it might mean to be a “fool for Jesus” It means, per Steve, that the way of Jesus seems foolish to the world, not that followers of Jesus should act like idiots.

I have been thinking about how many passages in the Bible refer to foolishness in contrast to wisdom, especially the Proverbs. The formula is usually “the foolish man does such and such whereas the wise man does something else altogether”. The thing that troubles me is that I have come to believe that all of us are prone to folly to some extent and that some of us are destined to be fools by virtue of our stupidity. I do not equate intelligence with wisdom, but wisdom seems a lot harder to come by if you are stupid. A stupid man is more easily led into folly as he has not the discernment to know whom to trust. Witness the core constituency of GW Bush. Most of them purport to follow Jesus but have been led astray by evil men into following the very Prince of Fools and his ungodly agenda.

Do the proverbs invite us to hold fools in contempt? I know many who seem to think so, who speak of letting fools take “personal responsibility” for their folly, that is to suffer the dire consequences of it. I have come to believe that we should not be contemptuous of fools; rather, we should treat them with an extra measure of solicitude, instruct them if they can be instructed, and mitigate the consequences of their folly when we can.

I am relatively intelligent, but I do not claim to be wise. I have had to learn too many things by experience to claim wisdom as an attribute. I have done my share of foolish things and made many foolish choices, and I am not done yet. It is written that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and I trust that I have at least embarked on the path of wisdom in this regard.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Report from the Georgia Hills

My stepmother passed away last week, and I drove down to Georgia for the funeral and to spend some time with my father and siblings, some of whom were her children. I got caught in that snowstorm on my way home on Friday, and it took over four hours to get from Scranton to Stormville.

My visits to Georgia are so infrequent that I tend to forget just how southern fried my family is. Their accents are broad, and their tastes run to country and western music, car races, hunting and fishing, and ultimate fighting. They neglect their pets and indulge their children. They fry almost everything they eat, and they like their green beans cooked to a pulp with a slab of pork fat. It seemed to me that I was eating almost constantly. I had fried green tomatoes and butter beans for the first time in decades. Folks tend to be either obese or skinny as a rail, like one of those shirtless drunks getting arrested on “Cops”.

The funeral was in a tiny country Baptist church, and it featured shouting and old time preaching. I didn’t see anybody run the aisles, but I would not have been surprised by it. My stepmother loved that church, and the service was how she would have wanted it. She was laid to rest in a small cemetery across the road from a racetrack. The funeral goers ended up at the Western Sizzlin’ for supper.

My hometown has grown bigger and a whole lot seedier these last few years. Farms that used to raise corn now feature row upon row of manufactured homes. Housing is very affordable. It has to be since wages are so low. Some of the local carpet mills have recruited tens of thousands of Mexicans, many of them undocumented and in the country unlawfully, to work in the mills. This has the effect, desired by the mill owners, of suppressing wages and keeping the locals in their place.

My people are staunchly anti-immigrant and are looking to the federal government to control the border better. It’s not so much that they don’t like Mexicans; rather, they resent the suppression of wages and rising tax burdens. The Mexicans have relatively larger families and have filled up the public schools so that new schools must be built. They also use the public health facilities and other government services without a concomitant contribution to the tax base.

Dalton has a lot of pawnshops, check cashing businesses, and easy credit providers to cater for the working poor. Many folks have more than one job to make ends meet. My sister has three jobs. My mother bakes wedding cakes on the side. Nobody ever gets ahead or out of debt. They are always one illness or injury away from financial disaster.

My people are likely to vote for a Republican for president in 2008. They don’t care for Clinton, partly because she’s a woman, or for Obama, mainly because he’s black, and they reckon one of the other of those senators has a lock on the Democratic nomination. If a Republican candidate is “right” on immigration, they will vote for him despite his positions on anything else and despite the GOP’s platform being against their interests in almost every respect.

There are “more churches than people”, as the saying goes, and frequent schisms over minutiae have led to a proliferation of tiny churches, mostly Baptist. These feature rather lively services with much outpouring of emotion and demonstrations of religious ecstasy. Ecstasy is otherwise forbidden, so you have to have it in church. In principle, most forms of pleasure are sinful.

I am glad that I was able to visit, but I am equally glad to be back to my life as an expatriate here in New York. My accent will go away in a few weeks, and I will get all the gravy out of my system in a month or so.

Friday, March 09, 2007

China Wants to Invest a Trillion Bucks

WaPo reports that China is looking to increase the return on its trillion dollars of foreign currency that it holds in reserve:

Currently, China buys US bonds, but they plan to diversify. We are assured by the Minister of the Treasury that this will not impact the market in US bonds.

Stop Slandering God, John Hagee!

The false prophet John Hagee reckons that the state is God’s instrument for bringing about Judgment Day, so he aims to influence the US government and the Israeli government to make war in the Middle East and incite Russia and the Arabs to nuke Israel. This will set the stage for the Tribulation and the return of Christ to judge the quick and the dead. Those Israelites have got to be murdered en masse as part of God’s plan, and the sooner the better for Hagee.

Hagee claims the Third Reich was God’s instrument for chastising the Jews and setting the stage for the return of the remnant to Palestine. I suppose this means that Hagee would have advocated for Nazi genocide if he had been preaching back in the 1930s. After all, it was God’s plan unfolding, and collaborating with God is always a good idea. You could presumably have worked at the death camps and still have been a member in good standing at Hagee’s church, what with doing God’s work and all.

I suppose that you can argue that everything that happens is an unfolding of God’s mysterious will, but I don’t reckon that it is at all sensible to opine as to what God’s purposes may be. You are more apt to blaspheme than to prophesy. The attack on the World Trade Center, for example, may very well have some divine purpose, but there is no basis for attributing it to the treatment of homosexuals in America as some false prophets did. Of course, every unfortunate event is due to gays in some crazy preachers’ fantasy worlds.

In any event, letting those who would somehow hasten the end of days influence foreign policy to that end is insanity. For one who claims to be a follower of Jesus to advocate war and mass murder and to work to bring these about is obscene. If God uses catastrophes in His plan, He certainly does not mean for Christians to cause them or to participate in evildoing. There are enough evildoers in the world to go around.

When you announce what you think God is up to in the wake of tragedy, you are telling us about yourself, not about God. Hagee is telling us that he is bats**t insane or satanic or both.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Gaydar Deficiency

I don't have gaydar. I am usually the last to know whether someone is gay. Quite a few of my high school and college friends turned out to be gay, and I never suspected. It wasn't really safe to come out in my home town, especially in high school.

I suspect that my cluelessness has contributed to some awkward situations over the years where gay men have assumed that I was also gay and came on to me. As flattering as this can be, it can also be a bit shocking as when one man planted a big wet one on me out of nowhere. I don't know what signals I was putting out, but nowadays I don't get out much and don't have much of an opportunity to get into "I thought you were gay" scenarios.

I have never been homophobic or concerned that I might be gay. Presumably, I would know if I were sexually attracted to other men. I am attracted to women, so that rules out gay. I don't enjoy gay porn, so that rules out a career in conservative political circles.

One of my conspecifics doesn't want his kids to have gay teachers or to be exposed to homosexuality. He fears that if they find out that homosexuality is an option, they will decide to be gay! He would rather his sons repress their true sexual preferences, if they turn out to be gay, and pretend to be straight, no matter how miserable this makes them. I don't know why he feels this way. I bet he would love his son anyway.

Best Uncle Ever

If your kindly and attentive uncle bothers to teach you to smoke weed at a young age, you are lucky indeed. I wasted a lot of good weed through improper technique when I started using and could have used some avuncular advice. I still can’t roll a joint if I were to use weed now, which I don’t what with it being illegal and all. Also, I did not use weed until I was an adult, so I missed out on a lot of pleasure for many years. Thanks for nothing, uncles!

The solicitous uncle in Texas that I heard about on the radio has come under fire for teaching a 2 year old and a 6 year old how to smoke weed. I have not heard anyone fault him for the technique he imparted or his teaching style, and he was probably correct in his assertion that the youngsters would eventually smoke weed sooner or later. Better to show them the right way so they don’t hurt themselves or waste any valuable buds. Taping the session would be helpful for the kids to review the lesson later on.

Gatekeepers Schmatekeepers

JL Wilson ( and Lew Rockwell ( both posted about gatekeepers today, albeit in different contexts. Wilson problematizes regulators and credentialing agencies as stifling creativity and limiting workers’ opportunities, and Rockwell defends Wikipedia against criticism about its editors’ lack of credentials.

I learned from a comedian last weekend that strippers in Texas must be vetted and licensed. She had had a DWI conviction and was ineligible for a license. In some places, you need a license to arrange flowers. These barriers to entry into such occupations serve no useful purpose. All licensing and credentialing bodies serve only to increase costs and rob folks of opportunities. Who thinks for a moment that a medical license is a guarantee of competence or that bar membership indicates a brilliant legal mind? These professions use licensing to maintain a monopoly for their guilds, not to protect consumers of medicine or legal advice. It would be one thing if membership in a professional association were voluntary. The association would have an incentive to keep as members only the most capable practitioners so that membership might be used as a marketing tool. As it stands now, membership does nothing for the consumer.

As for Wikipedia, I don’t care if the editors have degrees or are approved by the establishment. What do credentials matter as long as the information and knowledge provided are useful and fairly accurate? The establishment’s knock on Wikipedia is that anyone can contribute to it, even if they have not been through the establishment’s vetting process. The same goes for journalists’ disdain for bloggers. I find bloggers’ reporting useful and informative, and I have enough sense to know how credible any particular blog might be. It’s the “professional” journalists that fail to inform and who pump out endless streams of vacuity. The academy does not produce anything comparable to Wikipedia or otherwise do anything for me as a seeker of information or knowledge.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

First Plural is a Perfectly Cromulent Person

Jomama links to an article by Jim Davies:

The gravamen of the article is that tribalism is bad, any form of tribalism, and that anarchists seek to live as individuals and to see others solely as individuals.

I reckon tribalism can be bad and often is, but it doesn’t have to be. Voluntary associations of people can be a good thing. I am happy to be part of a family, and I voluntarily choose to participate in family life to some extent. I am happy to be part of the church and to assume responsibility for the welfare of my coreligionists as long as there is no compulsion involved. I am happy to live among cooperative and friendly neighbors and to be part of a neighborhood. I am lucky in that my coworkers are mostly amiable, and I am happy to serve in harness with them. When I have been on sports teams or in clubs, I have been happy to do so. I love being in the choir and singing together as with one voice.

The key is that I am not compelled to do any of these group things. The relationships are largely negotiable, but I accept that participation may give rise to certain kinds of claims on my time and resources. These are voluntary groups, and what makes them work is love, not compulsion. The introduction of violence into any of them would render them valueless and a misery.

Davies’ article focuses mainly on what are more properly called “categories”, i.e. collections of people sorted on the basis of one or more characteristics but having no organization or function as with a “group”. Races are categories, not groups. It is more proper to speak of ethnic categories instead of ethnic groups. Gender is a category. American is a category.

Manipulative bastards work to reify categories and to base claims on them, to imbed the notion of category into individual identity. My nationality is American, but that does not mean that I have any particular duty to or expectation from anyone else having the same nationality solely on the basis that we are subject to the same rulers. I do not regard an American as more or less valuable than any other human being. The same may not be said of voluntary associations. I hold my kinsmen in higher esteem than others. I have special affection for my coreligionists and fellow choir singers. They are my friends and family, and we share more than a set of arbitrary characteristics.

It is okay to speak in the first person plural when you are talking about the groups you belong to. Here are some more examples of the category/group distinction:

Category /Group

Irishman/ Michael Flatley fan club
Women /The Junior League
Christian/ The church
Veteran /VFW Post 1217
Anarchist /East Fishkill Anarchist Society
African-American /NAACP
Dog owner /Friends of the Yonkers Animal Shelter
Cheese eaters /Danbury Cheese Lovers Club
Working Class /UMWA Local 12
Children /The Lee Family
Actors /Cast of Battlestar Galactica
Old people /AARP

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Dying Republics as Entertainment

Mrs Vache Folle and I have been watching DVDs of the HBO series “Rome”. If you can live with some considerable historical inaccuracy, it’s an entertaining series. The set design and costumes are fantastic, and the producers have tried to be true to Roman culture of the late Republic.

The Julio-Claudian gangsters that started the Empire and destroyed the Republic kept the corpse of the Republic around for many years to lend themselves some kind of “legitimacy”. There was still a Senate to legislate, albeit as long as the legislation pleased the Emperors. There were still Republican offices of tribune and consul and such like, albeit filled with Imperial lackeys.

I am reminded of the times we live in now. In the US, we keep the Constitution under glass and appeal to it often. Some folks keep little pocket sized Constitutions on their persons, presumably so they can wipe their arses with it in the case of politicians. But the Constitution has lost its meaning. The US government does not remotely resemble what the founders designed.

Of course, the Roman Republic was ripe for corruption. It seemed to function mainly to maintain the patrician class’ privileges and wealth, and the Julio-Claudians used their popularity with ordinary people to secure and maintain power and cow the Senate. Likewise, the American electorate has acquiesced in and supports the massive federal governmental apparatus we now enjoy. Ordinary folks have voted for tyranny consistently, believing in politicians’ promises of a New Deal, a Great Society, and a New World Order.

Monday, March 05, 2007

JIm Norton Killed at Bananas

Mrs Vache Folle and I went out Saturday to the comedy club “Bananas in Poughkeepsie. It’s not so much a club as a conference space in the Best Western where they stuff in plywood tables on weekends and have comedians come in. The patrons are packed in like sardines, and you are lucky if you get anyone to sell you a drink. Nobody served us on Saturday. So we saved a few bucks.

The featured performer was Jim Norton, whom we had seen down in Greenwich Village back in 2001 and who had been a regular on Colin Quinn’s Comedy Central show “Tough Crowd”. Lately, Jim has been sitting in with Opie and Anthony, a couple of clowns with an entertaining radio show during the morning drive time. I listen just about every day since I can’t get Air America any more, and the news is too damn depressing. It is a guilty pleasure, and I usually claim to listen to NPR. It is a seriously puerile show, and the crowd at Bananas was composed mainly of an unsavory collection of what I figure is the typical Opie and Anthony constituent. Twenty-something, mostly dateless white blue collar guys with baseball caps worn askew. Salt of the earth, if you will.

Jim killed. His performance this time centered almost entirely on sex, and it was very graphic and very funny. Jim’s comic persona, and perhaps Jim in real life, is a sex maniac, and he is absolutely unapologetic about it. His shamelessness and vulnerability are key to his performance. He speaks of the unspeakable without hesitation or embarrassment, and this leads to some of the funniest observations ever about human sexuality.

Jim handled a table of chatterers in an entertaining manner, much to the room’s delight. He called them out and booted them from the show, even though one of them was proclaimed to be a “breast cancer survivor”. She supposed that this status entitled her to talk incessantly during the performance. Jim skillfully deflected the breast cancer survivor card and a claim that he liked to belittle women with wit. It was an uncomfortable moment, and I fretted a little that a Michael Richard’s moment was unfolding with the “C-bomb” instead of the “N-word”. But it passed quickly without escalating. Kudos to the Bananas staff for ejecting them.

I laughed until tears ran down my face. I was exhausted from laughter by the time the show ended. I wish Jim got to speak more on Opie and Anthony.

There is No Such Thing as an "Illegitimate" Child; They're Just Bastards

In a discussion with the conspecifics the other day, the normative proposition that “children do better in intact families” came up. What this boiled down to in the end was that intact families generally had more money than non-intact families. The male role model thing could be tacked on to bolster the argument, but the main thing was financial stability. A related proposition is that “women who are not married should not have children”, presumably because the offspring will often not be as well off as they might with a husband in the picture.

But how perfect does the situation have to be before it is morally appropriate to reproduce? Children with nannies are better off than children without them, so should everyone wait to reproduce until he or she can afford a nanny? Children with loving extended families are better off than children in mere nuclear families, so should those who are estranged from their kin eschew reproduction until reconciliation? At some point, the situation is presumably good enough since the anti-bastardy advocates among my conspecifics all have children even though their situations are not perfect in every particular. And they had children even though they knew that one of them might die or that a divorce might ensue, in which cases their children would be less well off and better off never having been born.

For my part, I am indifferent to bastardy. If you don’t expect me to pay for your childrearing hobby, then I don’t care if you are married when you have a child. Alas, money is extorted from me for the support of other people’s children, and most of them are not even bastards. They were whelped by married couples and live in intact families which, despite being able to afford to take care of their own children and to educate them, nonetheless demand by force that I pay for public schools and other amenities for their kids. When they stop robbing their neighbors, I will listen to them moralize about bastardy. Until then, their moral credibility is strained to the breaking point.

East Fishkill's Extortion Demands Increase Significantly

We were just informed that our real estate taxes are going up to almost nine large. By New York standards, this is still a bargain. If I still lived in Westchester, I’d probably have to pay $20K a year for the privilege of living in my own house. But this is East Fishkill, Dutchess County for crying out loud!

My mother in Georgia pays a small fraction of what we pay in real estate taxes and gets just about the same level of “services” as we do, so what is East Fishkill doing with all the extra money? It can’t be snow removal, can it? As far as I can tell, that’s the only major difference in “services”. We have a well and a septic tank, so we don’t get water and sewer service. The road hasn’t been repaired in three years we have been living on it and, judging from its condition, many years have gone by without a visit from the highway department.. I never even see a cop unless I’m at the police station. The fire department is volunteer and supported by donations. The town website does not have budget information, so I don’t know what the city fathers are squandering our money on.

A big chunk goes to the schools, of course, but even there my mother’s county is apparently way more efficient at educating the youngsters than ours is. We pay over twice as much per pupil!

We can’t move further away from the city or our commutes would be prohibitive. They are a real strain as it is. Perhaps we can start a revolt and take a stand in East Fishkill.

Fashion Police Want New Uniforms

Death Wore a Feathered Mullet is dead on in asking why the fashion police are such wierdos:

Fashionistas heal thyselves.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Krauthammer to the Moon!

I nominate Charley K as the first lunar colonist, and I would contribute to sending him to the moon ASAP:

No Accounting for Taste in Songs

Some songs, no matter how awful, are beloved because I associate them with some happy time or event. Others, no matter how good, are hated because they coincided with some unpleasantness.

I spent a glorious summer when I was 13 or 14 (I’m no longer sure what year it was) on Lake Chatuge. The local radio station seemed to have only a handful of records that they played over and over again ad nauseam. Because I was so happy at the lake, I love these songs. I even sing them from time to time. They included such masterworks as “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”, “Lime in the Coconut”, “Paper Roses”, “I Can’t Stop this Feeling (with ooga chakas)”, and “Sooner or Later”. My cousin had an 8 track tape of Steppenwolf that we played repeatedly at full blast. “God Damn the Pusher Man” still makes me smile. “Born to be Wild” is my personal theme song that plays in the opening credits of the imaginary movie about me.

On the hated song front, Meatloaf’s “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” reminds of getting dumped. “Tainted Love” reminds me of getting dumped again a few years later. Luckily, these songs suck anyway so I’m not losing anything through the bad association. I would probably have hated them in any event.

My kid sister was a big fan of American Top 40, and she would spend her allowance on hit 45s which she would then play until you wanted to scream. “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” still makes my skin crawl. “You’re So Vain” likewise was played to death. On the other hand, I can’t get enough of “I’ve Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates” and “Brandy, You’re a Fine Girl”. Go figure.

Some songs just sucked, no matter how I felt when they played. “Muskrat Love”, “Afternoon Delight”, “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero”, “The Night Chicago Died”, “Seasons in the Sun”, and “Daisy a Day” come to mind.

Other songs were awesome: “I’ve Got a Name”, “Crocodile Rock”, “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road”, “Knowing Me Knowing You”, “Thunder Road”, “Those Were the Days”, “Don’t Play B17”, “Nights in White Satin”, “Maggie May”.

They stopped writing songs after the 1970s.

Swiss Invade Liechtenstein by "Accident"!

It seems that World War III was narrowly averted:

The Swiss Army “accidentally” invaded the Principality of Liechtenstein. I’m not buying it. This was a scouting mission, and next time it will be for real. Switzerland has always coveted its neighbors’ lucrative postage stamp business.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Home Depot Sucks

Home Depot sucks for several reasons: there are never enough registers open; our local HD has been out of DuraFlame logs for 6 weeks; they don’t sell pet friendly de-icer; and almost everyone who works there is a complete ignoramus about HD’s wares. Moreover, the associates, or whatever the clerks are called, are decidedly unhelpful. I understand that the company treats them like crap, so it is not surprising that this gets paid forward to the customer.

Occasionally, a TV ad for HD comes on. The delighted customers are shown being helped by knowledgeable and enthusiastic workers. This must be the Home Depot in Bizarro World, because it doesn’t resemble any Home Depot I’ve ever been in.