Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Another Idiot Opines at WaPo

David Ignatius in WaPo reckons that the US has to attack Pakistan to get Al Qaeda in its new stronghold in Waziristan.

The threat that worries Ignatius:

“For those who might have forgotten in the six years since Sept. 11, 2001, what a reconstituted al-Qaeda could do, the intelligence analysts explained that the terrorist group has ‘the goal of producing mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks and/or fear among the U.S. population.’ The analysts noted that al-Qaeda continues to seek biological, radiological and nuclear weapons ‘and would not hesitate to use them.’”

Why the US should act now through preventive war:

“The United States can begin to take action now against al-Qaeda's new haven. Or we can wait, and hope that we don't get hit again. The biggest danger in waiting is that if retaliation proves necessary later, it could be ill-planned and heavy-handed -- precisely what got us in trouble in Iraq.”

I’m pretty sure that the authorities have no idea whether Al Qaeda had anything to do with the events of September 11, 2001 other than taking credit for them after the fact, something Al Qaeda would do in furtherance of its aims whether it was involved or not. In retaliation, the US more or less destroyed Afghanistan and killed many innocent people with no apparent diminution of the threat from Al Qaeda. Ignatius holds up the intervention in Afghanistan as a model of how the US should intervene in Pakistan. Presumably, he reckons that it is desirable to kill innocents, further alienate and radicalize Muslims, destabilize Pakistan, and unleash a serious of unforeseen consequences in the name of preventing another terrorist attack on US soil.

In view of Ignatius’s assessment of why the Iraq war was a failure (it was ill planned and heavy-handed, that’s all), I don’t reckon that we need to give much weight to his opinions on these matters. The “threat” from Al Qaeda seems to be that they have certain destructive “goals” which they are probably in little position to realize while they are holed up in Waziristan. It seems to me that containing Al Qaeda in some backwater, using intelligence gathering and law enforcement techniques to monitor them, and taking a measured and proportional approach to the threat would make a lot more sense than dropping bombs willy nilly in Waziristan or Anywhereelseistan for that matter.

Congressman Hall Writes Me Back

"Thank you for contacting me regarding your desire to see impeachment charges brought against President Bush. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this issue.

I ran for Congress because I was deeply disturbed by the direction that the Bush Administration has chosen for America. I believe the President's policies have seriously injured this country. Domestically, the policies of this Administration have favored powerful interests over the welfare of working families, allowed the number of Americans without health insurance to grow, increased our dependence on foreign oil, eroded environmental protections, undermined personal liberties, and recklessly plunged our nation deeper into debt. Internationally, he has alienated the United States from much of the world and has pushed the country into a misguided and mismanaged war in Iraq.

As a new member of the House of Representatives I am deeply committed to reversing President Bush's policies and getting the United States back on track. Although I am extremely frustrated by President Bush's conduct, I do not believe impeachment proceedings against the President would be successful, and that the effort to move forward with impeachment would detract from Congress's ability to put America back on the right path. It is my belief that the most important missions of the new Congress, improving the lives of working American families and restoring America's global standing, will be better served by immediately focusing on long-term solutions than by attempting to remove a President who will be out of office in less than two years.

However, if investigations by Judiciary or Government Oversight Committees reveal actions that rise to the level of impeachable offences, Congress would have to consider action.

I appreciate hearing your thoughts and share your concerns about the direction of this country. Again, thanks for contacting me. Please let me know if I can help you on any other matter."

Friday, July 27, 2007

I Support Some of the Troops

The best way to support “the troops” is to work to bring them home and out of harm’s way. At least, that would be the case for the kind of troops that I would, in fact, support. I’m sympathetic to the poor, duped bastards who enlisted because they honestly believed that they would be defending their country and fighting for freedom. They had been told this from the moment of their birth by folks in authority, and they were so misinformed that they had little reason to disbelieve it until they found themselves in the insane misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even I, whose eyes have long since been opened, once enlisted on the basis of some seemingly noble and altruistic impulses. What a maroon I was. I tell every young person I know to avoid the military, and I hope that I will have made a difference in their attitudes.

It’s a little harder to be sympathetic to anyone who has enlisted in the last three years. If they are idiots, I am behind them. If they are murderous thugs who signed up to kill and terrorize people, then I cannot support them, because to support such troops would be to enlarge their opportunities for mayhem and carnage. Perhaps these are “the troops” that warmongers support with their ribbon magnets. They are the only ones who benefit from prolonged war.

I prefer to believe that most of “the troops” are the duped sad sacks that I can get behind. To support them means getting them out of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not enough to equip them better and leave them in the war zones. Every day that they are there is a betrayal of the impulses that led them to enlist in the first place. These men and women did not sign up to participate in illegal wars of aggression wholly unrelated to the defense of their country. They did not sign up to terrorize civilians in an occupation that does nothing to advance the interests of the American people, unless they happen to be war profiteers or neo-con office seekers.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bill O'Reilly is Just LIke Hitler

Bill O’Reilly is just like Hitler. I feel that I can say that if I subscribe to the standards that Bill O holds himself to. That is, I am free to make any shite up that I want to make any point that I want, and I don’t even need to be logically consistent. If I’m Bill O, my viewers and listeners are the most credulous, ignorant yahoos in the world, and they are never going to check any “facts” I offer up as support for my positions. Heck. They won’t remember any of it in five minutes except for where to direct their hate. There’s a War on Christmas! Kill the Jews!

Bill O wants to see all the Jews killed. He’s said so many times on his program. He also wants to send all the African-Americans to Africa or to reinstate slavery. That has been his consistent position. Just look at the transcripts of his shows. I can’t find the exact citations, but that’s not important. What matters is that I have made the accusation, and, because I am Bill O, my morally and intellectually challenged following will believe it anyway. I bet Fox has put all the “Kill the Jews” and “Bring Back Slavery” episodes down the old memory hole by now anyway, so why bother even checking?

One benefit of having Bill O in the world is that it is very convenient for me to avoid conversations with people who mention something they heard on Bill O’s show. If I can’t avoid it entirely, I at least know beyond any doubt that every utterance of the Bill O viewer is complete crap.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Housing Bust

There are a lot of houses for sale in my neighborhood, and they don’t seem to be moving at all. One of our neighbors has reduced his asking price by $100K and still hasn’t sold his place! Back when we bought our house at the end of 2003, almost every property would get snapped up within a couple of weeks, often for more than the asking price. It figures. If I buy a house, that is the signal for the real estate boom to end. I am the only economic indicator you need. I don’t believe any of these houses is in foreclosure, but it must suck to have to sell your house in this market.

I have heard that the mortgage default rate (MDR) is about 2.2% overall and just over 10% in the sub-prime sector. Presumably, the greater risk associated with sub-prime loans was figured into pricing, but this default rate is about twice what is usual. Apparently 90% of the sub-prime mortgages are not in default, so lots of folks who would have been renters seem to have made out thanks to innovative mortgage products. This sub-prime MDR is about what it was in the recession of Ought One. It may not presage the apocalypse after all, unless you are heavily invested in securities backed by sub-prime mortgages, in which case you are screwed.

The prices of houses seem to me to be a function of the amount of monthly payments the buyer can expect to have to pay. If you look at houses in terms of the monthly nut to cover, you can see that prices rise with lowering interest rates and vice versa.

High taxes mean less value to the seller since the buyer has to figure the tax burden into his housing budget. On the other hand, the high taxes are supposed to translate to a greater demand for housing in the district and increased values. That doesn’t help me as a buyer or owner who is not looking to sell, especially in an area where so much new housing is being built.

The mortgage interest deduction, far from subsidizing home ownership, simply increases the cost of the house since the buyer’s budget already accounts for tax savings. The deduction subsidizes sellers and real estate agents. Buyers and owners who aren’t selling lose the benefit of the deduction because it is already accounted for in the price of the house and their monthly budget.

It is no mystery that the housing boom came to an end when interest rates started rising. My house is still worth the same monthly payment, but that translates to a smaller asking price than what I might have expected two years ago.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thinking of Bears

When I was a kid my favorite hymn was “Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear”. Why we sang about a bear in church was a delightful mystery.

My father used to sing us a song about a preacher who was pursued by an angry bear. The chorus went something like this:

“You saved Daniel from the lion’s den. You saved the Hebrew children from the fire. Oh, Lord, if you can’t help me, please don’t help that bear.”

It helps that fire and bear rhyme in my native dialect. They both sound like “far”.

There’s a black bear in my neighborhood, and just about everyone has seen it but me. I would love to see a bear. I have had a few encounters with bears while hiking, mostly in the Smokies. A bear mauled our rental car when we were camping at Redwood National Park. A black bear came into my mother’s back yard when I was away at college, and some forest service guys came and trapped it and took it back to the Chattahoochee National Forest.

The rest of the bears I have come close to have been in zoos or the Olympic Game Ranch. The polar bears at the Central Park are fascinating to watch, and the grizzlies in the Cherokee, North Carolina bear zoo are real hams. You get to feed them. You can also feed the grizzlies at the Olympic Game Ranch. If you throw a piece of bread like a Frisbee, they can catch it easily.

Conversations with God

When I was a kid growing up in the buckle of the Bible Belt, it was not unusual for folks to claim that they had been “talking to the Lord” about things and that the Lord had engaged them in conversation. One of my high school buddies was getting dumped by his girlfriend who told him that she had been talking to the Lord about him. He replied, “Don’t listen to Him; He hates me!”
I talked to the Lord all the time. I still do. It’s called praying. Not once has the Lord ever spoken audibly to me or appeared in a miraculous vision, but I reckon that the Lord has led me to certain convictions over the years. I believe that the Holy Ghost guides me when I am open to such guidance.

Back in the day, it is said that God used to talk to people. He’d do this through angels or even in person. The exact mechanics of the personal contact are not described, so I don’t know whether there were actual sound waves involved or if the sensation of sound was placed in the auditors’ brains. On at least one occasion, God chose to appear in the form of a talking bush that appeared to be on fire. God evidently appeared in dreams and hallucinations.

Nowadays, it is acceptable to claim to receive messages from God as long as you are vague about the medium. A sense of conviction, a dream, a stray thought. These are OK. On the other hand, if you claim that you get audible messages from God through your hair dryer or any physical object, you will be dismissed as a kook or a liar by all but the most gullible folks. I seem to recall some preacher’s getting royally ribbed a few years ago for claiming that God appeared to him in the form of a 40 foot tall horse.

Perhaps there are genuine prophets among us, and we dismiss them as kooks. I recall some wild-eyed itinerant preachers who looked to me like what I imagined the Old Testament prophets looked and sounded like. They mostly warned of the End of the World and the need to Get Right With God, the former being way off the mark and the latter always good advice. A prophet needs to come up with something novel, I reckon, before he can attract a following. Would Joseph Smith have gotten so many devotees if he had just reiterated standard Protestant doctrine? “The angel of the Lord has appeared to me and has informed me that the Presbyterians have got it just right!”

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Gay Germ?

I was fascinated by another forbidden question in Pinker’s list: “Is homosexuality the symptom of an infectious disease?”

So far, nobody has identified such a pathogen. If it exists, it appears to do its “damage” in utero and does not seem to be transmissible outside the womb. If such a pathogen were identified, some parents might choose to take steps to prevent infection and reduce the number of homosexuals born. There might also be efforts directed at treating the symptoms after the infected child is born. One “benefit” of identifying the pathogen would be that homosexual children could be identified as such right away and treated with greater solicitude when it came to behavior and preferences consistent with their orientation.

In an episode of Red Dwarf, the characters come across some viruses that produce desirable symptoms. For example, one such virus gave the infected person incredible luck. Another provided courage. I reckon some homosexuals I have known, men who were quite comfortable in their own skin, would consider the posited pathogen such a good virus.

Parents Matter a Little

Ronald Bailey at H&R links to an op-ed by Steven Pinker where Pinker lists some questions that can’t be asked in polite society. My favorite: “Do parents have any effect on the character or intelligence of their children?”

I don’t think that parents, other then via their genetic legacy, have any impact on their children’s intelligence. Character, on the other hand, is a trickier question. I believe that basic personality traits are inborn but that through the steady application of severe abuse and neglect parents can turn any child into a monster. Aside from creating monsters, however, parents are helpless to affect how their kids turn out. They can fret and pray, but that’s about it.

This news should be liberating for parents. They can stop all this nonsense about “parenting” and get back to the passive role of “having kids”. Think of the time and energy you will save. And your psyche will be healthier now that you don’t have to worry about having “quality time” with your kids. Send them out to play and have a nice cup of tea or a glass of wine. They’ll be fine. They don’t really need for you to amuse them all the time. As long as you feed and clothe them and drive them where they need to go, your work is pretty much done.

Ties

Anthony Gregory likes to wear a tie. I do not. One of the benefits of my job is that the office went casual year round several years ago, so we almost never have to wear a coat and tie. We don’t have customers, just vendors, so whom would we be trying to impress? Each other?

Occasionally, we will have visitors who will be dressed up in business suits. I call them “The Suits”. Without their attire, most of these guys would be recognized immediately for the lightweights that they really are. I reckon that’s the main reason to wear a suit. You want to baffle people for a few precious moments before they figure out that you are an impostor.

I had to wear a tie and jacket when I made court appearances back when I was a litigator. One lunatic judge in Citrus County, Florida made the lawyer who was appearing just before me change his tie. The guy had on a string tie to go with the cowboy look that he affected much of the time, but Judge Crazy reckoned that it was not sufficiently respectful. Instead of going all the way back to his office or home the next county down, the lawyer borrowed an old tie from a friend. It was a ghastly polyester thing from the early 70s. It was wider than a bib and had a knot as big as a poodle’s head. When the lawyer showed up in court in that godawful tie, Judge Crazy cited him for contempt and had him arrested and jailed on the spot.

When I worked for the VA in DC, we had to wear jackets and ties unless the air temperature reached 95 degrees, in which case we might dispense with them. At 100 degrees we could wear short sleeves or even short pants. Every year, we had an “ugly tie contest”. In 1987, the winner was not even aware of the competition; he just happened to wear really ugly ties as a matter of course. Most of the lifers at the VA were really dowdy looking. They were a soulless lot, and this was reflected in their dingy, drab clothing.

When I worked in law enforcement, I wore a clip-on tie. This was to prevent a suspect’s grabbing me by my tie and choking me with it. An added benefit was that the clip-on always had a perfect knot. I can never get my tie right on the first try. It’s either way too long or too short, and the knot is twisted into an unattractive mess.

I always end up with food on my tie. For this reason, Mrs Vache Folle would buy them for me in bulk from street vendors in Manhattan, and I would throw them away if they got any schmutz on them. Now it’s not an issue since I wear a tie fewer than five times a year.

My favorite tie ever had smiling Jimmy Carter faces and peanuts in rows. I got it in 1976, but it has since been lost to posterity. My second favorite was the white polyester clip-on bow tie that I wore to the Homecoming Dance in 1973. It was almost as big as my face and was visible from outer space.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Dating Advice to My 14 Year Old Self

If I could go back in time and give advice to the 14 year old Vache Folle about females, here’s what I would tell him/me.

Listen to your future self. I know you know everything, but I’m you and know everything you know now plus 35 years worth of stuff. Pay heed to these warnings and suggestions.

Don’t waste any time chasing tail. Tail will chase you. Trust me. It’s chasing you right now and you don’t even know it.

Don’t bother with a steady girlfriend until you are much older. It will be way better to play the field and keep your options open. That way, you won’t let the existence of girlfriends influence your other decisions in life. Any steady girlfriends you have for the next few years are going to dump you eventually right when you are most attached and vulnerable and when you least expect it, so do yourself a favor and date around and have fun. It’s way more fun to play the field, and you shouldn’t have to wait seven years to figure that out like I did.

Don’t waste any time on girls who aren’t interested in you or who already have boyfriends. Sure, be “friends” with them, but don’t think that your girl friends will ever become your girlfriends. The best you can hope for is to negotiate some kind of “friend with benefits” deal, and I’ll tell you in private which girls are most likely to go along with such an idea. Besides, there are plenty of attractive and amiable girls who are interested in you, and all you have to do is get your head out of your ass and take notice.

Don’t be afraid to ask girls out on dates. The worst thing that can happen is that they turn you down. It’s no big deal, and you shouldn’t let fear of rejection keep you dateless. Saturday night all night Risk playing parties with your other dateless friends will get old very quickly. I’m not saying that you never want to play Risk with the guys, but it will be nice to have other options.

Until you can drive, don’t bother with dating per se (unless your date can drive). Just hang out in co-educational settings and have fun. Church activities are great for meeting and hanging out with girls. Dating is actually pretty awkward and is not nearly as much fun as you might think, especially if there is not much chance of a happy ending. If you ask some of the girls to accompany you on your bike rides or hikes, they will be happy to go.

Know your Bible. There are plausible arguments to be made that certain activities are not actually “sex” and that they do not fall under Biblical prohibitions on fornication and what not. Girls will readily accept your exposition if it is backed up with some verses that you have memorized.

Take some dancing lessons. Your “freestyle” dancing moves are ridiculous, and lots of opportunities for interaction involve dancing. If you can dance, your comfort level will go way up, and you won’t look like such an idiot.

Take guitar lessons. Chicks dig guitar players.

Don’t get too attached to any of the local girls. You are going to blow this town as soon as you can after high school, and you are never going to look back.

You are going to be way more attractive to girls when you get to college than you ever will be in high school. The guys who are popular now for being football players are going to marry their steady girlfriends and work in carpet factories. Do not envy them. These are the best years of their lives. Yours are yet to come. Besides, if a girl is impressed by a guy’s being a football player, she’s not your type. You don’t want to waste any time with girls that you aren’t actually going to like as human beings.

When Bonny what’s her name tries to help you remove your rappelling harness at Cloudland Canyon, let her.

Almost nothing that happens in the next four years is going to matter as long as you don’t get yourself killed or maimed or convicted of a felony. Once you turn 18 and head off to college, everything is a do over.

Congress Needs to Get Off Its Ass!

JL Wilson urges Congress to do its damned job. He wants them to read the bills they vote for, and I agree that this is not too much to ask.

For my part, I am pissed at Congress because it is not doing the important things that I think it should be doing. I even wrote my Congresscritter, John Hall, something I have never done before. I’m not pissed that Congress isn’t pumping out legislation at a record rate. I’m pissed that they are working on anything at all until they deal with three big issues: ending the Iraq War, impeaching Bush and Cheney, and conducting real oversight. The third item can’t be done until Congress starts holding the administration in contempt for invoking executive privilege over everything.

Harry Reid shouldn’t let any legislation be considered until the Senate votes on withdrawal from Iraq. I would even support getting rid of the filibuster by exercising the “nuclear option” that the GOP held over the Democrats’ heads back when they were in charge. Don’t consider any appropriations or any bills at all until Iraq is dealt with. I don’t care if the government shuts down because of it. The American people will know whom to blame. Make the warmongers stand up and be counted every day. Keep it up as long as necessary. It’s that important.

The House should do the same thing except that it should continue its investigations and oversight work and hold impeachment hearings until Articles of Impeachment can be issued (in which case I would forgive the Senate for stopping to have a trial). Since the US Attorney in DC is a political hack who hates America and won’t prosecute Congressional contempt actions, the House should try administration officials for contempt on the House floor under it own inherent power. Unitary executive my ass! Act like you have a pair (or 435 pairs) and stand up for Congressional prerogatives before the President becomes Emperor and makes Barney a Senator.

This is a freaking emergency situation, Congress. Get to work. The American people will applaud you if you take care of this important business.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Screw the Ruling Elites

I get a little queasy when fellow libertarians target programs for the poor and for ordinary folks while ignoring subsidies to big business and much larger spending programs that benefit big business interests at the expense of ordinary Americans. For my part, if I have to live under a government and pay taxes, and so far I do, I would much rather that the money stolen from me be given to poor people and working people than to the ruling elites. While I would rather keep my money and distribute it myself as I saw fit, I am much less irritated by its being spent on food stamps than lining the pockets of Halliburton executives and the clients of K Street lobbyists. It seems to be the only way that ordinary folks can extract something from their overlords. We have to make them pretend that the government works for our benefit and that their rule is benevolent. They are going to tax us at the maximum that they can anyway, so cutting benefits to ourselves will not line our pockets. It will line the pockets of the ruling elites.

I also get a little queasy when fellow libertarians attack democracy. I have problematized democracy myself, and I realize that having 51% of the population lord it over the other 49% would be unjust; however, we don’t even remotely live in a democracy. We have the appearance of democracy and nothing more; therefore, it is dishonest to blame the government we have on the electorate. I am even willing to consider that the electorate, if given the chance really to choose its government and leaders, would do a lot better job than the rulers we have now. Our rulers run the government entirely for their own benefit, only occasionally throwing a bone to the little people in the form of some entitlement or other or, more often, in the form of meaningless symbolic gestures. Neither of these concessions costs the rulers anything, since ordinary people as a class pay more in taxes and costs imposed by the state than they take out in entitlements or subsidies.

Our rulers pay a lot in taxes, and arguably that is how it should be since the whole government edifice exists for their benefit. It is a travesty that I and other working people like me have to pay to be surveilled, regulated, harassed and misinformed and to support a massive security and criminal justice apparatus working primarily for the benefit of our overlords. It was ever so. The serf paid with his labor for the swords that threatened him and for the adventures whereby his lords were enriched.

I’d “push the button” if I could, but no button is ever going to be presented to me. So I am stuck with lesser evils. I’ll go with poor and working class folks over the rich, and I’ll go with empowering the masses over being ruled by a small minority of elites. These are my default positions. I would prefer to destroy the state or replace it with alternative institutions not predicated on coercion, but I reckon that it is preferable to have a state that is accountable to my class and that works for my class interests than to have one that just plain robs me and works against my class interests. In fact, such a state would likely be smaller, less repressive and less active than what we have now. It would mostly just leave us the hell alone. Of course, an elitist dictatorship could be legitimized on the basis of benefiting the working class, but I don’t reckon that such a state would, in fact, fulfill the promises of its rhetoric and more than the current rulers do.

If I ever become king, the second thing I will do (after rounding up all my political enemies) is start cutting the government budget from the top down. Direct and indirect business subsidies will be the first to go working down to entitlements for the poor. I am hopeful that these entitlements will become increasing irrelevant as government shrinks and opportunities increase. I’ll abolish regulations from the bottom up by starting with regulations that benefit big business and represent barriers to entry into enterprises. I’ll cut taxes from the bottom up, steadily enlarging the proportion of the population that pays no tax at all. I’ll cut programs and agencies from the top down. In reforming government, I will move toward greater democratization (except for the office of king, of course) coupled with strict limits on governmental power. Eventually, I hope to have very little to do except for ceremonial functions and the exercise of jus primae noctis.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Self Defense

Jim Henley tears apart Randy Barnett’s bizarre op-ed about how some libertarians are gung ho for the Iraq War and have been from the get go. You see, it turns out that the principle of self defense is much more nuanced than I had been led to believe.

If I extrapolate from Barnett’s rather thin exposition of his reasoning, I conclude that I would be perfectly within my rights to kill my neighbors, the Phillipses. I have never met them, but I have intelligence (over the fence gossip) to the effect that they are whack jobs and that they possess firearms. Come to think of it, it seems strange to me that I haven’t met them. They live only three doors down, and we are often on the road walking our dogs. They are quiet people who keep to themselves, and we all know what that means. They’re serial killers waiting to make their moves, if they haven’t already been killing. The Appalachian Trail runs behind our properties, and who would even know if some hikers went missing while crossing Hosner Mountain? Old Man Phillips shot another of my neighbor’s dog some years ago for no apparent reason other than that he is a whack job, or so the story goes.

This is pretty scary stuff. Even if there is only a 1% chance that the Phillipses might come after us, I reckon I shouldn’t have to wait around for them to make their evil plans and get me in their sights before I act in my own self defense. Word on the street is that Mrs Phillips has been making yellow cake. Can I afford not to act to preempt whatever evil plans they might be concocting? That they recently put their house on the market seems to me to heighten the urgency of the matter.

Blind Pig Finds Acorn: WaPo Op-ed Makes Sense

For once, WaPo has an op-ed that both has a point and is not stupid. Harold Meyerson calls GOP Senatorial sages to task:

“Anyone searching for the highest forms of invertebrate life need look no further than the floor of the U.S. Senate last week and this. These spineless specimens go by various names -- Republican moderates; respected senior Republicans; Dick Lugar, John Warner, Pete Domenici, George Voinovich.”

Meyerson points out the spinelessness of breaking with the administration while speechifying while refusing to exercise Senatorial powers for the good of the country:

“A few Republicans have come to terms with that. When the Senate votes, probably today, on ending the Republican filibuster against the Levin-Reed legislation, three Republicans -- Chuck Hagel, Gordon Smith and Olympia Snowe-- have pledged to side with those who would compel the administration to begin withdrawals. But for all the sound and fury coming from the senior Republicans ostensibly in revolt, none of them is poised to join the three. None is willing to challenge the White House on the conduct of the war in the only way that counts -- by mandating a shift in policy.

Instead, these senior Republicans speak loudly and carry no stick -- indeed, they speak loudly precisely because they are so stickless. In a July 9 speech on the Senate floor, Warner warned that this is "a time in our history unlike any I have ever witnessed." He spoke of telling administration leaders about the need to change course and added, "I was asked by the press whether I thought they'd brush it off and I resoundingly replied, 'No.' "

Resoundingly, huh? If Warner wanted to be taken seriously, he could gird his loins, vote for a date certain to withdraw troops -- and then he could whisper to the press and still be heard a lot more clearly than he is being heard today.”

In Praise of Crocs

LRC links to a Slate article about Crocs. The LRC teaser suggests that it is anti-Croc, but the article itself is reasonably balanced. I am a proud owner of two pairs of Crocs, and Mrs Vache Folle has perhaps three pairs, and I don’t see why anyone would be anti-croc.

Sure, they’re ugly and gaudy, but they are comfortable as all get out. You can kick them on and off easily, and they clean up easily after you’ve been mucking around in the garden or even wading in the pond. They are perfect beachwear. I have had mine for over three years, well before they became fashionable, and I was a little annoyed at their popularity. I don’t like to be seen as embracing the latest fashion trend. The nephews are keen to get Crocs, and the one we took on vacation with us bought himself a pair of faux Croc knock-offs for $8 at one of the ubiquitous souvenir stores on the strip. I am sure that he will get ripped by his playmates for not having the real thing.

We recently updated our Crocs and discovered that there are several new styles for women such as Mary Janes, flip flops, sandals, and the like. These lack the signature ugliness of the classic Croc but are just as comfortable. Mrs Vache Folle lives in her Croc flip flops when she is at leisure. She is very high maintenance when it comes to footwear, and if she likes Crocs, you can bet that they are comfortable.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Where Does WaPo Get it's Op-ed Writers?

Anne Applebaum in WaPo reckons that she is a realist among na├»ve ideologues inside the Beltway. In sum, there’s no solution to the debacle in Iraq! None. Anything the US does might result in disaster. Withdrawal seems out of the question:

“No troops? Though deeply appealing to the "we told you so" crowd, this plan is clothed in the greatest degree of hypocrisy. How many of the people who clamor for intervention in Darfur will also be clamoring to rush back into Iraq when full-scale ethnic cleansing starts taking place? How many will take responsibility for the victims of genocide? I'm not saying there will be such a catastrophe, but there could be: Mass ethnic murders have certainly been carried out in Iraq before. Other possibilities include the creation of an Iranian puppet state or an al-Qaeda outlaw state; or there might merely be a regional war involving, say, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, just for starters, and maybe Israel and the Gaza Strip as well. Perhaps these things would never have happened if we hadn't gone there in the first place -- but if we leave, we'll be morally responsible.”

Who is this “we” of whom you speak, Anne? I’m not morally responsible. I never advocated this war or apologized for it or supported it except for tax payments made under duress. Those who are morally responsible are the politicians and their propagandists and beneficiaries who prosecuted, advocated and profited from this war. Let them be called to account.

This editorial carries no useful information other than serving as a warning that the name of Anne Applebaum in a by line of a piece signifies “Don’t bother to read me.”

Stalin Promoted Family Values

Originally, Marxists reckoned that the family, like the state, would wither away as the socialist society was realized. Stalin, however, had other ideas and was a strong supporter of family values according to Peter Kenez in his A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End. In reading about Stalin’s views on the family, I was struck by just how much they resembled those of Dobson's “Focus on the Family”, except without the appeals to the supernatural.

In my view, the greatest “threat” to the family is individualism, not Marxism. Taken to its logical conclusion, individualism leaves society with individuals in relation to the state with other competing institutions, including the family, reduced to entirely voluntary and negotiable and potentially transitory status. If there is no strategic benefit to be gained from living in cohesive families, or if the perceived benefits do not outweigh the inconvenience and irritation associated with living among one’s kin, then the family will be a shadow of its former self. Indeed, associations predicated on factors other than kin may be more satisfying.

I am not in the least alarmed by this development. Just how wonderful would it be to have to associate with others and subordinate one’s ambitions and desires to a collective solely out of necessity? I reckon that it would not. It is far better for relationships to be voluntarily and cheerfully entered into and maintained for mutual benefit and enjoyment. That is the luxury that many of us currently enjoy, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why Stalin or Dobson would want to force people into associations that they find unsatisfactory, except that they share the characteristic of meddlesome douchebaggery.

It is one thing to point out the potential benefits of a cohesive family and to encourage others to take advantage of them, but neither Stalin nor Dobson seemed to engage in any kind of persuasion about the efficacy of family living. Rather, they both seemed to regard it as axiomatic that the family was, in and of itself, a virtuous institution to be embraced for its own sake whether or not it brought satisfaction. The state, or God (through the state), ordains family living, and the subject of the state had better well learn to like it.

I recognize that there would be substantial economic benefits to all concerned if, for example, my Idiot Brother-in-Law or my Excellent Mother-in-Law and her current spouse could be persuaded to live with us and to share household expenses and chores. Better yet, let us live together and pool our resources and energies! And yet, I have determined that the huge cost of living apart from my in-laws is worth it, and only dire necessity could induce me to consider living under the same roof with any of them. And they doubtless feel the same way.

If all the patrilineal descendants of my great great great grandfather could be persuaded to form a lineage with a single elder in authority with a tight organization to control and allocate our scattered resources and energies, we would be a force to be reckoned with. None of us has considered it worth it to subordinate our own lives to that of the lineage, and I reckon that only some variants of a post-apocalyptic dystopia would render the formation and maintenance of a lineage desirable.

I will always think of Stalin when I hear of Dobson. Stalin did a lot to strengthen families by subjecting his subjects to chaos, upheaval, starvation, and repression. Would Dobson go so far to promote the family?

Monday, July 16, 2007

WaPo Bites

I read WaPO so you don’t have to.

Markus Prior, who is on the faculty of Princeton and should be pretty smart, frets that a proliferation of choices has led to polarization into camps of news junkies and people who avoid the news in favor of entertainment. The bottom line for Professor Prior:

“Greater media choice is both gratifying and a powerful political asset for those people who read op-eds and then move on to NPR, Instapundit and Wolf Blitzer. It is more treacherous for entertainment fans. Happy as they are with a remote control in one hand and a computer mouse in the other, they never consciously weigh the pleasure of constant entertainment against the cost of leaving politics to news junkies and politicians. The danger is not that they are seduced by the views of Ann Coulter or Arianna Huffington but that they don't know who such people are. And not that they cast more ideologically extreme votes but that they no longer vote at all.”

Is he having a laugh? If I read the op-eds and then move on to NPR, Instapundit and Wolf Blitzer, I will not be any better informed than if I had spent the day viewing a Gilligan’s Island marathon. In fact, some media, especially cable news, makes people demonstrably stupider for watching it.

People don’t watch the news because they know that it is just so much crap. They don’t vote because they know that the elections don’t matter. I am far more worried about the news junkies, poor deluded bastards, who vote based on a steady diet of misinformation. Professor Prior is a tool.

Evil neo-con apologist William Kristol predicts that the Bush presidency will be considered a success. If he wins the war in Iraq and if a GOP candidate is elected president in 2008, that is. You can be sure that whatever happens in the next 18 months, William Kristol will consider it a success. My favorite line:

“Many Americans will recoil from the prospect of being governed by an unchecked triumvirate of Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. So the chances of a Republican winning the presidency in 2008 aren't bad.”

If Americans didn’t recoil in horror from the unchecked triumvirate of Cheney, DeLay and whoever the hell the GOP Senate majority leader was, then there is no trio that will frighten them.

Meanwhile, a front page “news story” does not cite a single source that is not either the US or Iraqi government. I doubt that any journalism was involved in taking that story down.

This “news story” at least includes a phone interview with the Taliban spokesman and another individual who is not a government official. Frankly, I am surprised that the editors allowed the last quote in:

"’The Red Mosque was a created problem,’ said Hafiz Riaz Durrani, information secretary for the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islami party. ‘America pressured Musharraf to take action, and he pressured the armed forces to take action against the Islamists.’"

In sum. WaPO sucks. If it weren’t for the mega Sudoku, I wouldn’t bother.

Mea Culpa

GW Bush wears his apish smirk so much because he appreciates irony. He knows that while he talks about a global war on terror, terror has been and will continue to be an important instrument of US foreign policy. When he says that he expects to be vindicated by history, he knows that history will be written by criminals just like himself. He has witnessed the apotheosis of Ronald Reagan, terrorist and usurper, and other evil men who darkened the White House with their presence and expects that, short of a revolution, he will enjoy the same treatment.

I have to check myself from time to time because I sometimes start to believe that electoral politics in the US matters, that a change in administration will make a difference in the nature of the beast that the US has become. It won’t. Whomever Americans elect as president in 2008, the policies that have been in place for over a century, where the US seeks to impose its will on the world for the benefit of the ruling elite, will continue. Congressman Paul, if elected by the people, will be thwarted at every turn by every aspect of the establishment. God speed to him.

GW Bush’s regime just happens to be spectacularly incompetent and has, in fact, endangered the program by getting bogged down in a quagmire. The lessons of Vietnam were utterly lost on his crew, perhaps because they did not participate in it except from the sidelines. You can’t “win” that kind of conflict. Military power can’t accomplish every objective. In fact, you can push it so far that you risk revealing to the world your true agenda.

GW Bush would be well advised to declare victory and get out of Iraq as he should have done four years ago. He has accomplished the aims of intervention: he punished the Iraqi government for resistance to US hegemony, he showed the rest of the world that such resistance is futile, and he established the doctrine of preventive war as a threat to every other state and to the people of those states who might choose to follow their own destiny without reference to the will of the US. He has frightened the American people and Congress into submission and has helped to create more enemies of the US and he has enriched his constituency within the military-industrial complex.

There was never any humanitarian impulse behind the war, and hanging on to the legitimizing discourse of humanitarianism at this point is overplaying the hand. Perhaps GW aims to squeeze out every dollar he can for his friends. He knows that the worst-case scenario for overplaying his hand is a temporary loss of the White House and loss of a few seats in Congress for his party. There will be no other accounting.

The imperialism of the United States has been a bipartisan affair pursued by every administration for over a century. What the US decries as criminal by any other state or entity other than when acting as the agent of the US, it claims the right to do itself. It does so under cover of the idea that the US is different, that the US is destined to bring democracy and enlightenment to the world, that the US is morally superior and the policemen of the world. Of course, the ruling elites do not really believe any of this, and that is why they sometimes smirk when they speak of it. If they do believe it, they are among the deluded dupes of other elites and are, frankly, possibly even more dangerous than the evil men who know exactly what they are up to. (A certain Senator from Connecticut comes to mind as such a dupe.)

Ordinary Americans are indoctrinated with this view of their special role in history almost from the womb. History texts in government schools (and church schools and private schools for that matter) are storybooks that relate a narrative about the special contributions and destiny of the US in effecting the perfectibility of mankind in the image of America, the “Shining City on the Hill”. The media reinforce this view in adults in the way they frame public discourse and in the way they ignore inconvenient facts.

Ordinary Americans believe this fairy tale in appalling numbers. To believe otherwise is to be part of the “Blame America First” crowd. Nobody wants to be blamed for unfortunate events and consequences when we are all so well intentioned. Even intelligent and highly educated people I know have been heard to say things like: “[America] is too good; that’s why we can’t win in Iraq.”

I regret that I ever voted. I feel ashamed and foolish for believing, even for a moment and even a little bit, that a change in the majority party in Congress in 2006 would make any difference at all. It didn’t. I regret following electoral politics at all. I should know better.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Me and the Pope

Back in the day, there was only one Vampire, and he made a limited number of other Vampires who in turn made all the Vampires right up until the present day. Some posers decided that they wanted to be Vampires, too, and they had their canine teeth altered and starting acting like Vampires. The head Vampire scoffed at them and reminded everyone that the posers weren’t real Vampires at all.

Substitute Apostle for Vampire and Pope Benedict for the head Vampire and you get the idea of where Benedict was coming from when he announced that Protestant churches aren’t “real” churches. Saint Peter had some special mojo that he transferred to a select few who, by laying on hands, spread the mojo to the bishops. You can’t get the mojo from any other source. That’s why rebellious Catholic congregations are keen to get excommunicated bishops to make priests for them. Without that episcopal mojo, the priests can’t work their juju, and everyone will go to hell.

Of course, Pope Benedict could take no other position. The whole edifice of the Catholic Church is based on the concept of the apostolic succession. Without it, the institution could not plausibly claim a monopoly on contact with God and on salvation. Roman Catholicism would be pointless without it. The CEO of the Catholic Church has to stand up for the prerogatives of the institution.

I don’t really care what Benedict thinks about my church. Here’s what I think about Benedict: He’s a weird guy who likes to wear funny hats, but he is also a man of faith and principle whom I mostly respect. He is entitled to his opinion on spiritual matters, just as I am entitled to mine. My opinion is as good as the Pope’s as far as I am concerned.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Senators Get Horny, Too

I confess that I enjoy it when self-righteous douchebags get caught in sex scandals. The Senator who patronized the DC Madame’s workers and more sex workers in New Orleans is a source of considerable entertainment. I would have a lot more respect for the guy if he would acknowledge that he engaged the services of sex workers, that he was satisfied with those services, and that everyone should mind his own business.

I don’t reckon the man did anything wrong. Engaging the services of a sex worker is a perfectly legitimate transaction in my view. I don’t even reckon it counts as adultery since there is generally no threat to the emotional attachment to the spouse. The guy spent weeks in DC away from his wife, and he was horny for crying out loud. It is very different from keeping a mistress, which is a betrayal of the spouse that calls every aspect of the betrayer’s character into question. If you’d betray your spouse emotionally, the closest person to you in the world to whom you made sacred vows, you’d probably rip me off and lie to me at the drop of a hat. That’s one of the reasons Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani are so untrustworthy in my book.

I haven’t discussed this with Mrs Vache Folle, but I am pretty sure that she would not care if I enjoyed a lap dance or otherwise patronized sex workers unless I overpaid. And since there are services that wives generally decline to perform immediately upon marriage, most wives shouldn’t object to their husbands’ getting those services performed for a fee by a stranger. I would venture to say that many wives would reckon that they had been relieved of a burdensome chore and would count themselves lucky.

I would extend my permissive attitude about engaging sex workers to cover occasional opportunistic sex acts with amateurs as long as it does not develop into an emotional relationship in competition with the marriage. Clinton’s fooling around would be okay by me, especially since he didn’t even have sexual relations. He got his knob polished, that’s all. Any time a man can get his knob polished, he has to seize the opportunity. It’s not going to polish itself, and the wife doesn’t do knobs.

Another Rant About the Need for Mass Appeal

Frankly, people of average intelligence aren’t very smart. Humans are not as smart as we would like to believe. Sure, we have our Einsteins and people of genius, but there are thousands of Sean Hannitys for every Einstein. Your average human is not capable of much in the way of critical thinking, and he is easily manipulated. He is most comfortable intellectually “in the box” constructed for him by his masters.

The freedom movement appeals to folks with relatively high IQs in my experience. I have never met a retarded libertarian or anarchist, and the self- proclaimed libertarians of average or slightly above average intelligence whom I have known have all been fascists branding themselves as libertarians. The movement has got to figure out a way to get beyond the formation of an intelligentsia (it has this in spades) and to appeal to the masses of people with ordinary intelligence. It won’t do this with intellectual arguments. What we want are slogans and causes. We want a “class theory” that pits the ruled against the rulers and the common man against his would be controllers and that, when class consciousness is achieved, will make the masses believe that their own freedom and the freedom of their comrades are the highest goals. Presently, the common man is made to dread the freedom of his peers and to identify with his masters. The freedom movement has to assist the masses in freeing themselves from the delusions which render them so easily governable. They want our solicitude, not our contempt. I was once as deluded as the next man, and I am a pretty smart guy (although I have managed to conceal my giftedness from the world quite well).

I don’t propose to pander to the masses but to present them with constant challenges to their assumptions about the legitimacy of the state and the necessity to be controlled and surveilled and to pay for the cost of control and surveillance. Let no euphemism go unchallenged; let no invocation of conventional wisdom go uncontested; let every legitimizing abstraction be reduced to its concrete reality; let no reification of abstractions go unquestioned. Let us inundate the culture with revolutionary memes. Let’s make use of the dynamics of popular culture to undermine the dominant culture. Deep down in their guts, people want to be rebels and to stick it to the “Man”. Let’s show them what to rebel against. Let’s show them who the “Man” is. We want a little black book full of slogans and proverbs: “A truncheon is a tool with a worker on either end.”

One of the French deconstructionists wrote somewhere (I read it once but can never seem to find the quote) that many of the processes by which hegemony and systems of control are maintained depend for their efficacy on their being invisible. The act of exposing them renders them inefficacious. The freedom movement can do an immense service to mankind and the cause itself by making power relations transparent. If we “tell it like it is”, we will do much harm to the establishment and much good for the people.

We want to make class solidarity and loyalty virtues. Screw You Hyper-Individualistic Libertarians won’t be able to do this. Those guys will always undermine class-consciousness as just another form of “collectivism”, which is always a bad thing in their view. There are good collectives and bad collectives. Some collectives are phony, and others are genuine. The class represents a population with a significant commonality of interests to warrant solidarity as a stance consistent with rational self-interest. If the masses are going to identify with a collective, and they will, let it be the class.

Some Random Opinions on Politics

Does anybody doubt for a minute that the commutation of Scooter Libby was meant as a down payment on his silence? Cheney and Bush ordered the outing of Plame and the cover up. Remember how Bush claimed to be appalled and demanded that the individuals involved step forward at once? I don’t know how he kept a straight face. They must have botoxed him to suppress the smirk. This is plain old obstruction of justice and another basis for impeachment.

It’s time to impeach the lying excuse for an Attorney General.

If Michael Chertoff is using his psychic powers to predict a major terror attack, he should also use them to prevent it. The GOP seems to be banking on a catastrophe to stupefy enough people with fear that they will vote for Republicans. It might not work, though, because even the stupidest people should be able to see that the GOP is in charge of Homeland Security and that the biggest terror attacks ever have occurred on the GOP’s watch.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

More Constitutional Tinkering

JL Wilson posts some ideas for constitutional reform along the lines of Britain’s parliamentary system.

“I believe our own system errs in separating the legislative, executive, and judicial branches to the extent they do. I believe there would be more real ‘checks and balances’ if there was greater integration of those powers.”

I tend to agree. The prohibition on legislators’ holding executive offices doesn’t make as much sense as the founders evidently believed. At the time, they worried that the president would become a mere cipher overwhelmed by Congress. Not to worry, as we have daily proof. I don’t care if the president becomes a cipher. In fact, let the presidency be something of a ceremonial position useful for funerals and grand occasions of state while the Speaker wields the real executive power. Let all the cabinet positions be filled by Congresspersons exclusively.

This would render the executive more accountable in a number of ways. Oversight would be less problematic than now, and the sponsors of laws could be made responsible for administering them. Sanford Levinson points out this advantage in the book I reviewed yesterday. We could get rid of bad government quickly with votes of no confidence and avoid unduly long transitions.

What I would like to see in constitutional reform are structural changes that require more of a broad consensus before legislation or policy can be enacted. Anything that contributes to the proliferation of parties in Congress would be helpful since coalitions would be necessary to get anything done. One possibility would be proportional representation as suggested by commenter john david galt in my post calling for abolition of the Senate.

One thing I particularly admire about the British system is the “shadow government” maintained by the opposition. You know exactly where the opposition stands and who would be running the show if the current regime fouls up or bucks public opinion. In our present system, you have no idea who is going to be Secretary of State or Defense or what have you until after the election.

Thinking Blogger Awards

Sunni has honored me with a Thinking Blogger Award. I really am delighted that my scribblings get read by anyone let alone make anyone think. My task is to tag five others who “make me think”. Sunni chose me despite some of our significant differences, and I reckon that the bloggers who make me think the hardest and clearest are the ones who don’t always line up with my point of view 100% and the ones who challenge my incomplete education.

Kevin Carson of the Mutualist Blog was my introduction to left libertarianism and opened my eyes to a libertarian critique of what passes for capitalism. I am a big fan of his writings on “vulgar libertarianism”. I am less than a dilettante when it comes to pro-liberty philosophy and economics, and I find that Kevin makes the issues accessible to me without dumbing them down.

bk marcus of lowercase liberty was probably the first person to read my blog and to comment on it or link to it. Like Kevin, bk is well versed in pro-freedom philosophy and economics; however, he is more aligned with the anarcho-capitalist camp. He is far from a “vulgar” libertarian, though. He named a fallacy after me one time.

Steve Scott of From the Pew is a fellow Christian layman who takes on a lot of the theological issues that I think about. He seems to know what he is talking about, and he has been a great inspiration to me. He has also challenged me to think through the issues in ways that never occurred to me before.

James Leroy Wilson of Independent Country is a must read for me. I don’t always agree with him, but he makes thought provoking arguments for his positions that often make me question my own assumptions.

Wm N. Grigg of Pro Libertate is indispensable. I started reading his work when he was still with the John Birch Society, and I confess that he turned a lot of my preconceptions about Birchers on their head. Then the wankers dismissed him for his views. That freed him to write as he pleases, and we all benefit. His essays are always thoughtful and thought provoking.

Some of these blogs are among my favorites; others are not. As I understand it, this award is not about favorites but about what gets the gears turning in your head. I could name way more than five, but the rules of the meme (talk to Sunni) forbid it. Take all of JL Wilson’s blogroll, and you find any better collection of ideas.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Abolish the Senate

This article in Slate discusses abolition of the Senate:

“But even if the filibuster were scuttled, Geoghegan figures, 50 senators representing the 25 smallest states, and hence a mere 16 percent of the population, could still block passage of a bill favored by the other 84 percent of the population. (Assuming, of course, the tie-breaking vice president abstained or went along with the naysayers; with 50 senators, the vice president wouldn't be a factor.) Similarly, he points out, 51 senators representing "16 percent and a bit more" could pass any bill they wished, even if 84 percent of the population opposed it.”

Suppose the Senate were abolished and its functions transferred to the House. We would immediately save a bundle on salaries and expenses of 100 of the most self important men and women in the country. These luminaries could be released into the private sector or academia where their genius would benefit all mankind instead of being wasted in the stultifying institution of the Senate.

The Senate is supposed to be a more deliberative and dignified body, but I don’t reckon that it has shown itself to surpass the House in these characteristics. It is supposed by some to represent the sovereign states rather than the people, but the Senate has not demonstrated any commitment to state sovereignty to speak of in my lifetime.

I don’t see that we have anything to lose by getting rid of the Senate altogether. A bonus would be that the office of the Vice President would no longer have any function and could be done away with as well.

Embiggen SCOTUS!

If the Democrats win the presidency in 2008 and make gains in Congress, I think that they should pass legislation increasing the number of Supreme Court Justices to 15 or more. The current gang of 9 can’t seem to consider as many cases as they ought to, and there are so many 5 to 4 decisions that it does not appear that there is much of a consensus on decisions of great importance. Such a small court is subject to such rank politicization (witness Bush v Gore) that its legitimacy is questionable. Also, with 15 Justices, each individual appointment won’t be so fraught, and it would be more likely that successive administrations would get to make appointments. Finally, some of the more demented old codgers on the court might not feel obliged to hang around to make sure their successors will be ideological similar to them.

Time for a Constitutional Convention?

Sanford Levinson’s critique of the US Constitution and proposal for a new constitutional convention in his Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (And How We the People Can Correct It) have persuaded me that it is high time to rethink the structure of the government. GW Bush has famously declared the Constitution a “f***ing piece of paper” and has otherwise manifested disdain and contempt for the constitutional order, especially when it is invoked to limit his power. Levinson, in contrast is as respectful of the founders and the rule of law as anyone, but he reckons that the Constitution is not Holy Writ and that we ought not venerate the work of the founders so much that we stick with some of their political compromises and experiments even when they no longer serve the purposes set out in the Preamble.

Levinson reveals his political biases and points out that his own preferred party sometimes benefits temporarily from the flaws in the Constitution; however, he argues that an honest critique of the document requires one to set aside such considerations. If one is committed to the ideal of democracy, one must be ready to accept that one’s positions may not always prevail.

Levinson finds the Constitution undemocratic on several counts. He is not necessarily a majoritarian, and I read his book as espousing a more consensual form of government. The basis of much of the critique is that the government is not even majoritarian and that the Constitution permits a minority to govern to the exclusion of the majority as is evidenced by the recent GOP domination of all the branches of government. There was nothing consensual about the GOP Congress and Bush White House and their shameless interpretation of their slight plurality of support as a “mandate”.

Among the problematic aspects of the Constitution discussed are the undue influence of voters and legislators from small (less populous) states. As a denizen of New York, I have Senators who must appeal to millions of constituents with a diversity of interests. A denizen of Wyoming has Senators who must appeal to only a few hundred thousand with relatively homogeneous interests. My Senators don’t have the leisure to spend time in the leadership or to devote to single interests and are required to campaign much more than the Senators from Wyoming or Utah. Equal representation in the Senate for small states was a political compromise in 1787 to induce small states to ratify the Constitution. It really had no other rationale, and since Senators have been elected by popular vote for some 80 years now there is no longer a good argument that the Senate is the representative of the states themselves.

Levinson points out that in 2006, although the GOP had 55 Senators, those Senators represented less than half of the population and half of the voters. It is no surprise then that small states get more in federal largesse than they pay in federal taxes, while large states get the short end of the stick. This is patently unfair and undemocratic.
A similar argument can be made for abolishing the Electoral College and for the extra votes enjoyed by small states. Presidential politics are no longer about getting the most votes but putting together enough electoral votes, and unless you are in one of the handful of “swing states” your preference is irrelevant. Why would the candidate from either of the two hegemonic parties spend a dime to get a single additional vote in New York?

Levinson also points out just how close presidential elections have been to being thrown into the House where each state gets one vote. Moreover, no recent victor in a presidential election has been chosen by a majority of the voters. Why, asks Levinson, should the individual who gets past the gate first be chosen when he clearly had more people against him than for him? We would be better served by a run off system or a system in which voters selected three candidates in order of preference. This would insure that the president enjoyed a broad base of support and not just a plurality handed to him through the efforts of a fringe base constituency.

The presidential veto is also called into question. The virtually unlimited veto power in effect makes him a third legislative branch. Why not limit the veto to Constitutional issues with the ultimate decision on Constitutionality resting with a Constitutional court?

Life tenure of Supreme Court Justices comes under cogent criticism. Levinson proposes, among other alternatives, an 18 year term. In my view, the possibility of three more decades of Roberts, Alito and Scalia is a dismal prospect for the country.

Some other issues that Levinson takes on with clarity include: the tendency to presidential dictatorship, the lack of a good plan to reconstitute Congress in the event of a catastrophic attack on that institution, the lag between election and inauguration especially of a repudiated incumbent, the difficulty of getting rid of a president who is merely incompetent rather than criminal, and bizarre qualifications for office that no longer make any sense. Some of the advantages of a Parliamentary system are invoked.

For my part, I would add that there are many perfectly appropriate provisions of the Constitution which have been horribly misconstrued. A new Constitution would have to be more explicit about these. For example, that the “executive power” resides in the president should not be construed as acknowledging any executive powers that aren’t specifically laid out. That the president is subject to the law must, sadly, be set forth explicitly thanks to John Yoo and his ilk.

I would support a Constitutional convention, and I would leave nothing off the table.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Where My Loyalties Lie

I am a mammal. As such, I feel a sense of solidarity with my classmates, and I confess that I am a bit chauvinistic about my Class. We are, you know, the apex of evolution on this planet. All the other Classes were just way stations for our ancestors or amusing evolutionary side trips. I am not averse to eating some classmates, although I aim to be respectful and mammalian in my treatment of them.

The marsupials and monotremes are not as mammalian as I would like, and I am not sure whether they are really “in”. Sure, they give milk and all, but what about the all-important placenta? It’s plain primitive if you ask me.

Of course, not all mammals are equal. I regard members of my Order, the primates, to be the apex of the apex, as it were. No way would I eat an order-mate. Not that I dislike the other Orders. Some of my best friends are carnivores. I live with carnivores. I wouldn’t eat a carnivore, either. I am especially loyal to the Order, however. On the other hand, I’ll mess you up if you mess with the carnivores who are my friends even if you are a primate.

Then again, there’s the Family, and that takes precedence over the Order in some cases. It doesn’t come up much, but if I had to choose between a New World monkey and a fellow ape, I’d have to go with the ape. It’s all about the Family in the end.

The genus? It goes without saying. We’ve only got the one species in the genus! We have to stick together. Eating a conspecific is out of the question, except in an emergency, and I’d have to side with a conspecific in a dispute with a chimpanzee, unless I knew the chimpanzee personally or the human was a douchebag.

My kin in proportion to our degree of relatedness trumps the species, however, except that my wife, whose most recent common ancestor with me probably died 600 years ago, beats out any of my blood kin. And friends and associates, depending on how close they are, beat out remote kin. It’s kind of like the way I feel about primates who are strangers and carnivores whom I know personally. Neighbors are important, too. It says somewhere in the Bible that a friendly neighbor at hand is better than a brother a hundred miles a way, or some such thing. There are a lot of exceptions, but in general my closer kin come before more remote kin. Unless my kinsman is a douchebag, in which case he can forget about that kidney.

Who Authorized the Declaration of Independence?

In 1774, my ancestor Henry Ashfield of the Quaker settlement at Wrightsborough, in the Province of Georgia, was a signer of a petition to the Crown as follows:

"We, the inhabitants of the town of Wrightsborough and placesadjacent, understanding that fourteen persons have drawn up several resolutions respecting the disputes between Great Britain and the town of Boston, con- cerning the destroying of a quantity of tea, the property of the East IndiaCompany, and have published them as the act of the Province, and which we look upon as a great imposition, having no knowledge of them 'till after they were passed: therefore we do, in this public manner, deny passing any concerning them, and disapprove of them altogether, such proceedings as a few acting for the whole without their knowledge, we apprehend being contrary to the rights and privileges of every British subject.”

This was a repudiation of the Boston Tea Party. I am reminded of this petition every Independence Day and wonder just how much consent there really was for the Declaration of Independence. I have concluded that the Declaration of Independence was a similar act of a few for the whole with questionable authority.

The Declaration was the act of the Second Continental Congress, the members of which were appointed by the various provincial legislatures. These legislatures, at least in Virginia and North Carolina where most of my ancestors resided at the time, were selected by free white men of property. Since there was lots of land to be had, this encompassed as much as 75% of free white men. However, there was considerable indifference about voting, and a turnout of 33-50% was usual. Accordingly, legislators were chosen by a minority of the denizens of the province, perhaps less than a tenth of the population. Women, blacks, mulattoes, Indians, persons not 21 years of age, the landless, and un-naturalized denizens were excluded. The candidates themselves were by various measures limited to the wealthier landowners and merchants and members of the official church. Voting was not secret, and intimidation was a major factor.

Since they lived mainly on the frontier and were for the most part not part of the ruling elite within the provinces, I doubt that many of my ancestors at that time knew much about what was going on in the Second Continental Congress or that they were much consulted about whether independence ought to be declared. A number of them served in the armed forces of their newly minted independent states. Others endeavored to remain neutral. The town of Wrightsborough was devastated and plundered and its peaceful Quakers harried.

To the extent that they consented to any of this, I have no doubt that my ancestors’ consent was, for the most part, engineered. The prospect of getting their hands on some of that land the Crown had set aside for the Indians was very appealing to them, and I reckon that they believed that they would be more free than they were under the Crown and Parliament. I can’t really say whether this turned out to be the case for them. Some of them did get free or really cheap land from the displacement of the Cherokee Indians, something the Crown had been blocking.

Anyway, I’m not so sure any longer that there’s much cause for celebration. I like getting a day off from work, but the yahoos with their fireworks really perturb one of my dogs.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Your Cat Just Isn't Into You

According to an article at WaPo, your cat really is indifferent to you. Genetic studies show that all “domestic” cats are descended from a single subspecies of wildcat indigenous to the Middle East. It is surmised that cats began hanging around with humans when humans started storing grain and attracting rodents. Cats followed agricultural practices into other parts of the Old World. Apparently the New World lacked wildcats, and the closest thing would have been a Catamount, something a little too scary to have around as a mouser.

Without the rodents, the cats would have no incentive to hang out with humans and to let humans be their servants. Cats have domesticated humans, in my opinion, and every housecat would gladly rip out its human servants’ throats if it could figure out how to operate a can opener.

An implication of the findings not explored in the article is that agriculture spread by diffusion from the Middle East to the rest of the Old World and that it did not develop independently in South Asia or the Far East. Otherwise, local farm cats would be descended from local subspecies of wildcat.

When the Prez is Controlled by a Sect Leader. It Matters Who That Sect Leader Is

If you are a member of an authoritarian religious sect and in principle subject to the direction and command of the leader of your sect, and if you are elected to an office, isn’t the electorate in some sense electing the sect leader? If you repudiate subjection to the sect leader in order to allay concerns of the electorate, aren’t you then showing that you are a pretty poor member of the sect willing to jettison a core principle of your faith for your own aggrandizement? Wouldn’t it be permissible for the electorate to continue to be concerned since your repudiation of the sect leader’s authority belies your lifelong profession of faith and establishes that you aren’t really trustworthy?

I reckon that you would have to repudiate outright the authoritarian principles themselves and identify yourself as a dissenter in the ranks of your sect or leave the sect altogether. Otherwise, you’d have to convince the electorate that your sect leader would make good decisions that you would carry out faithfully.

Many candidates have asserted that they consider themselves subject to the authority of Jesus Christ, and this is not usually problematic unless Jesus Christ is supposed to be giving directions to the candidate through a living individual third party, for example Reverend Moon, or through a totem or inanimate object, for example their cat or hair dryer. As long as Jesus Christ is the candidate’s invisible friend and speaks to him in traditional ways, the electorate will be satisfied to accept the candidate’s subjection to Him and even be skeptically hopeful that the candidate might be sincere. The last president who claimed to be guided by Jesus apparently had some other guy named Jesus Christ in mind.

Just saying.

Karen DeCoster Will Buy Chinese Shrimp at WalMart Even If It KIlls Her

Karen DeCoster reckons that looking askance at Chinese products in view of recent safety concerns is just another Commie plot to impoverish us all. While I agree that the Chinese safety scares will be exploited by protectionists to push for legislation, and I disapprove of this as much as Karen does, but she seems to conflate private, voluntary consumer action with government intervention. Look at the two quotes she cites:

A:"Quality is one thing, safety is a different matter, and if we continue to hear this drumbeat of safety (problems), that could clearly impact consumers' perception of goods made in China," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago.

B:"The Chinese better take heed and crack down hard (on faulty goods) now or they will be faced with anti-Chinese trade legislation soon," said Andrew Busch, global foreign-exchange strategist with BMO Capital Markets in Chicago..

The first quote is about consumers’ reaction qua consumers, whereas the second is about possible legislation. I don’t call for legislation, but I am damn sure not going to buy Chinese toothpaste, dog food, or any food item until I am satisfied that these products won’t kill me or my pets. I don’t reckon a commitment to free trade precludes me from acting in what I perceive to be my own interests. If Karen wants to nosh on toxic Chinese shrimp, that’s her choice, but doing so doesn’t make her a free trader. It just makes her a contrarian.

I don’t know how “capitalist” China has become. I suspect that its enterprises are part of a network of cronyism and corporatism. How else to explain the incentive system that permits management to risk killing their customers for short-term gain? Clearly, China wants a product liability system that gives incentives to consumers and lawyers to root out unsafe and unethical business practices like we have seen in China lately.

Another concern is that I can’t be sure that Chinese products haven’t been produced with slave labor, and I prefer not to participate in slavery. I will pay more for products made by free labor. As far as I’m concerned as a consumer, it’s up to Chinese manufacturers and vendors to satisfy me that their goods are not going to kill me or are not going to cause me to compromise my values. I don’t have anything against the Chinese people, mind you, but it would be irrational not to take recent events into account.