Friday, August 31, 2007

More on the Demographic Transition

H&R links to an American Conservative piece about how the demographic transition might affect warfare. In societies where families don’t have a lot of back up children, it may be harder to send your kids off to war. If it turns out that declining fertility leads to peace, then I’m all for it. Of course, the writer at AmCon figures that internal demographic dynamics may threaten internal security as the younger, non-European population displaces the less fertile descendants of Europeans.

The demographic transition, where more developed, wealthier societies see a fertility decline relative to poorer societies, has been observed for a long time. It also shows up in lower fertility in wealthier classes within a society relative to the poorer classes. Even Augustus had to deal with a fertility crisis among patricians and equestrians some 2000 years ago.

A lot of explanations have been advanced. It has been argued that fertility rates are a function of intergenerational floes of wealth. If wealth flows from children to parents, fertility will be high. If, on the other hand, it flows from parents to children, fertility will be low. I would argue that the investment in children almost always exceeds the return and that the wealth flows model is unpersuasive. Another model centers on capital investments. Wealthier folks’ kids are costlier, so they have fewer. The usual argument is that wealthier folks invest more in each child presumably because they are more valuable to them than poor kids are to their parents.

I reckon that the central factor in this phenomenon is higher opportunity costs for women which makes children more costly to wealthier and more highly educated women. If we assume that people calculate whether the satisfaction expected from another child will offset expected costs, then differences in opportunity costs will be among the biggest cost factors leading to differential fertility rates across classes. A woman who stands to lose $100,000 a year in salary and a degree of seniority by staying home with a child for the first two years of its life will have a different calculation than a woman who is giving up $20,000 a year.

And it’s not just the monetary costs at work. It’s other opportunities that must be foregone. While it is possible to breed and go to college or grad school, it isn’t easy to do so. Educated women have lots of outlets and opportunities that might be incompatible to some degree with mothering a large brood of offspring. For less well educated women, there might not be as many attractive choices for deriving satisfaction.

So the way to solve the dilemma of cultural and demographic change caused by the lower fertility rate of educated women is to: (a) deny women education or opportunities for satisfying careers so that they will have lots of children, or (b) see to it that the immigrant populations and developing countries afford education and opportunities to women so that their fertility will decline as well.

Frankly, there are so many anti-natalist policies in America that I am surprised that anyone can afford to breed. The biggest is confiscatory taxation. You need two earners in many cases just to get by thanks to the chunk the government extracts form you, and you can’t afford too many kids and costs of care or costs of being out of work to care for them yourself. And if you can’t care for them yourself, it kind of takes the shine off the whole undertaking.

Death Will Come Soon Enough

I have been a fan of the Wilson brothers ever since “Bottle Rockets”. I especially liked Owen, and I was saddened to hear that he tried to kill himself. I’m glad that he failed, and I wish him a full recovery. I expect that he will continue to be successful in the movie business.

I have been very depressed at times in my life, but I have never actually gotten to the point of trying to kill myself. Sure, it’s a comfort to know if things get really tough that sweet, sweet death is there to embrace you and make it all go away. I’ve just never gotten even close to the point where I even considered the option. I haven’t even thought out how I’d do the deed other than to imagine some comedic possibilities like setting it up so that I’d be framing someone I don’t like for my “murder” or some such thing.

When I was a lad in the Bible Belt, many of the most rousing hymns that we sang were about looking forward to that wonderful day when we’d die and get to leave this miserable world behind. Life was probably hard when a lot of those songs were written, and I could see how you’d get weary of life as a dirt farmer, especially if you expected to go to a paradise without pain or toil. It’s hard to be somber when you sing “I’ll Fly Away” even though the theme of the song is the happy anticipation of sweet, sweet death.

The generations that preceded mine were marked by large families, so we had a lot of kinfolks. That meant going to a lot of funerals and visiting funeral homes, and those songs embracing death were quite a comfort to them as mourned. They still are when I go home to the mountains when a kinsman dies. Up here in Yankee land, they sing different songs, but I don’t go to as many funerals.

I Want to Practice Economic Democracy, But I Don't Know How

Kevin Carson announces the Solidarity Economy Network which is supposed, inter alia, to be kind of clearinghouse of information about movements and institutions devoted to “economic democracy”. Perhaps this will be a step toward overcoming the fragmentation of the movement. Writes Carson:

“Cooperatives and other alternative economic ventures find themselves swimming in a capitalist sea; because of their fragmentation from each other, their minimal systemic influence bears no relation to their actual numerical importance.”

I regret that I find myself so far out on the fringes of the movement that it is all but invisible to me. I share the values of the movement, but I don’t know how to live them. Because I am not competent about it, the particpants in my part of the world are not salient to me. A whole world of cooperatives and alternative economic ventures could be around me, and I wouldn’t even know it. Perhaps this SEN will be helpful in drawing me in. I hope that they will have something like an Economic Democracy for Dummies function for folks like me who are sympathetic but clueless.

My main problem is that my fee time is precious to me thanks in part to my long commute. While I want to patronize alternative ventures and cooperatives, I need to be directed to them. I just don’t have the time or energy to seek them out.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Defending Craig

Mrs Vache Folle clued me in to this brilliant defense of Larry Craig.

“In short, the crime he was arrested for ought not be a crime. If they are going to include among punishable offenses the act of wanting sex, and asking for sex, but not actually getting any sex ... there aren't enough cells in all the jails in America.”

Wm N Grigg On Illegal Immigration

Wm N Grigg is my hero. His take on the “immigration problem” is the most sensible that I have been exposed to. Writes Grigg:

“As in so much else, the key to solving the immigration problem is to define the problem correctly, while bearing in mind another of Burnham's Laws: Where there is no solution, there is no problem.’

Grigg suggests that we treat the concrete problems that have been attributed to illegal immigration as discrete issues in and of themselves instead of packing everything together under the “illegal immigration problem”. Restrictions on immigration haven’t worked so far and have inevitably led to criminality. If we lifted the restrictions altogether and addressed the concrete problems themselves, that might have a chance of working.

Then again, I suspect that for many who favor restrictions and consider that we have an “immigration problem”, the immigrants themselves are the problem. They just don’t like Mexicans.

Free Will Is a Sham

In JL Wilson’s list of 8 Things , the item that stood out for me was the following:

“I don't understand the concept of free will. It seems to me that anything I chose to do was the only thing I was capable of choosing in that moment of decision. Most of the time I "should" have made a better decision, but that wouldn't have been me making the decision. Everything that happens - including everything I make or let happen - happens for a reason. “

It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who has problems with “free will”. I think of it as a useful fiction rather than something that we really exercise. It is helpful to act in some cases, e.g. in allocating blame, as if we had free will, but let’s not forget that it is a heuristic device.

I believe that everything I have done or ever will do is determined by a multitude of causes beyond my ken and that everything that happens was laid down in the Mind of God from the beginning of time for God’s unfathomable Purposes. That does not mean that my heart does not break. Moreover, it does not make me a practicing fatalist. I don’t know what is going to happen or what choices I may make, so it’s all a big surprise to me, and I hope that it will turn out that I one of the folks who made the right choices at least some of the time.

My freedom from the concept of free will has helped me in my spiritual life and to understand grace. I believe that I am a beneficiary of God’s infinite Grace. I am free from bondage to sin. My sins don’t count against me. God loves me just the way I am. Sunday before last, one of the back up preachers sermonized about this freedom. He did what preachers always seem to do. He announced our freedom from sin and then took it back! Good news, everybody, we’re free from sin, but you are going to have to struggle not to sin anyway. Wrong, wrong, wrong, say I. The Holy Ghost working within you will transform you into a new person who won’t even want to sin. You need not worry about rule breaking. All you need to do is let yourself act out of love.

Getting past free will also helps me with my problem with guilt. Thanks to the Baptists and other fundamentalists and my mom, I feel a lot of guilt and shame. I feel this not only for the bad stuff I do but also for the good stuff that I don’t do! I am ashamed that I am not as generous and loving as a saint, and I feel twinges of guilt about stupid things I said or did decades ago. But when I ponder that I am the person that I was meant to be, that I was made only to be so good and no better, that I didn’t really have any choice but to say or do the stupid things, I can repress my feelings of guilt and shame for a while. Mrs Vache Folle once encouraged me to be more like Homer Simpson who never regrets anything and to compare myself to an ax murderer rather than to Mother Theresa. I’m trying.

Like LJ Wilson, I find that getting past free will allows me to be less angry with others and to be more patient and understanding.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Undercover Bathroom Footsy Police

I don’t care if Larry Craig plays footsy with strangers in airport lavatories. Since he is the kind of guy who advocates laws against gays, it is ironic justice that he should be taken in an undercover bathroom footsy sting operation.

You know you have too many cops when you can devote one or more to bathroom footsy patrol. I guess all the real crime in Minneapolis was eradicated, so the cops are now focusing on issues further down on the priority list. Durkheim warned us that this would happen.

The 8 Things Meme

Brewrunner tagged me with a meme. Here are the rules:

"People who are tagged need to write these rules in their own blogs & share eight things about themselves that others might not know. At the end of the their blog post, they need to tag six people and list their (blog) names. Leave a comment on the blogs of the people they’ve chosen telling them they’ve been tagged and encouraging them to come over and read the eight things you’ve written on your blog."

I don't have anything better to do, so here goes.

Thing the First. I have the distinction of being the only person ever cut from my high school football team. On a lark, I went out for football in spring training before my senior year to see what the fuss was about. I made up for my ineptitude with my lack of speed. The coach said I could be a manager but that I would probably get killed if allowed to play.

Thing the Second. I sang in the Official Stay and See America in Georgia First Bicentennial Singing Group. Yes. That was our designation. We were twelve clean cut Baptist teens who toured around in a bus and performed at Bicentennial events and in churches. It was sickening. It was a lot like Up With People but with a more religious twist. I got to sing the national anthem at a Braves game and to meet Hank Aaron.

Thing the Third. I published, with some others, an article based on my masters’ thesis on birth intervals in a migrating Mennonite community. I reckon that makes me a real physical anthropologist. My thesis went a lot further than the article in that I found that the correlation between birth intervals and infant mortality appeared to come into play even in the case of miscarriages and stillbirths. This lends weight to the proposition that metabolic costs to the mother are the underlying causative factor.

Thing the Fourth. I have double rooted bicuspids.

Thing the Fifth. I was once a rabid Mariners fan, and I listened to, watched or attended every game of the season for a number of years when we lived out west. I almost started to believe that I had magical abilities to influence the outcome of games and that, if I were home listening to the game, I had to kick a soccer ball around the yard whenever Norm Charlton was pitching. Mrs Vache Folle got into it, but not in a crazy way. She once suggested that we attend a particular game because the “Big Eunuch” was pitching. That’s what she thought Randy Johnson’s nickname was. She liked to go to the ballpark whenever Dave Fleming was pitching, because she knew there would be lots of offense.

Thing the Sixth. I am a leg man. I have always had a thing for a nice set of pins.

Thing the Seventh. When I was in my twenties I changed my name legally in order to distance myself from my deadbeat dad who had abandoned us when I was eleven. I really resented him and his new family, so I dropped his name for a made up name (the island of St George where Mrs VF and I had honeymooned). When I was in my forties, I reconciled with my father, and now I regret the name change.

Thing the Eighth. I was the recipient of the Rob Hess Memorial Award for Courtesy and Christian Character when I was a high school sophomore. I got my name on a plaque and was mercilessly derided as a dweeb. Rob Hess had been a nice kid who had been killed in a car crash, and his parents had set up the award. There may have been $50 involved as well.

I now tag Lemme Howdt, Iceberg, GGI, Steve Scott, bpsycho, and Steve.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I Sometimes Have Doubts

JL Wilson has a point when he argues that the monopolization of the legitimate use of force by the state would be preferable to the situation in which individuals ran amok and imposed their will on others by force. Norbert Elias referred to the monopolization of violence by states as the “civilizing process”. Another part of this was the diffusion of bourgeois values to the lower orders of society. The murder rate, if you don’t count murders by states, has fallen over the last 800 years or so coincidental with state formation.

I prefer to think of this process as “domestication” rather than civilization because it involves making us both more governable and self governing. This leaves us less exposed to the predations of our neighbors but more exposed to the predations of our rulers.

I like to think of my fellow human beings as basically cooperative and kind, and my desire for anarchy is based to some degree on my conviction that most people don’t need to be governed. On the other hand, if I am wrong and most people are bad, then I wouldn’t want to be governed by bad people. So I get right back to anarchy as my preference.

I understand how some people might be frightened of the prospect and would fear that anarchy would mean chaos and unfettered violence. I frequently hear arguments to the effect that we would all have to be armed to the teeth and constantly at war if we had no government. I reckon the ax murderers and thugs get so much press and attention that we forget the thousands of acts of kindness and solicitude that enable us to get through the day. We live relatively atomistic, isolated lives and don’t really know our neighbors. They might be murderous bastards for all we know, and the police are all that stands between us and their depravity. And what about those urban gangs? They’d come upstate and vandalize our homes and rape our women if it weren’t for East Fishkill’s finest.

I confess that I have some reservations and doubts about my vision of a free society. Would the “private defense agency” that I subscribed to be more like a feudal warlord than a business sensitive to my demands as a consumer? And what about all the reliance on insurance contracts in the free society? Have you ever dealt with an insurance company? They are regulated out the wazoo now, and they still don’t pay claims as they are supposed to.

I have been totally steeped in bourgeois values, but I try to see things from the perspective of working class or lower class people and to recognize their different values and norms as resistance to the dominant culture. But I just can’t embrace so much of it. Dogfighting, cockfighting, bearbaiting, blood sports, demeaning of women in rap and popular culture, child beating, domestic abuse and a host of other aspects of life among the riff raff frighten or disgust me. All the guests on Jerry Springer or the folks who make guest appearances on Cops undermine my regard for my fellow human beings. That people spend gazillions of dollars on the WWE causes me to question the sanity of many. Seriously, there are still people who think that the fights on the WWE are real.

I have to keep reminding myself that these folks with the scary or repugnant tastes are a small proportion of the population and that most working class or lower class people really are the salt of the earth. They love their families and their dogs, and they are just trying to get by in a world that is stacked against them. I’d take my chances living among them in a free society.

Dolphins With Spears on Their Heads

Digby at Hullabaloo reports on a professional journalist’s crack reporting.

According to MSNBC, Rev Al Sharpton jumped to the defense of Michael Vick and blogged the following:

“If the police caught Brett Favre (a white quarterback for the Green Bay Packers) running a dolphin-fighting unit out of his pool, where dolphins with spears attached to their foreheads fought each other, would they bust him? Of course not.”

The post MSNBC quoted came from the parody site NewsGroper where “Rev Al” blogs with Lindsay Lohan, George Bush and the president of Iran.

Monday, August 27, 2007

My Suggestions for AG

Who will Bush pick to replace the disgraceful Gonzo? How about this guy? He has experience in the administration and he managed to work his way up as a military lawyer despite having been disbarred for 23 years. That’s a clever fellow, and he’ll be grateful for the job and willing to do whatever it takes to hold on to it for the full remainder of Bush’s term.

Or how about this guy? He was disbarred “for being an asshole”, so he’d fit right in with Cheney and the rest of the gang.

Where Do We Get Evil JAG Officers? Falwell's Law Talking School?

When I was in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, I took my responsibilities very seriously, particularly when it came to briefing combat soldiers on the law of land warfare. I worked very hard to persuade them of the rightness of the law and the importance of adhering to it as a matter of honor, as a matter of duty, and for practical reasons. I found, however, that efforts in this regard had usually been undermined by the NCOs, commanders, and the soldiers’ own exposure to war movies. Most of them promised to violate the laws of land warfare and reckoned that my instruction was helpful only insofar as it would be useful in evading prosecution.

This was pretty depressing. Even more depressing has been the stance of the Bush regime about the law of land warfare. The civilian leadership has been hostile to the law, and the military has violated it on numerous occasions. I don’t see how any self respecting Judge Advocate could continue to serve under this regime. Perhaps some consider it their duty to stand in the way of the more egregious violations. Donald Rumsfeld aimed to cut the number of military lawyers since he considered them as obstructions. Perhaps the more conscientious officers have been purged and replaced by tools who are happy to facilitate lawbreaking. God knows that the upper echelons of the Justice Department have been filled with such creatures, so there seems to be an ample supply of evil lawyers to fill these posts.

Another Post About BIrds and Such

Things may not be as bleak as I had expected them to be, and I am considering some unusual observations as positive signs. Last Thursday, I spotted a catbird in the side yard by the small shed. On Wednesday in the city, I spotted two falcons on the balcony outside the meeting room I was in. Yesterday, there was a red tailed hawk in the apple tree by the pond, and a flock of blue jays came down and chased it away. This morning, a bald eagle flew right in front of my car as I crossed the reservoir!

On Saturday, I saw one of our comets in a pool by the road about a quarter mile downstream from our pond. It seems that at least one of the fish we lost in storms survived or that some eggs hatched downstream. Mrs Vache Folle (who came back from her mother’s) wants to retrieve it, but I’d just as soon leave it be.

The hummingbirds have been going through a quart of sugar water a week lately, and I have seen as many as eight females by the feeder at one time. I have seen up to four females feeding cooperatively. More often, however, I have observed aerial combat.

A week or so ago, I spotted an injured sparrow by the pond-side feeders. It probably had a run in with the feral cat that has been hanging around. I put some food on the ground for it but expected that it would not last long. But it healed up gradually and managed to fly again fairly well over several days. There’s lots of hiding places by the pond, so it could evade the cat, and the dogs pay no heed to small birds at all. The snakes rarely come out of the pond lately. Still, I was overjoyed that the hopeless sparrow recovered. I reckon God does have His eye on the sparrow after all.

Since the days have been getting shorter, I have had more occasion to sit outside after dusk. I don’t remember seeing so many bats in years past. There are hundreds of them in the back yard over the meadow and pond, and I don’t know how they avoid collisions. Perhaps there is an air traffic control tower for bats somewhere. I don’t know where they go in the daytime, but I would not be surprised to find that Hosner Mountain had caves.

The deer have been boldly grazing inside the fence right up to the house, and the dogs get to chase them every morning first thing when I let them out. The grazing is good since it has been so wet this summer. Perhaps some of the other unusual conditions are related to the increased rain. Usually by this time, the creeks have been dried up for weeks, and the pond is only half full. But this year, the creeks have been running for all but about ten days here and there, and I have only had to water the garden a single time. The garden is lush and the lawn wants mowing constantly. On the downside, the deer fly season was extended for a couple of miserable weeks.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Stress and the Bryant Park Urine Collectors

I drove into Manhattan a couple of mornings this week, parked on the West Side and walked through the Theater District to meetings on the East Side. Travel across town is glacial, while up and down town is relatively swift.

For the first time since I visited as a twenty-something rube, I found the city exciting rather than stressful. The noise, the soot, the hullabaloo didn’t really bother me. On the contrary, I thought about how nice it would be to come into the city more often and take in some shows and such like.

I reckon that my trick of parking (in a lot) and making my way across town on foot rather than fighting impossible cross town traffic allowed me to experience the city without being in my usual fog of seething homicidal rage. Also, I had allowed myself ample time to get where I was going and to meander through the streets, and I had set it up so that I would not be desperate to find a bathroom, something which can be a challenge in NYC.

On Wednesday, I passed by Bryant Park outside the Library to and from my meeting where one of the few public restrooms can be found. I recalled a few years ago when I used those facilities as being one of the strangest moments of my life in le Pomme Grande. As I used a urinal, a man to my left was pissing into a gallon jug and eating a sandwich from a container resting on the flushing mechanism of his urinal. When I got outside, I noticed a group of rough looking men sitting around one of the tables in the park. Each of them had a plastic gallon jug filled to some level with what I figured, based on recent observations, was their own urine. They were all smoking cigarettes and drinking Big Gulps or the NYC equivalent monster sodas. I didn’t ask them why they were collecting massive quantities of their own urine, and I have regretted it ever since.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sexually Active Oldsters

This WaPo article about sexually active octogenarians was heartening. The lead: “Many people maintain rich, active sex lives well into their 80s, according to the first detailed examination of sexuality among older Americans.” I thought old guys were taking all the Viagra just to help keep them from falling out of bed.

But buried several column inches down comes this reveal: “Being sexually active was defined as having had mutually voluntary sexual contact with another person within the past 12 months.”

Seriously, having sex once a year makes you “sexually active”? I feel like some kind of sex addict now what with my crazy quarterly sex.

More Wisdom of Philip Atkinson

Check out his e-mail in defense of his call to kill all the Iraqis. He reckons that the 9/11 perps were a “barbarian war band”. That’s right, they were just like the Visigoths or the Alans testing the borders of the Roman Empire.

I Hope She Isn't Calling Herself a Libertarian

Now I understand why Megan McArdle wrote under the pseudonym Jane Galt. What I don’t understand is why she is using her real name now to write stuff like this piece critiqued at Sadly, No!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

More Philip Atkinson

Dirt Rhodes Scholar dug up another crazy article by Philip Atkinson of Family Security Matters. He has the final solution to America’s immigration problem:

“The very least that must be done to halt the Hispanic invasion is the mass enslavement, or execution, of the invaders, which must be followed by an American invasion of Mexico to enforce American language and values upon the Mexicans”

Note that this is "the very least that must be done". Presumably, Philip Atkisnon would go much further but was probably worried about offending the editirs at Family Security.

Which of the GOP candidates will embrace the Atkinson Solution?

If the US Doesn't Want to Follow the Law, It Should Change the Law

If the US aims to abrogate its signing on to the UN charter, it should just do so instead of maintaining membership and violating the charter at every turn. Whatever you might think of the UN as an institution, the idea of outlawing the use of force across international boundaries except as authorized by the Security Council or in self defense from an immanent attack was a pretty good one. What with the veto power of the permanent members, there has to be a broad consensus among nations before the use of force will ever be approved. In any event, it’s better than having individual nation states decide unilaterally to use force. The US has a pretty crappy track record in following the charter and has advanced some ludicrous arguments over the years. The right of pre-emptive self-defense is one of the most ridiculous justifications ever put forward, and to accept it would completely render the UN charter null and void. Thankfully, the concept is a complete non-starter except with a few nut jobs and bed-wetters.

President-for-Life?

Via Attaturk at Rising Hegemon I read this crazed essay:

Author: Philip Atkinson
Source: The Family Security Foundation, Inc.
Date: August 3, 2007

The wisest course would have been for President Bush to use his nuclear weapons to slaughter Iraqis until they complied with his demands, or until they were all dead. Then there would be little risk or expense and no American army would be left exposed. But if he did this, his cowardly electorate would have instantly ended his term of office, if not his freedom or his life.The simple truth that modern weapons now mean a nation must practice genocide or commit suicide...

If President Bush copied Julius Caesar by ordering his army to empty Iraq of Arabs and repopulate the country with Americans, he would achieve immediate results: popularity with his military; enrichment of America by converting an Arabian Iraq into an American Iraq (therefore turning it from a liability to an asset); and boost American prestiege while terrifying American enemies.

He could then follow Caesar's example and use his newfound popularity with the military to wield military power to become the first permanent president of America, and end the civil chaos caused by the continually squabbling Congress and the out-of-control Supreme Court.

President Bush can fail in his duty to himself, his country, and his God, by becoming “ex-president” Bush or he can become “President-for-Life” Bush: the conqueror of Iraq, who brings sense to the Congress and sanity to the Supreme Court. Then who would be able to stop Bush from emulating Augustus Caesar and becoming ruler of the world? For only an America united under one ruler has the power to save humanity from the threat of a new Dark Age wrought by terrorists armed with nuclear weapons.

Great googly moogly! I’m not one to worship at the altar of democracy for democracy’s sake, and I will readily accept that democracy has its problems, but obstructing genocide and unchecked tyranny are not among them. Those are features, not bugs.

And once you start the killing and enslaving, where do you stop? Did Laffer have a curve describing optimal purging and murdering and oppressing? President-for-Life Bush is going to have to kill just about everyone who opposes him, including most Americans. Then who is going to colonize the conquered provinces? Answer me that, Philip Atkinson.

Attaturk reckons the GOP candidates should be asked if they endorse this idea (assuming only that they would be the President-for-Life):

Democratic candidates are constantly asked about whatever Cindy Sheehan or Al Sharpton said -- I'd love to have the current GOP Candidates have to deal with this filth.
"I LOVE NUKING ARAB COUNTRIES!" - Mitt Romney

"Forget Iraq, nuke Mecca" - Tom Tancredo
"Why not both?" - Rudy Giuliani


Monday, August 20, 2007

How to Get a Job as a WSJ Editorial Writer

Chris Kelly at Huffington Post has hit on the formula for the perfect conservative pundit:

That's how you get a job as a conservative pundit. Figure out what makes you different from a white, male, protestant businessman, and hate your own guts for it.

If you're black, hate civil rights. If you're a woman, hate feminism. If you grew up poor, despise the poor. If you're a visible minority, demand more profiling. If you're gay, say you're cured. If you're Jewish, praise anti-Semites, if you're Christian, praise war. If you're Michelle Malkin... I don't know where you start with your problems if you're Michelle Malkin.

Just take a good, long look in the mirror, and ask yourself: Who am I? And how am I failing to be Neil Bush
?”

I also like his take on the weird juxtaposition bewteen quality reporting in the WSJ and its batshit crazy editorial page:

It's a little like buying Playboy for the articles, but instead of also getting pictures of naked girls, some trust fund scumbag lectures you about meritocracy.

It's like Cracker Jack, only instead of a prize with your popcorn, you get a human thumb.

I accept that. The way, in The History Boys, the students don't mind that their favorite teacher also molests them.”

Some Doubt that Taxation is Theft

In a comment thread inspired by Mona at Unqualified Offerings Donald Johnson had this to say about my analogy of taxation to sending goons to shake down your neighbors:

“Equating taxation to support government programs with sending goons to shake down your next door neighbor is the sort of thing that I had previously encountered. The problem with the analogy is that it expects us lefties to accept the equation “taxation = theft” in order to see any point to the analogy at all. I think taxation is the price one pays for living in a society as opposed to anarchy and if you accept the minimal state (which I guess some libertarians do not), then you’re still going to have to send those goons next door to cough up the money to run the justice system. And if you don’t, then you send privately hired goons to enforce your rights when the neighbor violates them.

Actually, it’s analogies and arguments of this sort that drive most of us lefties away from any sympathy with libertarianism. You’re much better off sticking to real world criticisms of failed government policies and actual government crimes if you want to reach us, I think.”

The “taxation is theft” meme gets countered with the “taxation is the price one pays for living in a society”. It’s a price that is involuntarily extracted with the threat or actual application of force. Maybe Mr Johnson would prefer “taxation is extortion”. My point was that it is important to think about the violent and coercive nature of government whenever one proposes a governmental solution and that each person has to decide at what point he is willing to dispatch the goons. For some, perhaps Mr Johnson, lighted softball fields for the benefit of softball enthusiasts is important enough to them to use force. Of course, liberals are turned off by analogies like this. So are conservatives. They should evoke a great deal of shame.

Topsy Turvy

For the past few years my life has rested on three pillars: my unhappy (as it turns out) marriage, my soul-destroying job, and my money pit of a home and garden. Now everything is turned upside down. Mrs Vache Folle left me and went to live with her mother. I am about to be jobless thanks to a divestiture. In either case, divorce or unemployment, I won’t be able to keep the house and garden. There is a remote possibility that Mrs Vache Folle will have a change of heart and that I will be able to transfer to another entity within the conglomerate, but I can’t really hold out much hope, and these contingencies are completely out of my hands. It sucks that all this is happening when the real estate market is in the crapper. If we could have held out until an upturn…

Anyhoo, the getting left by the Mrs part just happened yesterday, and I am still reeling from it. I got through denial, anger, and bargaining all within a few hours thanks to half a bottle of single malt. Now I’m way into depression and starting to think about what to do. The soon to be former Mrs Vache Folle is more sensible about a lot of what must be done, but she’s not making any suggestions right now.

I am a very lazy person, so all these changes and the effort that they entail are unwelcome to say the least. Moreover, the prospect of starting over on my own somewhere without my companion of 23 plus years makes me anxious. Perhaps at some point it will seem exciting, and I will be able to embrace the opportunities that I face. Who knows what kind of future I might have? Maybe I’ll drift from town to town solving problems and mysteries. Maybe I’ll end up a hermit in the backwoods and write a bizarre manifesto. Maybe I’ll be a hobo. The possibilities are endless!

Friday, August 17, 2007

I Wish Paul's Dog Had Eaten Romans 13:1-7

Steve Scott could tell the authoritarian preachers that I read about in a post by Steve at Iasconius was a fish a thing or two about Romans 13. These preachers participate in a government program to encourage obedience to authority during crises. They’ll use Romans 13 to persuade the faithful to march peaceably and cheerfully to the detainment camps.

The passage definitely does not constitute a command to obey blindly any governmental decree, no matter how stupid or evil, and to do so gladly. Interpreting it that way just plain contradicts the core principles of Christianity. Imagine that you are a Christian in Germany in the 1940s, and you are conscripted into working at one of the Nazi death camps. Would Romans 13 give you license to whistle a happy tune while you gas Jews to death? After all, the Nazi regime is ordained by God and does God’s will. Obviously God wills that those Jews be gassed, and they are not going to gas themselves, are they?

I’m not even sure that the passage refers to civil government at all or that it pertains in any context except that of the church at Rome at the time the letter was written. Paul would not want the fledgling church to invite extirpation by pissing off the Emperor on the eve of his big mission trip there. He’d want them to play it cool. In any event, such resistance by the few Christians would have been utterly futile. Clearly, the martyrs that Rome made of the saints in the next few centuries did not read Romans 13 as requiring blind obedience. They died rather than recant or worship the Emperor which they were obliged to do by duly enacted laws and decrees.

I also suspect that Paul was being ironic and that his readers in Rome would have had a little chuckle at the part about the Emperor’s doing justice and rewarding good. (Caligula the Just. That’s what we call him. Defender of goodness and punisher of evil. That’s our Nero.) Had the letter been intercepted by the authorities, there would be nothing in it to offend the state, and under the circumstances the advice was pretty good, nudge nudge wink wink. Keep a low profile. Don’t make waves.

It is my suspicion, in the end, that this part was added later as part of the authoritarian stance the “orthodox” bishops would take when they became partners of the state. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in the flow of the rest of the letter and seems way out of context. I’m going to assume for now that Paul didn’t write it and I’m going to ignore it henceforth.

The government is an act of God in the same sense that a plague or a hurricane is an act of God. There are evil bastards in the world who aim to rob you and enslave you, and most of them will do so under color of law. It pleased God to subject us to these challenges, and we are obliged to endure them as best we can. I pay taxes to which I object because I know that resistance is futile and that my imprisonment or death won’t advance the Kingdom a bit. If I am asked to gas a bunch of Jews or murder some brown people, however, I pray that I will have the courage to resist and that any consequences I suffer will be a testimony of my faith and a light shone on the evil of the government. Then again, I have never been so tested and I might very well reconsider Romans 13 rather than face martyrdom.

Turns Out I'm Not a Stalinist After All

I misread the results of my political compass test. I was looking at an example and didn’t scroll far enough down to my own score. I am the opposite of Stalin. My apologies to the kulaks and the political compass test creators. I hope that they did not find Siberia too inhospitable.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I Just Found Out I'm a Stalinist


Via Crooks and Liars, I came across this political map that purports to show where the presidential candidates stand on a grid with two axes, authoritarian/libertarian and communist/neoliberal. I was surprised to see that all the candidates except Kucinich and Gravel were clustered in the upper right quadrant as business friendly authoritarians. Even Ron Paul was in this cluster. So was Hitler. Romney appears to be the most Hitler-like.

I followed the links to the site of Political Compass and took the test myself. I came out as a collectivist authoritarian in company with Stalin. I reckon that the test is seriously flawed, not least by an apparent assumption that agreement or disagreement with a premise means that the test taker supports government action to make it happen or keep it from happening as the case may be. For example, I agree that globalization should benefit individuals more than multinational corporations, but I don’t propose to make this happen by force. And I could see where someone might think that fornication was immoral but would not propose to do anything about it. I don’t see that having an opinion on a lifestyle issue necessarily means that you want to impose that opinion on others.
But who am I to argue with science? I reckon I'll go start a famine somewhere.
UPDATE: Good news! It turns out that the graphic I was looking out was not my personal score, just an exemplar, so I might not be a Stalinist after all. I'll have to retake the test and see if I still hate it. Meanwhile, I would like to extend my sincere apologies to any kulaks and other peasants I may have purged during my Stalinist episode.

I Quit Libertarianism

JL Wilson of Independent Country and Mona at Unqualified Offerings both touch on the often silly and unfair criticisms of libertarianism from the right and the left. JL Wilson addresses paleo-conservative criticism, while Mona addresses criticism from liberals. In each case, the critics frequently attribute positions to libertarianism that aren’t necessarily held by all or even most libertarians.

I blame the Vulgar Libertarians so aptly described by Kevin Carson in his series of posts. They’ve done a lot of damage to the brand. And when Rudy Giuliani can be called libertarian, if only by Eric Dondero and his ilk (if he has an ilk), the brand has no value at all. The co-opting of the brand by the GOP finished it off. I’m not sure it’s redeemable at this point. I am going to stop calling myself a libertarian. Doing so evokes too many inaccurate presuppositions in my liberal and conservative conspecifics, and I spend way too much effort disabusing them of these.

My politics derive from my religious beliefs. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors, and I don’t see how I can do this by applying coercion or using force against them or supporting the use of or threats of force against them by others even for their own good or for some widely perceived common good. It is my preference that all good things inure to the benefit of my neighbors and that this be accomplished in all cases through non-coercive means. I suppose that I could call myself a Christian when asked to categorize myself politically, but this leads to problems itself because that brand has been so debased by the religious right. Maybe I’ll just describe the basic principle outlined above and leave it at that.

All I ask of my conspecifics is that they acknowledge that government action ultimately involves coercion and the threat or actual use of force and that they consider whether their proposed government action or program is important enough that they would be willing to see their neighbors hauled away to jail or dispossessed from their homes to accomplish it. I realize that this is asking a lot. I don’t bother with problematizing the state itself except to point out its coercive nature because that just leads to arguments about a hypothetical stateless society and what kind of dystopia it would be. I aim to stick to arguing about real proposals or existing programs.

So I ask a few questions about every proposal or program: 1. Is it important enough to you that you would set goons on your neighbor to bring it about? 2. If so, is it really necessary to organize and finance it coercively, or is there a way to accomplish it through peaceful means? Or, like Montgomery Burns, do you just like the personal touch of a good old-fashioned goon? 3. Have peaceful means even been tried or considered and on what basis have they been ruled out? 4. Does the program also include free ponies and a monthly allowance for their upkeep? 5. What has filled you with so much hate? 6. What if Clinton/Bush had proposed this? 7. Did you know that Hitler had the same idea? 8. Why stop there?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Disappearing Bees

Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker had a very informative article about the decline of honeybees in America. It appears that they may have developed a heretofore unknown immune deficiency disorder, a kind of bee AIDS. In any event, if pollinators continue to decline, this may threaten our food supply. Many food crops rely on bees to facilitate reproduction. I was fascinated to learn about traveling beekeepers who rent out their hives to farmers around the country and who move them around on flat bed trucks from crop to crop.

I have observed only a single honeybee on our property this year, even when the clover was in full bloom. There have been lots of other kinds of bees, but just the one honeybee. Evidently, wild honeybees are a thing of the past. We have a neighbor about a quarter mile away who supposedly keeps a couple of hives, so I would have expected to see at least some of her bees in the garden.

I have contemplated keeping bees on our property, but I reckon that this would just attract bears unless I put the hive way up a tree. In which case, what’s in it for me?

Small Blessings

Every day, I bestow small blessings on others and receive them in turn. I might bless or be blessed with “Have a good day” or “Have a good weekend” if the weekend is approaching. Sometimes folks are more parsimonious with their blessings and limit them to parts of the day. “Have a good evening” or “Enjoy the rest of the morning” are examples. Why so sparing in your blessings? They cost nothing. Indeed, they are really of no consequence whatsoever, although a curse instead of an expected blessing might be disturbing. I am expected to thank people for bestowing their blessings on me and to bless them right back.

Suppose that I began to dole out my blessings in smaller increments. “Enjoy the next fifteen minutes.” “Have a nice early afternoon.” At what point would people notice? What if I engaged in beatific one-upmanship and responded to “Have a nice day” with “Have a nice day and a half”? Would this cause people to take notice?

I have already experimented with doling out more generous blessings. “Live long and prosper” amuses because it is so recognizable. “Have a wonderful life”, on the other hand, takes people by surprise and might get you a “What do you mean?” It seems to alarm the recipient of the blessing rather than comfort them.

I am thinking of also of experimenting with blessings that aren’t related to the enjoyment of increments of time. “May jackals slake their thirst on the blood of your enemies” is probably over the top, but I might try “May your adversaries be confounded at every turn” or “May your children be always a joy to you” or some such thing and see where that goes.

If I am going to be giving out and getting blessings all day, I reckon that I ought to do so mindfully.

More Musings on Blasphemy

Blogger indicates that this is my 1000th blog post. I aim to continue posting regularly and promise my imaginary readership many more posts about my pond, my dogs and my new string trimmer.

When I was a kid, I was taught that thinking of a sin was just the same as doing it. Moreover, there was an unforgivable sin, blasphemy of the Holy Ghost, which was a ticket straight to hell, no passing Go and no collecting $200. When I thought about the unforgivable sin, however, I found myself worrying that I was blaspheming the Holy Ghost right then in my mind and that it was all hopeless. If you tell yourself not to think about a green elephant, you can be damn sure a green elephant image will pop up in your mind. The same goes for mental blasphemy, especially if you have a rather broad view of what it means to blaspheme.

I have since come to believe that it takes a lot more to blaspheme the Holy Ghost than involuntarily conjuring up some insult in your mind. Blasphemy must be broadcast and is akin to slander. I reckon that those who blaspheme the Holy Ghost most egregiously are those who give the Holy Ghost credit for or blame for evil. The Holy Ghost doesn’t work evil or inspire it, so anyone who claims that the Holy Ghost is at work in acts of violence is a blasphemer. Warmongering preachers of the religious right come to mind as blasphemers of this sort. Murder and mayhem are not fruits of the Holy Ghost; rather, love and mercy are such fruits.

These defamers have enabled the neo-conservative death cult by lending the imprimatur of religious legitimacy to their murderous program. The neo-cons believe that religion is the “opiate of the masses”, but unlike Lenin and Stalin are willing to use religion to influence and control the masses for their own pursuit of power. They themselves believe in nothing beyond their own striving for power, and they doubtless laugh at the defamers and their followers who distort and pervert the teachings of Jesus in such a blatant manner. They need not concern themselves that the tenets of the religion that they are exploiting utterly contradict their agenda and program because the blasphemers are so obliging and their followers so clueless.

These defamers have brought the Church into disrepute and have invited ridicule and censure. On the day of judgment, they will be given the gift of shame which now is lacking in them. On that day, they will be given the gift of self awareness and discernment of what they have wrought.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

VFT Keeps Us Earthbound

H&R links to a story that surmises that the universe is probably a computer simulation run by some geek from the “future”.

I say it’s impossible. Long before the technology to create an entire universe with virtual people who think that they are alive becomes available, the technology to have pretty realistic virtual sex will come on line. At that point, all the geeks will stop working on anything else, and all progress will be arrested forever. I refer to this as the Vache Folle Threshold.

The VFT also accounts for the apparent lack of interstellar space travel by advanced alien species. They all invented pretty good virtual sex before they came up with Warp drives.

My Mini Vacation

I took Friday and Monday off and had myself a nice four day weekend. It rained all day Friday, but Mrs Vache Folle, who also had the day off, and I cleaned out the smaller of our two sheds and made it usable for storage. Ninety five percent of the contents of that shed was useless crap that we had no business holding onto. It cost 90 bucks to have the carter haul it away. I had been storing in that shed some clothes from my thinner days in the expectation that I would one day fit into them again, but voles destroyed them. That saves me from having to wear 1990s fashions as I lose weight.

The rest of the long weekend was very pleasant, and I did a lot of puttering in the garden. There was a big to do around the hummingbird feeder as Swifty fought off at least six invaders. The hummers managed to down a quart of sugar water in less than a week.

Jasper has discovered the fish in the pond and, whenever any stray into his side (the shallow side is permitted to him) he chases them around. The pond is an even greater attraction to him now that he has frogs, snakes and fish to molest. He also has to make sure that no squirrels get on the woodpecker feeder and that the feral cat that has been hanging around gets chased or at least barked at whenever he appears. Also, no deer or turkeys are allowed in the yard or anywhere near the fence, and ducks and herons are absolutely prohibited from landing on the pond. These responsibilities keep Jasper occupied most of the time, but he does not neglect to attack the lawn mower or the vacuum cleaner when these are in use.

I went to the gym every day except Monday when I realized that I have been overdoing it. I need more time between weight training sessions to recover than I used to, so I have decided to weight train only four days a week instead of six (I alternate large muscles and small muscles).

We ate the rest of the meat that we had bought at the farmers’ market. This was a t-bone from a free range, grass fed bovine, a large free range roasting chicken, and a pork loin with the bone attached from a free range hog. We have got to get to the farmers’ market next Saturday to stock up on meat. If I had room for a freezer, I’d buy everything Farmer Abraham had to sell.

Summer is great chez nous. There is no place I would rather be in summer than on the deck looking out over the garden and listening to birdsong and eating the flesh of once contented animals.

Biofuels Will Save America

The more I think about the plan to move to biofuels, the more cunning it seems. As corn gets shifted to biofuels, less of it goes into food for both humans and livestock. Accordingly, food, especially fattening carbohydrate snack food and burgers, becomes increasingly expensive. Americans won’t be able to afford to overeat as much and will lose weight. Thinner Americans make for smaller payloads in motor vehicles with a concomitant reduction in fuel consumption. Voila! Energy independence and a victory in the war on obesity in one fell swoop. Now that’s what I call policymaking.

Another benefit is that more young Americans, being thinner, will be more easily whipped into fighting shape to participate in the perpetual war we will be involved in until the Empire collapses.

On the down side, these policies will have some adverse consequences for the budget. Maimed veterans and payments to survivors are costly, and thinner Americans are likely to live longer and strain the Social Security system.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Iowa Straw Poll

Josh Fruhlinger at Wonkette tells us just how significant the Iowa straw poll is:

“FOR GOD’S SAKE THIS THING IS A FARCE DON’T BELIEVE IT OR PAY ATTENTION NO NO NO”

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

All Hail the Grand Multiparous Woman!

At lunch, I heard about an American woman who just recently gave birth to her seventeenth child and aims to have as many more as she can. My companions were appalled, but I applaud the woman. There are not enough grand multiparous women these days, as far as I am concerned. I’ll admit it. I just like to use the expression “grand multiparous”.

Once you hit ten kids, the impact of newcomers on the existing kids becomes vanishingly small. If you have one kid, the second kid means a 50% reduction in attention and resources available to the firstborn. A third kid costs the first two only about 33%, and the fourth costs the first three about 25%. See where I’m going with this? By the time you get to your eleventh child, the first ten barely feel it. What the hell? You might as well go for a record. An eighteenth kid might not even be noticed by its siblings, some of whom will have grown up already.

Fertility drugs would have been the way to go for this family. They have been limited in the number of children they can have by doing it the old fashioned way with mainly single births. Imagine if the woman had been pumping out litters of six at a time. She might have had 100 plus kids by now.

Free Veterinary Care for the Free Ponies the Government Will Provide

I caught some of the Democratic candidates at the AFL-CIO forum on the TeeVee last night. The candidates were promising ponies for everyone. I can’t wait to get mine.

One concept on which the candidates seemed to agree was providing health care for every American, although there are some differences in how they would go about this and how fast they would move. This is a serious problem for a lot of Americans. When my stepmother was in her last illness, her meds alone cost almost $4,000 a month. My father, severely disabled himself, had to keep working in the factory at personal risk until his seventies to keep insurance coverage to extend her life. A lot of folks’ employers have them by the short and curlies because of the leverage of health insurance. The only medical care that a sizeable number of people get is when they are in prison.

I suppose I should be a good “vulgar libertarian” about this and advocate free market solutions. Why should the consumption of health care, say life saving cancer surgery, be treated any differently from the decision to buy a stereo? I have pretty good insurance, so this is easy for me to advocate.

But I just can’t get all worked up about the prospect that working class folks might receive an entitlement like this. When I think of all the money that gets funneled through the government to the military industrial complex and the surveillance and security apparatus and other forms of corporate welfare, I think that I would much rather have the money stolen from me go to working men and women than to spats wearing tycoons. I’m getting taxed one way or another. I’m going to have to live in under a massive welfare/warfare state, and I would rather the spending be tilted to welfare than warfare. I’ll take the Democrats and their promise of a pony in every paddock any day over the Republicans and the corporate feeding frenzy that they oversee. At least I have a shot at getting the pony.

Except if Ron Paul gets the nomination, of course. Then it’s a different story. I hope he does, but I suspect that the ticket will be Rudy McRomney/Huckleberry Brokeback.

I know, I know. Universal healthcare provided by the government will be an excuse to regulate all aspects of our lifestyles. They don’t need an excuse! They already claim this. There is nothing beneath the state’s notice.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating for any government program or for universal health care provided by the government. I’m just saying that I’m not as incensed about entitlements as I am about other spending.

Libertarians for Nuking Civilians

According to Cathy Young at H&R, if you condemn the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as immoral, you are just being lazy. And unpatriotic.

The comment thread is reminiscent of something you might read at Little Green Footballs.

Cathy’s conclusion: “When anti-Americanism becomes so extreme that it turns the U.S. into the bad guy of World War II, that's truly frightening and depressing. As for whether the bombing was indeed the least evil of all available options: again, I don't know. I'm sure there is room for legitimate debate on this issue. But that debate is almost entirely drowned out by hate and self-righteousness. The insistence on moral purity has turned to moral blindness.”

I’m not sure what Cathy means by “morality”, but I can unequivocally say that bombing those people was immoral, as were a lot of things done in World War II. That’s because my moral values, admittedly arbitrary as all such values are, preclude murdering people for the purposes of terrorizing other people.

Were there other even more evil alternatives that might have been pursued? The US government could have bombed three cities or built enough bombs to kill every single Japanese person. Should the US get credit for not doing worse? If so, then Hitler gets a medal for not killing 7 million Jews.

Were there less evil alternatives that might have been pursued? Actors are free to refrain from evil or to establish a limit on just how evil they would ever let themselves become. There are always less evil options if you care about whether you are evil. Hitler could have decided not to murder the Jews, an admittedly less evil alternative, but then he would have had to forego goals associated with extirpating non-Aryans.

Identifying “good guys” and “bad guys” in WW2 is a matter for propagandists. There is very little in the way of “good” that can be said to have come of that horrible conflict.

It is not “moral laziness” to apply one’s moral values consistently and universally and to hold oneself to the same standards as one holds others. It is quite simply a moral stand that one might take. That Cathy Young chooses to eschew moral purity is her privilege, but there is no basis for her assertion that such a stance is any sense morally superior to that of the purist.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Madmen for President?

One of my conspecifics said something shocking to me. He said that the president of the US should never declare the use of nuclear weapons “off the table”, that to do so would be “na├»ve”. Evidently, it is important for the rest of the world to think that the president is crazy as hell and itching to unleash destruction on a massive scale at the slightest provocation. This is supposed to make us “safer” than a world in which the president can be assumed to be a rational actor and subject to some rudimentary moral guidelines.

I don’t see how the perception of the US as led by a madman helps make me any safer. On the contrary, that just provides incentives for the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their early use. I want countries, including the US, to disarm, not build up vast arsenals, and to work to reduce the likelihood of a global catastrophe. That would make me safer, and I wouldn’t have to pay for the damned weapons.

At a minimum, a presidential candidate should be willing to declare the use of nuclear weapons “off the table” in most circumstances. For example, can we agree that the use of nuclear weapons on domestic targets would be “off the table”? We won’t want to use nukes to combat illegal immigration or to engage in the “War on Drugs”. We don’t want to use nukes to target criminal or terrorist suspects, no matter where they are, because that would be all out of proportion to the object and would inflict gratuitous collateral damage. A candidate’s itchy nuclear trigger finger really should be a disqualification for office.

For the president as madman ploy to be effective, the president must be plausibly mad, and the public can’t know whether they are getting a candidate playing at madness or one who is actually mad. In fact, the adoption of the president as madman ploy is, in my view, a manifestation of a severe deficit in reasoning capacity and a sure sign that the candidate really is a monster.

Hummingbirds at War: Year Two

The hummingbirds at our house are on a war footing. Swifty, our resident male, has had to perch closer to the nectar silo to protect it from at least four trespassers. At one point last evening, we saw six hummingbirds at once by the feeder, but Swifty managed to fend them off without their getting too many draughts of sugar water. On several occasions, he appeared to tolerate the presence of two females on the feeder at once, and I speculate that he is grooming a sister-wife for Christine, his long time mate.

Swifty can’t guard the feeder all the time, though, and we suspect that the trespassers are succeeding in sneaking nectar. The level in the silo has fallen by as much as an inch in a 48 hour period, and we have never before seen nectar consumption at such a rate.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Why Pit Bulls Are Better Fighting Dogs than Miniature Poodles

Why do the douchebags who engage in dog fighting prefer pit bulls to other breeds? Is it because pit bulls are especially prone to viciousness? No, indeed they are not. You can torture and abuse any breed of dog into a fighting dog. If you put your fighting miniature poodle into the ring, however, it will be a long shot. Pit bulls have powerful jaws and are muscular in their chests and can grapple well with other dogs. Accordingly, they are physically superior to other breeds for close quarters fighting.

It’s actually hard to get a pit bull to become a fighter because they tend to be fairly amiable and retain juvenile traits well into adulthood. It takes torture, quite frankly, and dog fighters are known to kill or abandon most of their dogs as unsuitable for fighting. That’s one of the reasons that they are at the apex of douchebaggery. Urban animal shelters are full of pit bulls who wouldn’t fight.

So when some asshat tells you that pit bulls are dangerous because so many instances of dog fighting have involved pit bulls, tell him to look up the term “spurious relationship”.

Are Souls Really Necessary?

Lately, I have been polling my conspecifics about the concept of the soul and what they mean by it. Almost everyone I have talked to about it thinks that they have a soul and that it persists beyond the life of the body. Details about the soul are sketchy but it is generally supposed to have no material properties such as mass or charge. It is not detectable by scientific instruments. How it interacts with the body is a complete mystery. It seems to contain a copy of all the information in the brain such as memories and a sense of personal identity. Accordingly, it carries consciousness and identity to the afterlife. It is the true essence of the person.

Most folks who had an opinion about the immortality of the soul (there were a couple of agnostics on this issue) reckoned that the soul leaves the body at death and goes on to its eternal reward in heaven, purgatory, hell, or as a rootless haint. A couple of folks allowed as how the soul could be reincarnated in another person or animal (but not plants for some reason). I was surprised to learn that a number of my Roman Catholic conspecifics did not have any notion of a bodily resurrection at the end of days. On the contrary, they reckoned their afterlives would be in an incorporeal, spiritual state as souls with no need for bodies.

I always believed that the person dies and “sleeps in the Lord” until the bodily resurrection at the end of days. The soul, as something distinct and apart from the mind and body, is not necessary in this scenario since the patterns of the brain will be restored. The soul for me has always been just a figure of speech denoting the totality of who we are.

One of my conspecifics expressed concern about my conception of the afterlife since it contained no mechanism for preserving the information of the mind and body. There is no need for such a mechanism since the information resides for all eternity in the mind of God or stored in the physical universe which is accessible by God at any moment in time.

Rudy's Cunning Plan 40 Years in the Making

Opinion is divided about whether Rudy Giuliani is a libertarian. Eric Dondero thinks he is, and the rest of the world doubts it very much.

I have scoured Rudy’s biography for any sign of libertarianism, and all I can find is that he successfully evaded being drafted into the slave army that fought in Vietnam. On the other hand, he did so by having his boss at his federal government job certify that he was indispensable.

If Rudy really is a libertarian, he has done a good job of concealing it by pretending to be an authoritarian for the last forty years. Maybe he has had a cunning plan all along and has just acted the part of fascist, busybody so that he can gain power and then reveal his true liberty loving self once he is in the White House. Genius!

His plan? First, work as a federal prosecutor and as a hack in the Justice Department, because nobody would ever suspect a libertarian of taking on such odious positions. Then become a “law and order” mayor, clamping down on adult entertainment and “vice” and harassing pot smokers like never before, because nobody would suspect a libertarian of devoting so much effort to victimless “crimes”. Finally, run for the presidency on a warmongering, interventionist platform because nobody would suspect a libertarian of doing so much to promote the “health of the state”.

A cunning plan indeed.

Friday, August 03, 2007

New York Cops Hassle Submariners

You know you live in a fascist state when you can’t even tool around the East River in your homemade submarine without being hassled by the Man.

Libertarians Caused the Bridge to Collapse

Auguste at Pandagon takes the tragic bridge collapse in Minnesota and uses it to bash “libertarians”.

This comment sums up my feelings about it nicely:

“Great thread.

Government bridge falls down.

What do? Make fun of Libertarians.

Liberal logic - Ho Ho Ho.

I am disappointed though. I thought for surethis was Bush’s fault. Or is that tomorrow’sstory? “

It’s frustrating dealing with these kinds of arguments. If I point out that a massive federal “investment” in infrastructure is apt to become a politicized boondoggle, I get accused of being against roads and bridges. I’m not. I like roads and bridges. I just don’t like the way they are organized and financed. And I don’t think more central planning is the answer.

Of course, it can be fun to run with the idea that I am anti-road and anti-bridge and to point out the benefits of a roadless and bridgeless world: no more roadkill; no more highway fatalities; no more traffic jams; no more highway noise; less pollution; no parking problems. How would we get around? We’d walk or ride horses or mountain bikes or ATVs. Duh! How would we get major appliances delivered? The same way the blue stones were delivered to Stonehenge. Do I have to solve everything for you?

Clinton and Obama Are Scaring Me

AAPP, guest blogging at the Rude Pundit, is justifiably alarmed at Clinton and Obama’s recent saber rattling:

“It's truly scary that Hillary would even think that America should target Osama Bin Laden with nuclear weapons. Let's not even talk about O-BAMA's plans for the Middle East. I guess his administration will say there are WMD in Afghanstan and Pakistan. Sounds like George W to me. But hey, at this point the Democrats and Republicans are scaring the crap out of me.”

I don’t know much about nuclear weapons, but I’m pretty sure that even the smallest and least powerful in the arsenal of the US would take out a sizeable chunk of real estate and leave an even bigger area irradiated. Why kind of monster would even consider using nukes in this situation? It’s off the table. End of discussion.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Anti-Catholicism is Real

Although the credibility of the Catholic League is not that great, this story about anti-Catholicism among evangelical GOP supporters is entirely plausible.

Voters are urged by Pastor Tim Rude to choose Huckabee, a Protestant, over Brownback, a former Protestant who converted to Roman Catholicism a few years ago. The money quote:

“I know Senator Brownback converted to Roman Catholicism in 2002. Frankly, as a recovering Catholic myself, that is all I need to know about his discernment when compared to the Governor's.”

A lot of Catholics I know are in denial about the extent and intensity of anti-Catholic sentiment among evangelical Protestants. I was raised to distrust Catholics and to believe that they aren’t even Christians, and even to this day my gut reaction to someone’s converting to Catholicism is negative. Intellectually, I realize it’s none of my business, but it evokes prejudices on a visceral level. The Pope’s recent reiteration that Protestant churches aren’t real churches will only make it worse.

Evangelical Protestants might be willing to support a Catholic candidate if he let it be known that he is not one of those really Catholicky Catholics. Otherwise, the whole Catholic thing freaks them out. You know who else is Catholic? The hated Mexicans!

Could Communism Be Made to Work by God?

When I was a kid during the height of the Cold War, I was given to understand that our “way of life” was threatened by International Communism and that Americans had to be willing to sacrifice their blood and treasure to slow the spread of International Communism around the world. You see, International Communism was irresistible to the people of the world, and if we didn’t intervene violently the whole world would become Communist. It was probably only a matter of time before America itself succumbed to the temptation.

This was more than a little confusing to me. If International Communism could turn the world into the Big Rock Candy Mountain, who were we to stand in the way?

Later, when the Chamber of Commerce’s mobile “Communism (and labor unions) Is Bad” trailers appeared at school every year, I learned that, in fact, International Communism could not deliver on its promises. Why, according to one memorable graphic, a Russian had to work ten times as long to buy a loaf of bread than an American worker did. I didn’t know why Russians were paid so poorly or bread cost so much in Russia, and the Chamber did not go into how the Soviet Union had been so recently devastated by doing all the heavy lifting in World War II and by Stalin’s madness, but I did not want to work that hard for loaf bread.

Still later, I learned that International Communism depended for its success on the development of a new kind of human being, Socialist Man or Homo sovieticus, devoted to society more than to his own selfish interests. That could never happen. Silly Communists.

Yet I learned in church that through the transforming power of the Holy Ghost the Kingdom of Heaven would some day be realized on Earth. This would require the development of a new kind of human being, disciples of Jesus devoted to their fellow man more than to their own selfish interests. Some of my co-religionists reckoned that having Baptists take over the government so as to impose a godly order on their fellows would hasten the day. Silly Baptists.

I now reckon that the Soviets and the Baptists had it all backwards. The godly or socialist state can’t make the new man from old man; rather, new men must make a godly and just state or dispense with the state altogether. It is not force that will create the new man and the godly and just social order; rather, it is love.

Hegemony or Survival

I finally got around to reading Noam Chomsky”s Hegemony or Survival, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to make sense of US foreign policy and the legitimizing discourse that surrounds it.

Chomsky exposes the US’s “Imperial Grand Strategy” that has been in place since before World War II and implemented in a bipartisan manner by both of the entrenched political parties for the benefit of the ruling elites. Hegemony, that is unchallengeable US domination of the world, works for the immediate aggrandizement of the ruling elites at the expense of the survival, let alone prosperity, of the rest of us. The best part for the ruling elites, in my view, is that they make the rest of us pay for their hegemony with our blood and treasure while they reap the rewards and despise us for the dupes that we are.

Chomsky holds out some hope that popular movements in favor of human rights will mitigate the impacts of the Imperial Grand Strategy and perhaps even lead to its being discarded in favor of something more sensible for the masses. In my view, the arrogance of the Bush administration was such that they felt less of a need to cloak the Imperial Grand Strategy in the guise of humanitarian intervention. Their contempt for the popular will led them to expose the workings of the strategy to more of the public than has been customary despite the almost worthless media. Perhaps this greater transparency will strengthen anti-imperialist popular movements and make the Imperial Grand Strategy subject to discussion.

As the 2008 campaigns progress, however, I am not optimistic. Ron Paul is the lone dissenter, the single candidate in either entrenched party who openly questions the Imperial Grand Strategy. The rest are falling all over themselves to establish their bona fides to the elites who will ultimately decide the outcome of the elections.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Missile Shield Against Iran?

The Taipei Times reports that the US and Russia were to hold talks on a possible joint missile shield. The US has been making noises about installing missile shield bases in Eastern Europe, and this has understandably aroused the concerns of the Russians who have to view it as directed at them.

To allay these concerns, GW Bush told his buddy Vladimir “Vladimir” Putin, his Russian counterpart, that the proposed shield was not directed at Russia but at the threat of nuclear missiles from Iran, which has no nuclear missiles and no realistic prospects of acquiring any, and North Korea, which has no missiles capable of threatening Europe. I wonder if Bush just threw this out there off the cuff, because it sounds so utterly implausible. Then again, he would have had to practice saying it a few times to make sure he could get it out with a straight face. Then again, maybe he actually believes it.

The Russians are at least pretending to take Bush at his word and have offered to work jointly to develop missile defense bases in the Caucasus near the Iranian border. This would protect both countries from Iran. The US has got to pretend to take this proposal seriously and to figure out a way to weasel out of the pretense that the shield is directed at Iran and not Russia.

Everybody knows that the missile shield is directed at Russia and that the US has been provoking Russia for years what with expanding NATO eastward, making noises about space based weapons of mass destruction and missile defense. The likely consequence is that Russia will be obliged to adopt a policy to launch on alert, and the chance of an accidental nuclear incident will be increased significantly.

Why the brinksmanship? Beats the hell out of me.

Since Everybody Has Screwed Up Social Security By Living So Long, Everybody Has to Work to Fix It

Robert Samuelson in WaPo remarks that think tanks have been silent on the need for reform of entitlements to older Americans. His diagnosis:

“For think-tank scholars, brutal candor might offend friends and political mentors. For the ambitious, it might jeopardize future appointments to top government jobs.”

His proposed solution:

“As an antidote to this timidity, I propose that some public-spirited sugar daddy (the MacArthur Foundation? Warren Buffett?) sponsor a short book. A possible title: ‘Facing Up to an Aging America.’ Six leading think tanks would be invited to participate: three liberal -- the Brookings Institution, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Urban Institute-- and three conservative: the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

After an introduction describing America's aging, each think tank would receive 35 pages to respond to questions and to present its vision. Are the looming budget changes good for America? If so, how would they be financed? If not, why not? How could adverse consequences be avoided? The think tanks would be expected to be specific. Higher eligibility ages? Well, how much and when? Higher taxes? Which ones and how much? If a think tank rejected the invitation, the publisher would run 35 blank pages and an explanation: ‘Think tank X declined to participate.’”

Frankly, I reckon that it’s a no-brainer that the eligibility age for Social Security should be raised to reflect the realities of longer life expectancies, healthier and more youthful sexagenarians, and the need to restrain the spiraling costs of entitlements to the elderly. Yet, for a politician to speak of this is political suicide. Oldsters themselves feel threatened, and not so oldsters such as myself worry about having to take care of our aged parents and maybe have them move in with us. Most folks want Social Security for themselves and for their parents, and they are suspicious of attempts to scale back the entitlement programs. Nobody wants the system to collapse (almost nobody), but nobody trusts politicians to fix the system.

I reckon that a national dialogue initiated and moderated by someone other than politicians is wanted, and think tanks could well be part of this. I would like to see invitations to the public to meet to discuss and work through the issues in their churches and community centers and homes. Let us address as citizens the underlying assumptions and values that go into the design and implementation of the Social Security system and decide what we are trying to accomplish in the first place and how much we are willing to pay for it. Let us engage in an intergenerational dialogue so that we understand one another as direct recipients, indirect beneficiaries, and as taxpayers.

Perhaps the think tank reports could be incorporated into workbooks that citizens could use to structure their study groups and discussions. This process will educate citizens about the issues, the potential problems, and the range of solutions and will permit diverse constituencies to air their concerns.

The results of the study groups, especially if they represented a large cross section of society, would be harder for politicians to ignore than the publications from think tanks.