Friday, October 26, 2007

Gustatory Priapism

When I was fading in and out of consciousness the other day on the sofa with the TV on, I chanced on some food porn that has given me a kind of gustatory priapism. This Georgian woman was making biscuits and gravy and chicken fried steak. She baked the biscuits in a cast iron pan, so they came out really uniformly scrumptious looking. She took some cubed round steak, seasoned it with what she called “house seasoning”, dunked the pieces in buttermilk and flour, and fried them in some grease. I didn’t hear what kind of grease she was using, but pretty much all grease is good. Then she took a couple of tablespoons of the grease, added a couple of tablespoons of flour, and then added some sweet milk (what we southrons call whole milk) to make white gravy, the food of the gods. She poured some of this on a couple of broken biscuits and a couple of pieces of steak and started eating it right in front of me (and any other viewer).

Since then, I have not been able to get that meal out of my mind, and I aim to make me some chicken fried steak this Saturday. If I don’t, I think I will go mad.

I’m pretty sure that between me and Mrs Vache Folle, who is an able cook, we will be able to handle the steak. We will also be able to make some pretty good biscuits. Mrs Vache Folle gets lazy sometimes and just makes drop biscuits, but we’re going to roll them out and cut them into proper biscuits this time, as God is my witness.

My big fear is that we will not get the gravy right. I have never mastered gravy making. I was never meant to cook and was kept out of the kitchen as a young’un. Males did not belong in the kitchen. Mrs VF has failed to master gravy making despite instruction from my mother, whose gravy is as good as anyone’s in the whole southland except for the Goddess of Gravy. My mother did send me a bunch of gravy mix one time that produced an acceptable and palatable gravy-like substance, but I can’t find that up here in the heart of Yankee country.

My problem is that I have tasted the best gravy in the world, made by my sainted Aunt Jewell (the aforementioned deity) on a wood stove. I have been looking for that gravy everywhere ever since, and all gravy falls short of the glory of Aunt Jewell’s ambrosia. I’m not saying that there are not some gravies that are edible. My mother’s gravy is wonderful, about 80% as good as her sister-in-law’s. Cracker Barrel serves up a pretty good gravy, about 50% of the quality of the good stuff I am craving. There was a place in Blue Ridge that had some excellent gravy, as good as 70%. Shipway’s Truck Stop in Flintstone, Maryland had remarkable gravy, almost as good as Mom’s.

We should perhaps practice the gravy making art and work on our technique, experiment with greases, until we come up with something worthy of my heritage.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Yiddish Policeman's Union

While I was laid up, I devoured Michael Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union”. It’s a murder mystery with a hard-boiled, alcoholic detective, Meyer Landsman. Only it’s set in an alternate reality where things didn’t work out exactly the same since the 1930s. Israel never got off the ground, and the US set up a refuge for Jews in and around Sitka. Landsman works for the District of Sitka PD, and he works his way through the closed world of the Hasidim (at least a fictional group of Hasidim that resembles the Cosa Nostra more than religious sect) and the subculture of chess aficionados.

I was taken in by the story and was conscious of the writing (but not in a bad way) as Chabon uses a lot of surprising but effective metaphors. Anyway, there’s a messiah and a red heifer involved, and Landsman’s partner is his half Tlingit cousin.

God and Al Qaeda Burning California?

I suppose it was inevitable that God would get the blame (or credit) for the fires in California. It’s because Californians allow gay people to live. And God must be pissed because Sodom and Gomorrah were surgical strikes compared to this. If I were a gay obsessed loon, I’d probably attribute every bad thing to the existence of gays. Why wait for major disasters? September swoon of the Mets? The gays. That paper cut you got at the office on Monday morning? The gays.

Or the Islamofascists started the fires as some bedwetters speculate. If I were a terrorist group, I’d take credit for the fires even if we didn’t have anything to do with them. Heck, I’d take credit for the Santa Ana winds! I’d take credit for every disaster and even every inconvenience and annoyance. You know that traffic jam on 287 last Friday? That was us, infidel swine! You know how the honeybees are dying off? We did it! No honey for you, unbeliever!

Then again, maybe God used Al Qaeda to start the fires like some say He did on 9/11.

Fight KIller Monkeys with Killier Monkeys

I am beset by bronchitis and missed two days of work. To cheer me up, Mrs Vache Folle brought home a news story about the monkeys who killed a politician in Delhi. No, it wasn’t the horrible and humiliating death that cheered me up or that the victim was a politician. It was the bit about some of the ideas that have been floated about how to deal with the homicidal monkey problem. My favorite? Train bands of larger, more ferocious langur monkeys to attack the miscreants!

It’s brilliant! Surely, there could be no possible downside to inciting simian gang warfare to control the murderous monkeys. If the langurs start making trouble for humans, they could just bring in some chimpanzees from Africa to take care of them. This would expand the range of chimpanzees and remedy the langur problem, if this even happens and who’s to say? It’s a classic win-win, if you ask me.

Some will poo-poo my potential solution because it involves importing an invasive species. I’ve always thought that the “problem” of invasive species was overblown. If you have cane toads running amok, get yourself some cane toad eating animal. If that presents a problem, there’s always some predator that will step up to solve it for you if you look hard enough. It will all balance out in the end as long as you stay committed to importing species without regard to the impact on indigenous fauna. It’s called globalization, and just as the free movement of goods and people can never be bad, so the movement of species is always a positive, even if there is some short term catastrophe or extinctions or whatever. Let’s face it, if your indigenous species can’t cut the mustard, they are just going to have to make room for some less delicate fauna to take over their niches.

I reckon Siberian tigers and upstate New York were made for each other.

Monday, October 22, 2007

My Mischief Proof Religion

One of Richard Dawkins’ big beefs with religion, as he writes in the “God Delusion”, is that it is responsible for so much mischief and destruction. I reckon, however, that my particular religious beliefs are utterly harmless and unobjectionable on that account. Love God and love your neighbor. What mischief could come of that? Some might argue that such a belief might lead me to neglect my own comfort and well being for others. Those people don’t know me very well.

Whom Would God Vote for in East Fishkill?

During one of the prayers at church yesterday, the emergency back up pastor (assisting a guest pastor from a pulpit exchange) included a prayer for guidance in pulling the levers in the upcoming local elections. He wanted us to know how to vote in a way that would further God’s plan in East Fishkill.

As far as I can tell, none of the candidates for any of the offices is running on a platform of ushering in the Kingdom of God in East Fishkill. I reckon God is going to be indifferent to whether any of us votes for this parasite, that parasite or the other parasite to become the next Receiver of Taxes or Superintendent of Highways or what have you. He probably would prefer that we didn’t vote at all, that we didn’t require a government in East Fishkill at all, that none of us participated in or had to acquiesce in the administration of coercion. None of the candidates is running on a platform of dismantling the government.

Besides, it has already been laid down from the beginning of time which candidates will prevail and what they will do in office. Presumably, this is in furtherance of God’s plan, much in the same manner as plagues of locusts or flu epidemics further it.

Saving Baseball

Via b psycho I read this gem of a post by Tom DiLorenzo:

"re: Abolish the Home Run

Posted by Thomas DiLorenzo at October 19, 2007 02:36 PM

And abolish dunking in basketball as well. Make it a 3 point penalty for dunking, and change it back to a game of skill, coordination and athelticism instead of a competetiton (sic) among giants, striding down the court like Jolly Green Giants hellbent on destroying the backboard with their next "dunk."

Perhaps a new league would be required. "

Forget about it, Tom. There’s never going to be a league tailored to your level of ability in either basketball or baseball. Oh wait, I forgot about tee league, and there is donkey basketball. Why are there scare quotes around "dunk"?

Tom was adding his two cents to this much more elegant argument about salvaging baseball. The author cited by Lew Rockwell suggests that the out of the parker be an out. We played that way when I was a kid but only because we usually had only one ball, usually made mostly of duct tape, and hitting it over the fence meant that it might be lost. In most games, there wasn’t even a fence, just acres of pasture, so all our home runs were “inside the park” in a manner of speaking.

I don’t know that the home run has killed baseball. Baseball was doing fine for decades after Ruth began swatting them out of the park in the dozens. Cricket has its sixes (out of bounds on the fly) and fours (out of bounds on a roll), and nobody reckons that these are bad for cricket. They’re harder to hit, I suppose, but nobody reckons that a strong batsman capable of whacking the ball out of the pitch is a bad thing. It’s exciting.

Home runs are exciting, too. There is an enormous fan base of baseball dilettantes who have no appreciation for the subtleties of the game. They want home runs and strike outs to break up what seems to them the monotony of other aspects of the game. The aficionado views the monotonous as exciting because of his superior competence and enjoyment of the nuances, but he owes the success of the leagues to the dilettantes and should humor them if he knows what is good for him and his sport. Some dilettantes will grow into aficionados. Most will not. It’s the same in the other sports. They are in a sense “dumbed down” for the masses, but the elite fans need them to subsidize the games. The elite fans ought to patronize amateur leagues if they are looking for more old-fashioned play.

That said, I have some suggestions for improving baseball as well. Let the players carry their bats with them as they run the bases and use them to their advantage. When a batsman hits a homer, he gets to keep batting until he ends up on base again or is put out. A batsman should have the option on putting a ball into play whether to run or not. The pitch won’t count as a strike, and as long as the batsman stays in the box, he cannot be put out. Or if he returns to the box before the catcher has the ball, he is not out. Fielders should be able to put players out by hitting them with the ball while they are off base. The runners may use their bats to defend against this. Pitchers should be able to bounce the ball over the plate if they are capable of this feat.

These changes would make the game both more exciting and more interesting. Everybody wins.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Can We Afford to Take a Chance on Another Male President?

Eugene Robinson in WaPo discusses whether gender is an advantage for Senator Clinton. He points out that she is way ahead among women in polls and surmises that gender must have something to do with it.

Perhaps he is right. All our presidents have been male, and they have all sucked. What did we expect when we elected another male last time? We should have expected more suckitude. I don’t think we should take a chance on another male (other than long shots Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich), so Clinton’s got my support. Too bad she’s white, though. The white presidents haven’t got a very good track record. Then again, they were all male, so we won’t know whether to attribute their crappiness to their whiteness or their maleness until we have tried a woman. If Senator Clinton doesn’t work out, we’ll know that whiteness was the problem, and we can go with a non-white next time.

My Enemies

There is a dangerous enemy out there. They hate our freedom. They rejoice in any catastrophe that befalls us and credit God’s wrath. They have a plan to conquer us and subject us to a theocratic tyranny. They want to turn back the clock on the rights and opportunities of women. They are known by many names: the religious right, values voters, Christianists. It is really hard to love them. They are batshit insane and can’t be reasoned with.

They think that Jesus is coming back any minute now to unleash destruction on nonbelievers and make a hell on earth. Seriously, that’s what they think about Jesus. The whole Prince of Peace thing, the sermon on the mount, that wasn’t their Jesus. Their Jesus is a hater.

They support policies that they think will hasten the day when the Jews in Israel all get killed (except for 144,000 of them). It’s nothing personal. They love Jews, really. They just reckon that a bunch of dead Jews is the precursor to the second coming. With friends like them, Israel doesn’t need enemies. They are way more likely to bring about the destruction of Israel than all the Muslims in the world.

Meanwhile, while we’re stuck here on earth awaiting damnation, they aim to establish the most legalistic and totalitarian regime that they can. They don’t believe that Jesus died for their sins and that their sins are forgiven. Their Jesus is judgmental and holds every little sin against them, even sins that they just thought about committing. Every one of them is one masturbation session away from hellfire.

How do we fight such an enemy? I pray for them. I rebuke them for slandering God. I rejoice that they are a minority, and I hope that they stay that way. I don’t think that we’ll ever be free of them, but they can with effort be managed. It’s like living with a cancer that can’t be cured but which can be kept under control.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I'm Probably a Goat

Iceberg has been reading Dante and was inspired to share some views about how God will judge us:

“In other words, God is so fair with us, that not only will he not judge us by what he expected from us, but rather according to the very same standards of justice that we ourselves judged to be correct. This is not to say that if one chooses to disobey God that there are no damaging consequences, only that God won't hold one guilty for acting according to the maxims that he or she believed to be universally true.”

I’m screwed. I believe that I must love God with all my faculties and love my neighbor as myself. Yet, aside from taxpaying and some charitable giving, I feed no hungry, clothe no naked, and visit no imprisoned. I live pretty much just like anyone else, just like folks who don’t believe in those principles. An objective observer would be hard pressed to tell what my basic moral principles are based on my actions. I go to work, I come home, I putter in the garden, I work out at the gym, I sing in the choir, I play with my dogs, I read. I don’t do any harm, but I don’t do any real good either. I am a hypocrite.

Although I am feeling guilty about this, I doubt that I will do anything to change. Guilt has never served that function for me. Perhaps I should adjust my values to fit my actions. Mrs Vache Folle reckons that Homer Simpson is a good role model for me to emulate. He has never regretted anything he has ever done (or not done).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Chris Rock Says Selective Breeding Explains Black Athleticism

I caught part of Chris Rock’s most recent HBO special. He was edgy. He made me uncomfortable by opining that black folks are exceptional in sports because their ancestors were bred by slaveholders for physical prowess. Isn’t that the same thing that got Jimmy the Greek canned? Then again, Chris Rock was in the middle of a stand up comedy routine, and Jimmy the Greek was serious.

Political correctness aside, though, is there any truth to this assertion at all? It sounds plausible on some level. Even if slaveholders did not actively engage in selective breeding, a slave who was not a superior physical specimen might have been less likely to survive the brutal ordeal of slavery, and this might have the same result as selective breeding. I suppose that it would be possible to research the issue if you weren’t run out of town on a rail when you submitted your research proposal.

What if black people are, in fact, physically superior in ways that lead to athletic prowess to white people on average? That wouldn’t tell us anything about the abilities of any particular black individual. It might partly explain the high proportion of black people in professional sports. It wouldn’t be insulting to black people to remark on it, would it? If I said something like “black people are darker skinned on average than white people” or “people of recent African ancestry are more susceptible to hypertension on average than people of European ancestry”, nobody would raise an eyebrow. But saying anything about athletic ability is taboo. Go figure. I would be interested to know why that is the case. I suppose the suggestion that anything positive came out of slavery would be offensive.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Conspiracy Theory I Can Sign On To

I don’t know if the “Kennebunkport Warning” was a hoax or not, but the story of the loose nukes “accidentally” loaded onto bomber suggests that there is some truth in it. Did someone order the bomber to be armed? Was there a secret mission to launch the missiles that was aborted? Nothing else makes sense.

Firstly, the missiles were attached to the aircraft, not loaded as cargo. Secondly, their nuclear warheads were still attached to them. I can’t conceive of a command and control screw up that could possibly account for this event unless the Air Force is extremely lax with its inventory of nukes. Somebody must have ordered this.

This warrants a major inquiry by Congress and more investigative reporting. Somebody at the highest level is out of control.

I Identify Four Douches

I watched Bill Maher’s most recent show last night (HBO on Demand is great) and learned that, as I had always suspected but hadn’t observed enough to decide, Tucker Carlson is a douche. He is the archetypal idiot brother-in-law who thinks he is smarter than he really is. He should go back to the bow tie and maybe wear glasses to make himself look intelligent, because he sure as hell doesn’t sound intelligent.

The morning radio show I listen to played a clip of Al Sharpton talking about how Imus’s new employers must meet with the black journalists’ association and get their approval of his contract. It’s official. Sharpton is also a douche. I never paid him enough heed before to make a determination, but he sure sounded like a first class douche on the radio.

Another douche, Mickey Kaus, is rumored in the progressive blogosphere to fellate goats, but this has nothing to do with his designation. If they are his own goats or if the owner of the goats has given permission, then I don’t have anything to complain about on that basis. He’s still a douche, though.

Donald Rumsfeld was independently wealthy before he became Minister of War. He didn’t need the job. That means he did it just to be a douche. He had always wanted to screw up the military, and this was his last chance.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Not So Strongly Opposed to Hate Crime Laws

A point was made by someone on Bill Maher’s show a few weeks back about why federal hate crime legislation might be necessary. I have in principle been against the concept of hate crimes because it seemed to me to smack of thought crime, but this point has made me reconsider. I’m still ambivalent but more open to the concept.

The most compelling justification, for me, for federal hate crime legislation is that in some jurisdictions hate crimes will never be prosecuted. In a locality where feelings against homosexuals are strongly negative, a homosexual victim may not get protection or justice. Perhaps the police will decline to investigate an attack on a homosexual or an atheist or a Muslim or a trans-gendered person or any locally disfavored victim. Perhaps the prosecutor will decline to bring the case to a grand jury or to draw up a charging document. Perhaps the prosecutor will undercharge or half-heartedly prosecute the case. Perhaps, no jury in the locality would convict anyone for offenses against the locally despised victim. In such cases, offenders might reasonably consider that their victims are fair game.

A similar situation existed for decades in the South where black folks would sometimes be lynched. The police wouldn’t look into it, the DA wouldn’t prosecute, and no jury would have convicted the lynch mob. The federal government had no jurisdiction, and Congress consistently failed to pass legislation to provide for federal intervention in lynching cases.

I do not know whether there is a disparity in how justice is applied locally depending on the characteristics of the victim, but I would not be surprised to learn that it is a serious problem in some places.

If Imus Had Been on Fox, He'd Have Gotten a Bonus

How come, my carpool companion, asked me, John Gibson and Bill O’Reilly weren’t driven off the air like Don Imus for their racist statements? After all, he mused, Imus was just joking around on his comedic radio show, while Gibson and O’Reilly made their statements while pretending to be serious journalists or pundits. Why weren’t these “Imus Moments” for the guys at Faux Noise?

Why, indeed, carpool companion? Could it be that Gibson and O’Reilly’s slurs weren’t as bad as Imus’? O’Reilly claimed to be complimenting black people when he remarked that he was surprised that black restaurant patrons didn’t say things like “More ice tea, MFer!” Basically, O’Reilly was saying that he expected black folks to be crude and offensive. Worse, he was implying that black folks are stupid. Anybody who calls his food server an MFer is going to have spit or worse in his tea. Everybody knows that.

Gibson was saying that black kids who shoot up their school are usually cold blooded killers who will go on to shoot others, unlike white kids who are mentally disturbed and end up killing themselves after their spree. He might have made the point he claimed he was making by noting that black kids are not known for their propensity to be school shooters, that the profile of the school shooter is a white kid. Surely that would have been somewhat less offensive than gratuitously trashing black people while discussing a shooting that had been committed by a white kid.

These statements were far worse than Imus’. The most significant reason that these did not become Imus Moments is that these men spew on Faux Noise, and their audience is as racist as they are. Their viewers approve of those kinds of statements, and the network isn’t concerned with being characterized as racist. Faux Noise doesn’t care. In fact, being a racist “news” outlet is important to its success with the demographic it is going for.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Disease Ridden NASCAR Fans

Congressional staffers are afraid of NASCAR fans and their cooties and have been advised to get a range of vaccinations before attending races. Are NASCAR events really considered hazardous to people’s health?

John Gibson to Black Shooters: "Don't Forget to KIll Yourselves."

Atrios posts on Fox Noise talking head John Gibson’s comments about a recent high school shooting rampage:

“I know there's a few of you who want to call me racist. But when you do, remind -- let me remind you, African-Americans are dying in major cities because people won't face this problem."

The “problem” Gibson is referring to? It’s that African-American shooters don’t have the decency to kill themselves after a rampage. If only they could be taught appropriate rampage etiquette. Maybe Gibson could write a pamphlet and distribute it to African-American children.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

More God Delusion

In “The God Delusion”, I’m up to the part where Dawkins argues that the Bible, particularly the OT, isn’t really used by anyone as an absolute basis for his morality. He points out that folks cherry pick which parts to accept as moral instructions and which to ignore and that they do this on the basis of some extra-Scriptural moral reasoning.

I’m grateful that nobody follows the letter of the OT. There’d be a lot of stoning.

I suspect that some folks actually come up with a moral position and then find some support for it in the OT. Someone who found homosexuality disgusting could find plenty of references to use against it. So could someone who was against wearing blended fabrics.

Dawkins points out that many of the leading Bible characters weren’t exactly good role models and that they aren’t much of a guide as to how to live. Take Abraham, for example. He marries his half sister. On two occasions he sort of lies and says she is his sister, not his wife, so that she ends up in the harems of other men. Then he sleeps with her servant and gets a child by her, and he abandons both the servant and the child in the wilderness. On top of that, he was ready to murder his other son, Isaac, before God let on that He was only pulling Abraham’s chain about sacrificing his son.

Take Lot, Abraham’s nephew. When the Sodomites come to his house looking to bugger the angels who were visiting him, he offers his virgin daughters to them. (A similar story is related later about a Levite and his concubine, except that the concubine dies from the gang rape to which she was subjected.) Later, Lot gets so drunk that he doesn’t realize that he is copulating with his own daughters and impregnating them.

I find the OT all but useless as a source of spiritual guidance. I like the Psalms and Proverbs, but the rest of it does nothing for me. The God that is depicted in the OT is nothing like the God of grace that gave us Jesus.

Also, as the firstborn son in my family, I don’t much like the recurring theme where younger sons end up with the birthright and inheritance in place of the rightful heir. That’s just wrong.

Let me close with a part of Genesis that was somehow left out: “God said unto Adam, ‘I shall make thee a helpmeet perfect in every way and eager to satisfy thine every need and to anticipate thine every desire.’ Adam spake unto the Lord,'How much is that going to cost me?’ 'An arm and a leg,’ replied God. And Adam asked,' what can I get for a rib?’”


Mrs Vache Folle told me that she watched a CNN newsreader report that the off duty cop who killed that family in Wisconsin killed himself by three shots to the head. Really? Three self-inflicted shots to the head?

Despite the recent string of scandals, I still reckon that not more than 50% of religious right are perverts. The perverted half is giving the non-perverted half a bad name. The non-perverted half quit sex years ago except for procreative purposes.

I put a yard sign in front of my house for the first time ever. I am supporting Dave Lapine, about whom I know nothing except that he is not the incumbent, for town Highway Superintendent. My neighbor, who gave me the sign, has been battling to get the Highway Department to do something about the godawful drainage situation on our road. Every winter, a glacier forms on the road in front of my house because the water has nowhere else to go. It’s only a matter of time before some passing vehicle ends up on my lawn.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ten Commandments

I. Worship no other god than the Lord: Make no covenant with the inhabitants of other lands to which you go, do not intermarry with them, and destroy their places of worship.
II. Do not cast idols.
III. Observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days in the month of Abib.
IV. Sacrifice firstborn male animals to Yahweh. The firstborn of a donkey may be redeemed; redeem firstborn sons.
V. Do no work or even kindle a fire on the seventh day. Anyone who does so will be put to death. VI. Observe the Feast of First Fruits and the Feast of Ingathering: All males are therefore to appear before the Lord three times each year.
VII.Do not mix sacrificial blood with leavened bread.
VIII. Do not let the fat of offerings remain until the morning.
IX. Bring the choicest first fruits of the harvest to the Temple of the Lord.
X. Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk.

From Wikipedia

This is the version that I would like to see in public buildings.

More God Delusion

I am still reading “The God Delusion” and have gotten to the part where Dawkins discusses whether gods are required for humans to have morality. He argues that humans have evolved moral intuitions as social reciprocators and that it is unnecessary to invoke gods. I agree, especially when I observe that religious folks are just as apt or more apt to kill or rob me as or than atheists.

I have had religious people try to justify their faith on the basis that without their deity there would be nothing to stop them from being murderers. Scary, isn’t it? I suspect that most folks reckon that, while they themselves would still be good even if their god turned out not to exist, other people need the fear of divine retribution to keep them in line. Perhaps it is true that some antisocial bastards are kept under control mainly out of such a fear, but that is hardly an argument for the proposition that the deity that they fear actually exists. It’s an argument for using religion as a mechanism for social control, not an argument for the truth of religious propositions.

Some folks have argued that it would not be fair if their god did not exist so as to punish folks who get away with stuff in this life. They can’t stand it that some sinner might not get his eternal comeuppance. Then again, what if their god exists but doesn’t mete out boons and torments to their liking? Would that be fair? I don’t reckon that there is any requirement for the universe to be “fair”, so I don’t see this a valid argument for the existence of gods.

If I read my mythology right, most gods have never been in the business of rewarding good and punishing evil. This seems to be a relatively recent addition to the divine job description.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Prophets are not Prognosticators

I have been thinking a lot about prophecy lately and what it might mean to prophesy. A lot of folks, including the writers of some Gospels, reckon that it involves foretelling future events. Nostradamus was a prophet in this sense. I don’t believe this, however. I reckon that a prophet is a truth teller, a soothsayer. A prophet tells inconvenient truths relevant to the moment that the prophecy is given. Accordingly, the author of Revelations was talking about the situation in which he or she was living at the time, and Daniel was writing about his times and the circumstances of his people.

I reckon this is so because it would be otherwise difficult to know which prophets to include as truthful and which to identify as false. If Daniel were writing about things that would not happen for hundreds or even thousands of years, how would anyone judge whether his prophecy was correct? It would be best to confine oneself to predictions about the far distant future so that you could never be gainsaid until long after you were dead. Also, you could make your predictions pretty ambiguous and use a lot of metaphors so that nobody could ever be sure that your predictions didn’t come true. How could a prophet be accountable if his utterances related to the distant future? What good would he be to his fellows?

I reckon that the prophets would make a lot more sense if we read them as writing about the world in which they lived instead of prognosticating.

The God Delusion

I spent most of my Columbus Day holiday reading Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion", and I hope to finish it in the next couple of days. I have a couple of initial observations and criticisms, but overall I am finding the book thought provoking and, as hard as this is for a "religious" person to admit, dead on in so many ways.

Dawkins makes an excellent point when he argues that religious beliefs should be subject to discussion just like any other irrational beliefs and that they ought not to be privileged or out of bounds solely on the basis of their having a relatively wide distribution. Why, if I posit a supernatural premise, are my ideas beyond debate when the same ideas, without such a premise, are open to discussion? Why does adding a deity to the mix make my propositions any more legitimate than they would be without the deity? If I state that I hate homosexuals because I'm hateful and intolerant, I am a homophobic wanker, but if I state that I hate homosexuals because my invisible friend, the sky god, told me to, I will get a pass in many quarters. If I object to some aspect of the school curriculum because I think it is counterproductive, nobody gives a crap, but if I object to it because it goes against the edicts of my invisible friend, I will likely get a full hearing and free legal services. This makes no sense at all.

Dawkins also does a good job of taking on a number of the arguments for the existence of gods. My favorite is his treatment of the ontological argument. You know the one where if you can conceive a perfect being that being must exist or else it wouldn't be perfect. The same argument could be made that a creator is excellent to the extent that its work of creation is especially difficult. Therefore, a creator that labors under a disability would be more excellent than one who created with ease. What could be more disabling than nonexistence? Therefore, the creator must not exist.

Dawkins is especially hard on what he calls "agnostics", but I think he overlooks the category of agnostic into which I fit. I accept that it would be my burden to prove my irrational beliefs, not the burden of others to disprove them, if I had any interest in offering proofs. I also accept that my irrational beliefs are not suceptible to proof. They are entirely a matter of faith. I do not altogether accept Dawkins' normative assumption that reason is the sole arbiter of the validity of beliefs. It seems to be an unexamined metaphysical assumption of the author that the scientific method is the only legitimate means to arrive at belief about anything.

I am up to the point where Dawkins discusses his memetic theory of religion, and I reckon that he has a pretty good point when he speculates that the predisposition to religiosity is a by-product of the degree of gullibility with which we are endowed by natural selection.

I am not the least bit offended by Dawkins' perspective and even his animosity to religion as a force for evil. I actually share his views in this regard. There are few sources of such mischief as religion, and there is perhaps no better tool for authoritarians to use to bend populations to their will. I differ from Dawkins in that I harbor an irrational belief system, that the teachings of Jesus are right and that God's grace is infinite, which I freely confess. I did not choose to believe these things. Belief is involuntary.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Happy Samhain

H&R address the War on Halloween. It turns out it’s not just fundamentalist Christians who oppose Halloween festivities, particularly in public schools.

I recollect that as schoolchildren, Halloween was an occasion for craft and art projects in which we got to include occult themes. I always liked to draw either a witch flying across a full moon on a broomstick or a jack o’ lantern. It never once occurred to me that there might really be witches or grown people who believed in them or that Halloween had any religious significance whatsoever. Accordingly, for me it had no such significance. It meant I got to dress up as a hobo or a vampire or a devil (one of my favorite costumes ever) and mooch candy off of our neighbors.

It still doesn’t signify anything as far as I am concerned. I don’t decorate my house, and we never get any trick or treaters now that we live in the boonies. I have not been to an adult Halloween party in eons. The main meaning for me is that I have to be extra careful driving home on October 31 so I don’t run down any neighbor kids.

As far as I am concerned, if you love Halloween, by all means go all out and enjoy it. If you hate Halloween, don’t observe it. I wouldn’t make anyone show insincere enthusiasm for the holiday, and I definitely wouldn’t prevent anyone from observing it any peaceful manner that they please. May the politically correct nannies and fun hating fundamentalists alike be confounded.

When does something count as “religious” for the purposes of the free exercise and establishment clauses? If a single person regards macaroni as a sacred item, can public schools be enjoined from having pupils glue macaroni to construction paper?

Sex Roles not Strictly Voluntary

PorlyDyke at Shakesville reckons that we’re all at least a little bit sexist, racist, etc. We can’t help it because we are raised in a memescape filled with racist, sexist, younameitist ideas and their enactment in society. It’s best to acknowledge that you are infected with such memes and deal with them honestly if you want to overcome them. Or even if you just want to be honest with yourself about the way you feel and what kinds of notions you have embraced.

I got to thinking about the sexist attitudes I was raised with. Most of these were not explicit messages about the roles of women; rather, they were more in the way of inferences drawn from the roles that the women I knew actually played. Making sense of observations led me to assume that men and women had different roles and that these were proper. Later, when I was explicitly told that this was the case, it did not occur to me to question it. It was not until college that I encountered anyone who problematized gender roles. I was not too invested in the roles that I grew up with and was pretty open to new ideas, although I did not really give much thought to the unconscious prejudices that I harbored.

When I left the shelter of school, I came to realize that many of us have our roles thrust upon us. They are not entirely of our own choosing, if they can be said to be of our choosing at all. Often, it is the path of least resistance to adopt culturally favored roles rather than to buck the trend and do as we please.

Moreover, the role structure of society informs the ambitions that we pursue. Most of my female high school classmates aimed to be wives and mothers foremost. Most of us were from working class backgrounds, so the world of work was not necessarily something that we looked to for fulfillment. Those women who had careers in mind looked to be teachers or nurses or librarians. If a single female lawyer or doctor or scientist came out of my class, I don’t know about it. There was one TV journalist, Debbie Norville, but she was exceptional.

Many of my female classmates were as intelligent and as capable as anyone and might have taken on any challenge if they had felt for a moment that these were remotely open to them. We males were led to believe that we could achieve anything that we set our minds to, (a dangerous lie that makes me feel disappointed that I never amounted to anything), and this was in complete contrast to the messages, explicit and implicit, that my female peers received.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Neocons Suck

Ever wonder how neocons, who are atheists and nihilists, can so easily make common cause with religious fundamentalists? The neocons believe in nothing except their own quest for power and their fitness to rule by virtue of their superior intellect. They know that religion is a powerful tool for them to use to manipulate a constituency into furthering neocon aims. They don’t much care what the religion dictates. It doesn’t matter as long as you can get the religious folks whipped up into a frenzy. This is easy to do because fundamentalists are irrational in so many ways and predisposed to being led.

The neocons reckon that the fundamentalists who do their bidding are a bunch of yahoos, and I’m pretty sure they laugh at them at their neocon cocktail parties. Especially funny is how supposed followers of the Prince of Peace can be turned into ardent war supporters. Who’d have thought it could be so easily done?

Perpetual war serves no purpose other than to empower the neocons and rouse the rabble to nationalistic jingoism. It stifles critical inquiry and makes it plausible in some quarters to characterize dissent as treason. It also makes the masses fearful. Fear breeds stupidity which breeds votes for neocons.

We owe it to future generations to record the machinations of the neocons and why they had to die.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Defining Fascism

JL Wilson takes a whack at defining fascism. One of the most thought provoking descriptions of fascism was written by Umberto Eco.

Eco’s introduction: “In spite of some fuzziness regarding the difference between various historical forms of fascism, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”

Eco’s 14 features:

“The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.

Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism.

Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action's sake.

The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism.

Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity.

Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration.

To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country.

The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.

For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.

Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak.

In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero.

Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters.

Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say.

Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.”

Eco hit the mark when he remarked that the features of fascism cannot be systematized. They are for the most part not predicated on a set of consistent core principles; rather, they appear to me to derive from some of the baser emotions.

One consistent thread in the features is the devaluation of the individual and the elevation of the collective to central prominence. The individual, unless he is the leader who embodies the collective will, is of no consequence except to the extent that he serves the state and advances the collective struggle. The individual’s sole source of meaning is his identity with the collective. Diversity is not tolerated. “Disagreement is treason.” Thinking is for pussies. The pre-modern, irrational way of understanding the world through revealed truth is preferred over modern critical perspectives.

What fascists might do with post-modernism sends shivers up my spine. The rejection of modernism can be given the imprimatur of intellectual legitimacy if framed in post-modern terms.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

It Turns Out Slavery Wasn't Such a Big Deal After All

Michael the Honeyeater at Townhall points out that slavery wasn’t so bad. He gives us six reasons:

“SLAVERY WAS AN ANCIENT AND UNIVERSAL INSTITUTION, NOT A DISTINCTIVELY AMERICAN INNOVATION.” In other words, everybody was doing it. Of course, other nations weren’t making noises about being the land of the free where all men are created equal and such like. The Founders were either hypocrites or utterly devoid of self awareness.

“SLAVERY EXISTED ONLY BRIEFLY, AND IN LIMITED LOCALES, IN THE HISTORY OF THE REPUBLIC – INVOLVING ONLY A TINY PERCENTAGE OF THE ANCESTORS OF TODAY’S AMERICANS.” Sure, if you count just from 1776, it lasted just under ninety years. Tell that to the millions of enslaved folks who lived during those ninety years. I’m sure they were consoled by the idea that their descendants might not have to be slaves. (The Medveds were probably getting ravaged by Cossacks back in slavery days or were not much better than slaves themselves if they were serfs.) How does this make slavery less heinous? It may be used as an argument against reparations being paid by the innocent.

“THOUGH BRUTAL, SLAVERY WASN’T GENOCIDAL: LIVE SLAVES WERE VALUABLE BUT DEAD CAPTIVES BROUGHT NO PROFIT.” In other words, it could have been worse. The slaves could have been killed. Whine, whine, whine. Seriously, I almost choked when I read Michael’s statement that slave traders were averse to their cargo’s suffering, thanks to the profit motive. Imagine if slave trading had been carried on by a non-profit or government. None of them would have made it.

“IT’S NOT TRUE THAT THE U.S. BECAME A WEALTHY NATION THROUGH THE ABUSE OF SLAVE LABOR: THE MOST PROSPEROUS STATES IN THE COUNTRY WERE THOSE THAT FIRST FREED THEIR SLAVES.” Damn those slaves for holding us back! If anything, the slaves owe the slave states an apology for dragging down the economy. Seriously, what makes Michael think that businessmen in the North didn’t benefit from Southern slavery? The impact of slavery on commerce did not stop at the Mason Dixon line.

“WHILE AMERICA DESERVES NO UNIQUE BLAME FOR THE EXISTENCE OF SLAVERY, THE UNITED STATES MERITS SPECIAL CREDIT FOR ITS RAPID ABOLITION.” We weren’t the very last country to abolish slavery. Britain did it peaceably. The US had to have a bloody war and destroy its Constitutional structure.

“THERE IS NO REASON TO BELIEVE THAT TODAY’S AFRICAN-AMERICANS WOULD BE BETTER OFF IF THEIR ANCESTORS HAD REMAINED BEHIND IN AFRICA.” They wouldn’t have been born at all. Any change in history would mean that the particular pairings of eggs and sperm and the matings of particular individuals would not have occurred. I suppose Michael thinks that African Americans should be thankful that their ancestors were enslaved.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Mets Fans Are Sad; Yankees Fans are Hopeful

There is no consolation for Mets fans. They have been beneficiaries of an epic collapse. What's worse, when the Yankees were in the doldrums at the beginning of the season, Mets fans were crowing like nobody's business. Now, not so much.

Mets fans and Yankees fans hate the other team. New Yorkers are not permitted to like both teams. You must choose between them. You are even allowed to dislike fans of the other team.

Mets fans think Yankees fans are elitist snobs, and Yankees fans think Mets fans are low class slobs. I don't have an opinion about fans of these teams, except for the god forsaken lot known as the Bleacher Creatures at Yankee Stadium. They are not human.

The only thing a Yankees fan hates worse than a Mets fan is a Red Sox fan. I perversely root for the Red Sox.


On Friday, there was a magnificent double rainbow in the northern sky when I left the gym. Then there was another one in the eastern sky on my way home. When I got home, there were two Great Blue Herons in my pond. I'm sure that these are signs of something, but I don't know how to interpret them.