Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lost in the Game

I spent a few blissful weeks ignoring the news, but I've recently been drawn back into it. It's a little weird when you come back to what passes for reality. Everything in the news seems absurd until you get back into the swing of the categories that you have been trained to recognize as real and universal. Then it starts to make sense again. That's when I remember that the media's function is to reproduce and reinforce all those categories and to make certain that problematizing those categories is seen as extremist or ridiculous or, best of all, unimaginable.

When I became disillusioned about the state, it was truly mind bending. I became conscious of the state as as a constructed symbolic realm, and I withdrew from it my assent. In my conscious mind, I denied the legitimacy of the state. But I have not been able to conquer the forty years of training that led to the embodiment of the state in me. The categories and meanings which inform the state and render it real and commonsensical are not consciously chosen. They are embedded at this point in the structure of my mind. Even now, I have difficulty articulating what the alternative to the state would be. Hell, is an alternative even useful to think about? The absence of the state is, in a real sense, unthinkable, unimaginable for many and damned difficult even for me who recognize the state for what it is.

When I criticize the state using the categories that reproduce the state, I am beating my head against a cognitive wall. I would like to be able to think of the state and the absence of the state in terms that are independent of those which underpin and legitimize the state itself. I am pretty sure that most of what the state, through its actors, does is to reproduce itself. Perhaps it is possible to secure the benefits that states claim to offer while dispensing with reproduction. But I am not sure that I am capable of this kind of thought or if it would do any good if I were. It wouldn't make sense to anyone else.

Pansies and Other Observations

There's some flap about a Clinton supporter who said that she was not a "pansy". Apparently, pansies are pissed about this, presumably because they count Senator Clinton as one of their own. Wait, I'm now being told that pansy is an anti-homosexual epithet. That makes way more sense, now that I think about it. Technically, Senator Clinton is not a pansy. Wrong kingdom. Clinton is an animal. A pansy is a plant.

I love pansies. They are the first flower you can put out in the early spring. They will survive even if they get snowed on or frosted. They are beautiful and hardy and long lasting. If I had to be identified with an annual, I would be proud to be identified with the noble pansy. If I were gay, and I am so not gay, not that it would be bad if I were, which I am not, I would embrace pansy as a label.

I voted in one of those Daily Kos polls about whether John Adams should have his own monument in Washington, DC. I voted no, but at that point the yays seemed to have it, not that it matters. No more monuments to presidents, please. Presidents suck. In fact, let's tear down the ones we have now. Or rename them as monuments to monument-worthy people or things. Let's make the Lincoln Memorial a monument to the dead in his warfare on his own people. The Washington Monument should be the Great National Wanker, a monument to turgidity.

I thought about the penis theft panic in the Congo as a business opportunity. I could claim to be a penis restoring sorcerer and, for a fee, fix the penises that were "stolen" or shrunk by those other sorcerers. I don't reckon that the victims of penis theft in the Congo are exactly rolling in it, what with being incredibly stupid, so I'd have to have a volume business. Also, I would want to do it remotely lest anyone confront me with the old "sorcerer, heal thyself" accusation. It's not that I'm freakishly small in the genital department; it's just that it assumes a conveniently compact form when not in use.

I ordered some anti-heron decoys over the internets. I got some fake fish (the heron will attack them while my real fish hide), a fake alligator (the heron will think that global warming has expanded the gator's range), and a fake heron (the heron will think the territory is already taken). Mrs Vache Folle reckons that the heron will see the fake heron and the fake gator in the same pond and feel obliged to warn his conspecific from the danger posed by the gator, at which point he will learn that they are decoys. I am banking on the heron's being doubly deterred by the tag team of conspecific and dreaded predator all in one pond.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I Am Not the Person I Want to Be, or Am I?

If I were the person I wish I were, I would get up at 5:00 every morning and go to the gym. I made a plan to do this and set my alarm on three occasions. Each morning I would turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. I told Mrs Vache Folle about the trouble I was having with this program and she wondered, she said, that I seemed not to know myself after all these years of being me. "You are never going to get up in the morning and exercise," she said. "You're not that guy."

I realized then that it's true. I'm not that guy. The only time I ever got up early to exercise was in Basic Training, and then there was a whole team of people whose job it was to make me get up and exercise. In the past I would have berated myself for falling short of the ideal, but now I have learned that I am who I am and that I had better figure out how to live with myself. I go to the gym later in the day. So what? I'm not a morning person. So sue me. Who's to say that working out in the morning is so righteous anyhow? What was I thinking?

I have had issues with self loathing all my life, up until the last few months, and I am just starting to notice that I don't hate myself. I attribute it to my faith and my growing love and toleration for my fellow human beings. It is starting to apply to myself as well. I realize that we are mostly dumbasses, myself included much of the time, but I can't be angry at people for being who they are. They are doing the best they can under the circumstances with the little that they have to work with. And that goes for me, too.

The road to recovery from self loathing began with my embracing Calvinism. Ironic, huh? It's predestination that gives me comfort. That whole free will thing was way too much responsibility for a mere mortal to bear.

Papal Visit Emboldens Catholics

On our fabulous cruise of a few weeks ago, I met the parents of a Catholic priest. "He's not gay," the mother assured me, even though I hadn't even asked about that. As far as I am concerned, the gender of the person you are not having sex with is irrelevant. Anyway, the mother was proud that her son had been chosen to coordinate part of the papal mass at Yankee Stadium. This was a huge logistical undertaking. Such details as the size of the priests at various level had to be worked out. Portly priests were put further down since they were less aerodynamic than slender priests who could handle the wind in the upper tiers.

The papal visit generated a lot of interest in New York City, what with there being lots of Catholics in residence in and around the metropolis. Being Catholic is entirely normal here, not a cause for alarm at all. And they don't necessarily even look Catholic, either, so you never know who might be a papist. My conspecifics at work, mostly Catholic, don't believe it when I tell them that a presidential candidate's Catholicism still matters in the rest of the country. Being Catholic in New York is like smoking pot on a college campus. You forget that the pot is illegal and that Catholicism is still considered more than a little creepy in many parts of the country.

I grew up where Catholics were few and far between. I knew precisely two Catholic families. The priest was a notorious groomer of teenage boys, at least that was how he was perceived by the Protestants. Maybe he was just friendly and interested in working with youth. There were many more Jews in my hometown, and being a Jew was way more respectable than being a Catholic. Catholics weren't really Christians, I was taught. They worshipped idols and saints and Mary, and they answered to a hierarchy of foreign bishops. They even had a different Bible.

A lot of this anti-Catholicism stemmed from the history of my people in Northern Ireland and in the rest of Great Britain. Catholics were my ancestors' enemies. Catholics would have, given the opportunity, burned my ancestors at the stake. There were raids and battles and plenty of violence between Catholics and Protestants back in the day, and my people apparently have long memories. My grandparents, for example, probably never met a Catholic in their whole lives, but they knew that Catholics were bad.

When I grew up and moved away and became acquainted with Catholics, I didn't detect any significant differences or indicia of evil or lunacy. Then again, I didn't meet any really observant Catholics until I married into a Catholic family. The old ladies were a little off, in my view. They went to church every day, for crying out loud, and they did all that mumbo jumbo with the rosaries and candles and the whole nine yards. I was convinced that this did no harm to anyone and that if it made them happy, more power to them. The other observant Catholics in my wife's family were pretty much normal people. To the extent that thay are abnormal or crazy, which many are for sure, this has nothing to do with Catholicism. They're just nuts.

I no longer harbor any prejudice against Catholics qua Catholics. But I could never be a Catholic myself. The top down hierarchy means that members don't have much say in the functioning of the church, and the idea of apostolic succession gives the clergy a monopoly on access to God. This is as it ought to be, one might argue if one were a devout Catholic. And since religious matters are irrational subjective preferences, who am I to gainsay them? The Catholics I talk to about religion don't feel that way, though. They chafe at the hierarchy and unresponsiveness of the institution, and they believe things that the church forbids them to believe. Many of the new members of my church are former Catholics seeking a more active role in the church.

Does this make me anti-Catholic and worthy of the wrath of the Catholic League? I suppose I am criticizing core aspects of Catholicism, but advocating those same aspects would be tantamount to criticizing core beliefs of my religion. So there. It is still permissible, I think, to disagree about religious issues while respecting and loving those with whom we disagree. I still think my religion is better than all the others. Just saying.

The Wild and Crazy Guy

I read Steve Martin's "Born Standing Up", an autobiography of his development as a stand up comedian. I always thought that everything came so easily to him, that his act flowed freely from the moment. I find out from his book that every movement, expression, word, intonation arose from long study and practice of his art. Martin worked at being a comedian, and when it finally paid off big, he quit stand up after a few years of huge success to pursue other things.

I saw Steve Martin in person at Cole Field House in College Park, MD on October 5, 1978. Me and about 15,000 other people. My newly made friends (I had just transferred to AU) and I set off on a series of public buses to get to the concert. Martin was the hottest thing in comedy at that moment. His Saturday Night Live appearances, his records, other televison gigs had made him the most famous stand up in the world, and this was back in the day before the proliferation of comedy clubs. He was a legend.

I had a great time at the show. He killed. I did not know at the time that this show was the culmination of a journey that began 23 years earlier when a ten year old Steve Martin started working at Disneyland. From there, it was Knott's Berry farm, then life on the road in club after club honing his act. He didn't hit it big until the late 70s. I have no idea why his form of comedy resonated so much in those years. It was, after all, the disco era, and Martin was pretty avant garde.

I bought a souvenir arrow through the head prop which I wore the next morning all through a presentation I had to make in my American Indian Tribes seminar. Nobody said a word about it. The professor and the other students, mostly earnest graduate students, pretended that they didn't notice. I laughed for hours that day thinking about the show. I annoyed the hell out of my roommates with my perfect "Well, excuuuse me!" and "I'm a wild and crazy guy" for a week after the show. I lost the arrow through the head.

In the Spring Semester I was blessed with Iranian roomies who were studying English as a second language in preparation for collegiate studies elsewhere. I helped them with phrases from Steve Martin's Czechoslovakian brothers routine from SNL. They learned to say things like "That's your funeral" and "We are two wild and crazy guys". Good times.

That was another Steve Martin, the stand up guy. The movie guy and author are quite different, and I have been ambivalent about him as a fan. I loved "The Jerk", "Bowfinger", "Housesitter" , "LA Story", "All of Me". I even liked "Father of the Bride". Like Eddie Murphy, he has become a fixture in family films that just aren't my cup of tea. I reckon that he could really spread his wings in supporting roles, being relieved of the burden of carrying a film.

I hope he writes a book about the last thirty years.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Good Times

I don't have a damned thing to blog about. I'm feeling happy, got no complaints, don't care about politics or current events. I'm like that character in Candide. As far as I know, I'm living in the best of all possible worlds, and all I care about is digging in my garden.

The big news for me nowadays is that I bought an oriole feeder and put orange colored nectar in it. We got new cushions for the patio furniture. Yeehah!

We planted a vegetable garden and made a new planting bed by a corner of the house. We put pansies in the window boxes. We're seeing beaucoup birds of all types, even goldfinches. The water snakes are back out. The heron comes by a couple of times a day and finally ate the last of the comets from 2007. The 2008 comets are only a half inch long so far, not much to interest the heron.

Jasper joyfully patrols the pond for signs of frogs for hours on end. Then he tracks mud into the house.

Wait, I thought of something that sucks. Gnats. We got beaucoup gnats, and they are vicious. They go for the eyes. They made it impossible for Mrs Vache Folle to enjoy her horseback riding lesson last week and caused its cancellation yesterday. And the voles continue to vex Mrs VF. She has resorted to poison.

Lately, I feel that each day is a gift.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Uncle Herman's All Expenses Paid Grand Tour of Africa and Europe

I am reading Jeff Shaara's "The Rising Tide", a novel about World War II. I'm almost at the end, and the action has just moved to Sicily from North Africa so I don't expect that it will get much further than Messina. I don't have a lot to say about the writing, but the book has been enjoyable and informative.

My mother's four older brothers all served in the army in World War II, quite a hardship for a farming family that relied on draft animals and the labor of those four young men. Her oldest brother, whom everyone called Herman ( we did not know until his funeral that his real name was William Benjamin Dillard, Jr.), served with the First Infantry Division, a unit that played a big role in the events depicted in the novel. The novel spends much of its time on armor and airborne infantry, but the events are interesting to me because this was my favorite uncle who would talk about the war only very reluctantly. I never realized just how difficult the early fighting in Algeria and Tunisia had been, how the Allies had very nearly been defeated. No wonder Uncle Herman didn't want to talk about it.

He landed in Algeria in late 1942 and fought the French. I had been led to believe that the French welcomed the Allies with open arms and turned on the Germans right away. Au contraire. They resisted and had to be defeated before the Allies could turn to fighting the Germans. It took until Spring of 1943 to get the Germans and Italians out of Africa.

I used to wonder why the Allies had bothered with the campaigns in Africa and Sicily and Italy if they were just going to end up invading France in a risky operation anyway when it was all said and done. Reading this novel has helped me realize that the Americans needed practice and lots of it. They didn't have any experience to speak of, even the generals whose only experience had been as company grade and field grade officers in World War I. And they needed to weaken the Germans. Also, the Brits wouldn't go for it.

Herman was among the infantrymen isolated in the mountains in Tunisia and very nearly destroyed by Rommel's Panzerarmee. Later, he invaded Sicily, then Italy. When that was done, he went to England and landed at Normandy and fought his way to Germany. Quite the grand tour, I'd say. And he took an ocean liner to get to Europe in the first place. He left his left ring finger in Africa, and he experienced phantom itching where it used to be all his life. He never married, so I don't suppose that he missed the digit that much. Its absence made it easier for the five year old Vache Folle to do chin ups on his little finger.

Uncle Herman never worked out. He just worked hard, and he had the physique of a professional bodybuilder and the strength of an Olympic power lifter. He was bigger than life to me, my hero. He taught me to drive a tractor by letting me sit on his lap while he drove it to and from the fields.

He wouldn't talk about the war unless I bugged the crap out of him, and then he didn't glamorize it one bit. I never knew him to participate in a veterans parade or any such thing. In fact, he reckoned that his service might well have been for nothing. He just didn't know. He looked at the world after the war and wondered whether it was any better than it would have been without the war.

Anyway, I'm sure Shaara has some sequels in the works, and I will read them to find out what Uncle Herman was up to on his European tour.

I Like My Hondas

I had to take the CRV into the dealer down in Brewster this morning. The light that signifies that something is amiss with the airbag system keeps coming on, and I don't want to take a chance of having it deploy at an inconvenient moment or fail to deploy when it ought to. I fear that voles may be nesting in the system. Why not? They're everywhere else! The drop off process and getting a loaner was very easy, so kudos so far to Brewster Honda's service department.

And kudos to Honda for their great cars. I aim to stay with the Hondas as they have been the most reliable cars I have ever owned. I've had GMs, and I say never never again. I've had Chryslers, and I say probably never again. I never had a Ford, although my folks had an Edsel and a Fairlane in the early 1960s. I had a NIssan that lasted almost 200K miles.

I rarely go to the dealer for service because I rarely need anything fixed. All I ever need is routine maintenance, and there's a Shell station down the block from my office where I can drop the car off in the morning and pick it up when I'm ready to go home. But it's good to know that the dealer has a good outfit if I need repairs.

This better be covered under the extended warranty, that I insisted we buy, or I'll never hear the end of it from Mrs Vache Folle who reckons extended warranties are not worth the money. We never had a warranty on the Civic, and it hasn't needed anything very costly over the years. Mrs VF smashed into a neighbor's mailbox in the snow this winter and took off the driver's side mirror, an expensive item to replace as it turned out when you add in the cost to replace the neighbor's property. Aside from that, a repair in the $400 range had to be made, but I didn't know what the mechanic was talking about then, and I can't tell you now what he did.

Bill, the guy at the Shell station in Tarrytown, has been working on our cars since 2001, and I trust him. I rely on him to inform me when maintenance is required or when things want replacing. When I find a mechanic I like and trust, I stick with him. I don't know a damned thing about cars, and I am not interested in finding out, so I depend on professionals. I would derive no pleasure whatsoever from working on my own car, and I attribute this in large measure to having had to help my psychotic and violent stepfather work on cars when I was a kid. He liked working on cars, so I decided that I would never work on cars since I wanted to avoid being like him in any way. It's too bad because he was a genius at so many things such as furniture making, woodworking, what have you, and I could have learned a lot from him if he hadn't been such an asshole or if I had been able to tolerate his abusiveness.

Damn. How did we get to the carzy stepdad? Maybe the bastard has defined my life more than I know and in ways I cannot even fathom. I hate to think that's so.

In sum, Hondas are good cars, and crazy stepdads suck.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


In Wilkes-Barre, PA, there is an occasional spontaneous mutation which permits persons born there to enjoy normal or superior intelligence. Mrs Vache Folle and her mother, both of whom escaped what can charitably be described as the hell hole of Luzerne County, carry the mutation. Her brother and some other kinfolks of hers apparently do not. One distinguishing characteristic of individuals with the mutation is that they don't live in Wilkes-Barre any longer than they have to. Those with the "normal" genes tend to be dumbasses, the kind of people who will openly avow that they won't vote for Barack Obama because he is black. There may be sensible reasons not to vote for Senator Obama, but his being black isn't one of them. These folks reckon that they'd like a president who is "one of them". God help us all if that happens again.

I know Catholics who are devout Christians and admirable in every respect, so I don't believe that I am anti-Catholic. But I consider the papacy to be among the most ridiculous institutions ever conceived. And the incumbent pope is funnier than all his predecessors who have graced the office in my lifetime. How he could share the stage with Dick Cheney in good conscience is baffling, though, rather than funny.

I have been asked to sing with the community chorale on Memorial Day, and I am reluctant to do it because I do not wish to appear to support the kind of jingoism and glorification of war that so often accompanies such affairs. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but I feel very strongly about this. I'd better decline.

We were visited by the first goldfinches and Baltimore orioles of the year last weekend, a good sign. But some of the juncos are still hanging around. What's up with that? Is it spring or is it ain't? That goram heron was poking around in the pond Sunday, but the surviving comets seem to be able to evade capture so far.

The voles are still a problem, albeit not the infestation that we endured last fall, and Mrs VF is on a rampage.

Monday, April 21, 2008

More on the Benefits of Ignoring Reality

One nice thing about the cruise I took recently was that conversations I had with people at bars, in the pool, wherever never turned to politics, current events or the economy. We never even discussed our jobs. It was great.

I had planned to tell people that I was an organ broker, that I made my living arranging for Westerners to buy organs for transplant from desperate Third Worlders. I had a whole backstory so I wouldn't have to talk about my actual boring professional life. But it never came up. Nobody wanted to talk about work. We talked about other cruises, snorkeling trips, golf, weather, marine life, movies, children, food, what have you. Everything but work and news.

And I've kept it going since I got back. Of course, I have to talk about work while I'm actually working, but otherwise I'm keeping the topics to birds, the garden, how about those Yankees/Mets, weather, fun. If you try to start a political conversation (especially if you are one of my clueless conspecifics), I'll turn it around into a joke or steer us another way. Conspecific: "Can you believe the price of oil?" Me: "Speaking of oil, I found out that it is OK to bake with olive oil."

No News is Good News for My Mood

I have been feeling terrific lately and in a better mood than ever. Perhaps this is due to my recent relaxing vacation and the arrival of Spring. I suspect that it's due in large part to my not having paid any attention at all to what is happening in the world for several weeks. It started with vacation, and I just kept being uninformed. No TV news, no newspapers, no newsie blogs, no topical conversations. Just blissful unawareness of current events.

Being uninformed makes me less misanthropic since I don't have daily reminders of how monstrous my species really is. It makes me less depressed since I don't have to think about alll the suffering and injustice in the world. If it isn't happening on Hosner Mountain or wherever I happen to be at the moment, I don't know about it. And if I don't know about it, I can't worry about it.

I want to figure out a way to be informed without getting depressed or pissed off. I'm thinking of embracing fatalism more wholeheartedly. "Whaddyagonnadew" will be my new mantra.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bourgeois Liberalism Has Done Socialism's Job, Only Without the Purges

I started to comment on JL Wilson’s intriguing post (aren’t they all lately?), but the comment got so long that I figured it might be better as a blog post with a link. (It's longish for a post as well, but nobody is forced to read it).

JL Wilson reckons that the Left and the Right have common enemies: fiat money, public schools and the politicization of society. These are problems that have adverse impacts on the values of both the Left and the Right. Wilson begins by citing a work which declared that a socialist dictatorship required the elimination of private property, dissolution of the family, and a farewell to religion. He then goes on to explain how the three problems that he cites impact the values of both the Left and Right with respect to each of the three aforementioned aims of socialism.

I don’t know so much whether the terms Left and Right mean what they used to mean, especially in American politics. To me, the two major parties at their extremes represent two different forms of authoritarianism, differing only with respect to what areas of our lives that they would prefer to regulate first and with respect to which classes of constituents they choose to favor. Neither seems to recognize any limitation on the power of government to do whatever it pleases, and neither seems unwilling to insert the coercive apparatus of government into every aspect of our lives.

In the middle, with a majority of representation in both parties (I hope), and reflecting the dominant, hegemonic ideology, is bourgeois liberalism. On the extreme Left, there is a small minority who would impose a form of socialism and who are not bourgeois liberals. On the extreme Right, there is a large and influential minority of Christianist authoritarians who yearn to return to those halcyon days when families, churches, and propertied classes could tell the masses what to do and back it up with force. The Christianist Right is, like its counterparts in the Islamist and Judaist Right abroad, a reaction to bourgeois liberalism and the entire modernist enterprise.

It is perhaps ironic that property, family and church have been undermined not by socialism but by bourgeois liberalism, by capitalism, and by the ideology of individualism that underlies liberalism and capitalism.

In America, religious ideas and denominations abound and thrive in a marketplace of faith. We can choose any denomination or none at all as we see fit. Religion is as strong as ever, but the churches lack the ability to make any of us do anything. It’s all voluntary, and that’s anathema to authoritarian Christianists who reckon that (a) their particular theology is right while all others are heresy, and (b) that they should have the power to impose their religious views on everyone else, marketplace of ideas be damned (literally). In contrast, there are very few on the Left who would use the state to abolish religious beliefs or practices, and they are hardly in a position to get their way. It is possible that religion, or a particular brand of religion, may be out-competed by secular principles in the ideological marketplace, so it may be desirable for some on the Right to get rid of the marketplace rather than risk this.

With respect to families, bourgeois liberalism has, as it has with religion, subjected the concept of family to rational social choice. Families abound in America, albeit not always in the forms favored by authoritarians, and certainly without traditional intra-familial power dynamics. The family does not cohere so much in America because of prosperity. We don’t need our relatives as much, and our family relationships are more negotiable than ever. They are voluntary, and authoritarians cannot abide that people might seek out their own happiness in ways that do not conform to norms established by authorities.

With respect to property, bourgeois liberalism has generated so much prosperity and distributed it among so many that the wealthiest classes really have to work and spend money and be vigilant in order to maintain control of the government and to exercise coercive power in their own interests. The wide distribution of wealth and property leads to more diffuse political power, and the ruling classes are required to recognize the interests of the ruled more than they would have in the halcyon days when wealth was more concentrated and conferred privileges and power with much less effort and at a much lower cost. Moreover, having a population free for the most part from the immediate fear of starvation means that the masses are looking to self actualize and may actually pay some slight attention to politics.

It is the Christianist Right which would, if it attained power, create a government akin to a socialist dictatorship. Authoritarianism means central planning of ideas, household composition, anything without limit. Of course, there is a Left authoritarian element as well who would create the ultimate nanny state based on the same notion that the authorities (them) know best. At the moment, however, I view them as far less of a threat to my freedom and happiness than their counterparts on the Right. When the Christianist Right refers to the Left as socialist it is the Black Hole calling the kettle black. Indeed, bourgeois liberalism has led to the achievement of more prosperity and choices and chances for the masses and less direct oppression by a small minority. Having achieved some progress in alleviating the suffering and injustice which gives the radical Left its appeal, bourgeois liberalism has stolen its thunder and rendered it largely politically impotent.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bitter? You Have to Be Self Aware to be Bitter.

My opponent reckons that folks in small towns in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are "bitter". I don't cotton to this at all. To be bitter, they'd have to be aware of what is happening around them in the world. If they werre paying attention, they'd be bitter alright, but they're not. It's because they are dumbasses for the most part. My opponents won't admit it. They'll pretend that these folks have sense enough to be bitter or they'll yammer on and on about how they are the salt of the earth, the backbone of America, yadda yadda yadda. They all know that a lot of the electorate doesn't have the sense that God gave a duck. Hell, they're counting on it.

My campaign strategy (it's about time I had one) is to sit by while my opponents destroy each other while I bask in anonymity. Then when they are bloodied and bowed and the elctorate is disgusted with its choices, I will seem like a savior and will be the obvious choice.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Home, Tanned and Rested

We are returned from our week long cruise to the Bahamas and back, and I must say that I was entirely satisfied with the experience. The NCL "freestyle cruising" really appeals to me, and I enjoyed the flexibility and not having to dress up. There were lots of great aspects of the cruise, not the least of which was the food and drink. The shows were first rate and had variety. I did an improv workshop with some of the Second City folks who were part of the entertainment. Our stateroom was conveniently located and comfortable. The crew was friendly and helpful without being obsequious (some of the passengers were looking for more obsequiousness).

Our excursions were fun. The Kennedy Space Center was pretty cool, and we got to go very close to the launch pads. I now know why the launch pads are so far away from the Vehicle Assembly Building. If they were any closer, people would be killed during launches. My only disappointment was that there was very little on display about the Orion and Constellation programs coming up in the near future. The tours at NASA are a brillinat public relations tool. If the IRS had tours, maybe they wouldn't be so unpopular. I found out that the Saturn V that I used to drool over at Huntsville was not a real Saturn V, just a mock up used to measure stuff, but I have now seen a real Saturn V at the Space Center.

In Nassau, we went snorkeling with sea scooters on a reef off Atholl Island. The reef formations were spectacular, and there were plenty of beautiful fish. And the sea scooter makes getting around entirely effortless. We also took a carriage ride around town. We also snorkeled off the NCL private island at Great Stirrup Cay, but the reef there is not developed and there wasn't as much variety in the fauna. In Freeport, we did the obligatory shopping trip but only spent about $25.

While we saved our money on land, we were free with it on board the ship. We had a number of spa treatments and did not avoid the specialty restaurants that had cover charges. We would buy wine with dinner and visit the wine bar, and I worked very hard at staying liquored up at the poolside bar or in one of the several lounges. We bought almost every picture taken of us, mainly because we kept forgetting to bring our camera anywhere. Drinks were very expensive.

By the pools, which were very warm and which were especially fun to swim in when they sloshed around, there was usually a band playing and it was a party atmosphere. The weather was cooperative every day, so we spent a lot of time on the sun deck, liming and reading our books and magazines and sipping Cuba Libres.

I made some observations about my countrymen on the ship. Americans really are tubbies. I'm a fat guy myself, but many of the passengers made me feel downright svelte in comparison. About 10% of my countrymen are huge whiners and complainers who seem to enjoy kvetching. They managed to find fault with everything and always had sour expressions on their faces. These same people were also huge cheapskates and seemed to think that everything should be free. If you didn't drink and ate at the dining rooms without cover charges, you could hold on to your money.

I was gratified to encounter many parents (there were lots of families with kids of all ages on the cruise) who are not total nudgenicks and who have well behaved kids. Then again, this group was self selected, and I suppose that overly protective parents and those with bad kids don't take their kids on cruises.

Everwhere we went on the ship, we were encouraged to use hand sanitizer provided in automatic dispensers. I was told that this was to help prevent the illnesses that have plagued some cruise ships from time to time.

An episode of "What Not to Wear" was being taped on the ship and set on the cruise, so we caught glimpses of the hosts and the make up artist from that show.

We hope to take another cruise next winter from New York to the Caribbean. Not having to fly was huge, and we were able to park right at the pier.

Friday, April 04, 2008

My Upcoming Tour of NASA!

Mrs Vache Folle and I are scheduled to sail on the Norwegian Gem tomorrow afternoon to Cape Canaveral and the Bahamas. The Cape Canaveral port of call was a big selling point for me, and we booked an excursion to tour the space center up close. I can hardly contain myself. I am a space geek from way back and followed the space program from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo like other kids followed baseball. The Shuttle program lost me, though, but now I'm keen to see where the Shuttle was launched and all that went into the program.

We used to go to Huntsville every other year or so when I was a kid as it was only a couple of hours away. They had a Saturn V lying on its side and many of the other rockets as well. You could get in a Mercury capsule and handle all kinds of cool futuristic crap. You could buy astronaut food and Tang in a bag. It was heaven for me. I'm hoping Cape Canaveral is as much fun.

Until the stupid Shuttle era, NASA was one government program that I could really get behind (along with the Student Loan program which I'm now against). Even now, it's the program that I begrudge the least. That's because of the potential for it to provide entertainment and because it plays into my hobby of learning about space. If there were no NASA, I would join a club and pay dues to have much of the same things done. Even with the boring and overengineered Shuttle, NASA continued to do cool stuff like sending probes to other planets, to comets and to asteroids. Pretty soon, there'll be a new mission to the Moon, if we can even pull it off at this point. I may even live long enough to see humans walk on Mars (on TV, of course, since I won't be going). They'll be Chinese, of course. I'm hoping to spend a vacation at Virgin's Grand Lunar Hotel and Casino at the Sea of Tranqulity.

I suspect that NASA and other governmental space agencies won't be the drivers of space exploration in the long run. It will be business and pioneering. I'm talking Zero Gravity Nursing Homes (my idea), space tourism, low gravity manufacturing, Helium-2 mining on the Moon. The possibilities are endless.

I also have the irrational belief that it is the destiny of mankind to colonize the universe and spread life, and this sometimes colors my religious beliefs as well. When I think of the end times and the completion of the Kingdom of Heaven, I'm thinking of billions of years in the future with a much changed and more highly developed mankind. This is the kind of thing that makes a visit to Cape Canaveral or Huntsville something of a pilgrimage.

Nine Year Old Rides Subway Alone; Doesn't Die

Kudos to this mother who let her nine year old son ride home alone on the subway. Armed with 20 bucks, a subway map and some quarters in case he needed to make a phone call, the lad made it home alive and well and feeling a little more independent. The mother is lucky if some meddling busybody from the child welfare bureaucracy doesn’t come calling.

I reckon that it should be unremarkable for children to ride buses and subways and get around on their own, but parents seem to believe that there is a child molester or kidnapper behind every tree or lurking in every alley or that their children are just too plain stupid to master such tasks as riding a public conveyance or walking a few blocks on their own. My conspecifics who are parents of younger children are quick to point out the risks from molesters and kidnappers when I ask about why their kids are always under such close surveillance. I point out that these risks are tiny, and that the risk of being killed or hurt while riding in car is many orders of magnitude greater. Why then do these parents let their children ride in cars? All I get are blank looks.

My theories: (1) parents are not so much concerned about the safety of their children than on the societal blame that will befall them if their children are molested or kidnapped, whereas they will be blameless in the event of a much more likely car accident; (2) having their children victimized by a molester or kidnapper would bother parents a lot more than a straightforward run of the mill death or maiming in a car crash; (3) the parents are actually just not very good at risk assessment and didn’t think to have extra children in case one or more was killed or snatched; (4) their children really are pretty stupid, or at least their parents reckon they are.

Fun With Moral Dilemmas

Imagine that a government employee wants to kill you but wants to avoid any inconvenience or risk to himself. He aims to use an airstrike or a cruise missile. You live in a dense urban neighborhood, and lots of other people about whom the paid government killer is indifferent will also be killed in the attack. How does the government employee handle his moral dilemma? It's a trick question. He's a government thug! He doesn't have moral dlilemmas! The problem he has is that other people with influence over him may have moral qualms and are subject to public opinion, so he's not entirely free in his actions. The solution? Characterize the people in your neighborhood as "human shields" and point out that their deaths are your fault. The paid government murderer isn't interested in killing them, so they're just "collateral damage". Pretty neat, huh?

Here's another one. A government employee reckons that an egregious act of terrorism will help him in his program of armed violence against the employees of a different government. He wants to blow up a whole city. Hell, make it two! The strategic benefit will be negligible or nonexistent but it will scare the shit out of his adversaries who may not be as willing to sacrifice their own subjects to an apparently crazed enemy. But wouldn't that be a heinous crime against humanity punishable by a war crimes tribunal? Not if you win, it wouldn't! And in this scenario, our hypothetical government employee has practically already won, so there's no chance of a war crimes tribunal. Sweet! But what about his own subjects? Won't they be shocked and appalled and ready to run the government employee out of town on a rail? Here's where it is really cool. The government employee has spent the last several years convincing his subjects that his enemies are subhuman monsters. Now all the government employee has to do is argue that killing all those subhuman monsters saved the lives of a number of the government employee's paid killers who are human.

Solving moral dilemmas is easy if you don't have morals and if your subjects are morally stupid.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Sharpe Still My Hero

The beautiful and not at all temperamental Mrs Vache Folle bought me a Richard Sharpe novel that I had never read before, and I devoured it. I'm telling you, I can't get enough of Richard Sharpe, Rifleman. Which is a little odd, since I am a very pacific person. I hate violence and war, unless Richard Sharpe or Captains Aubrey and Hornblower are involved.

I identify with Sharpe in some ways. I'm not courageous or anything like that, and the idea of standing and delivering in the firing line or charging with a sword is not something I could be made to do, let alone relish as Sharpe does. It's just that, like Sharpe, I am highly competent at my profession, and, also like Sharpe, almost every immediate boss that I have ever had was an incompetent douchebag. My bosses, like Sharpe's superiors, have been guys who think they know what they are doing and don't realize what dunderheads they really are.

Often, I would find myself in the position of wrangling such bosses, working around them to get the job done, or cleaning up after them to prevent disaster. Eventually, you get tired of this and just let the bastard fall on his face. The incompetence of my bosses was never likely to get anyone killed, as Sharpe's crappy commanders did, but their bad decisions cost jobs and money and bonuses and made their people miserable.

Another similarity I have with Sharpe is humble origins. No, I'm not the bastard whelp of a London whore or anything nearly so romantic, but I have working class origins.

Who am I kidding? I'm not really anything like Sharpe. He's what I wish I was. Courageous, libidinous, adventurous. Of course, he's also fictional.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Global War on Strained Metaphors

Warfare as a metaphor is egregiously strained. Its uses range from the silly (“The War on Christmas”) to the inapt (“The War on Poverty”) to the inapt and dangerous (“The War on Drugs” and “The War on Terror”). These last uses are dangerous because they are deployed to lend legitimacy to the uses of militaristic violence in circumstances in which such violence may actually be utterly inappropriate.

“The War on Drugs” gives rise to militarized police agencies and militaristic assaults on the citizenry in the name of drug enforcement. “The War on Terror” gives rise to the use of the forms of warfare and all that entails in pursuit of threats which are more properly considered matters of law enforcement or limited military operations far short of “war”.

I hear it said often that America is “at war”, that we are living in “wartime”, and this is supposed to limit dissent and excuse the loss of transparency in government. But America is not “at war”, and this is not “wartime”. A state of war may exist as between nation states, and I do not reckon that the United States is in a state of war with any other state. It is engaged in an unlawful occupation of Iraq and seemingly unproductive military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States is not “at war” with any of these states.

In Iraq, the US military is engaged in a civil war and a fight with an insurgency the existence of which arises solely from the occupation itself. That some of the insurgents call themselves “al Qaeda” does not change the nature of the conflict to anything other than resistance to an unlawful occupation. Given that the regime in Iraq is friendly to the United States, it is surely the case that the regime would assist the US in limited operations and law enforcement efforts to face any potential threat by would be terrorists. The branding of some of the insurgents as “al Qaeda” is no justification at all for the US to remain as an occupying power.

In Afghanistan, the US military doesn’t seem to be doing much at all to accomplish its ostensible mission. Frankly, the pursuit of would be terrorists in Afghanistan or Pakistan might not be a suitable mission for military forces, at least not conventional war fighting forces. The mission is more in the way of intelligence gathering and law enforcement, and a large military presence in the area is probably counterproductive. If anything, it creates more enemies.

So let us be clear when we speak about the use of violence and avoid straining the warfare metaphor. One does not make war on methods, inanimate substances, or ideas. Let us identify the actual threats that concern us and consider what means are appropriate to address them. Framing the issue as a “War on Something or Other” manifests hysteria or an intent to propagandize.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Stuff About Me

I seem to be getting over my bad spell with COPD thanks to Symbicort (ask your doctor if it's right for you) or just the passage of time and the disappearance of whatever the hell it was that was turning my head into a snot factory. I was able to take the pulmonary function test without passing out. Yea!

Next week, Mrs Vache Folle and I are cruising to the Bahamas from the pier in Manhattan. Not bad for a marginally employed guy, huh? Speaking of being unemployed, I got my first rejection letter in this round of job hunting. I was beginning to think that those resumes I put out had gone into the void, so it was nice to discover that someone was looking at it. The letter was the standard "we were impressed, but not enough to call you, and we'll keep your resume on file in case our standards are ever significantly lowered in the future".

Our mortgage company reckons that our real estate taxes are doubling and is increasing the amount we have to put into escrow. We reckoned we would be OK in the housing crisis since our mortgages are fixed rate, but it turns out that our taxes are adjustable rate. Seriously, it's a problem for us, and we may have to move for not being able to afford $700 more per month. Most of it is for school taxes, but I won't get started on what I think of those mooching breeders! I have made my feelings known many times. I reckon we are some of the riff raff that the high taxes are supposed to drive out of the district!

My health insurance company finally wrote itself a letter telling itself that I was moving from one plan to another, so I no longer have to pay for drugs and doctors' visits out of pocket. I was surprised that my doctor charges only $85 for an office visit. My vet charges almost that much. And my drugs don't cost as much as I would have imagined.

I still haven't got out into the yard to work on the garden or the pond since it has been either too cold or too wet to do so. I have been playing fetch with the Salopian Terrier from time to time to get him in shape for the good weather. I can't wait for warmer weather so I can leave the goram door open instead of letting the dogs in and out a hundred times an evening. And I'm looking forward to slightly drier ground with thick grass so that there aren't muddy paw prints all over everywhere.

Steve Scott claims that he hasn't been bored in ten years. This ought to do it.