Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I'm making only one resolution for the New Year: to approach physical and spiritual perfection.

Actually, I'm not so ambitious. I just want to cut down on the degree to which I engage in the seven deadlies and to spend more time time doing enriching things rather than liming as much as possible. I don't aim to give up liming altogether, mind you, just to expand my horizons.

In reducing the seven deadlies, I am going to focus on the ones that seem to be my favorites: sloth and gluttony.

The aforementioned enrichment program goes to sloth to some degree, but I would also like to be more productive around the house. When I see I formation of dog hair that resembles a tumbleweed roll by, I would like to be the kind of person that decides to vacuum. Also, Mrs Vache Folle does way more than her fair share of domestic chores, and I want to be a better husband and pitch in more. Perhaps that will encourage her to be more willingly helpful with my outdoor chores and get me in her better graces. I should exercise the dogs more than I do. They enjoy getting out, and they are way less annoying when they are tired. I aim to go to the gym more frequently, possibly every day, but to moderate my routine so that I'm not constantly hurting myself. I want it to be fun, possibly even more fun than sloth itself.

As for gluttony, I'm not going on any crazy diet or resolving to lose some unrealistic amount of weight each week. Rather, I aim to eat only really good food and to avoid eating crap that I stuff into myself for the sake of eating. I aim to cook more and to use better ingredients and to strive to make my eating habits reflect my moral and political values. It will be harder to eat, mind you, but more rewarding and less fattening because I will have to be careful about where my food comes from and how it's made and by whom. I will explore the vegetable kingdom as a source of nutrition more than I have in the past. I will imbibe less alcohol and the empty calories contained therein.

In the enrichment department, there are a couple of things I would like to work on. I have always wished that I could play a musical instrument but have never actually tried to learn to play one since the 5th grade when I gave up on the clarinet. I do know how to play the recorder, albeit badly, and I resolve to work on playing it better. I have already learned in the last couple of weeks to get into a higher octave for several notes and can play in three keys (no more than one accidental, please). I have been reading up on music theory and have been enjoying sitting down with the recorder to practice now and again. By year end, I'd like to be able to play readily all the notes, including accidentals, in the full range of the instrument and to play readily in more keys (maybe up to three accidentals). I reckon that would be doable without becoming a chore.

I have also always wanted to be bilingual and not just in Standard English/Cracker. So I aim to study French which I studied for two years already in university. By year end, I'd like to be able to read a newspaper in French and to speak it well enough to rent a hotel room and find the bathroom in Montreal. Doable? I hope so, because I'm not going to go crazy with effort on this one, just enough that it's fun.

I would like to work on my social phobia, also related to sloth, and to get out more. I aim to volunteer with my church's Community Maintenance Program which meets monthly to work on needy folks' homes. I know I can't do much in the way of building, but surely they need some unskilled labor to haul away refuse and such like. If that works out, I would consider joining one of the small groups at church and even volunteering for more activities.

I wonder how soon I will fail in all these endeavors and how much self loathing this will entail.

Grace Alone

I was flipping through the radio dials when I caught part of a sermon about the afterlife and hell. The preacher distinguished between Hades where the spirits of the dead hang out until Judgment Day and hell, where the resurrected bodies of the dead, reunited with their spirits, suffer eternal torment. The preacher made fun of folks like me who are skeptical about such a hell, and he argued that the existence of hell is not a reflection on God because nobody "had to go there".

I grew up with this kind of perspective and encounter it often. Think about what this preacher is saying. He reckons that God is subject to some higher power than Himself who has imposed the whole heaven and hell, sin and redemption scheme on Him. God is all merciful and doesn't want to condemn anyone to eternal torment, but He doesn't have any choice. He had to sacrifice his Son to redeem anyone because there was no other way, and even then it didn't work for everybody. That way, hell and evil are not God's fault, so you can't make any inferences about God from the existence of hell and evil. On the other hand, you might consider that God, being omnipotent and all, set up the scheme and has chosen to be bound to it in which case it is pretty problematic. Of course, the unnamed higher power poses a problem as far as I am concerned.

Them as end up in hell had a choice according to this preacher and others like him. All they had to do was "receive" Jesus as their savior to be spared from hell and to get a ticket to heaven. At first I thought the preacher was one of those folks who reckon that just saying or even thinking a formulaic prayer like the one in the back of the "Four Spiritual Laws" tract would do the trick whether you believed it or not. The prayer is magic, you see, so as long as you don't say or think it too incorrectly you're ok.

But then the preacher qualified it by requiring the lost soul to receive Jesus "with sincerity". That's all they have to do, and if they don't do it they have nobody but themselves to blame for eternal damnation. Apparently, the preacher is under the impression that anyone can will themselves to maintain any belief sincerely. Unless it's enough to want sincerely to believe, and I don't know many who would fall into this category, the preacher's cosmic perspective limits salvation to them as truly believe in Jesus. Unbelievers cannot receive Him with sincerity, can they? But belief, including belief in fantastically irrational and incredible religious propositions, is involuntary. Accordingly, belief in Jesus sufficient to permit an effective receiving of his grace is not within the power of any human being to attain by an act of will. The believer believes because he believes, and that belief is informed by the circumstances of the believer's life and his biography, not by his own volition. It makes no sense to hold anyone accountable for their beliefs.

Another implication of the preacher's perspective is that the grace of God is inadequate to save without an additional action on the part of the human to be saved, in this case an action that the human is incapable of performing by an act of free will. Them as don't believe deserve what they get even though it's not their fault that they did not believe.

Religion is not necessarily supposed to make any kind of sense, but this preacher's utterances make a mockery of the principle of internal logical consistency. Here's what I believe, and I reckon it's way more logical given the underlying metaphysical assumptions that I'm working with. God can reward or punish anyone He pleases, and there's nothing any of us can do to compel Him to reward us. There's no magic incantation and no degree of righteous thought and deed that will entitle any of us to anything from God. What we already have is a wonderful gift, and even if we live our ephemeral lives and disappear in death forever, God has been gracious. He didn't have to make us, and He didn't have to make us sentient. God will "save" such of us as it pleases Him to "save", and He will do so for His own reasons notwithstanding anything we do or believe. He has given me the gift of belief in Jesus Christ, for which I am grateful and for which I can take no credit or honor, for I did not choose to believe. This gift is infinitely valuable whether or not it is a prerequisite to paradise, and it allows me to be part of the unfolding of the Kingdom.

As for hell, I am a skeptic. But if there be a hell filled with folks in eternal torment, I reckon that they "deserve" to be there no more nor less than I will "deserve" to be there. Hell will exist and be populated in furtherance of the designs of God and for His pleasure, and none of us will have any entitlement to escape it except by the grace of God and nothing but the grace of God. If I manage to avoid hell, I trust that I will (a) be made to understand its purpose, or (b) kept in the dark about its existence, or (c) not.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Custody and Visitation Reform

My friend is going through a divorce, and he worries that the judicial system will screw him when it comes to time with his children. From experience as a divorce lawyer and as an advocate for children in divorces, I have found that men tend to seek less time with their children and to give way to their former wives in the parenting department. Those who actively seek more involvement with their children usually get it in the absence of unfitness. I have known quite a few women who worked to limit the fathers' acess to the children and grew to regret it within a few months. The fathers, many of whom never paid much attention to the kids anyway, now have it made and can be the fun parent every other weekend or so, while the mothers are stuck with all the work of parenting.
Now and then a parent will really get the shaft and end up on the business end of a grossly unfair custody and visitation ruling.

I would like to see significant reform of the procedures for awarding custody and visitation. I would like to see reform based on a number of principles:

1. Some folks' inability to sort out their parenting issues should not become society's problem, and public facilities, eg courts, should not be tied up with minutiae.

2. Custody and visitation issues should not be part of the process of bargaining over property. These should be distinct issues with the best interests of the children as the primary factor.

3. Courts are not really competent to decide custody and visitation issues, and rulings are in effect arbitrary. Accordingly, courts should not be called upon to resolve these issues without expert resources and then only in extreme cases.

One way of reforming the system that would hit on a number of these principles would be to establish a default parenting arrangement that would apply in all cases where the parents cannot agree to deviate from it. Parents would be free to design a mutually agreed upon custody and visitation program without court approval, but any matter on which the parties could not agree would be governed by the default. The default provisions would be rebuttable in court only on a positive showing that their application would threaten the health or safety of the child. Such a system would minimize court involvement and would promote negotiated arrangements. It should also limit the leverage either parent might have to influence other aspects of the divorce settlement by bargaining over access to children.

Why I Criticize Christianist Authoritarians

For me the desired end state, the Kingdom of Heaven as it were, will be a society without any form of coercive government. I am probably not going to live to see it. Nobody alive today will live to see it. It will happen though, and the seemingly futile actions and arguments of people like me may help to usher in the age if only by keeping the idea alive and problematizing rather than fetishizing the state. I believe that the anarchistic utopia requires a profound transformation of humankind and that this will be accomplished through the working of the Holy Ghost in the disciples of Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest obstacles to this movement is authoritarianism disguised as Christianity. Christianists preach that the Kingdom of Heaven announced by Jesus, thr Prince of Peace, must be established by the state, an instrument of pure violence and that the state, in the hands of the Christianists, will produce a world without sin. Other Christianists preach that the world is about to end anyway, so forget about improvements on earth and encourage states to take the necessary steps to hasten the day of destruction. They quench the Spirit. They would re-enslave mankind that Jesus emancipated.

And they are especially dangerous because they coopt and distort the language of the Gospel. They slander God and demean the name "Christian". They are in an unholy alliance with those who would rule by the sword. For a price, they will grant the divine imprimatur to tyrants as if it were theirs to grant.

May their time be brief.

Monday, December 29, 2008

An Incoherent Riff on What JL Wilson Said

JL Wilson has another of his thoughtful posts:

Apparently, he has been kicked off the left libertarian island because of his opinions on gay marriage (opposes on nonbigoted grounds), immigration (advocates restrictions on nonracist grounds), and regulation of imports (favors in some circumstances). I suspect that he has found himself labelled a bigot, a racist and a protectionist from time to time. I doubt very much that Wilson is any of these things.

I consider myself a lefty anarchist, and I disagree with Wilson on some things. I agree with him that marriage and the state shouldn't have anything to do with each other, and I'd just as soon see the state get out of the business of regulating personal relationships. But I disagree with Wilson about expanding marriage to include other kinds of couples because I reckon that, if you're going to have marriage, it should be fair and available to everyone without discrimination. As it stands, marriage is worse as an institution in my opinion because it prefers some couples over others for no good reason. For my part, I would favor one of the following alternatives: (1) abolish marriage, or (2) extend marriage rights to same sex couples.

As for immigration controls, I'm not particularly consistent in my views. I'm not happy with what happened to my country in the abstract in the aftermath of an influx of Irish folks in the wake of the Potato Famine or the entry of lots of exotic peoples through Ellis Island, but I've never had a problem with an actual immigrant I've met . I'd like to see the state disappear and hence the need for immigration controls, but as long as we have a state I'd prefer that it manage immigration humanely, fairly and on the basis of rational policy considerations. If laws are enacted, let them be administered fairly and consistently instead of capriciously.

If we're going to regulate my neighbors' business activities for the purpose of safety and health or other policy considerations other than favoring local enterprise, is it fair to give his foreign competitors a pass on such regulations? I think not. Maybe that makes me "protectionist" in the eyes of some, but I think of protectionism as restricting imports mainly to protect domestic businesses from competition. Maybe it's a a finer line than I believe. Certainly, requiring foreigners to meet many of the same standards that domestic businesses have to meet will have the effect of protecting the domestics from competition to some degree, but standing pat on libertarian principles in such a case would mean advocating an unfair advantage for the foreign enterprise.

Let's face it. The end of the state is not going to happen in our lifetimes. It may not happen for eons. The minimal state isn't about to happen any time soon either. The state, our enemy, is stronger than ever and is really just getting started. Whatever policies we advocate as libertarians, we should keep in mind that they will be enacted (in our dreams) in the context of the state and not in an abstract stateless ideal.

Wilson is right that our enemy is the state. He is wrong, however, that right wing nutzoids are not our true enemies. They are very much our enemies, and they aim to use the state to impose their will on the rest of us. The state is a tool.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Four Days of TV and Medication

I got hit with an upper respiratory ailment on Christmas and have been lying about in my pajamas for three days now. Mrs Vache Folle went to visit her kinfolk, so I've been wallowing in self pity and watching lots of TV. On Boxing Day, there was a House marathon. It's amazing what those genius doctors can do with those rare diseases. Of course, no such genius doctors work around here, so if I have anything unusual wrong with me (or a lot of usual things as well) I'm a goner.

Yesterday, I watched Band of Brothers, the whole damned series. That was a quality program, let me tell you. Whenever I watch it, I think of my mother's four brothers who served in WW2. NOne of them was a paratrooper, but they were all in the war for three or more years. One uncle served as an infantryman in North Africa, Sicily, Normandy and then some. He was in three invasions.

There was also a Highlander marathon. That's a mistake since every episode is pretty much the same. Duncan runs into immortal and flashbacks to earlier encounter. They engage in threats and insults until the head chopping scene at about 10 minutes before the hour.

Some movies also got the marathon treatment. A Christmas Story is the only one I remember. Sadly, Christmas Carol is not shown nearly enough, and I didn't see the amazing Alistair Sims version at all this year. I had to make do with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. I reckon I'll have to buy the one I like.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Random Opinions and Observations About Stuff

I reckon Plaxico Burress has been punished enough for stuffing a handgun into the waistband of his sweatpants. He has a hole in his leg, and he can't play football. Also, he is now a known dumbass who will never live the moment down. Any other punishment is just piling on at this point.

My liver appears to have started functioning properly again, so I am going to celebrate by drinking more than I should.

Mrs Vache Folle agreed not to get each other any Christmas gifts this year. I hope she holds up her end, because I really didn't get her anything. She has a birthday on the 27th, so I have to get something for that. Our 25th anniversary is three days after that, but we never get anniversary presents. I reckon we'd as soon forget that day.

I rooted for Obama in the election because I didn't want the GOP to win. Somewhere along the way I developed unrealistic expectations about the Obama regime and actually began to care about the administration. I've done this before with sports teams, so should know I have this tendency. Well, looking at Team Obama and the Warren thing has helped me to set those irrational feelings aside. Team Obama looks way more competent than anything the GOP could have cobbled together and way less corrupt, but there's nothing visionary or special about it. I reckon they are marginally less likely to get me killed over the next four years than a McCain regime.

I read somewhere that Obama is a "libertarian paternalist" as described by Sunstein and Thaler in Nudge. I'm about a third of the way through the book and like what I read about "choice architecture" and policymaking that depends not on coercion but on facilitating good choices. I hope Obama really subscribes to something like this.

Do SUV drivers believe that the laws of physics are suspended in their case? I'm trying not to get killed on the icy roads, and SUVs are passing me at speeds that would be excessive under the best of conditions. As far as I know gravity still applies to SUVs as do Newton's laws.

Speaking of gravity and what have you, I caught a show on one of the educational channels about a Portuguese physicist who theorizes that the speed of light used to be faster and that there is no need to posit dark energy to explain accelerated expansion of the universe. HIs theory is known as VSL (variable speed of light) and it pisses other physicists off. I don't know why a physicist would take a cosmological theory personally, but evidently they do.

Is it just me, or did Luke seem really go to great lengths to arrange for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem? Apparently, the census he cites didn't happen or didn't require anyone to travel. It would be more plausible to have Joseph and Mary get out of town because of the questionabe circumstances surrounding Mary's pregnancy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Movies that Want Making

Some movies are so great that it makes no damned sense to remake them. Take The Day the Earth Stood Still or The In Laws or The Out of Towners. Pointless remakes all. Old TV shows are not an adequate basis for a movie. Sequels usually suck. What I'm getting at is that there are lots of opportunities for filmmakers to do original work, and there are some works of literature that are overdue for theatrical movie versions.

I enjoyed the Sharpe's Rifles miniseries based on the Cornwell novels with Sean Bean as a credible Richard Sharpe, but the production values were not so great and the show reached a limited audience. Richard Sharpe is an extraordinary action hero whose exploits could be a franchise. A hard core sergeant in His Majesty's Army in the Napoleonic era finds himself commissioned an officer. He faces incompetent fellow officers from the privileged classes who bought their rank as well as the unstoppable French military machine. You have espionage, sex, violence, intrigue and everything you need for a series of action adventures. I see Christian Bale as Richard Sharpe.

It's a damned pity that only one of the Patrick O'Brian novels about Captain Aubry and Doctor Maturin has been made into a movie. There were about twenty novels in the series, and each one would make a damned fine film. This is also a ready made franchise with an enormous fan base. Get to it, Hollywood! I liked Heath Ledger for Captain Aubry, but his death makes that hard to pull off.

Earth Stood Hard as Iron, Water Like a Stone

It snowed more than a foot on Friday and then another half a foot on Sunday. This morning, it was zero outside, and even the dogs were anxious to get back inside what with the wind chill. Everything is beautiful, but it sure is a pain in the ass getting around. I reckon it could be worse.

Some have said that the almanac calls for a brutal winter. I do not accept this. I would like a relatively mild winter.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Roster of the Hellbound and Other Observations

Although I have on occasion speculated about who might be headed for the flames of hell, I really don't know who, if anyone, is going to hell. Rick Warren doesn't know either, but he seems to think that he does. If I were even a little less loving, I'd deem it a delicious irony if Rick Warren found himself in hell for inciting hatred against gays and Jews and Muslims and who knows who else.

The truth is that I just don't believe in hell any longer, and I don't really want anybody to go there. I will be very surprised if it turns out that there really is a hell that involves anything more painful than having to live with what a douche you were in life forever.

I don't know why I'm so disappointed by Obama's selection of Warren as invocation giver. I wanted to think Obama was different, that he was smart. Now here he is reaching across the aisle to folks who would never do the same if they were in power. During the election, I heard some folks proclaim that Democrats and Republicans want the same things but have different ideas about how to achieve them. That's just not true. The GOP doesn't want what Democrats want or what most humans want. They're evil, I tell you, so no good can come of reaching out to them. If you have them down, finish them off!

For most of human history, it was pretty much impossible to be rich without being evil. You had to have slaves or serfs or the like and a system in place to keep other rich bastards and the masses from killing you. Now you can inherit the products of evil without ever having been especially evil yourself. It may even be possible to get rich without screwing people over, but I reckon it's still a whole lot easier to go the evil route.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow on Snow

Snow is falling hard right now and has been for a couple of hours. It's three inches deep on the deck, and 12 inches are expected by nightfall. I stayed home so as to avoid having to drive in the mess, so I'm enjoying the beauty of it. Mrs Vache Folle is at work in Manhattan and is supposed to go to the Knicks game tonight. By the time she gets to the train station in Southeast, everything should have been plowed pretty well. She has the CRV with 4 wheel drive and shouldn't have any problems once she digs out from the plows' having covered the parked cars with snow.

I just realized I don't have any alcohol!

A Random Thought about God

To anyone who follows science, even superficially, the concept of God is so much greater and more transcendent than it could possibly have been for the ancients. Their world was so much smaller, and their God had a much smaller portfolio.

Of course, my own personal world, if I did not inform myself about the cosmos or events on the planet, would be small indeed. It would consist of my work, my home, my church, my small circle of acquaintances and kinfolk. A God in charge of my small sphere would have a lot less to do than the God who informs the Universe and its billions of light years in scope.

Because my God also takes in the Universe, it that much more wonderful that He takes any notice of me at all. To know the love of such a God is beyond describing. The best I can do is patch together some inadequate metaphors.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More on Booze

I've never been a big fan of girly drinks. If I'm in the islands, I might have a pina colada or a cuba libre or six, but otherwise I like my whiskey straight or with water or seltzer. I take gin with tonic unless I'm having a martini.

Vodka's a different story. Unlike Mrs Vache Folle, the Slavic Pricess, I have never acquired a taste for straight vodka, although I drank a lot of it in Poland to be polite and to avoid appearing to be a pussy in fron of Mrs VF's kinsmen. I like raspberry juice in vodka, something the Carpathian cousins turned us on to.

The other day Mrs VF came home with Absolut pear vodka and cranberry juice cocktail. There had been a tasting at the liquor store. This is a fantastic combination. The carnberry juice realy brings out the pear flavor.

Vodka tonic is my usual vodka delivery system. Sometimes I'll have a vodka martini, although I won't go out of my to get a martini.

Perhaps starter drinks were less available when I was a youngster (the drinking age was 18 in Georgia in those days), but I managed to skip the stage where you drink grain alcohol punch, schnapps of any kind, or wine coolers. I'll enjoy a Mike's Hard Lemonade now and then, but I don't really consider it an alcoholic beverage. My carpool companion, who is fifteen years my junior, is still hooked on starter drinks. I bought him some root beer schnapps because he had raved about it, and he was thrilled to get it. He still goes for Jaegermeister and Goldschlager, and his wife favors the Bartles & Jaymes. He has actually tried Zima. In his defense, he loves Johnnie Walker Blue and orders shots of it at corporate outings as long as the bill can't be traced to him.

The Kids in the Hall once did a skit about a man who became an alcoholic on girly drinks. It was hilarious. I think he had a blender on skid row so he could make daquiris.

Girly drinks will frak you up. The sugar and other fillers make for a huge hangover and potential projectile vomiting. Mrs VF learned in Bermuda many years ago to avoid drinks that are blue or green. Keep it claen if you don't want to suffer on the morrow.

Beer is God's Gift

When we lived in the Pacific Northwest, we became huge beer snobs. We went to tastings and festivals and befriended home brewers who made quality product. I knew some nanobrewers who sold to a handful of taverns in the local area, and I favored brew pubs. I never missed a chance to tour a brewery.

To be honest, I started on the raod to beer snobbery in Washington DC. First, visits to the Rathskellar down by Dupont Circle, where they served every beer in the world it seemed, exposed me to the rich variety of beers, ales and stouts. For a time, I was an aficianado of bad beer and tried to make my way through every variety of "Pennsylvania piss" that I could get my hands on. The final verdict on best bad beer: Lion's Head Lager.

I favored John Courage and Bass Ale (on tap). I loved Guinness and Harp in a black and tan. Mrs Vache Folle had a soft spot for Elephant Malt Liquor. She still does when I can find it.

I haven't had a beer in months. I don't know why. I still love it. It's just not so easy to lay hands on the good stuff. I don't know how to choose from the proliferation of craft style beers that the macrobreweries are putting out. Maybe I'm afraid that I'll like something that isn't cool because I'm no longer surrounded with beer snob peers to keep me in line with what's good and what's not. Also, beer gives me gas like nobody's business nowadays. It had better be worth it what with the suffering it causes.

Atheists I Can Live With; Christianists GIve me the Heebiejeebies

As I was driving through Myers Corners on my home from the market, I spied a church sign that read "Why do atheists curse a God they don't think exists?" If the author of the sign cares to know, the answer is "they don't". I have never known an atheist who cursed God or any combination of gods or demigods or any supernatural being. They don't believe in curses any more than they believe in God. Clearly, the author of the sign has a problem with atheists and feels comfortable accusing them of something ridiculous. I'm okay with atheists as I understand that they believe what they believe in the same arbitrary and involuntary way that I believe what I believe. I don't worry about them at all. I worry about other Christians, especially those whose views on the teachings of Jesus are so opposed to my own.

Take Rick Warren. Please. I first became aware of Warren when I partcipated in a churchwide program "40 Days of Purpose" based on Warren's "Purpose Driven Life". As Calvinists we, at least in my small group, overlooked Warren's Arminianism and droning on about how he wanted to "win one more for Jesus" as if he had anything to do with whether anyone was saved. It wasn't a deep program, but it was okay, and I had a slightly favorable impression of Warren. When he came out and argued that evangelicals neded to be "for" things, like fighting poverty, instead of "against" things all the time, I admired his leadership.

This didn't last long. If Warren was not complicit in John McCain's cheating on the rules of the forum at Saddleback, his refusal to condemn it was dishonorable. Most recently, Warren went on Sean Hannity. Worse, he endorsed state sposored murder as Biblical pursuant to Romans 13. This allowed me to relegate Warren to the category of Christianist wanker and to stop paying him any heed.

Now Obama has invited the murder endorser to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. I hope this is to give everyone a chance to scrutinize Warren as much as Jeremiah Wright was scrutinized. Let's take the blasphemy spewed forth by Warren, Hagee, Paisley and their ilk and compare and contrast it with Wright's more controversial utterances. I don't think most Americans really know what these Christianists stand for and that their skin would crawl if they understood. If they thought Wright was scary, they'll really freak when they get to know the religious right for what it really is.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Ettiquette

It's still too soon to say Merry Christmas unless you preface it with "If I don't speak to you again before the holidays..." That's the official rule at this point. You can't start the early blessings any time before December though even if you don't expect to see the person until after Christmas. So, don't wish anyone Merry Christmas in July even though you don't expect to see them until January.

Right now, Happy Holidays is very appropriate in just about any setting. I reckon Advent is a holiday and celebrate the Advent season. I'm also big on the Epiphany. And Yule. And the Winter Solstice. So, there are many holidays for which blessings are proper. And why shouldn't I have a Happy Hannukah just because I'm not Jewish? Don't I deserve a prosperous and joyful Kwaanza?

If you don't really mean it, keep your blessing. Or give whatever blessing you really feel like giving. It's the same rule as applies to everyday blessings. If you're not up to an entire Good Day, then give a Good Afternoon or even a Nice Late Morning. Don't give out too big of a blessing, either. Never wish anyone Merry Christmases Forever and Ever because it will be awkward when you see them in subsequent years and have to remind them that you already gave them a lifetime supply of Christmas blessings.


On Repeal Day, I went to the gym and bade the ladies at the desk a Happy Repeal Day, as is the custom of the country. They did not know what Repeal Day was, but one of them suggested that a national holiday would be in order when I explained it. The other lady, however, fretted about "all those drunk drivers". It hit me then that the draconian drunk driving laws we have seen enacted in the last thirty years are a kind of back door Prohibition, at least for people who like to drink in saloons. For those of us who drink alone at home, drunk driving laws are not an issue (except that we have to wait to start drinking until we're pretty sure we're not going out again).

One of my conspecifics at work, a lady of Irish descent, explained that she understood that Prohibition back in the day had been a reaction to all the new immigrants who liked to drink in saloons and be drunk in public. It wasn't aimed at them as drank at home. I'm not sure I agree since the temperance crusaders aimed for temperance for all wherever they preferred to drink, but I imagine the sight of immigrant louts passed out in the gutter in a pool of their own vomit went a long way toward garnering public support.

Where I grew up, it was "dry". You could not buy or sell alcohol in the confines of the county. You could go to Tennessee and get it. Some folks (the Ridleys and the Vaughns come to mind) made a nice living selling liquor in violation of the law. Every few years they'd collaborate with the Baptist preachers to keep the town dry. Of course, many folks made a little wine or beer, and some made whiskey for their own consumption. Mainly, drinking was reckoned to be a huge sin, much like dancing or coeducational swimming.

My great grandpappy was a huge booze hound right until he died from non booze related old age. My maternal great uncles were notorious sots. None of my nearer kin drank at all. It was just too much effort.

I started my drinking career at 14 with Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill Apple Wine. It made me so sick that I did not let a drop pass my lips for four years. That's when I discovered bourbon and began my love affair with the water of life.

Monday, December 15, 2008

News People are Vapid and Stupid by Definition

I have mostly kept my boycott of TV news, except I've caught some Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann and the BBC. Also, cable news if often on at the gym, and I catch a bit of CNN, FOX or the business channels. Except for Olbermann and Maddow and the BBC, I have to say that the folks on the cable news by and large don't seem to know what they are talking about. The guests they have on are no better informed, either. Most of what passes for political discussion is about as enlightening as listening to the old farts swapping lies down in front of the hardware store or in the barber shop.

Why is this so? Do American viewers simply demand vapidness and stupidity? They don't seem to have a whole lot of choice since most of the networks feature vapid and stupid all day and all night. Is it because of the way TV "journalists" are created? Perhaps the vapid and stupid select themselves for careers in TV news, or their guidance counsellors steer them into that profession.

I knew a lot of Communication majors in college. Many of them aspired to TV news careers. Not one of them was any kind of genius. They interned at the local network affiliates or the then infant cable news networks. After school, the lucky ones got jobs in small markets as TV correspondents, weekend anchors or weather readers. If they were photogenic and shameless, they might get into a large market and, if they were really vapid and stupid, into national news.

Look at the hugely successful TV news stars. Chris Matthews? Britt Hume? Kudlow and Kramer? Not a genius among them. David Gregory, a huge wanker without the sense God gave a duck, is getting a big break.

Walter Cronkite would roll over in his grave if he were dead.

When is a Bribe not a Bribe? When it's a Campaign Contribution.

I'm having a hard time differentiating between what Governor Blagowhatsit of Illinois is accused of doing and what politicians do all the time. Is it unusual for a governor to expect some kind of favor in return for naming your preferred candidate to the Senate? No, but you're not supposed to say it out loud.

There are lots of circumstances where folks are supposed to pretend that they are disinterested when they clearly are very interested or to act is if they are not doing what they are clearly doing. Take churches, for instance. They do "outreach" or "evangelism", not marketing. They are, in many respects, no different from any other enterprise, but it would be offensive to acknowledge this by using ordinary business language. You have to conceal what everyone already knows.

In politics, everyone knows that you give money to a politician's campaign in order to influence how he will vote or, at best, because you expect that he will vote your way. It's not bribery as long as you don't say out loud that it's specifically in consideration of political acts even though everyone knows that it's in consideration of political acts. Nobody believes for an instant that the NRA or any special interest group gives money to candidates simply because they reckon they are good for America. They are buying the politician. He has probably announced in advance whom he would like to be sold to in order to facilitate getting payments fast, but he's still for sale.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Frosty Winds Made Moan

There was an ice storm this morning just south of my house. We had floods instead of ice. The good news was that the extra fortification I had done to the pond on either side of the weir held off the flood. The bad news is that the overflow went somewhere else, and now I'll have to repair that area. The back yard was pretty flloded this morning.

My car pool companion had to take an alternate route to my house because the road he usually takes was closed, perhaps due to downed trees or powerlines. The trees along the Taconic were so heavily laden with ice and bent so low that I feared at times that I would hit them with the Civic. I am thankful that the road itself was not icy during the commute, just flooded. The Saw Mill Parkway was closed north of where we get on it, and traffic was backed up for miles going the other direction.

It has been a crazy week weatherwise. It was nigh on 60 degrees on Wednesday, freezing on Thursday, and icy or rainy on Friday. December has been unusually harsh. If I win the lottery, I'm getting a winter residence somewhere warm.

Iranian Agents May Assassinate Rick Warren According to the Bible

Steve Scott has a great series on Romans 13. In the latest installment (, he addresses Rick Warren's endorsement of state sponsored murder because governments are established to punsih evildoers. Isn't everyone an evildoer in some sense? Haven't we all fallen short? What if a government wanted to punish Rick Warren for fomenting violence against a sitting head of state? Under Rick's interpretation, Iranian agents could legitimately come to his house and murder him as long as they reckon he is an evildoer.

Imagine the guard in a Nazi concentration camp who, thanks to Romans 13, could feel no guilt whatsoever about murdering Jews by the trainload. After all, the state had declared Jews to be evildoers. And Nero, about whom Paul appeared to be writing in Romans 13, had declared Christians to be evildoers, so it was perfectly right for him to use them as torches or as lion food.

What I wonder is this. Is Rick Warren stupid, evil, or does he have some other defect?

More on Autoworkers

Mrs Vache Folle pointed me to an article in the NY Times that breaks down autoworker compensation. The graphic above says it all (
The major difference between domestic autoworkers who work for the Big Three and those who work for alien automakers is in legacy liabilities for retirees. The aliens haven't been here long enough to build up a legacy. So insisting that autoworkers bear the principal burden of cost cutting makes no sense at all. Current workers aren't getting anything from the pensioners or on behalf of the pensioners. Besides, as the article points out, labor costs represent only about 10% of the cost of a vehicle. Screwing autoworkers won't make much difference. Of course, some folks just like to screw workers whenever they can.. They positively hate working people, especially unionized workers.
I don't blame autoworkers for the condition of the Big Three. I blame management. As much as I'd like to see management get its comeuppance, I don't want to see hundreds of thousands of autoworkers in the unemployment line or millions of other workers who depend on the car business. It's not a very convenient time for the auto industry to collapse.
Why does the GOP want the country to go into a deep eceonomic depression? Family values. When you're facing starvation, you're more dependent on family, and you can't afford those decadent luxuries and sinful entertainments that you used to enjoy.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Smegma is one of my favorite words in the English language, and I reckon that it is underutilized. It's a fabulous word to describe a wide range of disgusting substances. "Pardon me, but it looks as though you have some of that toddler smegma on your sleeve." "The subway poles and straps are coated with a fine layer of hobo smeg." "Smeghead" is a delightful way to describe an unpleasant person. "Smeggy" perfectly describes the feeling one has after a long flight or other times one is feeling not so fresh.

We named the fruit of the ginko tree "smegmapples" because they smell like rotting flesh and cover the ground with disgusting stinky goo as they decompose.

Sometimes, I like to use "smeg" as an expletive. Try it instead of "shit" now and then. It works.

Ideas to Improve the VA

I have an idea for General Shinseki as he takes over the Veterans Affairs Ministry. Reduce the department's dependency on the VA Hospitals in providing medical services. Instead, provide veterans with health care with providers of their choice by paying for that care in a manner similar to health insurance. Provide training and programs for local hospitals and physicians and nurses across the country in the kinds of medical problems that veterans present. This will make it more convenient for veterans who don't happen to live near a VA facility and will spread the know how for dealing with extreme trauma and other war related health problems throughout the medical professions. Also, it will make VA hospitals compete for veterans' custom, and this is bound to result in much needed improvements.

In terms of disabilty benefits, I reckon it's high time to revise the schedule for rating disabilities to eliminate the extremely subjective and arbitrary criteria for awarding benefits. Let's come up with objective criteria for as many disabilities as we can.

Christmas is About Cookies

As a favor to a choirmate, I sang with the community chorus at the town Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Sunday evening. This was remarkable for being a Christmas party that had been completely secularized. Santa was everywhere, as was Frosty the Snowman. We sang about snow and merriment and Santa Claus. The town served coffee and doughnuts. I can't believe tax dollars went for this, but it was fun for the kids who showed up.

Mrs Vache Folle has been on a baking frenzy. It's a holiday tradition for her to bake and for me to get rid of the product by sharing with workmates, the choir, anyone I can. She's a fabulous baker, and I am doomed to obesity.

Here's Mrs VF's famous holiday fruitcake cookie recipe, or what I call the best cookies ever:

Mix 1 cup melted unsalted butter, 1 cup of packed brown sugar, 3 eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 2 tablespoons of cream sherry (not the crappy cooking sherry from the supermarket, please), and a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Add 3 cups of flour and a teaspoon of baking soda.

Here's the fun part. Add 6 chopped up slices of candied (or dried) pineapple, 1 cup chopped red candied cherries, 1 cup chopped green candied cherries, 2 cups chopped dates, 1 15 ounce box of white raisins, and 4 cups of chopped pecans or walnuts. Originally, the recipe (as it came from my mother) called for 7 cups of nuts, but it's just not possible to get that many nuts into the batter.

Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes.

The batter is to die for.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Merry Repeal Day

75 years ago tomorrow, prohibition was appealed. December 5th should be a national holiday. Moreover, every December 5th should be marked by the repeal of at least one stupid prohibition on something. Let's start with pot. Them as want to keep pot criminal should be required to justify the costs and the anguish created by criminalization.

Who Says Gov't Has No Sense of Humour?

Say you're getting on in years and you want to check on Medicare benefits on the handy dandy web site that the government has set up on the internets. You go to to sign in and discover that you're having a senior moment and can't remember the password the government sent you. You're in luck! There's a Forgot Password Link. Guess what you get when you click on Forgot Password:


You can't use the Forgot Password link until you have successfully logged onto using the password mailed to you by CMS."

But you're in luck! There's a link to Return to Welcome and Sign In Page where you will get a chance to start over and discover that you've forgotten you're password. But You're in luck! There's a Forgot Password Link...

I imagine that there have been some old folks who have been trying to log on for weeks now.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


At the supermarket some weeks ago, I happened to notice a new product: SPAM LITE. I suppose it's designed for folks who want to eat mystery meat from a can but don't want as much fat as regular SPAM.

I like SPAM. My mother used to make sandwiches of SPAM, Velveeta, and Wonder Bread and cut them into animal shapes with cookie cutters. I called them my "dog meat sandwiches" because my favorite shape was that of a dog. I continues to eat SPAM until I married. Even afterwards, I bought a supply of SPAM for Mrs Vache Folle's and my first extended camping trip together. She declined to eat it and fed it to our beagles. I have not tasted SPAM since 1988, but I assume it's still the same high quality loaf of meat slurry as it always was.

In Seattle, there was an annual SPAM sculpture contest near the Kingdome I don't think canned meat is used enough as an artistic medium. Vienna Sausages have all sorts of possibilities in the visual arts. Deviled ham and potted meat would make a fine mortar to bind together SPAM, Vienna sausages and other meaty elements into an artsitic installation.

Once in law school, we made a birthday cake out of SPAM. We put cream cheese frosting on it and told the birthday boy that it was carrot cake. It took two bites for him to figure out it was meat.

The best way to prepare SPAM is to slice it and fry the slices. The same goes for bologna, another slurry based food product.

There was no SPAM in C-Rations, at least not the ones I had to eat. SPAM would have been a huge improvement. The only edible entree in the C-Ration menu was the beans and franks. The worst was something we called beef with shrapnel. Later. we got MREs which were rations in boiling bags. Of course, we were always under light discipline in the field and couldn't heat them up. The cold chicken a la king in a bag was like eating puke. I would have taken SPAM any day.

What's With Catholics?

One of my conspecifics told me that the Vatican opposes a UN resolution calling on all nations to decriminalize homosexuality. We're talking about countries that execute people for homosexuality, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy is OK with that.

I have tried to keep an open mind about Catholicism, and most of the Catholics I have known don't seem all that crazy, but the Roman Catholic Church is really starting to freak me out with its political positions. I admit that the whole authoritarian underpinnings of Catholicism have always made it very unattractive to me, even creepy. I know that religions are all equally nutty when you get right down to it, but Catholicism's authoritarianism leads to very unfortunate results in the world if it is allowed to hold sway. Remember when the Catholic Church could kill you? And did? I get the feeling that Benedict would be all too happy to get back some of that temporal power.

Lately, the clergy has been holding its monopoly over access to God over the heads of believers who voted for Obama or who are not in favor of violence to prevent and punish abortion or stem cell research. Of course, most American Catholics whom I know just roll their eyes and ignore the Catholic heierarchy. They don't reallly believe that priests have magical powers. (The ones who take seriously the threat of being kept from God probably didn't vote for Obama anyway.) The Church doesn't seem to have a position on other issues like war which also kills a lot of children. At least, there are no threats against those who voted for an avowed warmonger.

It's also hard to respect an institution when its leader announces that my religion is false and that my church is not a real church because it's not Catholic. Bite me, Benedict. I don't recognize your authority no matter how big your hat is. You're just another preacher albeit of a mega mega church.

Blessed One

It bothers some wingnuts that President-elect Obama's given name means "Blessed One" or some such thing. I don't reckon that they've considered that all the Presidents have had given names that meant something. John means "God is gracious", and I don't hear anyone freaking out about that. James means "Supplanter"; George means "Farmer"; Andrew means "Manly". William means something to do with the desire for protection or a helmet. Go figure what that means in connection with President Clinton. Ronald is a royal advisor. Richard is a wealthy ruler. Lyndon is "flexible". Franklin is a free man. Warren is a preserver. Herbert is a bright ruler. Calvin is bald. Woodrow is a trail through the forest. Theodore is God's gift. Grover is from a grove. Chester is a fortress. Martin is warlike. Benjamin is the son of my right hand.

Unless you have one of those made up names like the Palin kids, your name means something. You could do worse than Blessed One.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


I have been a student of human migration over the years and was taught that the history of mankind's movements involved a series of mass replacements of entire populations. The Indo Europeans replaced the paleolithic inhabitants of Europe (except for some Basques). The Celts replaced the earlier denizens of Erin and Albion. The Anglo-Saxons drove the Celts to the fringes. You get the picture.

Recent genetic studies have not borne this out. Indo Europeans did not enter Europe in massive numbers. Their languages were adopted, but the population of Europe is still made up mostly of the descendants of the paleolithic foragers who first colonized the subcontinent. The population of the British Isles does not show any legacy of mass replacements in its genes. Everything we thought we knew about European prehistory is pretty much wrong.

I'm heartened by this. Mass murder appears to be a relatively recent innovation.

I watched "Naked Archaeologist" the other evening, and I was amazed at the lengths the host was willing to go to "prove" the historical accuracy of the Biblical accounts of King Solomon. For him, if Solomon did not build the gates at Megiddo and Gezer and some other place, as written in the Bible, then Solomon probably didn't even exist. The likely explanation that the writers of the Solomonic history concluded wrongly that Solomon built the gates in question (they date to a century after Solomon) seemed not to have occurred to him. The guy's thought processes were completely boxed in. Perhaps this is what happened with the guys who wrote the now debunked narrative of European migrations and population replacements. They had it in their heads that language diffusion was proxy for gene flow, so they interpreted everything in that light.

You know how everyone in the "Tain" rides around in war chariots? How come there haven't been any chariots dug up in Ireland? I reckon that the charioteers never made it to the Emerald Isle, just their stories.

Monday, December 01, 2008

My Long Weekend

I caught a glimpse of a bumber sticker the other day that read "We Say Merry Christmas". Okay. When do they say it? All the frakking time? I want a bumper sticker that reads "We Say See You in Hell", because that's what we say sometimes. I probably won't utter the words Merry Christmas until December 23rd or so.

We were on our way to the mall in Poughkeepsie to take Mrs Vache Folle's nephews shopping. They had earned money doing chores around the house that morning and had gotten their Christmas money from Mrs VF, so they had a few bucks to toss around. The mall was a zoo, and I should have taken a Xanax before I went there. The mall forbids youths to enter without an adult escort on weekend evenings after 4, so there were lots of mall thugs harassing teenagers for godonlyreallyknows what for. There was lots of noise and "music" and shiny things, and I was way overstimulated. Note to self: avoid mall on Saturday after Thanksgiving. Even Barnes & Noble was a madhouse.

We took the lads to an all you can eat buffet before we hit the mall, and I began to worry if we might not be banned from the place. They ate prodigious quantities of food, especially the ten year old (six plates). Their mother must go broke at the grocery store feeding those ravenous maws.

Ellis Island was worth doing. The Statue of Liberty not so much.