Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nobody Understands Me

Political discourse has become so stale that I find myself in bizarre exchanges with my conspecifics about politics. When I make a political statement, they seem to assume that I am coming from the "left" or the "right" even though they've known me for years and know that I'm an anarchist. They don't seem to know how to talk about politics in any other terms.

For example, if I criticize the GOP, this is usually interpreted as an endorsement of Democrats. Pointing out that Democrats are wankers, too, is not an adequate refutation of a critical comment about the GOP. If I criticize Bush, I am told that "Clinton did it, too" or "Clinton was also evil". I'm not talking about Clinton, damn it! I'm talking right now about the GOP currently screwing things up. Did you ever hear me defend Clinton? Pay attention to what I'm actually saying, please.

If I point out that the aggressive interrogation techniques employed by the governemnt were designed to elicit false confessions for propaganda purposes, that does not mean that I believe that the GOP USG is using the techniques for those purposes. If they did, they'd screw it up. There's no need to jump to the defense of the GOP and anticipate a charge that the GOP is coercing false confessions. I'm just saying that the techniques are of questionable value even if you take the GOP USG at its word. Which I never do.

I'm not really talking about Democrats and Republicans. I'm usually talking about authoritarians of any party versus freedom.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dear Christofascists,

Dear "Evangelical" Leader:

Your friends might not tell you this, but I can tell you that you are embarassing yourself by acting as if your followers are going to abandon the GOP if the GOP does something you don't approve of. You've been saying this for years, and you are always bluffing.

Where are your followers going to go? To the Democrats? To Nader? To Barr? To the Taliban? Are they going to start their own Christianist Fascist Party?

Of course not. They are going to vote for the GOP because that's what you're going to tell them to do. You know it, I know it, Bob Dole knows it, the American People know it. Everybody knows it except your followers. They're your followers because they are authoritarian zombies who need you to tell them what to do. You'll stick with the GOP because politics isn't about principles for you. If it was, you'd start your own hopeless minority party and stick to your wingnut guns. It's about sucking cash from your flocks and a little taste of the power for you.

Anyway, your act is way past laughable and is getting pitiful. Somebody might just come along and steal your followers by pointing out to them the painfully obvious fact that your political clout is all smoke and mirrors.

Sincerely,

Vache Folle

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Malkin is Hateful Even When She's Thanking God

I generally avoid the right wing nutzoid bloggers because they are toxic and make you stupid when you read them, but I had to read for myself this Michelle Malkin post in which she approvingly cites the Confederate Yankee on the Tennessee church shootings:(http://michellemalkin.com/2008/07/28/the-tennessee-church-shootings/)

Even when they are thanking God for small miracles, these people manage to spew hatred.

So you don't have to waste any of your lives, let me distill the point for you. "The Tennessee gunman was really targeting Christians (see, he was in a church) rather than liberals and gays, and he didn't hurt any of the children, just old and middle aged folks. This is what's important, not that right wing nutzoids like us ratchet up hate against people with whom we disagree."

Unitarian Universalists may or may not be Christians. It's a pretty big tent. The guy left a note explicitly explaining that he was pissed off at gays and liberals. If you contort yourself trying to make the victims conservative martyrs, you will snap your spine.

One Small Step

Thirty nine years ago today, an eleven year old Vache Folle was sitting on the bed of his father's hotel suite at the Hotel Dalton while they watched the moon landing on the black and white hotel TV. I spent some time living with Dad in his hotel that summer while my parents got started on their ugly divorce. It was one of the last times I would spend with him for decades to come. I remember it well because it was a moment when we shared an interest in something about which I was fanatical and because I recall my father's remarking that at one point the LEM was about as high off the moon's surface as were above the ground in the hotel.

The next day, I took a 1969 penny and a copy of the Daily Citizen, what passed for a newspaper in Dalton, stored them in a cigar bax wrapped in tin foil, and buried them in the woods at my grandparents' farm. I don't remember where, but I figured that it would be a good idea to preserve the record of that achievement for posterity just in case World War III, which we all knew was inevitable, destroyed all the libraries and archives. I was a nut even then.

A lot of people remember exactly what they were doing when JF Kennedy was shot. I don't, mainly because I was five and oblivious, but I remember the moon landing like it was yesterday.

I was a little bothered by Armstrong's famous first words. "One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind." What the hell did that mean? Did he mean "a man" and just screw it up? Turns out that the transmission was garbled. It was a pretty classy thing to say. He might have said some jingoistic crap about how great America was or "Suck on it, Ivan!" or some such thing, but he gave the credit to mankind.

He was right to credit mankind. Without German designs on conquest, the Freiherr von Braun might never have gotten to play with rockets, and the Saturn V might never have gotten off the ground. And the Soviets really provided a lot of inspiration and built a fire under NASA's ass. Kudos to them. And let's not forget all the great minds of every nation whose works and discoveries laid the foundation for the moon landing.

Monday, July 28, 2008

How Old is Your Brain?

Mrs Vache Folle forwarded a mental test that is supposed to tell you how old your brain is. Her brain was 52 on Friday but was only 29 on Monday morning. My brain was 37 a few minutes ago.

The instructions at the website are in Chinese, so unless you read Chinese you'll want to follow the instructions below:

1. Touch 'start' 2. Wait for the countdown to finish, 3, 2, 1. 3. Memorize the position of the numbers on the screen and their numerical order, then click the circles from the smallest number to the largest. This sequence will repeat ~ 10 times until the game ends. 4. At the end of game, the computer will tell you how old your brain is in years.

The test is here:

http://flashfabrica.com/f_learning/brain/brain.html

Sunday, July 27, 2008

China Will Be a Superpower Beacuse it Will Kill its Old People

John Pomfret at WaPo, who used to be the paper's Beijing reporter, writes that China is never going to amount to anything despite all the hype: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/25/AR2008072502255.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

One of the main reasons he cites is demographics. China's one child policy has led to a situation where the population is aging and where in a few decades there will be hundreds of millions of old people taking up space and breathing air that could be put to more productive purposes. That is going to drag China down.

Not so fast, say I. Don't think for a minute that Chairman Mao and his successors failed to consider the demographic impact of their policy. They just reckoned that (a) by the time it was a problem they'd be dead, and (b) any supernumerary old people could be conveniently disappeared. The Party will simply inform them that their duty is to die in order that the glorious Peoples' Republic might prosper. After all, they owe their increased life spans to the work of the Party, and they should have been dead long ago if the Party had not intervened to make China a land of health and happiness.

China has never blinked when it came to sacrificing some of its people for the greater good, and I am certain that accelerating the deaths of a couple of hundred million oldsters will be an easy decision for the Party.

Spaced

Mrs Vache Folle bought me the DVDs of the BBC series "Spaced", and we watched half of the first season last night. Simon Pegg, of "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" fame, wrote and starred in the series with his collaborator Jessica Hynes. They play Tim and Daisy, two twenty something slackers with artistic "ambitions" (he's a comic book artist who works in a comic book store, and she's a would be writer). They pretend to be a couple in order to rent a flat together. The building in which they live is owned by Marsha, who lives upstairs with her teenage daughter, and who is enamored of Brian, the weird, dark-obsessed painter in the basement. Add in Daisy's best friend, Twist, who is "in fashion" (she works at a dry cleaners) and Brian's best friend Mike, a weapons freak, and you have the makings of a surreal comedy. Oh, and let's not forget Tim's ex-girlfriend who only recently kicked him out and Daisy's long distance boyfriend in Hull.

This series could only have been made in Great Britain and could only have been carried off so well by the likes of Pegg and his crew. If there's ever an American version of "Spaced", it would have to be on HBO. Otherwise, it would become "Ned and Stacy".

Friday, July 25, 2008

My 8 Cents on OIl Prices

Jesse Taylor at Pandagon reports on J Sidney’s McCain’s attribution of a drop in oil prices to the announcement that off-shore drilling would be allowed. Of course, this was (a) a lie, or (b) a manifestation of economic ignorance. McCain is a liar or an ignoramus? Old news. What I found interesting was the graphic Taylor used. It shows what a barrel of oil produces:


Note that "feed stocks" are included. To whom are we feeding this oil, and why? Also, a percentage of each barrel of oil goes to make Coke! But what kind of Coke? New, Classic, Cherry, Diet, Zero?


Does the price of a barrel of oil include the price of the barrel? If the graphic is accurate, it looks as if they are using old time wooden barrels, and this has got to be expensive. Cooperage doesn’t come cheap, you know. Are they at least recycling these barrels?


I reckon that oil could come in larger vessels altogether and not be limited to barrels for a substantial savings. Think of all the wasted space on those tankers due to the thickness of the barrels and the air space between them. This would also save some oak trees and make oak furniture more affordable for all.


I hope that the oil companies are at least charging a deposit for the barrels.

I Do Contracts

For the first time in months, I got to negotiate a complex contract today and to use my outstanding, if I say so myself, and I do, negotiating skills. It helped that I had been working on it for weeks passing redlines back and forth, so I was fully versed in all the open issues and ready to problem solve. We had the principal business people involved in the transaction on the line and the two in house lawyers, so everybody who needed to be consulted was involved. And, joy of joys, all four of us were reasonably skilled, and we ironed everything out in a half hour. It really felt good to get back in the saddle.

It's not that I haven't been negotiating. It's just that it has involved passing redlined documents back and forth with little other communication and little chance to get involved with problem solving. And I've been involved in settlement negotiations in litigation, something which is not nearly as fun as hammering out a business deal.

The usual model in a lot of companies seems to be to have the business people work out a contract. Then they run it by legal, and the lawyers try to foul up the deal, or at a minimum delay everything intolerably. The earlier I get involved the better, say I, I'm there to help, not to queer the deal. The more I know about what's going on from a business perspective, the more I can help the business people. I'm really good at this, and I want to make it work for the company. I add value.

That's my mission statement. I add value to the organization by bringing my negotiating and conflict management skills to bear on business relationships and by making risk manageable.

Looking Forward to Choir

I have been listening to the CD of our church choir's performance of John Rutter's "Requiem" on Good Friday at least every other day. I find it soothing. I also feel good about how great the choir and the ensemble of instruments sounded. We actually pulled it off, and I can't wait to find out what our choir director has in store for us when she gets back from her sabbatical. If you knew how incapable the men of the choir are, yours truly included, you'd understand how surprised I was that we performed so well. We must have been inspired by the Spirit.

My only quibble with the performance of the tenors is that we ought to have taken it up a notch. We were so outnumbered by the basses and the women that our part was sometimes less well balanced than it ought to have been. There's only the three of us, so it's a challenge. Where the tenors were featured, though, we really nailed it. Our voices blended into one, and you really can't hear any of the individual singers among us. Our extra section practices paid off, and I aim to promote having more section work.

I have decided to get really into choir this coming season and to try to excel as a singer and choir member. I aim to take my music home and practice it on my own every week. I may even get a wee keyboard of some kind to help me. I resolve to work on my issues with rhythm and to get the beat down better than ever. I will actually read a book on music theory and refresh my pitiably small store of knowledge in that area. I may even take some voice lessons to help me with my breathing issues (COPD necessitates cheats).

I aim to be a model to the other men about listening to the choir director and following her and the conductor. I want to have the music down enough so that I can spend less time looking at the score and more time following the conductor or other cues. I resolve to take notes on the music when I practice on my own and ask the choir director for help with specific problems that I encounter.

I want my participation in choir to be a truly meaningful gift to the church and its mission. If I'm going to count singing in the choir as my principal contribution to the church, I really can't just phone it in. Not that I have been, mind you. I've been pretty consistent in attendance and assiduous at practicing. I just aim to be better, and if God wills it I will be.

Jews Were Plentiful in the Dark Ages

Reading Michael Chabon's "Gentlemen of the Road" a few weeks ago led me to realize that, in the Dark Ages in which the novel was set, there were all kinds of Jews. The protagonists in the novel are from Regensburg and Ethiopia, both Jews but as phenotypically and culturally diverse as you could hope to find. They get involved with an adventure in the Kaganate of the Khazars, also Jews, albeit converts. Their story intertwines with that of some Radanite Jews, far ranging traders. There are elephants, but I couldn't tell if they were Jewish or not.

I wonder why I wasn't more aware of the presence and activities of so many kinds of Jews in medieval Europe and Central Asia. I have always been an avid reader of medieval history, and it seems to me that Jews usually just get thrown as as a mention. Kind of like how African Americans would get a brief mention in American history texts. There were African slaves, then they were freed. Some did well, eg Booker T. Washington and Geo Washington Carver. Medieval Jews seem to be around in history books just to lend money and to be victimized. Otherwise, it is as if they had no significant impact on history, something I doubt very much was the case.

Maybe I'm just more of an ignoramus than I realized, and I've just read the wrong books.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Yiddish

Almost every word in Yiddish translates to "penis".

Meds Ain't Working!

My meds aren’t working very well. I know this because I am obsessively fretting about the weather.

Until yesterday, we hadn’t had a decent rain since Independence Day, and I’ve had to water the garden and add water to freshen the pond. Lots of thunderstorms have been promised, but they miss us altogether or spritz a few feeble drops upon us and move on to some other place. Even this rain, which suffices for watering the garden, has not caused the streams to flow, nor has it increased the water level in the pond appreciably.

I have this paranoid fear that I will run out of water, that the well will run dry, that my expensive new fish and newly discovered turtle(s) will suffocate or migrate due to stagnation of the pond. And all my shrubs and perennials will die.


I can hear the thunder in the distance and see lightening flashes at night. My dog who hates thunder gets nervous and needy. But the torrents come not. The streams are dry, and the pond is low, low, low. Yet, the grass grows and must be mown weekly. It is a strange drought. If I concentrate enough, I know I can make it rain more. Yesterday, I watered in the rain, in an act of sympathetic magic, to make it rain more. Crazy? You bet!

The cat who lived in the shed was given by Mrs Vache Folle, who consulted me not on the issue, to our neighbor lady, the greatest neighbor ever who lived. For the cat, this is the equivalent of an orphan’s being adopted by Santa Claus, and I should rejoice for the cat. And for us, who will not be burdened with another animal to feed. But Mrs VF should have asked me if I cared, and she didn’t. Perhaps she knew how little I longed for a cat and merely anticipated my wishes. Or maybe, she doesn’t love me any longer and doesn’t care what I think about the cat. I’m actually fretting about this. Meds ain’t working.

My co-workers forgot to swing by my office and fetch me for lunch the other day. Ordinarily, I am the harbinger of lunch, and they probably assumed that I had already gone down to the cafeteria. My interpretation? They hate me and are plotting against me. They are filing claims against me now for being a rude individual with a sick sense of humor. They deny this, but of course they would, wouldn’t they?

Meds, don’t fail me now!

What was so Great about Slavery?

I don’t really understand why Southern elites hung on to the institution of slavery for so long. They would have had the same cheap labor force to exploit if they had emancipated their slaves and made them free laborers. They would also have gotten more Congressional representation since a freedman would count as an entire person for the purposes of apportionment.

Let’s say it’s 1820 or so, and suddenly all the slaves are "emancipated". "You’re free now," says their former overseer. "So you’ll need to move out of the slave quarters and be on your way immediately. Or, you could stay here and work on the plantation in exchange for room and board and a plot for a kitchen garden. And you’ll need to rent your tools, so that will get deducted from your wages." Where were the slaves going to go? Or work? How would they sustain themselves? By working on plantations or as sharecroppers. For very little change in economic circumstances, Southern elites would have scored a public relations home run. The planters in Barbados pulled this off after emancipation on that island.

Of course, the planters would have had to collude, I mean come to a gentlemen’s agreement, that they wouldn’t poach good workers from each other. Any worker who was a troublemaker would be blackballed, and any planter who paid too well or treated his workers too well would be ostracized. They might have had to impose a salary cap and charge planters who paid too much a kind of tax to be shared by other plantations.

They could have had serfdom, which is almost as good as slavery, and we might have avoided a lot of bloodshed. And the loss of our Constitutional system. Thanks a lot, shortsighted Southern elites!

Many of my ancestors were semi-serf sharecroppers, and this worked out great for their landlords.

Pooh Pooh Queen

Mrs Vache Folle is a lovely human being and especially kind and solicitous. But she is, with me at least, The Fastest Pooh Pooh in the East. She can shoot down an idea and give you five objections to it before you have even finished uttering the first sentence about it.

VF: About that bookshelf in the living room, I was thinking...
MRS VF: It can't be moved. There's no room for it anywhere else and the corner it's in is the only place where we don't have a plant. There's not enough sun for a plant, and any other piece of furniture there would be too big.
VF: I wasn't going to suggest that we move it.
MRS VF: What then?
VF: I can't remember now.

Occasionally, she will pretend that she is mulling over my suggestion, but I know she has already pooh poohed it in her mind.

The most annoying part of the whole thing is that she is always right.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Proverbs Annoy and Delight

There are some aphorisms, sayings, proverbs, old saws, what have you that are really annoying. One of these is that the best defense is a good offense. Folks will pull that one out and flash it as if to say QED. But the best defense is not a good offense. Nonetheless, it has been said so often that simply deploying the proverb is deemed sufficient to foreclose discussion.

Take this discussion that I had with Socrates, for example:

SOCRATES: The best defense is a good offense.
VACHE FOLLE: No it isn't.
SOCRATES: It is written that the best defense is a good offense.
VACHE FOLLE: You got me there.

Defense is much less costly to mount than offense. And while you're off being offensive, you still have to mount a defense just in case.

Another one is that once you go black you'll never go back. Not true. I went black and came back. Lots of people have. Why do people say this? Also, it is not true that the sweetness of a berry is a function of its darkness.

You can teach an old dog a new trick despite what people say. I've done it many times.

Familiarity does not necessarily breed contempt. The person with whom you are familiar has to be contemptible. Sometimes formality breeds contempt, as when someone insists on a silly honorific that he doesn't really merit.

Absence doesn't necessarily make the heart grow fonder. Out of sight, out of mind is just as apt to be true.

I like the following Barbadian proverbs even though I don't have a clue what they're talking about in some cases:

"Crow fly high but when he die ant eat he eye."

"Monkey don't know how big he ass is til he swallow a plum seed."

"If shit had wings, dog would buy a gun."

Seriously, when would you deploy these proverbs? They're clearly meant to convey some deeper truth and are not simply observations about the animals involved.






How J Sidney Learned to Win Wars


What does J Sidney McCain mean when he says he "knows how to win wars"? There are two possibilities:
1. He thinks that he "won" the Vietnam War.
2. He has played a lot of Risk.
The thing is that J Sidney would be taking over for a player who has really fouled up. You don't start with your pieces in Asia. Everybody knows that. Unless you roll all sixes, you're doomed.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Trouble on the Iraq/Pakistan Border Related to Energy Supplies to Czechoslovakia?

AmericaBlog reports that J Sidney McCain stated that he was concerned about the "Iraq/Pakistan border": http://www.americablog.com/2008/07/mccain-worried-about-situation-on.html

Some commenters have pointed out that Iraq and Pakistan don't actually have a border and assume that J Sidney McCain is just being an ignoramus. Again.

In his defense, there are other explanations:

1. J Sidney was thinking of the future border in the middle of the vast inland sea where Iran will used to be if J Sidney's evil schemes come to pass.

2. J Sidney doesn't know the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan or India or any other country that actually borders on Pakistan, and why would he, God bless him?

3. J Sidney was thinking of Iraq and some entirely different country which it also doesn't border.

4. J Sidney was thinking about two countries other than Iraq and Pakistan which don't have a border with one another, either.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I'll Pass on the SCV

I considered joining the Sons of Confederate Veterans (http://www.scv.org/). Then I read this on their website:

"The citizen-soldiers who fought for the Confederacy personified the best qualities of America. The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South's decision to fight the Second American Revolution. The tenacity with which Confederate soldiers fought underscored their belief in the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. These attributes are the underpinning of our democratic society and represent the foundation on which this nation was built.

Today, the Sons of Confederate Veterans is preserving the history and legacy of these heroes, so future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern Cause."

Almost every male ancestor of mine who was of the right age range served in the Confederate Army, and it pains me to hear people claim that they fought for slavery. They didn't, except maybe James Yancey Baynes, because they didn't have slaves and probably couldn't be bothered to lift a finger to help out a slaveowner. I was told that they fought because their country was under attack. Or they were conscripted or pressured into serving.

Stuff like the SCV publishes also pains me. While my ancestors certainly weren't evil villains intent on enslaving others, they also weren't particularly noble. They were, like all men who fight for states, poor deluded bastards who didn't have the sense or the ability to avoid the fight. They were victims of the schemes of the men who organized the Confederacy for their own interest and to ensure that they could keep other human beings in bondage. Liberty and the Constitution my ass. If that's what they believed then they were even bigger dumbasses than I had figured my ancestors to be, what with their being dirt poor farmers barely eking out a living in the Appalachians.

Does the SCV really believe this crap about patriotism and liberty and citizen-soldiers? If so, I don't want any part of it. I will honor the memory of Wm Christian Warnack, Daniel Waller, Wm Jasper Stone, Lewis Edwards, John Winstead, Thomas Lunsford, Wm Love Dillard, Wm Adolphus Dillard, Benjamin Edward Burgess, Jordan Bailey, and James Yancey Baynes, not to mention countless uncles and cousins, who ended up in the Confederate Army and who (except BE Burgess) all survived the War Among the States in my own way. Their service was a grave misfortune for them and their families and an utter waste, and to remember it otherwise is to risk inspiring other young people to take up arms for idiotic and evil causes that are not their own.

History and GW Bush

GW Bush will not always be considered the worst president ever. There will come a time when an even bigger failure will occupy the White House, at which point Bush will become the second worst president ever.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rubie Palmer Rocks

I met Rubie Palmer when I went on a mission trip to Peru in January. She is a very kind and faithful young woman from Eastern Washington and is involved in an around the world mission trip known as "The World Race". Of all the particpants in the Race that I met, she seemed to me to be the most impressive apostle and disciple of Jesus and someone who would actually do some good. I encourage everyone to check out her website and support her in her mission. http://www.rubiepalmer.theworldrace.org

Friday, July 18, 2008

Adopted by a Cat

Mrs Vache Folle has been talking about enticing one of the many stray cats in the neighborhood to hang around our house more in order to deter voles. A few days ago, as if on cue, a grey kitten emerged from the swamp behind the small shed and demanded to be fed. I named him Pogo because he comes from a swamp and because it seemed to suit him. Now I get an earful in the morning until I feed him, and I get told off every evening when I come home. "That plate's not going to fill itself, hairless ape!" is a close translation.

Mrs Vache Folle made him a little bed in the shed and left the door ajar. I don't know if he uses it or not. I had one of those weird alcohol mixed with Xanax dreams last night where it got to be 173 degrees below zero outside, and I was worried about the cat. I actually had a digital thermometer that registered minus 173 degrees. I hope it was Farenheit because I can't do the conversion to Celsius. Anyway, Mrs Vache Folle told me to stay inside because I would die if I went outside and that the cat would be fine in the shed, that it was only cold outside and not inside structures. I could wait until morning when the temperature rose.

I interpret this dream as concern about what will happen if Pogo is still around come wintertime. Can Felix domesticus survive a winter in the Hudson Valley with just an unheated shed for shelter? Should I make a cat door into the cellar where the furnace gives off considerable heat? Or will varmints use it to invade the cellar? I am reluctant to bring the cat inside for several reasons: (a) it's a cat; (b) Jesse the Carpathian has been known to eat a cat or four in his day; (c) Jasper the Salopian has not been cat tested; and (d) I really don't want a box of shit in my house. The cat is wanted on the exterior on varmint patrol. The cellar is teeming with varmints, so that might be a good solution. Pogo can have the cellar and the whole outdoors beyond the fence, and the dogs can have the indoors and the fenced in area.

I suppose the next step is to catch Pogo and take him to the vet for shots and what not. I'm pretty sure vets also do cats, right? If he doesn't run off in a huff after the trauma and indignity, then he should make a fine addition to the homestead.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pond News

It turns out that we have one, possibly two, common snapping turtles in the pond. We glimpsed them the other evening but haven't seen scale nor shell since. I have been a little more careful about mucking around in the pond, although at about 10 inches long I doubt that these critters can harm me or Jasper the Great Frog Hunter. When I was a lad of about 12 in Georgia, I made the mistake of taunting an alligator snapping turtle in the swamp beyond the east 40. The damned thing reared up and chased me at a pretty good pace, and I got pretty mangled up in some brambles making my getaway.

The koi we bought from our contractor are prospering despite the recent drought that has seen water levels in the pond drop by 24 inches. The creeks have dried up early, and I have been adding water to the pond with a hose for an hour or so every now and then to aerate it and freshen the water. There are lots of water lilies, pickerel weed and water hyacinths to oxygenate the water. Also, some aquarium plants that I threw in last year have done pretty well for themselves. These keep the water full of O2 and provide food and hiding places for the wildlife.

I have seen as many as seven water snakes at one time. Brad, the head snake, has shed his skin and is pretty fat. Jasper killed one of the juvenile snakes last week. In addition to the koi, we have comets and shiners. There are several species of frogs and some salamanders. The turtles round out the vertebrate population. The largest invertebrates are the crayfish, followed by some pretty nasty looking water bugs.

I am able to wade around in the pond to do maintenance without (legitimate) fear of any of the animals. The biggest danger, I suppose, is that I will be overcome by the methane gas that builds up under the muck and is released when I poke a spade into it.

I have been very anxious for some rain to freshen the water in the pond and to help my garden. Watering, while a Zen exercise of sorts, is very time consuming. We have not had significant rainfall since Independence Day. The thunderstorms that have come through have bypassed us altogether. I created a new planting bed that really could use a good soaking, and I miss the sound of the creeks running and that of water cascading over the weir.

Catholic League Sucks

The Catholic League reckons that nobody should be allowed to criticize Catholicism or Catholics or Catholic symbols or do or say anything that pisses them off. I love Catholics. I married one. I sang in the choir at a Catholic church for a year or two. I can see how somebody might be a Catholic, especially if they were raised in that denomination. Catholicism is no more irrational than any other religion. The Catholic Church is, in many ways, a force for good in the world.

The Catholic League, on the other hand, and its spokesdouche can suck it as far as I am concerned. They are the worst thing about Catholicism ever, worse than the Inquisition even. They are an embarassment to Catholics, and, while I do not condone burning people at the stake, I would understand the motivation behind an auto da fe organized to handle the Catholic League. They are doubtless causing an exodus from Catholicism by all the people who are mortified that they might be mistaken for having a connection with the Catholic League.

Religious Authoritarians Can't be Reasoned With

I have had many circular discussions with religious authoritarians over the years. I can pretty much sum them all up as follows:

RA: God's Law must be the law of the land!
ME: How do you even know what God's law is?
RA: It's in the Bible/Koran/Book of Mormon/Other
ME: How do you know that your book is actually a message from God?
RA: It says so right in it!
ME: If I handed you a book that I wrote that contained a sentence declaring it the Word of God, would you believe it?
RA: Of course not.
ME: Why should I or anyone else accept your book as the Word of God just because you say it is?
RA: Because my book really is the Word of God.
ME: What if I told you that I believed that this other book over here is the actual Word of God?
RA: Then you'd be wrong.
ME: Says you.
RA: Says God!
ME: Sorry, you are not God. Your book is a bunch of hooey, and mine is the Word of God, so I reckon you'll have to follow God's Law as laid out in my book and not in yours. God told me that my book was true and that yours was a trick of Satan. Or at least that's what I'm going to write in my book when I get around to it.
RA: You are so going to hell.

In sum, religious proposition A is true because the authoritarian believes that it is true; therefore, everyone else must be compelled to accept its truth, by force if necessary.

Father-free Children are OKAY, Too

So there's more yammering about the "ideal family" going on. Those of us who didn't or don't have the "ideal family" are just plain messed up. Unless there's Mom and Dad and the wee bairns, it's just not right. Of course, my ideal family doesn't have a Dad in it, except as an occasional visitor. Nuclear family enthusiasts can go suck it as far as I'm concerned. MEF-VS is the only real ideal family structure.

What's the big deal about fathers? And if fathers are so great, wouldn't a gay couple with two fathers be twice as good? Wouldn't it go like this in the hierarchy of goodness?

Best: Two gay fathers.
Next Best: A father and a mother.
Better: A single father.
Bad: a single mother.
Worse: Foster care/orphanage/coal mine.
Terrible: Two gay mothers.

When I was a kid, my parents had an ugly divorce, and my father eventually lost contact with us. He started a whole new family and pretended that his kids from his first marriage were just a bad dream. In fairness to Dad, I was not very lovable, and I might have abandoned a kid like me, too, if I had ever taken the risk of having one. For years, I was really pissed off at my father. When we reconciled (I was in my forties) and I got to know my half brother, I discovered that he was just as messed up as me, maybe even more so, and he had been raised by our father! It turns out that I had been not so much fatherless as I had been "father-free".

Looking back on my father-free childhood, I realize that my maternal uncles and grandfather more than compensated for the absence of my father. They were great role models and extremely kind and generous with me. As my father would later remark, it was the "Cherokee way" of having a family. My Dad and I claim to be a Cherokee Indian by virtue of his being 1/64th Cherokee.

At some point my Mom decided that we kids needed a "father figure" so she got us a stepfather. He turned out to be a crazy, abusive bastard whom I have spent decades trying to avoid as much as possible. Having him around was not good for me at all. It was a deficit that just about wiped out the benefits of my being father-free. I still had my uncles and grandfather to show that men need not be crazy or abusive, and I owe them what little character I possess.

What children need are as many people around them who love them as they can. MEF-VS assures children of aunts and uncles and cousins and even a little bit of father thrown in. The nuclear family doesn't hold a candle to it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

MEF-VS is the Only Way to Go

If the government is going to favor one household/family structure over all others, I reckon that the official family of the United States should be the matrilineal extended family with visiting spousal relationships ("MEF-VS"). The nuclear family is just too unstable and problematic, and I don't reckon that it's sustainable in the long run without considerable subsidies. I'm not saying that you shouldn't be able to live in a nuclear family, just that the government won't recognize it in any tangible way. And self righteous blowhards will criticize you for your immorality and selfishness.

Here's a snapshot of how the MEF-VS would work ideally. I'll take my own family as an example. My mother, who is in her late 60s, would be the cornerstone of the household. Her oldest brother, my uncle WE, who is 90, would be the titular head of the household. He would visit his wife and children from time to time but reside mainly with his sister and the rest of the family. His younger brother, my octogenarian uncle GH, would also live in the family compound. He's a widower who was childfree, so he would be around most of the time. I would have been raised by my grandmother, her brothers, my mother, and her brothers. My father would have visited periodically and sent cards and gifts and what have you but would have lived with his sisters and raised his nieces and nephews. I would be the heir to my uncles, and my sister's children would be my heirs. My sister's son would be next in line after me to be titular head, assuming that I outlive my tireless uncles. My sister's grandson would be next (he's only 3 years old). We don't have a lot of females in the family, so our compound is a little heavy on the male side.

Let's take Mrs Vache Folle's family as another example. Her mother is one of several daughters and only one son, her uncle Joe. Aunt TM would be the female head, and Uncle Joe would be the male head. The sisters and their children would all be part of the compound. Their husbands would be frequent visitors, or not so frequent as the case may be since they are all past their childbearing years. One or more could go off on their own to start a new sublineage if it seemed right, but Mrs VF's matriline looks as if it will go extinct after her generation which had only sons.

The ideal MEF-VS, given the preference for two child families with one of each sex, would be more like my own after my uncles pass on since we have three generations of perfect boy-girl reproduction. The advantages of the MEF-VA are manifold. Marriages would have a lot less pressure on them. They would fall into a sexual rut much later since the spouses will not live in the same household but will be in a perpetual dating/booty call situation. Women would be in a greater position of power and influence within the household as they would never be called upon to live among strangers or apart from their birth families. They would have the protection, if they needed it, of their brothers, uncles, and nephews, and other women in the matrilineage who might be also ass-kickers.

Other advantages would be that families would pool their resources over two or more generations and could share responsibilities for childrearing. Talk about a social safety net! The expense of maintaining distinct households in nuclear families would be saved, and families would have more savings and the ability for family members to leave the work force more easily to care for children and the elderly.

The nuclear family often degrades into a divorce with a visiting ex-spouse (who visits the children only) and the added expense of an additional household. This leads in may instances to step-parents, whom we all know from fairy tales are almost universally wicked. This is not nearly as stable, healthy and satisfying for children as the MEF-VS where they are surrounded with loving uterine kin all their lives.

Any Yet, on the Same Cover...

I also agree with the Rude Pundiit: http://rudepundit.blogspot.com/2008/07/new-yorker-cover-really-well-at-least.html

On the New Yorker Cover Depicting Obama as a Turrst, I Agree With

What the editors at the Poor Man Institute say: http://thepoorman.net/2008/07/14/liberal-blogosphere-death-spiral-watch/

The New Yorker is a sophisticated publication, and its readers know satire when they see it. Dumbasses who really believe, or who might even be persuaded to believe, that the Obamas are Muslim extremists don't read the New Yorker. Except maybe to take all the cartoons, cover up the captions, and substitute "f**k you" in all of them.

Sure, the cover will be shown on the cable news networks, especially the pretend news channel at FOX, but FOX viewers won't get it, and it will have to be explained to them. Anyway, FOX viewers aren't going to vote for Obama anyway. CNN probably won't suggest that the cover is truthful except as satire, assuming that annyone at CNN knows what satire is.

New Yorker is not an organ of the Obama campaign or the Democratic Party, so its editorial decisions are probably not based on political considerations as much as some liberal bloggers might like.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Economic Prozac Wanted

It turns out the receding economy is just some paranoid delusion. It's all in my head. Worse yet, it's in everybody else's head, too, except Phil Gramm's and John McCains's, which are too full of something else to make room.

I should have recognized this sooner. After all, back in the 70s I wore a "Whip Inflation Now" button and determined to employ all the grit and positive thinking I could to get inflation, which was just a delusion we were all carzily acting on, to come down. That was President Ford's program, the WIN button. President Carter told us we were in a "malaise" and needed to snap out of it. President Reagan declared that it was "morning in America", and not the kind where you have a massive hangover, and certainly not a Monday morning. The Reagan "administration", which I'm no longer sure actually happened, beat inflation by, and this was pure genius, changing how it was calculated. Inflation too high? Not to worry. We'll stop counting food and energy where a lot of price instability seems to happen. That way we can decrease those pesky COLAs and take credit for curing America of its inflation delusion.

Unfortunately, we were hit with a savings and loan crisis delusion and started imagining that banks were failing and would have to be bailed out by taxpayers. And we began to worry about "deficits" and how they were dragging down the economy. Pretty soon, we were all deluded again into thinking the economy was bad. GHW Bush tried to help us by denying it was so and proving it by buying some socks on TV. It took President Clinton to bring us around, except he made us "irrationally exuberant". It was hard to come down from that high.

Oil Prices

My carpool conspecific knows more about economics than John McCain, that is to say not much. He is absolutely convinced that "speculators" trading in oil as a commodity are conspiring to drive up oil prices. If they were forbidden to speculate, he claims, we would at last have the "real" price of oil. He reckons speculators are buying and selling oil contracts to each other and that their activity sets the price of oil that we have to pay at the gas pump or for heating oil or what have you.

"But the speculators are gambling on what the price of oil will be, and they might be wrong," I point out. Says carpool dude, "They're speculating on what might happen in the future, and that shouldn't have any impact on prices!" "Huh?" says Vache Folle. Carpool man thinks that a disruption in the supply of oil, say from an insane attack on Iran by some whackos, should not affect prices until it happens. Of course, he has been known to hedge on oil prices himself by locking in a heating oil contract, but that's different for some reason.

Mrs Vache Folle, who is an economist, assures me that speculators have not cornered the market on oil. She reckons that the wailing and gnashing of teeth are associated with the fact that we have been relyiing on cheap oil for so long that we have rendered demand for it quasi-inelastic (my word, thank you). We've organized our lives and public infrastructure around the cheap oil, and we can't make substitutions or even reduce our demand all that much overnight. My car burns gasoline, and I probably can't even get a hydrogen car if I wanted to. I live where I live and have a long commute and can't change that unless I sell my house and make other radical adjustments. My furnace burns oil, and it would cost a lot to change it to something else. All those trucks, trains, jets and ships run on some product of oil and can't be retooled easily.

I have an idea to reduce demand dramatically: institute a 4 day work week. If businesses would establish a 4 day week, that would cut commuting down by up to 20%, and that adds up to many a barrel of oil. Businesses could be encouraged to permit telecommuting for further reductions in demand.

Meanwhile, it appears that carpool conspecific has learned nothing from my libertarian rants these last 4 plus years. He wrote our Senators demanding that speculation in commodities be outlawed.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I'm Worth $6.9 mm According to EPA; My Bank Disagrees

AmericaBlog reports that the EPA has reduced the value of a human life to $6.9 million. If memory serves it was nigh on $8 million just a few years ago. This is the number that the EPA plugs into its cost benefit analyses when it considers regulatory action. If a regulatory action would prevent your death at a value of $6.9 million, the regulatory action had better cost less than $6.9 million or it wouldn’t be worth doing. Of course, a lot of times the EPA is dealing with fractional probabilities of death, so it could be that a 10% chance that you would be killed absent regulatory action would not be acted upon unless it cost less than $690K. A 1% chance would have to be fixable at a cost of less than $69K.

I’m pretty sure the costs are not just the direct costs of the EPA, although these may be included. Rather the costs are what compliance with a regulatory action would cost businesses. I bet businesses are all too happy to help EPA with spreadsheets showing all the costs of compliance. The people whom the EPA is supposed (by na├»ve, deluded souls) to protect don’t get any say in what the benefits are. Your life is worth is $6.9 million. Period. A business could kill you for all EPA cares as long as it would cost more than that to avoid it.

I wonder if EPA just pulled this number out of its figurative institutional ass. I’m not saying the number is too high or too low, just that these kinds of judgments aren’t so easily reducible to dollars and cents. Since this is a "statistical" human life, the value should represent an average of many dimensions. If you kill a centenarian, it might not be as big a deal as if you killed a baby. Or maybe centenarians are more valuable because they are so rare, and babies are a dime a dozen. If you killed a hobo, would that be less valuable than killing a surgeon? What if you killed a flaming asshole versus a really nice guy? The EPA number presumably accounts for variations in the value of individual lives.

Of course, we all reckon that our lives are priceless. Our mothers agree.

Republicans Hate Government Just Like a Pig Hates Slop

I keep hearing "Progressives" say that "Republicans hate government" and that's why they govern so badly. That's just so wrong. Republicans love government more than Democrats. Look at how much they have grown it when they have had power. They govern so badly because they're corrupt and incompetent.

Republicans see the government as a mechanism to get money from ordinary people and funnel it to rich people and to allocate political spoils. So, the bigger the better as far as they are concerned. Now they'll make noises about cutting government to fool people who really do hate government into voting for them or to oppose any kind of program that helps ordinary people.

Catholic League Jumps the Manta Ray

The Catholic League has declared a fatwa on PZ Myers: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/fight_back_against_bill_donohu.php

His crime? He referred to the flat, crispy, bready piece of stuff that they give you in some churches during Communion a “cracker”. Would wafer have been more acceptable? Holy Pog?

Beware the Corporate Report Form Scam

I just got a form in the mail from the "Board of Corporate Compliance". It had places for me to fill in the names and addresses of officers and directors and indicated that a fee of $125 was due. This form looked a lot like what you get from various states' Secretaries of State for annual reporting and information updates as a foreign corporation, and I can see how a business might just add it to the pile of forms and fees that they expect to pay to the various states in which they are qualified to do business.

I had just filled out something very similar for California for several companies, including the one the form was addressed to, so I was suspicious. On closer inspection, it appeared that the form was a solicitation from a company that would prepare minutes with the ionformation provided for the indicated fee. It had quotes from the California statutes and stressed the importance of keeping accurate corporate records. Also, the "Board" was in Los Angeles and not Sacramento.

It turns out that the form was a scam. It was obviously designed to look like a government form in the hope that unsuspecting companies would fill it out and pay the fee. While it doesn't outright claim to be a government form, I reckon I could make out a pretty good case for fraud if I were still a prosecutor.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Is McCain Straight About his Service Record? Just Asking.

There's something fishy about J Sidney McCain's refusal to be repatriated when he was a POW in Vietnam. If the Vietnamese wanted him repatriated for propaganda purposes, they could have just released him whether McCain wanted to be released or not. What was McCain going to do? Break back into prison? Get himself recaptured? It would sure look like he had gotten preferential treatment, and denials by McCain would likely have been disbelieved. Propaganda points scored! Booyah!

Besides, how much propaganda value are we really talking about here? To release a trained pilot to bomb you some more for the sake of some questionable PR seems pretty dumb to me.

Maybe it's different for Navy guys, but I always understood that it was my duty to escape from the enemy if the opportunity arose. What better opportunity than an offer of repatriation? The prison doors wide open, and all you have to do is walk out. McCain could have gotten medical care and rehabilitation and could have been back in his aircraft bombing people in no time if he had not "refused" to be let go.

I'm wondering if this offer of repatriation was even serious or really happened if McCain was allowed to refuse it. I can see if strings were attached and you refused the conditions. You're not supposed to give your parole, for example. But that's not the way the legend has developed.

And I don't believe that McCain turned down an offer to be promoted to Rear Admiral, apparently skipping Coomodore altogether. Is this even documented? You don't get made Rear Admiral when you are passed over for command as McCain had apparently been. Aviation is not a good career path if you're looking to become a general grade officer.

I'd like to see McCain's complete service record.

Social Security is Overfunded

My carpool conspecific sometimes remarks that Social Security won't be around when he retires. I've heard many young people say this, and I reckon its the product of right wing propaganda about what disastrous financial shape the Social Security Trust Fund is in. It will be broke by 2042! Unfunded liabilities are $11 Trillion Smackeroos! What's the solution? We might as well get rid of it and throw a lot of money at bankers and stockbrokers and insurance companies that will run the "privatized" retirement accounts. How will this help the solvency of the Trust Fund? Look over there, it's the Goodyear Blimp!

I've recently learned that the $11 Trilion figure is based on some interesting assumptions. First, it is a projection of the shortfall through an infinite number of years. $11 Trillion will be needed to shore up the Trust Fund between now and eternity. Secondly, the life expectancy assumed was 150 years for retirements on average of 83 years. I suppose if you're trying to book a reserve for eternity, you'd have to account for future improvements in medical science that may extend life. But if 120 becomes the new 60, which is already the new 50, why wouldn't you also assume that people's productive lives would extend beyond age 67? If most people expect to live to be 150, I'm pretty sure that a reasonable retirement age for them would be 100 or even older.

I think you also have to take into account the certainty that humans will eventually have no need to work. An army of robot slaves will fulfill our every need, and we will live lives of leisure and artistic pursuits. Robots don't retire; they get recycled. Once you take this into account, and assuming that this happens by 2250, my calculations show that the Trust Fund is quite healthy. Heck, future generations might even owe us money! I don't feel so bad about those deficits now.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Low Hanging Fruit Courtesy of Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg really is an idiot. In this essay, he tries to debunk the idea that the GOP took advantage of how pissed off southerners were after the Democrats betrayed them on Civil Rights.

Here’s his premise:

"The line peddled by Paul Krugman and countless others, that the GOP majorities and victories of the last thirty years are all the poisoned fruit of the poisoned tree of Dixie is simply untrue. Whatever Helms' personal druthers, his political maneuvering room was constrained by the fact that the GOP is not a racist party."

I don’t know if anyone reckons that the so called "Southern Strategy" was the only arrow in the GOP quiver, but I don’t think that it is even debatable at this point that it was key to GOP gains in the last forty years. Add in pandering to the dumbasses in the religious right and the always ready to be lied to libertarians, and you’ve got yourself a nice little base there on which to build.

I don’t know if the Southern Strategy makes the GOP a "racist party", whatever the hell that would mean, but the GOP is more than willing to exploit race in its drive for power. What political machine is not?

The problem is that the racist yahoos in the South (and there were plenty of them, as I can attest as a Southron) are either dying off or getting over Civil Rights, and this means that the South is, or soon will be, in play. It won’t be enough to use code words ("states’ rights", anyone) or thinly veiled racist tropes (Willie Horton, anyone?) or even to have unapologetic racist asswipes (Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, etc) in positions of power in the party. The GOP didn’t have to do anything overtly racist to win over racist voters in the South, or even in the North (remember the "Reagan Democrats"?); it just had to seem as if it might or that it wanted to.

Observing that southerners have issues with race is not a manifestation of anti-southern bigotry, as Jonah suggests. It’s historically true that southerners held on to slavery way longer than their northern counterparts and did not give it up willingly. It is also true that southerners continued to deny black people basic civil rights for over a century and held to a system of state enforced segregation and permissible racial discrimination. It’s a fact that this was a bigger problem in the south than in the north, although the record of the north is not altogether unblemished. I know from my own experience that racism was embedded in the culture of the south and that it was all but impossible to grow up southern and not have some deep seated racist memes in your brain just waiting to embarrass you. This does not make southerners worse than northerners as human beings. They are, as far as I can tell, making progress and acknowledging the legacy of racism.

Jonah might follow their example. He’s apparently in denial about racial issues, and if he doesn’t move on he’ll find himself behind the times even more than he already is.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Proposed Amendment

"The Constitution and the Amendments thereto are hereby repealed. The United States of America is dissolved, and the individual states and territories shall be deemed sovereign nations from the date of ratification hereof. The property of the United States shall become the property of the State or Territory wherein such property may be located or ordinarily domiciled. The debt of the United States is hereby repudiated as odious, and no sate or territory shall be obliged to answer for such debt."

I propose that the state legislatures apply for a convention to consider this Amendment and send it back to the states for ratification.

A Memorable Worship Service

One of the most memorable church services I ever attended was in a tiny wood frame church up in the mountains of North Georgia. I went with a girl I was courting. Her grandparents were members of the church, and we had gone to see them on Sunday and joined them for worship.

The church consisted of a single room with log benches. It could hold about 25 people in the seats with another 10-20 standing. The pulpit was a simple wooden lectern. There was no electricity or running water. There were no hymnals or musical instruments of any kind. The congegation knew the hymns by heart, and hymn singing was initiated by individual congregants who would commence to singing when the Holy Ghost moved them to do so. The church had no pastor. Men would rise up and go to the pulpit and preach as the Holy Ghost moved them to preach. All of them were masters of the chanting style of preaching. "And I want to tell you.. Hyuh!... the Lord is a coming.. Hyuh!... He's a coming to judge... Hyuh!.... to judge the quick and the dead....Hyuh!..."

At least ten men preached from a few minutes to a half hour or so. The congregation responded with a constant stream of Hallelujahs, Bless His Hearts, Amens, Praise Gods, Lord a Mercies. Some wept and wailed. Others cackled with joy. Everyone was in an altered state of consciousness as far as I could tell. This seemed to me to last forever, but my date, like the other congregants, didn't seem to have any awareness of the passage of time.

Frankly, the sermons made very little sense. They seemed to me to be the repetition of various formulas and Bible verses, mostly about how great it would be if you died right then and could get to heaven and out of this miserable life. And sinners and how they would get theirs if they didn't get right with God. At the time, I didn't really appreciate what a privilege it was to experience this kind of worship in such a setting. I wanted Sunday dinner and a shot at canoodling with the luscious Cindy Parks. These came in due time but were not nearly as memorable as the worship service.

Black Church/White Church/Rich Church/Poor Church

One of my co-workers, a woman of African descent, asked me about the differences in behavior between black churches and white churches. She had observed that black church services last for hours and have no fixed end time, whereas white churches have much shorter services with a pretty tight schedule.

I allowed as how that was true of my church but explained that there were multiple services and additional activities that had to be considered. Our pastor would love to be able to yammer on for hours on end, but the elders would have to drag him from the pulpit to keep everything on schedule. If the early service goes long, there will be a logjam when the attendees of the next service show up and try to park and gather in the fellowship hall. After the later service, there's usually some kind of luncheon or meetings, and Sunday School teachers are ready to get rid of their pupils. A lot of families have things to do on Sunday afternoons such as soccer or baseball or what have you, so they can't be stuck in an open ended church service.

It seems to me that the group worship experience is more central in my co-worker's church, whereas it is only a small part of what is going on with our church. A little bit of group worship goes a long way for us. Those of us who favor the "traditional" service are looking for a more contemplative atmosphere and are content with an hour to an hour and a quarter of this. The earlier service is more "contemporary" with lots of "praise music" and an atmosphere somewhat more conducive to an experience of, if not ecstacy, then a mild form of joy. The sermon is the same in both services, and the preacher almost never gets into any kind of state of excitement. It's a challenge to get the congregation to make any kind of oral response that isn't written down in the bulletin. We're Calvinists.

Of course, not all white churches are like mine. When I was a teenager, I sang in a touring ensemble and performed in all kinds of churches. "Holiness" churches and little independent Baptist and nondenominational churches out in the country tended to have open ended services with very little adherence to any kind of script. I suffered through many an endess altar call in my day. Those churches were almost entirely about the worship service, and there were very few activities beyond conducting worship. The congregations were composed of your salt of the earth, working class, poorly educated, and extremely reserved country folk whose only permitted emotional outlet was group worship. And boy did they let their hair down in church and experience a ration of ecstacy in an otherwise melancholy existence.

Sometimes, these services were pretty fun. On other occasions, they went on so long that the living envied the dead. The preaching was more spontaneous, and the preachers would fall into a kind of chant punctuated by short "coughs". This could be mesmerizing, and the sermon usually didn't make any kind of sense. It got you in a trance like state, though, and got you shouting and crying out and quivering like a crazy person at times. The tongue speaking and pew jumping and wallowing about on the floor that accompanied some services freaked me out quite a bit, and I remember that I fled in terror from the first such service that I ever attended.

I also attended black church services on a few occasions. The ones I observed were very much like the white country churches at the core in that the congegation was expected to emote and participate in an ecstatic atmosphere. These churches were usually bigger and more luxuriously appointed than the country churches, and they usually had full time paid clergy. The singing was different (generally better) than you'd find in the white country services. Individual worshipers would sometimes erupt into songs that they apparently composed on the spot, and I never observed this in any white church.

I can't really account for these differences despite all my personal observations. Some of us are just more reserved than others when it comes to worship, and unless you have a critical mass of congregants who are able and willing to loosen up, you're not going to get an emotional outpouring.

I recall with particular joy the times that I attended concerts by Andrae Crouch and the Disciples. "This is not a concert!" he'd shout. "This is Church!" and we'd be off on an emotional thrill ride where you would be convinced of the presence of the Holy Ghost right then and there.

Could it be that those of us who have been inculcated with bourgeois sensibilities are uncomfortable with the idea of uncontrolled emotional expression even in worship? It's that way in other aspects of our lives, too. We're sexually repressed and unwilling to take too much pleasure in sexual activity. Don't look like you're enjoying anything too much. You'll never get ahead if you don't control your passions, such as they are. Don't act the fool. Have some dignity, for crying out loud! Don't celebrate your touchdown; it's unseemly.

Perhaps we are missing an opportunity to enjoy what should be an occasion for joy, to let it hang out a little. I'm pretty sure that if I started shouting "Amen" and "Praise the Lord" all the time or wept in church, I'd be taken for a crazy person and probably admonished. If anyone else acted joyful or ecstatic, it would be uncomfortable for me.

I'm reminded of the story of the farmer who found himself in town on a Sunday and slipped into the worship service of one of the Main Street "First" churches. He was aroused by the singing and the preaching and began crying out with Hallelujahs and Hosannas and Praise the Lords until one of the deacons asked him to be quiet. "But I've got the Holy Ghost," explained the farmer. The deacon replied, "You didn't get it here."

Monday, July 07, 2008

Global Warming is INevitable, so Get Some Fans

Here's what I believe about global warming. It's real, it's anthropogenic to a significant degree, there are things that could be done to mitigate it, and those things won't get done in time to matter. We're talking about taking steps and making sacrifices in the here and now for people a couple of generations from now whom we don't even know. Governments, businesses, individuals don't usually think or act in such long terms. How much do we in the US care about people whose parents have not yet been born? We pile debt on them via deficit spending like there's no tomorrow, so I'm guessing not much.

In a hundred years, those living with the impacts of global warming will curse this generation for the douchebags that we were. The reason I say douchebags instead of assholes is that we'll really want to do something about global warming. We'll even pretend that we're trying. But every government initiative to reduce carbon emissions or mitigate impacts will actually be driven by agendas that have nothing to do with global warming. Pockets will be lined, offices will be filled, freedoms will be impaired, and the planet will continue to get hotter. Sea levels will rise.

We may as well look at the bright side of global warming. Some pretty gnarly mutations could result, making the human species that much better. There will be an incentive to colonize space and fulfill mankind's destiny. Much of Texas and Connecticutt will be gone.

Current Step-Father-in-Law Not All that Bad

The long weekend with the stepfather-in-law was not as bad as I expected. He ranted about the Mexicans and the blacks for only a little bit, and he spent most of his time talking about his ailments and his work as a full time World War 2 veteran. I kid you not when I say that as he has aged, his three years or so in the slave army back in the Eurpopean theatre have assumed primary importance in his life story. Nothing he did before or since matters near as much as his period of involuntary servitude. His life centers around the VA, the VFW and the American Legion.

This doesn't annoy me any longer, and I like to bust his chops, as Yankees say, by asking about what size cannon balls they used in the artillery back then, about who took care of the horses, and about whether the Germans put up any resistance on D-Day. I pretend that I am under the mistaken impression that he served in the Italian Army. It's good fun and helps pass the time. I used to tell him that I was a Communist and would spout all kinds of Marxist slogans at the dinner table and call him Comrade, but he caught on that I was just fooling around with him.

Anyway, the old guy has grown on me. I wonder, though, why he doesn't get a scooter so he can do more things despite his impaired mobility. I've known quite afew folks who won't take the plunge and get a scooter. Instead, they sit around and complain about how they wish they had some mobility. I don't get it. I sometimes think about getting a scooter just because I'm lazy.

Barry O'Bama Disappoints

My brief flirtation with a man crush on Barry O'Bama is over. In the wake of his FISA vote, he's dead to me now. I doubt very much that I'll even go to the polls this fall. He's not as bad as the evil and insane J Sidney McCain, but that could be said of billions of people.

Frankly, as far as politics goes, I won't be satisfied with anything less than the dissolution of the federal government. It has proven to be too dangerous to liberty and world security. It's not worth tinkering with. Just get rid of it. Sell off the public lands, fund accrued Social Security obligations with the proceeds, and repudiate the rest of the debt as odious. Let the states go their separate ways in peace.

I'm not one of those states' rights guys who wants the federal government to butt out whle states enact authoritarian rule, so I'm also looking for way weaker states or confederations of states and provinces that will leave me the hell alone. Ideally, my state will wither away as well, and I'll be a citizen of the Free Republic of Southern East Fishkill. Even better, I'll form a tithing with my immediate neighbors, and the titihing will join with other tithings to form hundreds and so on in ad hoc and semi-permanent but voluntary segmented groupings.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

New Fish

Our contractor guy Steve is moving to the Adirondacks next month or so, so we had him and his crew come in and install a new floor in the downstairs bedroom. The old floor was crooked, rotting in some places, and covered with ratty white (or formerly white) wall to wall carpet. The rest of the house has wood floors. It took the guys four days to rip out the old subfloor, level it, and install oak flooring. It looks great.

Meanwhile, Steve offered to sell me some of his koi from his pond for $100 a pop, and we took three. He threw in an extra fish for free plus a smaller individual that'll probably get eaten by the heron before long. The four other fish are pretty big, say 3-5 pounds each, and are too big for the heron. We have been enjoying having them in the pond and have taken to sitting on benches by the weir to watch them eat the koi food we scatter across the surface. We named one Steve in honor of their former owner and the rest are named for Mrs Vache Folle's nephews Grant, Reid and Porter. Jasper the Salopian Terrier has yet to harass the new fish since they stay on the deep end which he has been trained to avoid. We still have a school of comets and another school of shiners, and they give the koi a wide berth. We'll see how the newcomers do when the creek stops running. I'll probably have to stir up and aerate the water with our extra sump pump.

The Perfect Family

I like my relationship with my family just the way it is. I see my siblings and parents every one or two years, and we talk on the phone from about monthly to biannually depending on which individual it is. I have a pretty fair claim on a kidney if I need one with minimal effort at family stuff. I see my in-laws only slightly more frequently, but I never have to talk to them on the phone. Some of them are coming to visit this weekend, and that will get that out of the way for another year or so.

The best thing about my family and Mrs Vache Folle's family is that they don't care what we do. They never give advice or criticize, and we return the favor.

We wish them all the best, since we have the best families in the world.

I feel sorry for folks who live too close to their parents, siblings or in-laws and have to see them all the time and have them meddling in their affairs.

Churches Are Tools, or Should Be

I don't know much about theology. In fact, I'm not even sure how anyone could make a study of God, what with ideas about God being pretty much subjective and irrational. My understanding of God is pretty simple. He loved the world enough to send us Jesus and the Holy Ghost, and we are enjoined to love God and to love our conspecifics. The Holy Ghost dwells within believers and guides them as members of the Body of Christ. It's hard enough for me to stay focused on love without disturbing my peace by pondering arcane theological conundra that I'm not qualified to ponder.

I suspect that a number of theological assertions to which I am sometimes exposed have more to do with the church as an institution in the world than with the Body of Christ. For example, it sometimes serves the institution to conflate membership within the association with membership in the Body. It serves institutional interests to magnify the importance of rituals over which it enjoys a monopoly and to interpret the rituals in a way that makes them difficult to perform outside the institution. The concept of "Apostolic Succession" served the Roman Catholic Church's institutional interests by interposing a priestly caste between believers and God and securing a monopoly on the benefits of Christianity. Churches benefit as institutions when they lay claim to their members entire giving portfolio.

Christianity does not need churches in order to survive and flourish. The Holy Ghost will sustain the Body whether or not members use institutional forms to advance the work of the Kingdom. The work of the Kingdom is more important than churches which are merely tools to facilitate that work.

I sometimes wonder what Christians might be able to do if the resources that they pour into the operations of their churches were available for ministry instead. So much time and money go into supporting paid clergy and staff, maintaining buildings and equipment, utilities, printing, finance, landscaping and what have you. Multiply this by the proliferation of churches of various creeds that differ in only the most minute respects, and you can see that vast resources are devoted solely to institutional requirements. Even more resources are devoted solely to orchestrated group worship activities which, to a large extent, serve to promote institutional existence and loyalty of members.

Of course, you might look at churches as being engaged in a kind of business. They exist in part to put on shows on Sunday and offer the group worship experience. This puts fannies in the pews and envelopes in the collection plate. These funds support the institution with enough left over to fund some ministry and missions by paid clergy and the more active members. The "pew potatoes", via their contributions, are paying for admission to the shows they attend and are buying "ministry offsets" that they can use to feel better about the fact that they don't do much for anyone themselves.

For my part, I give way less money than I probably should but I volunteer for the 10:30 show and specials that we put on at Christmas and Easter time by singing in the choir. This involves long hours of practice, much of which I do at home on my own time, and commitment to the performance schedule. I feel so much better knowing that my efforts in the choir are buying me offsets that allow me to take credit for some of the ministry the church does and not to worry about the fact that I'm not all that loving as a person. I feel the love; I just don't act on it very often.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

J Sidney's Service is Fair Game

How is J Sidney McCain's experience in Vietnam relevant to his qualifications for the office of president? If it is relevant at all, it is because it shows that he hasn't learned a damned thing in 40 odd years. You'd think that having been one of the saps screwed up in the debacle in Vietnam would make him a little more cautious about such debacles and throwing away young lives in them. The inability to learn from such a significant experience is not something that we should be looking for in a president.

Secondly, J Sidney McCain seems to be hoping that his service as a captive will give him a free pass on criticism. We're supposed to overlook that he has been nothing but a douchebag since the day he was released because he was an EPW. He knows that Democrats don't have it in them to trot out some lying sacks of shit to say that J Sidney was actually a traitor who sodomized his fellow captives. Some right wing nut jobs, who kind of hate him, might do it, but he's banking on their hating black people more.

Thirdly, inept fighter pilot is only one small item on his resume, and you have to look at his entire lifetime of parasitism on the US government to appreciate where his service fits in.