Friday, February 27, 2009

I Got a Dell

I suppose I should count myself lucky that I got nigh on 8 years out of my Compaq. Looking back, I don't know what I was thinking buying a computer with 256 MB of memory. A couple of years ago, I added an additional 256 MB, but when I installed my Rosetta Stone language program, I killed the Presario. Now I have a Dell with 3 GB and new Office software. Yeehah! Things are fast again.

I need a computer for work as well as screwing around, and I would like to have a fast one for both business and pleasure. I seem to have gotten my wish with this Dell Studio machine.

Rosetta Stone actually has a voice recognition feature that didn't work on the Presario. Who knew? My only anxiety with the new machine is Windows Vista.

Well, I did my patriotic duty and consumed. Let's see if it doesn't ripple through the economy and turn it around.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Women's Work

In an interesting post at Shakesville about unpaid carework by young women Shaker M points out that women's carework often involves difficult to quantify services like remembering birthdays and such like. Mrs Vache Folle is in charge of this in our household, and I suppose I should appreciate it. But. to be honest, I just don't care enough about birthdays to keep track of them. If Mrs VF stopped doing it, I definitely would not pick up the slack. We'd just be birthday forgetters if it were up to me.

The other carework described in the post can probably not be dispensed with, but I reckon the sexes could meet each other halfway. Men could help out more, and women could lower their standards.

What I'm Sacrificing for Lent

Probably nothing. Pre-Lent Vache will almost certainly resolve to lay off the alcohol, eschew gluttony and sloth, and be an all around better and healthier person. Lenten Vache will have other ideas. Pre-Lent Vache is a lot like morning Vache, full of promise and resolution, and Lenten Vache will be like evening Vache who reckons morning Vache can stuff it. In fact, says evening Vache, he reckons that the best time to hit the gym would be early in the morning after a night of winebibbing. We'll just see about that, says morning Vache.

Is Our Pastor Agnostic?

Yesterday was the last of the "Doubt" series of sermons. It was supposed to be about seeing clues for the existence of God in nature, but so much time was taken up with extra music for the departing Music Director's last service that the preacher cut it short (he is loathe to do that). I don't know what the longer version was like, but this one was pretty good. The preacher went all Calvin on us and reminded us that we believe because we were predestined to belief, that our belief is a gift from God. We're lucky to believe, he said.

Right on. I'd take it even further. There's no way to persuade anyone of our beliefs, and they are not susceptible to proof. We tend to see God's hand in the wonders of the universe and the findings of science because we already believe. If we didn't believe, looking at nature wouldn't persuade us. And the universe doesn't tell us much so far about God and His plans. Rather, we tend to see facts about the world as confirmations of things we already believe.

I'm agnostic because I acknowledge that my Christian beliefs aren't provable. Although the preacher probably wouldn't out himself as an agnostic, he's probably a Christian agnostic, too.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ancestors of Quality

When I reconstruct my family history, I'm going to go about it a little differently this time. I'm going to be a lot more skeptical of other people's research especially if it points to connections with people of quality.

You have to go back over seven generations in my family tree to find anyone even close to being an aristocrat. My ancestor Thomas Dillard was a Virginia planter and a Colonel of militia. He was a vestryman of the church and a respectable gentleman all around. He pulled up stakes in the 1780s and moved to what would become Tennessee. He died there, and I had the misfortune to be descended from one of his minor sons. The older children were already set up in life and did well. The minors? Not so much. My branch of the family descended into the yeomanry and at last into the working class thanks, in part, to some ill timed premature deaths.

I used to get excited to find people of quality in my ancestry, but now I take more delight in finding that I am the scion of slack jawed yokeldom for the most part. This enables me to feel less ashamed of my ancestors as slavekeepers and Indian murderers and evildoers, as the quality were apt to be when you really think about it.

I have royal ancestors as it turns out. Who doesn't? My royal connections were mostly bastards, and that takes some of the sting out of being descended from the leaders of various criminal syndicates in the Middle Ages. With luck, some of my royal connections will turn out to be fables.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Lost Family History

For over ten years, I have been meticulously recording genealogical data on Family Tree Maker software. Yesterday, when I went to open it to find something out for a distant cousin, I discovered that it was missing. There was still a file Family Tree Maker but it was empty. No data, no program, nothing. I can't figure out what happened, and I wish I had backed the damned thing up in the last five years.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

It's Not Socialism if a Republican Does It

My Republican conspecifics at the office have come full circle. I have heard them many times remark that Jimmy Carter messed up the economy and that Ronald Reagan fixed it. Now, however, they are saying that the federal government has no impact on the economy. Bush and the GOP didn't screw up the economy,see, and Obama can't do anything to fix it. This is totally different from the Carter/Reagan scenario somehow.

I lived through the Carter and Reagan years, and I was under the impression that Reagan stimulated the economy with tax cuts and deficit spending. And Reagan is the Republican God. The current stimulus has fewer tax cuts, and way fewer perks for the "supply side" (rich people), but it's basically the same trick as far as I can tell.

Of course, it may well be that the recession in the Carter and Reagan years would have fixed itself and that the Reagan stimulus didn't do anything to help. If that's the case now for Republicans, I reckon the apotheosis of Reagan should be rescinded.

Fleischer's of Kingston

I drove all the way to Kingston (a little over 50 miles) to check out Fleischer's, a butcher shop that carries only free range, grass fed meats from local farms. I bought $250 worth of pork (not the other white meat kind, but dark and marbled pork like grandpaw used to raise), beef, chicken, and lamb. The beef came in steaks, ground, and in stew chunks. The pork came in loin, chops, sausage and kielbasa. The supply I laid in should last about three weeks. The butcher said he'd be glad to deliver my order if it was $250 or more, and I might just take him up on that except that Kingston is nice to visit, and I like to see the meat before I buy it.

Fleischer's has everything you could want, and they have a device that freezes your meat instantly if you want it frozen. The service was great, and the shop was clean. I haven't tasted the meat yet, but I'm pretty sure it will be fabulous.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Strange Sermon

Our pastor preached on Sunday in response to the assertion "You can't take the Bible literally". I was interested to find out whether he would admit that, in many cases, you can't take the Bible literally. A lot of it is poetry, allegory, metaphor and what have you and was never meant to be taken literally. If Jesus said "I am the door", he didn't really mean he was a door. He was, rather, like a door in some way. The prophets' visions are mostly allegorical.

The preacher didn't really address the question. He argued that Scripture was reliable in three ways (historically, personally and purposefully) and used the Gospel of Luke as an example. Luke is clearly historical in nature and not merely legendary, and the preacher seemed to imply that this meant everything in Luke was, therefore, true and that since Luke was true, the rest of the Bible was true. Or maybe he didn't mean to imply these things at all. The literalists in the congregation would have no argument with the sermon, and the non-literalists among us could accept the sermon as well as long as we didn't push the issue. It was kind of pointless except for the admonition for Christians to stay in the deep end of the pool and not to get wrapped up in small differences of opinion.

I don't care if other people are literalists mainly because it shouldn't have any practical impact on how we live our lives or treat one another. Authoritarians tend to be literalists in my experience but there is no reason that a literalist has to be an authoritarian. What difference does it make, for example, whether Jonah was ever really inside a great fish? Or if someone really believes in the Deluge? As long as they love God and their conspecifics, there's no issue as far as I'm concerned.

I once had a discussion with a literalist at church in which I proposed that I had the authority to interpret Scripture in accordance with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whereas he argued that such a stance would permit too much freedom and undermine authority. I suspected that he didn't really believe in the Holy Spirit. I really believe in the Holy Spirit, that it dwells within me, and that it is responsible for transforming my life and guiding me in my spiritual journey. I trust in the power of the Spirit more than in any authority.

The best part of the sermon was a mangled John Calvin quote: "If you build a man a fire, you warm him for an evening. If you set a man on fire, you warm him for the rest of his life." The bass behind me muttered: "About 15 minutes, I'd say."

Early Birds

I don't know if it signifies, but I have had a number of spring and summer birds already at the feeder. Cowbirds showed up a couple of weeks ago instead of mid-March as has been usual. This weekend, I had a goldfinch, redwinged blackbirds, and a common grackle weeks before usual.

I choose to delude myself that these visitations are signs of an early spring.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Rebranding the Religious Right

I heard that the religious right doesn't want to be called that any longer. They prefer to be called "socially conservative evangelicals". Religious right has taken on a pejorative connotation and is associated with fascism.

It was the conduct and rhetoric of the religious right that disgraced the name. Rebranding isn't going to help. "Socially Conservative Evangelicals" will in short order suffer the same pejoration and associations with fascism and craziness. This is because the SCEs are fascists and nutcases.

I reckon they should embrace their fascism and run with it. A little truth in advertising is in order. I would go with "Christofascist". Or they might pick up on the neologism "Christianist" to describe themselves.

Losing a Teacher

Our polymath choir director is leaving at the end of the month to do something else. I am very sorry to see her go as it is a joy to make music with her, but I affirm her discernment of how the Spirit is moving her. She aims to peform more widely, and this will be a blessing to anyone privileged to hear her.

I haven't heard anything about a search to replace her, and I suspect that we won't have a choir director until next fall at the earliest. We muddled through during the incumbent's sabbatical with volunteers from the choir, and that was OK for our regular church services. I don't reckon we'll be doing a complicated recital for Good Friday this year or anything special for Easter. That's a disappointment for me since I especially liked the challenging pieces that we did for special occasions.

I don't see how we can get anyone in the incumbent's league to replace her. She was patient, good humored and kind. She was an incredible teacher who got performances out of us that were far beyond what you'd expect given our level of talent. I was lucky to have sung and played for her.

The choir is what keeps me involved with church. It's my principal activity and contribution to the church. If it falls apart, I would be tempted to find another church with a decent choir.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Republics Always Devolve Into Dictatorships, Except When They Don't

Mrs Vache Folle got me the DVD set of "I, Claudius" for my birthday, and I watched the whole thing already. I also watched the first season of "Rome" again and started reading both Gibbon's "Decline and Fall" and Suetonius's "Twelve Emperors". My bathroom book is Meacham's bio of Andrew Jackson "American Lion".

Is it just me or do the deaths of the Roman and American republics look a lot alike? In each case, a strong executive harnessed the popular will and overrode the institutions set up as checks and balances. A bonus question: Were the Praetorian Guard and the Legions better at selecting the executive than the American electorate (setting aside Caligula and GW Bush)?

Chuck Todd is a Dumbass

Because it was on every channel, I caught a little of President Obama's press conference the other day. Unfortunately, I caught the part where Chuck Todd, apparently an economic illiterate, asked the president why he wanted to stimulate consumer spending when consumer spending got us into our economic fix in the first place. The president acknowledged that Americans' savings rate had been low but pointed out that the present crisis was not one in which we could be overly concerned about the savings rate. In my view, Todd's perspective would be analogous to denying a patient a transfusion because he had been careless with his blood in the past.

Demand fuels the economy. The stimulus is designed, in theory, to increase overall demand in the economy with government spending until indvidual consumer demand increases. Individuals are cutting back on spending because they are worried about their jobs, because their wealth in the form of real estate and other investments has diminished, or because they are jobless. The economy slows down, and thrift is imposed on us by our circumstances. The personal savings rate is way up, but this is not a good thing in the current context.

Why weren't Americans thriftier during the last twenty years? One reason, in my view, is that the income of workers did not keep up with inflation, so there was less left over after the bills were paid. Others who might have had more savings saw their wealth in the form of realty and stocks rise precipitously such that they did not feel the need to set as much aside. I don't really see the relatively low savings rate as some kind of moral failure on the part of the American people.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Stuff I'm Quitting

I'm boycotting Kellogg's because of their mistreatment of Michael Phelps. So he smokes pot? What of it? Doesn't his pot smoking make his achievements all the more remarkable? By dropping their sponsorship of Phelps, Kellogg's is essentially admitting that it was the pot and not their nutritious cereals which propelled Phelps to glory. I urge everyone to boycott Kellogg's and to let them know what we think of their sanctimonius prattery.

I'm quitting beef that isn't free range and grass fed or pork that isn't free range and feeding on mace. I aim to increase my ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s, and to do this I must avoid factory farmed meat. It's going to be inconvenient, but I'm just not going to support factory farming with my consumer dollars any longer. In the interim, I'm eating more fish, lamb and duck.

I'm still off the TV news and glad of it. The only news I watch now is Telemundo, and that's just because I'm trying to learn Spanish. Once I start to understand it, I'll quit that, too.

Week in Review

I got home early on Friday and found two red foxes exploring the back yard. One of them was practically on the deck and seemed interested in one of Jasper's toys that had been buried in the snow. I tried to take a picture of him through a window, but he spotted me and ran over to the western gate and fled into the woods. His conspecific hung around for a while. It was only when he reached the west gate that I felt it was safe to let Jasper out. Stupid fox freaked out and ran all the way across the yard and nearly got himself cornered. Jasper chased it for over five minutes before it got away. Lucky for Jasper, I reckon.

I was home early because I was tuckered out from a trip to Chicago that ended the day before. I was on US Airways, the employers of the heroic Sully, and I found that, because I had given myself more than enough margin for error and had avoided checking a bag, the trip wasn't all that crappy. It was cheap because US Air charges for everything. Check a bag? $15. Want an in flight soda pop? $2. PIllow and blanket? Ka ching! It was still free to use the lavatory (for now).

I stayed at the Omni in dowtown Chicago and was impressed with the service. Everyone was eerily solicitous and competent, and my suite was very comfortable. I had to eat out with the lawyers on the first night, but they turned out to be very good company. That was a bonus.

I turned 51 on Saturday, middle aged given that I expect to attain 150. Everyone agrees that 51 is a cute age. Both my parents called me on my birthday for the first time ever. For Dad it was a coincidence since he doesn't keep up with birthdays. I don't like to make a fuss over them myself. I mean I'm glad I cheated death and all, but that's something to celebrate every day.

It was also my favorite holiday last week, Ground Hog Day or Imbolc. I favor the day because it means that winter is half over.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Capital Gains

Some of my conspecifics at lunch were touting a capital gains tax cut or elimination as a good way to stimulate the economy. Folks who weren't selling their capital assets would be motivated to do so. Who would buy them and with what money was not part of the equation, nor was how encouraging the sale of assets, most depreciated significantly and not subject to tax on a sale, would help the faltering economy. That''s because it wouldn't. It's just a scheme to get more tax benefits for the better off at the expense of the wage earner.

The bailouts, what with their being spent on bonuses and junkets, aren't necessarily leading to the flow of credit, but they are least convincing people that rich people are not morally superior while the idea of supply side economics is based on the erroneous assumption that they are. Put money in the hands of those wealth builders and job creators, not those stupid consumers, and you'll see the economy take off in the right direction, so the supply side mantra goes. In truth, consumers are the real wealth builders and job creators, so you've got to get money into their hands. Consumption is the engine of the economy.

Tee way the arrogant bankers and financiers are going, I'm thinking of investing in guillotine manufacturers.

A Loving God and Hell

The sermon yesterday was about hell, a topic almost never brought up in our church. After all, it's not a fear of hell that informs our church, but the Holy Spirit. What happens when we die is not the emphasis except at funerals. The preacher rightly pointed out that Jesus spoke of hell a few times, using the words Gehenna, the local garbage dump and Hades, the realm of the dead. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man suffers and Lazarus, poor in life, is comforted. The rich man's life was founded on his wealth, and its loss meant that in Hades he was nothing. Abraham was in Hades, too, as indeed were all the dead.

The preacher remarked that the people in hell are beloved of God and forgiven their transgressions but that their choices in life put them in a place of separation from God. My take on heaven and hell is that we all end up in the same place but that folks who are self centered and proud won't like it there for some reason.

One bit of the sermon that I took issue with was when the preacher said that God doesn't send anyone to hell but that he respects our choice. That doesn't sound very Calvinistic to me. Them as end up in hell were ordained to be there from the beginning of the age. In what sense did they have a choice?

The whole narrative of fall and redemption makes less and less sense to me every day. I'm beginning to think that a better narrative is to think of mankind as becoming sentient and in need of God's intervention. Before sentience, we were as innocent as the other wild beasts. After sentience, we wanted looking after.