Thursday, July 30, 2009

Get a Clue, Whitey!

Apart from the small contribution of my sixth generation ancestress Polly Red Bird of the Cherokee, my genes come from Northern Europe. Moreover, I have grey eyes and a pallid complexion. I do not tan; I burn. In short, I am pretty much white. I might even qualify as a WASP if it weren't for all the Scots-Irish in my background.

Because I am white, I don't really ever have to think about race. If I were an ignorant wanker, I might even be tempted to declare that I live in a post-racial America. I'm not an ignorant wanker; therefore, I know better than to make such an assertion. I enjoy a lot of privileges by virtue of my race, and I am lucky enough to be aware of it on some level.

Many of my fellow whities are deluded into thinking that discrimination and racism are long behind us. They don't see it every day, mainly because their contact with other races is sporadic at best, so it must not exist. They themselves do not overtly discriminate, or so they believe, so where is all this discrimination of which black folks complain? Theythinks black folks protest too much. Theythinks wrong, methinks.

I have had the good fortune, if I may call it that, of observing segregation and overt racism first hand as a Son o' the South. I grew up in a working class family and was not sheltered from the realities of race relations. I was trained to be a racist, one of the patronizing and condescending sort, but a racist nonetheless. I have had to acknowledge that indoctrination and to apply reason to it every day of my life in order to live my conscious moral stand against racism. It gets easier every year, but the indoctrination is still there in my brain waiting to make me say or do something stupid and irrational.

For black folks, race is an aspect of reality that they have to negotiate carefully. They can't afford to be "color blind" as the clueless and the deceitful would have them be. Being color blind might get them killed. Black folks' recognition of the significance of race is not racism; it's the survival instinct at work. They didn't make the rules of racism; they just have to know what they are.

I urge my fellow whities to get a clue or, if they are among the deceitful racist bastards, to search their souls and repent. If it bothers you that you can't say "nigger", then you are one of the folks I'm talking to. If you reckon you live in a post-racial America, I'm talking to you. Who am I kidding? I'm talking to almost every white person.

More Genesis: Further Adventures of Supplanter

Supplanter works for his uncle for 20 years: 7 for Leah, 7 for Rachel, and 6 in his creative livestock breeding program. Supplanter's cousins/brothers-in-law start to get wise and to grumble, so Supplanter sneaks off with his wives, children, servants and stock. Ewe steals her old man's household idols and hides them in her camel pack.

Supplanter's uncle pursues him but is warned off in a dream by God. He searches Supplanter's stuff for his gods, but Ewe is sitting on them and claims to be menstruating, so nobody looks in her camel pack. In the end, Supplanter and his uncle set up a pillar and swear never to cross its spot to to do harm to one another.

Supplanter sens word to his brother He Finishes that he is coming home, and he is anxious when he learns that He Finishes is coming to meet him with 400 men. So he picks out some droves of livestock and sends them in stages to his brother as gifts in order to win favor with him. Then he sends on his family and entourage.

When Supplanter is alone, a man wrestles with him all night and dislocates the socket of his thigh. Still, Supplanter won't let the man go until he gets the man's blessing. The man, it turns out, is God Himself, and He renames Supplanter Strives With God. ( In honor of this event, the descendants of Strives With God eschew eating the sinew of the socket of the thigh.)

The meeting with He Finishes turns out well, as He Finishes welcomes and embraces Supplanter and his family. He Finishes returns home with his people, and Supplanter sojourns for a while in Shechem. The son of the prince of Shechem takes a fancy to one of Strives With God's daughters and rapes her. He begs for her to be given to him as his wife, but the sons of Strives With God, as deceitful as their old man, agree only on the condition that all the males of Shechem be circumcised, which they do. When they are all convalescing, two of Strives With Gods sons kill every male of Schechem, and the rest of the sons loot the city.

Now Strives With God is pissed at his sons for making him odious and subjecting the household to attacks from stronger neighbors. They've got to move.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Obvious Observations

Some right wing nutjobs are trying to scare old people about health care reform by claiming that the health care reform bill provides for killing old people. It doesn't provide for that at all. Last I checked old folks get Medicare, and it pays for life extending medicines and procedures, even when they don't necessarily make any sense.

What does the Constitution mean when it requires the president to be a "natural born citizen" of the US? The first several presidents were born before the US even existed, so they weren't born citizens of the US. On the contrary, they were subjects of Great Britain. John McCain was born in Panama, and nobody gave that a second thought. George Romney was born in Mexico and was not disqualified to run for president. My opinion is that if you are entitled to US citizenship at birth you are a natural born citizen no matter where you are born. Who really cares anyway?

I reckon it's up to NFL teams whether to hire Michael Vick or not. I don't care one way or the other.

Pete Rose's banning from baseball has gone on long enough. He's a Hall of Famer in my book no matter what Bud Selig or the folks in Cooperstown say. My father looks almost exactly like Pete Rose. It's uncanny.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Just So Stories

The lads who were born to Supplanter, we discover later, bear the names of the tribes of the nation of Israel. The story of their births and their naming remind me of a Kipling "Just So" Story. You know, the ones that end with "and that's how the elephant got its trunk" and such like. And that's how the tribe of Exaltation got its name.

Whether these men were all sons of Supplanter or even existed at all is not particularly important. What signifies is that the story is later used to place the disparate tribes into a single superfamily. Just as patrilines are segments of clans and clans are segments of tribes, so the tribes are segments of a nation. All the groupings beyond the individual are predicated on the principle of patrilineal kinship. The tribes are probably related in some way, but the the accuracy of the genealogies is less important than the reliance on them as the predicate for a set of obligations and expectations associated with the kinship meme complex.

Now this concept of nation is quite different to what we nowadays think of as the modern nation-state. It is the family writ large. It is not necessarily a stable entity as loyalty to the progressively smaller segments and individual interests will tend to outweigh loyalty to the most distant and abstract of the groupings. Therefore, the concept of the nation must be reproduced continually and reinforced with myth. God is called upon to add the imprimatur of divine legitimacy to the idea.

Of course, some kindred groups are excluded from the nation, and the myths have to account for this. Otherwise, the progeny of the displaced first born sons would have to be included in the covenantal nation. I don't know why the mythmakers didn't just make their ancestors the first born. Perhaps it was deemed especially important for well being to leave the door open to exceptions to primogeniture or even to problematize the concept of primogeniture.

What we have in Genesis, I reckon, is propaganda to support the idea of a nation and conquest of a territory. Whether God promised anyone that the nation would rule the territory in question is beside the point. It came to pass that the territory was conquered and occupied by the putative descendants of Father of Multitudes. Hence, it was surely the will of God whether or not the nation knew what the will of God was in advance. The narrative, as it came to be written down, was for the purpose of reproducing the concept of the nation rather than offering what we would today consider history.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Genesis 29 and 30

In Genesis 29, Supplanter gets conned by his uncle. It runs in the family, and Supplanter really should have seen it coming. After all, Supplanter was a masterful deceiver and con artist himself, a skill set he uses in chapter 30 against his uncle.

To Bind's brother had two daughters, Weary and Ewe. Weary had "weak eyes", but Ewe was beautiful. Supplanter offered to work for his uncle 7 years in exchange for the hand of Ewe. On the wedding night, the uncle substitutes Weary, and Supplanter awakes to find that he is married to Weary intead of Ewe. In exchange for the promise of another 7 years of service, the uncle permits Supplanter to marry Ewe about a week after the marriage to Weary.

Although Weary is "unloved", she is not completely ignored for she bears Supplanter four sons: Behold a Son, God Has Heard, Attached, and Praised. These names were messages from Weary to Supplanter, hints that God favored Weary by letting her bear sons while Ewe was barren.

In the face of this, Ewe resorts to giving her maid to Supplanter as a surrogate mother who begets sons He Judged and Wrestler. Not to be outdone, Weary gives her maid to Supplanter as an additional wife. Weary's maid begets sons Luck and Happy.

At some point Ewe grants Weary the right to lie with Supplanter in exchange for some mandrakes. This leads to another son Hireling. Weary's not through, though, and gives Supplanter yet another son Exaltation.

At long last God "remembers" Ewe and opens her womb so that she bears a son He Will Add.

After 11 sons and at least one daughter have been born, Supplanter expresses a desire to his uncle to return home. The uncle is reluctant because Supplanter has made him rich in livestock with his superior management skills. At last, they come to an agreement whereby Supplanter would be entitled to certain variants of the livestock. Meanwhile, since Supplanter is in still in charge of the livestock, he has some control over their breeding patterns. It is perhaps unsurprising that he arranges things so that the variants to which he is entitled become even more numerous and that Supplanter's flocks would be stronger than his uncle's. Supplanter's rudimentary knowledge of population genetics coupled with his unscrupulousness serve him well.

Genesis 28

In Genesis 28, He Laughs sends Supplanter off to the house of To Bind's brother to (a) take a wife from among his kinswomen, and (b) get away from He Finishes who is pissed about the theft of his blessing.

He Finishes realizes that his having married women from Canaan had displeased his father, so he aso took a wife from among the daughters of God Will Hear (Ishmael), He Laughs older half brother. I infer from this episode that He Laughs had never before admonished He Finishes about his choice of wives. Perhaps it was He Finishes's Hittite wives and the way they vexed the family that led to the family policy of intermarriage with close kin. Perhaps, He Laughs had written off He Finishes from early on and intended all along to make Supplanter his heir, in which case the marriages of He Finishes would not have mattered. In any event, the takeaway is that even a dutiful and loving son can be wronged by a father whose affections are elsewhere.

On the road to his uncle's place, Supplanter camps out, using a rock for a pillow. He dreams that there is a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending. In the dream, God appears at the top and extends to Supplanter the promises He had made to Father of Multitudes and He laughs: multitudes of descendants, this land will be yours, your seed will be a blessing, yadda yadda yadda. The text doesn't say that God appeared to Supplanter in a dream, only that Supplanter had a dream with God in it. Maybe it was God; maybe it was just a dream.

Supplanter wakes up and names the place House of God and makes a promise to God, to wit, If God will keep him on his journey and provide for all his material needs and bring him home safe, He will let God be is God, the stone that had been Supplanter's pillow would be God's House and Supplanter would give back a tenth of all that God would give him. No "thy will be done" tagline for Supplanter. It's do this for me God, and I'll do that. Supplanter seems to believe that he can influence God's choices with inducements. Who among us hasn't at some time or other prayed thusly as in "God, if you'll make it so I win the MegaMillions I'll give 10% of the winnings (after taxes) to the church and devote myself to good works for your glory".

Are we to infer from this story that this mode of prayer is the way to address God?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Arresting Prof Gates Was Stupid Even If It Wasn't Racial

Here's my two cents on the Henry Louis Gates arrest. It was stupid. Maybe it wasn't racial, but it was stupid. The policeman had plenty of options other than arresting the man. Cops are too damned quick to arrest people, often for no good reason other than to be douches. There was an insufficient basis for believing that a crime was being committed, and nobody was in any danger.

If I'm in my own home where I have every right to be and I end up arrested for being uppity to a cop, you can bet I'd be pretty pissed. I'd be justified. And my neighbors would back me up. Everyone would agree that the cop was stupid. It's incompetent policing, and it should be denounced.

Police treat civilians like enemenis in occupied territory, and this should not be tolerated.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Feminization is Good

I sometimes hear people lament that men are becoming "feminized". Would that it were so. The process of feminization is the process of civilization. As the sensibilities of the elite classes, who are in a sense more feminine "gentle" folk less prone to direct personal violence, become adopted by the lower orders, civilization progresses. It's a good thing in my book for men to be more pacific in outlook and temperament and less likely to resolve issues by fighting.

Then again, my attitude toward the feminine is informed by my experience of the women in my family. They were farmers who could plow behind a mule with the best to them and who endured adversity with courage and determination. They were working women who embodied the best of womanhood. They weren't dainty,mind you, but they were ladies. They were caregivers and peacemakers and churchgoers who kept their families civilized. Those unfortunate families who lacked a woman's touch tended to wildness and disorder. The men just didn't have that civilizing something that women provided.

Nowadays, I find more and more men who have learned to be caregivers to their children and their communities, who have learned to manage conflict peacably, who have learned to love their neighbors. They've been feminized, and it looks good on them.

I reckon the whole course of cultural evolution could be characterized as the efforts of women to domesticate men.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Genesis 1-27: Do These Stories Matter?

Looking back on the first twenty seven chapters of Genesis, it occurs to me that these stories don't add much to our understanding of God and His agenda as they might actually exist. The God who appears to the patriarchs is very different to the God we imagine nowadays or even the God that shows up later in the Bible. The most we can glean from these stories is some insight into how one ancient nomadic tribe thought about God and how they sought to situate themselves in the cosmic narrative.

I'm not sure that I believe in the historical truth of even the most mundane of these stories, but I would concede that the progenitors of the Israelites included prosperous and reasonably successful warlords who wandered in and around Canaan and Egypt. Whether they had the particular adventures set down in these stories just doesn't matter. Asking people to believe them seems to me to be setting up a gratuitous stumbling block.

Me and Walter

Walter Cronkite, peace be unto him, was a hero of mine when I was a kid. We always watched Walter's broadcast and news specials. He had a nifty series about science after he retired. I loved how he would sign off whith "And that's the way it was...", and you knew that it really had been the way he had presented it. Nobody has ever even come close to Walter as a news anchor. I reckon nobody ever will.

I grew up in Appalachia and had a pretty thick brogue, and I knew that I would have to learn standard English to have any hope of getting out of my crappy hometown. Walter Cronkite was my model. I stood in front of a mirror for hours practicing saying things the way Walter Cronkite did. Before long, I had a pretty good mastery of standard English, and I was even able to bring my own rhythm to it rather than simply mimicking Walter and sounding like a bad Rich Little impersonation.

To this day, I can speak standard English like a native, and people are often surprised to learn that I'm a Southron. The only difficulties I have are when I'm a little drunk or tired and when I am called upon to read aloud. I don't know why reading aloud is so much harder in Standard than in South Midland. Anyway, thanks be to Walter Cronkite for helping me get the hell out of Dalton, GA.

Folle Family Stimulates Entertainment Industry

We went back to the city on Saturday and caught the other two plays in the Norman Conquests trilogy. It's even more hilarious when you see all the plays.

On Sunday we caught the new Harry Potter movie. It was two and a half hours long, and even then they tried to pack too much into it. It ended up making almost no sense. I feel as though I needed to have reread the book to get what was going on. Jim Broadbent played Professor Slughorn rather well. He plays everything well come to think of it.

Anyway, I kind of like getting out instead of spending all our free time puttering in the garden. Alas, the weeding and mucking have been neglected, so I'm sure the garden will make me pay for my inattentiveness.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Genesis 26 and 27: Patriarchs as Grifters

When I read Genesis 26, it's deja vu all over again. This is a rehash of a story about Father of Multitudes, only ths time with He Laughs and To Bind in the lead roles. There's a famine, so He Laughs takes his entourage to Gerar, still ruled by the same king that Father of Multitudes made a pact with. God promises He Laughs that his descendants will be multitudes, that his seed will be a blessing, all on account of Father of Multitudes' obedience to God's law. Oh, and the land of the Philistines, including Gerar would belong to his successors.

Anyway, He Laughs pulls the old "She's my sister not my wife" trick just like his old man. The King of Gerar is on to him though and upbraids him for exposing people to sin because someone might have lain with To Bind. This is an interesting concept of sin, a kind of strict liablity in which intent plays no part. So far in these stories, screwing another man's wife is one of the few sins that have been enumerated. Don't kill people, unless God tells you to, and don't consume blood are the other two rules. I almost forgot genital mutilation. Following the law in those days wasn't too complicated.

He Laughs prospers and grows so strong that the King of Gerar asks him to leave, so he settles in the valley. He continued to have conflict with the locals over water rights, but he and the King of Gerar make a peace pact just as had been done with Father of Multitudes.

He Finishes marries a couple of Hittite women. Evidently, He Laughs and To Bind didn't like them.

Chapter 27 is a tale of unmitigated douchebaggery. He Laughs is old and blind and reckons the hand of death is nigh, so he sends He Finishes out to get him some game for stew after which he plans to give He Finishes his blessing. To Bind has Supplanter fetch kids so she can make a savory dish. She puts the kids' skins on Supplanter so that he can pass for the hirstute He Finishes when he goes in and steals the blessing. Supplanter holds himself out as He Finishes even when He Laughs expresses doubts (after all, the voice is Supplanter's). He even lies about how God provided the game when He Laughs questions him about he got it so quickly. Under false pretenses then, He Laughs bestows his blessing on Supplanter and allows as how he will be the master of his kin and that his brothers will serve him.

He Finishes then comes in with the game stew and asks for the blessing. Alas, it has already been bestowed on the deceiver and there's nothing for it. He Laughs gives He Finishes the crappiest blessing ever, to wit that he would live away for the fertility of the earth and the dew of heaven and would serve his brother. As a sop he gets some day to break his brother's yoke from his neck.
Understandably, He Finishes is in a fratricidal mood. To Bind tells Supplanter to go hide out in her brother's house in Haran until everything blows over.

I reckon He Laughs must have wanted to bless Supplanter all along, that he must have known that there was a subterfuge. Once again, the cadet screws over the first born, and it doesn't seem right to me at all. Either way, these patriarchs are not to be trusted. They're shameless liars and grifters, and I would not hold any of them out as a role model so far in the story.

I notice that God doesn't show up so much with He Laughs as he did with Father of Multitudes. He doesn't play an active role in the deceptions of Supplanter and there doesn't seem to be much of an effort to lend the imprimatur of divine approval to them.

The moral of the story is get the blessing up front before you go hunting for stew meat.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Health Insurance

I'm in the market for health insurance. I'm self employed and Mrs Vache Folle is probably going to become self employed in the near future. COBRA from her job will cost more than a grand a month and will be short term only. What I'd like to get is something with low monthly premiums and a high deductible that would kick in if something catastrophic happens. We can handle routine office visits and prescriptions out of pocket and still come out ahead. It's the hospitalizations and scary diseases that we have to protect against, not the routine care.

But I'm finding it really hard to shop for individual insurance. Other insurance is easy to understand and compare and get quotes. Health insurance is a morass. Maybe the health care reform bill will help by making health insurance more transparent. It could happen.

I read the summary of the House bill, and it looks pretty good unless you're a health insurer. Apparently, one problem with the public option that many opponents have is that it is too good and will drive private insurers out of business. Seeing as how the public plan has to pay for itself with premiums just like the other plans and seeing as how private companies are said to be better than government agencies, I don't see what the private insurers have to worry about from the public option.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Genesis 24 and 25

In Genesis 24, Father of Multitudes extracts an oath from his steward to find a wife for He laughs from among Father of Multitudes' kinfolk. The steward takes ten camels to the city of Nahor and asks God for a sign, to wit, that a woman who offers to water his camels would be the one who would be the wife of He Laughs. Such a woman, To Bind, appears and fulfills the sign. What's more she's the grandniece of father of Multitudes, a young maiden still a virgin and comely. To Bind's family grants hospitality to the steward who tells him of his oath and the sign that To Bind had fulflled. He asks for To Bind to return with him to be He Laugh's wife. And that's what happened.

This chapter is interesting mainly for the narrative form. The steward repeats the entire part about the oath, the sign and his earlier conversation with To Bind, and the author writes them all out instead of simply referring back to them. Perhaps this was how the bards who transmitted the stories orally had done it, and ths would have been a way to reinforce significant parts of the story. No Canaanite wife for He Laughs, thank you very much, and none from Ur of the Chaldees. This marriage was made in heaven.

In Chapter 25, the widowed Father of Multitudes takes a third wife and begat children, but He laughs was the only heir. Father of Multitudes dies and is buried by Princess. Then follows genealogical remarks about the descendants of Ishmael, including twelve princes.

To Bind becomes pregnant with twins about whom God tells her "the older shall serve the younger" and that they shall be two nations. He Finishes comes out first, all red and hairy, and Supplanter follows with his hand on his older brother's heel. He Finishes becomes a hunter and the favorite of He laughs, whereas Supplanter was the beloved of To Bind.

One day He Finishes comes in from the field hungry and begs Supplanter for some red stew that Supplanter has made. Supplanter makes He Finishes sell him his birthright for the stew. He Finishes gets the nickname Red Stuff from this episode. I doubt that He Finishes thought Supplanter was serious, and Supplanter comes off pretty douchy in the story. Then again, I'm a firstborn.

Genesis 22 and 23: God Tests Father of Multitudes, and Princess Dies

Chapter 22 looks to me to be a completely different story about the Covenant or a sign that God was playing Father of Multitudes. Here God "tests" His chosen man by ordering him to take He Laughs to a mountain and kill him as a human sacrifice and then burn his body on an altar. Father of Multitudes takes his young son He Laughs to the mountain as God has instructed. He laughs asks his old man where the sacrificial animal is, and Father of Multitudes answers that God will provide the lamb. Then Father of Multitudes puts He laughs in a stack of wood and, with a faggot in one hand and a knife in the other, gets set to murder his son.

At the last second, the angel of the Lord calls out and stops Father of Multitudes. God, via the angel, says "for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." God tells Father of Multitudes that "because you have done this thing", He is going to multiply Father of Multitude's descendants and make his seed a blessing to all nations. A ram is found conveniently nearby and slaughtered for the entertainment of God. The chapter finishes with some genealogical remarks about Father of Multitude's brother's family. (I would be surprised if anyone ever gave a sermon centered on verses 20-24. It could be funny what with names like Uz and Buz and Kemuel and Chesed and Hazo and Pildash and Jidlaph.)

Hadn't God already made the promise to Father of Multitudes? Was He about to renege on it, or is this just a case of a series of related stories having been jumbled together? Why wouldn't God know that Father of Multitudes feared Him? The God of Father of Multitudes does not appear to have developed omniscience yet. Also, He Laughs is referred to as Father of Multitudes' "only" son when we know that He Laughs has an older brother Ishmael.

I get the impression that human sacrifice was not unheard of in those days since Father of Multitudes doesn't seem shocked about it. How did he explain these actions to He Laughs, and how much therapy did He Laughs require after his father set out to kill him?

Chapter 23 is taken up with the death of Princess and arrangements for her burial.

Democrats Right to Appear to Seek Bipartisanship

I get the feeling that some folks in the liberal blogosphere are frustrated with President Obama and the democratic Congress. Why aren't they using their power to enact a sweeping progressive agenda? Why are they bothering with bipartisanship instead of ignoring the irrelevant GOP?

I reckon it's because the politicians know that despite everything the GOP is doing to render itself irrelevant and to become a regional coalition of various nutjob constituencies, it still got almost as many votes for the frightening McCain-Palin ticket as the Obama-Biden ticket got. Seriously, tens of millions of people voted for the GOP. Not just the nutjobs. Other dupes by the trainload went to the polls and pulled the lever for the party of evil and incompetence.

Obama was elected by some 20% of Americans. McCain got a few percentage points fewer. About 60% of Americans didn't vote either because they weren't allowed to or they didn't care to. That 60% contains a few principled non-voters, but it's mostly comprised of the indifferent, apathetic and misinformed, and the GOP might hit on some dumbass talking point that resonates with enough of them to get them off their asses and to the polls. It doesn't matter how odious the GOP really is, because these folks won't know about it.

Monday, July 13, 2009


I've had it up to here with spams about Acai berry, penis enlargement, replica watches, Viagra, and diplomas on-line. Seriously, does anyone ever respond to this stuff? If they do, let's kill them.

Our Weekend in Manhattan

Mrs Vache Folle and I spent the weekend in Manhattan. We stayed at the Hilton on 54th and 6th (I got a good rate because I agreed to sit through a time share pitch). We ate at Sinegual in midtown on Friday. It was great high end Mexican cuisine. I had a lobster enchilada and a couple of killer margaritas. And a chile relleno. Then we went to Campbell's apartment( some guy named Campbell used to have this kick ass apartment in Grand Central Station and now it's a bar). I had the gayest drink ever made.

On Saturday, we ate at a deli (pastrami hash and eggs for me) and visited the Folk Art Museum. This featured a visiting collection of wood carvings by Savannah barber Ulysses Davis. Also, there was a remarkable display of "kaleidoscope quilts" comprised of thousands of tiny slivers of fabric in intricate symmetrical patterns.

We also visited the Central Park zoo where my occasional contempt for parents of small children was validated. Note to said parents: If you have a stroller the size of a Buick, don't bring it inside the freaking penguin house or other small spaces full of people. Your kid can't see anything from the stroller anyway and you're going to have to take her/him/them out. Meanwhile, you are inconveniencing everyone else and creating a hazard. And if your child's intellectual capacity is not as well developed as the penguins', why are you bringing them to the penguin house in the first place? The zoo was exhausting, so we rode a pedal cab back to Central Park South.

After a nap, we ate at Maison, a so so Frenchie kind of place on 7th. Then we went to see Round and Round the Garden, one of the plays in The Norman Conquests trilogy. It was hilarious with great perfomances by Jessica Hynes, Amanda Root and the rest of the cast whom I had not heard of before. Celebrities Tyne Daily and the guy who plays Ben Lyons on Lost were in the audience. I stood behind "Ben" as he ordered a bourbon and ginger ale during intermission. I tried this drink later at the hotel so I could be more like my hero, guy who plays Ben.

The NAACP convention was starting at our hotel, so it was a hopping place. It's the 100th anniversary, and President Obama is slated to appear on Thursday.

The time share pitch was masterful and almost a joy to sit through. That's how good these guys were. I could tell they knew Mrs Vache Folle was the decisionmaker because everything was not too subtly pitched to her. We managed to get out without a time share.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

I'm not Threatened by Artificial Sperm

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon links to an article about artificial sperm and discusses the comments at Salon of some men who reckon that this presages the end of men:

The reasoning goes that women don't really like men and sex and would, if they could, dispense with men altogether if they didn't need sperm. I suppose that artifical sperm or parthenogenesis would provide women with more options, but I don't see that these technologies would lead to the wholesale abandonment of men. I like to think of myself as more than a life support system for a penis. And I know that Mrs Vache Folle doesn't love me for my sperm. Hell, on the rare occasions when I deliver sperm, she can't wait to get rid of it.

Men have lots of other uses besides sperm production, storage and delivery. We do yardwork, for example. And some women genuinely like us. They would keep us around even if they didn't need our sperm, perhaps as pets.

The Bible is not a History Book or a Science Text

Are the stories in chapters 1-21 true? It depends on what you mean by "true". They are not true in the sense of history. History hadn't been invented yet when these stories were written down. They may be true in a mythological sense in that they seek to deal symbolically with the meaning of things. For the storytellers, everything came from God, was ordained by God, and their people were marked by God to be a blessing to the whole world. It's not important for any of these stories to have actually been lived out by real people. The significance of the stories lies in what they tell us about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or at least what the storytellers thought about Him.

Genesis 20 and 21: The Origin of the Deadbeat Dad

In chapter 20, Father of Multitudes pulls his trick of passing Princess off as his sister (it worked so well in Egypt). The King of Gerar, where Father of Multitudes is hanging out, takes Princess for his own. She must have been one hot ninety year old woman, let me tell you. I'm beginning to suspect that maybe princess was in her thirties or early forties and still looking good. After all, she hadn't entered menopause.

God tells the King of Gerar in a dream that Princess is Father of Multitude's wife and that he had better restore her to her husband. The king asks why Father of Multitudes would pull such a stunt. The answer is that Father of Multitudes was always afraid that someone would kill him on account of his hot wife. Besides, Princess was technically his half sister (he was her brother by another mother), so it wasn't really lying. This tells me that Father of Multitudes didn't put much stock in God's prediction/promise that he would have a good long life.

In chapter 21, Princess gives birth to He Laughs. She asks Father of Multitudes to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael, and God assures him that this is the right thing to do. Don't worry, God says, I will make of Ishmael a great nation. So Father of Multitudes sends Hagar and his oldest son into the wilderness with some bread and a skin of water. They are at the point of death when God's angel intercedes and shows her a well of water. Everything turns out great for Ishmael. He becomes a great archer and marries an Egyptian.

This story hits home for me, not just because it's another story of a breach of male promogeniture. I was abandoned by my father at about the same age as Ishmael, and my father had a son whom he loved and raised at about the same time in my life that He Laughs was born in Ishmael's life. I'm sure a lot of deadbeat dads take comfort in this story. I did okay without a dad. Just like Ishmael.

Anyway the rest of the chapter involves a covenant between Father of Multitudes and the King of Gerar that the King and his progeny will not be treated falsely on account of the kindness the King had shown. Also, they stipulated that Father of Multitudes had dug the well at Beersheba.

What I take from these stories is that Father of Multitudes was kind of a douche, but God chose him anyway.

Genesis 18 and 19: Sodom and Gomorrah Get Theirs

In chapter 18, God and two angels show up at Father of Multitude's place in human form, and Father of Multitudes feeds them calf, curds and milk, and bread cakes. God repeats the prediction that Princess will bear a son, and Princess laughs at the idea because she is too old. For me the money quote is in verse 18 where God declares that Father of Multitudes will become a populous nation and "in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed". Of course, Father of Multitudes is expected to bring up his children to do righteousness and justice.

God and his angels are on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah to check out rumours about the wickedness of the denizens of those cities and to destroy them if it turns out that they are as wicked as they have heard. Father of Multitudes pleads with God to spare the cities if 500 righteous people may be found in them as it would be unjust to kill the righteous and wicked alike. God agrees, and Father of Multitudes bargains Him down to ten righteous people. As it turns out, there weren't even five righteous people, not even infants or toddlers. Just Lot, his wife and their two daughters, so they were six righteous persons short.

In chapter 19, the two angels arrive at Sodom where Lot meets them and invites them to stay in his house. Presumably God is elsewhere conducting His investigation. Then the Sodomite men show up.

SODOMITES: "Hey, Lot, send out those guys so we can sodomize 'em. We're Sodomites, and that's how we roll."

LOT: "That's wicked. Take my virgin daughters instead and have your way with them. These men are my guests and under my protection."

SODOMITES: "That damned foreigner! Who is he to judge the matter? Let's sodomize him, too."

We'll encounter a similar story later on in the Bible, where women are offered up as substitutes for male guests for gang rape.

The angels rescue Lot and warn him to flee with his family. His prospective sons-in-law refuse to go because they think he's kidding, so just the four of them escape. Mrs Lot turns around to look at the hail of fire and brimstone falling on the cities and turns into a pillar of salt. It's unclear whether this phenomenon was a side effect of the rain of fire or punishment for failing to heed the warning not to look back. I prefer to think it was the former.

Lot and his daughters end up living in a cave. The daughters get him drunk, have sex with him, conceive and bear sons Moab and Ammon, the putative progenitors of the Moabites and Ammonites. I don't know if this was supposed to be an insult to those ethnicities.

Here's how I figure this part of the story came about. The cities of the Jordan Valley were destroyed in some spectacular cataclysmic event, and storytellers attributed it to punishment for wickedness. They put Father of Multitudes and his nephew into the story as a chance to show their concern for justice and their righteousness. There may have been a geologic formation that had the shape of a woman, and this was explained as Lot's unfortunate wife. Given the concept of God that was developing, it would have been very natural to attribute a catastophe to the hand of God. And since God was beginning to be understood as the "judge of the world", it was natural to assume that wickedness was the motivating factor. After all, God wouldn't let cities be destroyed for no reason, would he? If bad things happen to you, it must be because you deserve it.

Note also that God doesn't seem to have developed omniscience at this point since He has to investigate the outcry over the cities of the valley and doesn't know if there are ten righteous people. He also doesn't appear to know what He is going to do. I wonder if Melchizedek was destroyed along with the wicked.

Genesis 16 and 17 How We Got the Ishmaelites and Genital Mutilation

What's the point of Genesis 16? Exalted Father's (Abram's) wife talks him into marrying her handmaiden Hagar. Hagar begets a son, Ishmael, and the angel of the Lord appears to her and promises that her descendants would be multiplied so that they could not be counted. Ishmael, it was predicted, would be a "wild donkey of a man" and against everyone. Ishmael, as we learn later, doesn't figure in the story that is unfolding, so why even bring him up? I reckon this is another instance of having to explain why a cadet branch of a family ends up with the inheritance. As a first born son, I'm not too keen on this theme.

In chapter 17, God changes Exalted Father's name to Father of Multitudes (Abraham) and his wife's name to Princess (Sarah). God tells Father of Multitudes that Princess, who is 90 years old, will bear a son. Father of Multitudes falls down laughing when he hears God say this, and God doesn't smite him or anything. Instead He directs that the son who Princess will bear shall be called He Laughs (Isaac). He Laughs is going to sire twelve princes, says God, and God is going to be the God of Father of Multitudes and his descendants forever, at least the ones from He Laughs. There's a catch, though. Every male has to be circumcised. The author doesn't tell us how this went over with the entourage, but every male in Father of Multitude's household had his genitals mutilated that very day. It's not entirely clear, but Father of Multitudes may have performed the procedures himself.

Whether the conversations with God took place we cannot know, but the descendants of Father of Multitudes did, as the story goes, cut off their foreskins and believed that it was a sign of the covenant. And He Laughs did, as the story goes, beget twelve grandsons who were the putative progenitors of the tribes. It's a nice touch to the story for Father of Multitudes to know how well things were going to work out for him and his descendants, but it isn't really necessary to believe it for the story to have value. As the story goes, all these things came to pass whether or not Father of Multitudes knew that they would and whether or not Father of Multitudes was even an actual historic figure.

These stories are especially interesting because God appears to people all the time and talks to them. Later, God is conceived of as being too awesome for anyone to be in His presence. In the early days, though, God was thought of as immanent and readily accessible rather than transcendent and unimaginable.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bible Study with Vache Folle: Lesson 5: Genesis 13-15

Genesis 13 is remarkable for what it tells us about Abram. Far from being a solitary individual, he was the chieftan of a rather extensive entourage (later we learn he had over 300 trained soldiers in is camp) with people, livestock, tents and personalty in abundance. When Abram came to town, you knew it. He needed a lot of space for his people and animals. Lot, his nephew, was also endowed with a large following, and it was decided that Abram and Lot needed to split up so as not to exceed the carrying capacity of the land. Lot went to the Jordan Valley and settled in Sodom. When Lot leaves, God reiterates His promise to Abram that his would be all the lands that he could see. Again, we don't have any way of knowing whether God actually made this promise to Abram or how he communicated it. It doesn't really matter.

In chapter 14, Abram and his trained men went to the rescue of Lot who had been taken prisoner in a war among various kingdoms. Abram defeated Chedorlaomer and brought back the people and their goods. The King of Sodom meets him and tells him to keep the goods but leave the people, but Abram declines to take anything except what his men and his allies have eaten. Melchizedek, priest of the God Most High makes an appearance.

In chapter 15, Abram begins to doubt the promise of God since he has no heirs of his body. But God tells him to put some sacrificial animals on an altar which, as a sign, manifest a smoking oven and a flaming torch between the pieces of dead animal. God qualifies His promise by pointing out that Abram's seed will be enslaved in a strange land for four centuries but would afterwards return to Canaan. This makes me think that God may not have been all that clear in His promise, that perhaps the message wasn't delivered personally. I mean, who would gainsay God Almighty if He is telling you something to your face? Who would need such a sign (which is far more equivocal than the promise)? If the promise was made, I reckon it was made through priests or in dreams or some such way. More likely, this was just made up after the fact to conform to what the authors thought had happened. As a literary device, it works. As a statement of historical fact, not so much.

Mrs Vache Folle's Boss is a Douchenozzle

Mrs Vache Folle's new job comes with the worst boss she has ever had to endure. Other than him, the job is pleasurable and rewarding, but he is such a monstrous douchenozzle that he sucks all the satisfaction out of the job.

First off, the guy is completely incompetent,a living embodiment of the Peter Principle. Secondly, his social skills are nonexistent. Thirdly, he's a martinet. I've never met him, but I've seen the effect on Mrs VF. Frankly, I'd like to tell him off.

I want Mrs VF to quit her job and find another one. I can't stand to see her so miserable. I know the economy's rough, but she's a stellar performer that any company would be lucky to have. Besides, maybe I can put in more hours on my end or even get an actual job as an employee somewhere.

Monday, July 06, 2009

No Check By Phone Payments to Collection Agencies

Here's some free advice. A kinswoman made the mistake of making a partial payment via "check by phone" to a collection agency. The agency failed to use the check number she provided and threatened to withdraw more money from her bank account even without her permission. She had to close her account and open a new one.

I've been trying to call to complain on her behalf, but the numbers don't work and the HQ claims its "system is down" every time I call to report a crime in one of their offices. I suspect that GC Services of Houston, the disreputable company in this case promotes threats of theft and downright theft.

The advice? Don't pay anything to a collection cvia "check by phone". You might as well give your account information to a Nigerian e-mail scam artist.

Bible Study with Vache Folle: Lesson 4: Genesis 12

Some interesting points about Genesis 1-11: (a) There's no devil, just a talking snake. (b) The evil in the world comes from God or from mankind because that's how it turns out humans had been made. That's why got regrets making mankind and decides to kill everyone but eight people. (c) Aside from a prohibition on eating blood and killing other people, there's no rules. Oh, and whatever you do, don't look upon your old man's nakedness.

It seems to me that these stories are a thin reed on which to predicate the narrative of the Fall of Man. Man didn't get thrown out of the garden because he was evil; he was thrown out because he became aware of good and evil. If mankind had continued to live in blissful ignorance, presumably we'd still be in the garden.

Chapter 12 of Genesis is where the OT really should start in my opinion. This is where a continuos narrative can be found to begin. Here's the meat:

Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

This is God's promise to Abram. He's talking about Canaan and the whole land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates. Abram's descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth and occupy the promised land forever.

As an aside, Abram goes to Egypt because there's a famine and Egypt is the go to place in lean times. There he passes his wife off as his sister and she ends up with Pharoah until the truth comes out. Abram gets kicked out of Egypt.

How did the author of Genesis 12 know that God said these things to Abram? Someone told him so. This was doubtless part of an oral tradition for many years before it was written down. The author was not an eye witness to the event. Certainly, the descendants of Abram ultimately took possession of the promised land and, assuming that Arabs and Jews are descended from Abram, occupy the promised land and more to this very day. And there are lots of them, not yet as numerous as the dust of the earth but potentially as numerous with time. Since, as I believe, all that occurs is God's will, one might easily imagine God's announcement to Abram of what would come to pass. Was such an announcement made? God alone knows. Does it matter?

For all we know, God went around announcing His intentions in those days all over the place. Other progenitors may have been promised tracts of land and reproductive success but it didn't get written up. Anyone who didn't have reproductive success would not have left descendants to speculate on whether God had announced anything to their ancestors.

The key point for me is that the storytellers began to see the blessing of Abram as part of a greater narrative in which the children of Abram are to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. There's a plan unfolding. Now the OT is about to get interesting.

Friday, July 03, 2009


On Wednesday, it rained like hell. Our backyard had a river running through it because the pond could not contain all the water gushing off the mountain. Visibility was close to zero, and I had to drive 20 mph on the Taconic to get home.

Mrs Vache Folle and I went out to eat at Peza, our usual Wednesday night date, and by the time we got home the waters had subsided. I checked the damage and was delighted to find that our measures to prevent flood damage had almost all worked such that the only damage was the detritus that had washed up on the lawn in various places. A little raking and a little mulch replacing is all I need to do to recover from the storm. My measures by the pachysandra patch were in vain, but the pachysandras survived what I had believed was a pretty throrough scouring by the torrent from the mountain.

Anyway, I would rather have had a monstrous storm tomorrow evening. I hate fireworks.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Bible Study with Vache Folle: Lesson 3: Genesis 9-11

Here's what God says to Noah and his family after the flood waters have receded. "Be fruitful and multiply." "You have dominion over every living thing." "Every living thing is appropriate for you to eat, but don't eat blood." "I promise never to kill everybody with a flood again and as a sign I give you the rainbow." "Don't kill each other."

Noah and his three boys are said to be the ancestors of all humanity. The youngest, Ham, sees his old man naked after Noah has been on a bender. This pisses Noah off so much that he curses Ham, more particulraly Ham's boy Canaan, and declares that Canaan will be servant to Shem and Japeth. I reckon this curse came in real handy when the Hebrews were exterminating the Canaanites later on. Man, how touchy was Noah? So somebody saw his shriveled up old frame. Big whoop.

Could Noah have been the male progenitor of all humanity? While it would have been possible, with luck, to reproduce exponentially, there is no evidence of this in archaeology or our genes. And there was no planetary flood, either. Maybe there was a spectacular local flood that inspired this and similar stories, but let's just admit that it's a myth. It's a slanderous myth at that. It makes God out to be a mass murderer and the author of evil in the world. Maybe that's how the authors saw God.

Chapter 10 gives some tidbits about the descendants of Shem, Ham and Japeth and states that the nations were divided up "every one according to his language". (Remember this when we get to the Tower of Babel.) These tidbits are unremarkable except for the exploits of Nimrod who was a mighty hunter and who built a lot of cities. This probably was meant to explain, as in a "Just So Story", the relationships of the various peoples known to the authors. Does it matter? No. Will anyone be edified spiritually by this information? Doubt it.

Chapter 11 contains the myth of the Tower of Babel and the warthful dispersion theory of linguistics. God does this because He wants to prevent humans from progressing. This seems to be a major concern of the God of the early Old Testament. Keep humans from the Tree of Life? Check. Prevent humans from attaining too much technical know how? Check. The rest of the chapter is concerned with getting from Shem to Abram and his immediate family.

Does it matter if any of this is true or not? Not a bit. Take it or leave it. It's just not believable. The first eleven chapters strike me as a hodge podge of legends thrown together for no particular reason than that folks knew them and would have expected their own history to fit into the familiar narrative. It's only when you get to Abram that the stories have any kind of narrative continuity, so I reckon you could just as well ignore the first eleven chapters and start with Genesis 12. You won't have missed anything, and you won't have started out straining credulity beyond the breaking point.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Domestic Imbalance

I have been taking a poll of married people and am finding that, just as scholars say, in households where both the husband and wife work full time, the wife takes on the lion's share of domestic and parental responsibilities. I attribute this in part to men's greater tolerance for squalor and their willingness to let their kids eat hot dogs for every meal and go to bed without taking care of personal hygiene. The men make a big to do about how much they do and tend to liken unloading the dishwasher to walking on the moon in terms of heroism.

I don't know whether I do my fair share or not. I doubt it.

Three Cheers for Al Franken

Al Franken is my hero. I will support him if he runs for president or for any office. Since I read Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, and The Truth With Jokes I have prayed for a man like Al Franken to run for office. I hope he continues to use humor as a weapon, because he is devastating.