Friday, October 30, 2009

Thought Crimes?

There might be good reasons to oppose particular hate crime legislation, but the argument that such legislation, at least as it has been drafted so far, constitutes "thought crime" is not one of them. The argument is as fatuous as it gets. Here's how it has been used in my experience: "To find that something is a hate crime requires us to delve into the perpetrator's mental state; therefore, it criminalizes the mental state and is an Orwellian thought crime."

Most crimes require delving into the perpetrator's mental state. For example, intent is an indispensable element of many crimes. If I kill you without intending to, it could just be an accident, for which I may not be criminally culpable, but if I meant to kill you and especially if I had malice aforethought I am a murderer. Does that mean murder is a thought crime?

As far as I know, no hate crime legislation promulgated to date makes hating a crime. It's only a crime if you do violence to someone on the basis of that hate. Hate all you want, haters! Hate openly so we'll all know to shun you. Just don't act on your hate violently.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My $0.02 on Afghanistan

I don't know what the US thinks its mission is in Afghanistan. If it's to rid the country of Al Qaeda, then congratulations to the US on its victory. You can bring your troops home now. If it's to create a stable, pro-US country with a legitimate central government, then good luck with that. That will take decades and zillions of dollars and tens of thousands of casualties and hundreds of thousands of troops. The end result is certainly desirable, especially if you're an Afghan, but the enormous costs greatly outweigh the benefits in terms of US interests and can't be justified politically. Or maybe the goal is to keep Afganistan from becoming a breeding ground for anti-modern, authoritarian extremism. If so, we have failed by making it more of such a breeding ground than ever. The best we can do is contain the extremists and counter them with, say, cash.

The way I figure it, the US should set as its goals (a) keeping Pakistan from falling to the Taliban or other nutjobs, (b) keeping Al Qaeda and its ilk from reasserting itself in the region, and (c) establishing effective networks of intelligence and propaganda dissemination in the area to protect and promote US interests. A huge military presence is not required to meet these aims. A huge military presence, unless it's huge enough to maintain a police state, may even be counterproductive.

It was a dumb idea to invade Afghanistan in the first place. Let's not compound the error. If the US leaves and the Taliban returns to power, then Afganistan is the same as it was when we invaded it, no better or worse.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Most Americans Think

Do most Americans consider a vote for cloture as tantamount to support for the actual bill?

No. Most Americans don't know what cloture is. Most Americans don't even know they have a Senate let alone how it works.

Reveals of no Particular Interest to Anybody

I don't have ass cancer, but I have to get snaked every three years for polyp removal. I'm supposed to eat more fiber and less red meat.

I have not touched alcohol in 10.5 days. I don't feel any better, but I figure I don't need the calories.

Mrs Vache Folle and I have become addicted to the TV series Weeds which we have been renting via NetFlix.

The choir is "auditioning" a prospective director tomorrow, the first time we've assembled in many weeks. Perhaps the church is committed to the concept of a chancel choir after all.

I have been running/marching a five mile route whenever I can lately, but my left knee is killing me. I have excruciating pain in the medial condyle of my shin. It's back to the orthopod for me, I reckon.

I have been reading a science fiction anthology, a book on human evolution, and a book entitled The New Atheism. The science fiction is about to displace the others since the evolution book seems to be more about paleontologists and their discontents than about interpreting their finds. Just let me know the current consensus, OK? The atheism book is pretty dull. so I haven't gotten far. That it relies to any extent on The End of Faith does not bode well for the rest of the book.

I have fallen behind in my Rosetta Stone Spanish lessons, and I will be in Spain in two weeks! We're scheduled to go to Barcelona for a few days and then to cruise in the Western Mediterranean for a week.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Farewell, Newspapers

I hear that newspapers are failing as businesses. Remember back when the Town Criers were whining about how newspapers were eating into their profits? Or when the bards complained about that newfangled writing thing and how it was killing the demand for epic poems recited from memory? I don't either, but I bet it was a lot like what we're getting from the papers.

The only thing I'll miss about newspapers is how useful they are as a weed suppressant under the mulch. A few layers of newspaper will keep down the weeds and decompose handily into the soil with no ill effects. I reckon I'll just have to use cardboard if Mrs Vache Folle gives up her subscription to the NY Times. She could read it on her blackberry for free, and it would always show up on time (unlike now). She could also avoid the mess of newsprint on her hands and clothes and the annoying way the paper refuses to unfold properly.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Saxons, Vikings and Celts

I recently finished Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: the Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland by Bryan Sykes. It would have been a lot more interesting (and it was pretty interesting, mind you) if Sykes had devoted more pages to interpretation and implications than to the quest for DNA samples and thumbnail histories of the Isles. (BLOGGER ETHICS NOTE: I had to buy the book with my own money and did not get a damned thing for reviewing it. Nobody asked me to review it, and it is unlikely that anyone will be inspired by this review either to acquire the book or to eschew it.)

Anyway, the analysis shows that the long postulated Celtic invasion from Central Europe does not show up in the genes of the Islanders. On the matrilineal side, the Islanders are mainly descended from the mesolithic foragers who first resettled the Isles following the last glacial retreat up to 10,000 years ago. There appears to have some movement along the Atlantic coast from Iberia in the early Neolithic. In Orkney and Shetland, it appears that the Vikings brought their women with them when they settled the area (about a third of the folks carry Viking mDNA). In the old Danelaw, there is evidence that women came with the Danes or the Saxons (5-10% have Viking, Dane, Saxon or Norman mDNA). There is almost no sign of Roman genetic influence in mDNA.

On the patrilineal side, the vast majority of male Islanders carry a Celtiberian Y chromosome. There also seems to be a substantial minority who carry the Y of the mesolithic aborigines, and there is an overlay in the East of Saxons, Danes, or Vikings (in East Anglia as much as 20%).

All in all, the Islanders are Celts (their ancestors antedated the Romans and spoke Celtic languages). Englishmen, Irishmen, Scotsmen, and Welshmen are all brothers. Suck on that, WASPs!

Ardi is not the Boss of Me

Via Huffington Post comes an article speculating whether Ardipithecus was a "liberal". The author, Frans de Waal, after going through the history of interpretations of human nature by analogy with various extant non-human primates, wonders:

"What if we descend not from a blustering chimp-like ancestor but from a gentle, empathic bonobo-like ape? Or what if we share characteristics with both of these close relatives instead of just the one favored by our personal political ideology? Ardi is telling us something, and there may be little agreement about what she is saying, but I hear a refreshing halt to the drums of war that have accompanied all previous theories."

The discovery of the postcranial remains of Ardipithecus has been one of the most exciting events in paleoanthropology in years. Ardi stood erect, and she had a prehensile great toe. She lived in the forest, not on the savannah. The implications of the discovery for human evolution have been described by Owen Lovejoy and others in a special issue of Science (registration required).

What I find most interesting about the discovery are the plausible explanation for the development of bipedalism offered by the data and the long overdue recognition that extant great apes have been evolving all this time from our common ancestor as well. Our ancestor probably wasn't like any of the living species of hominoids. Several features of Ardipithecus are consistent with the notion that bipedalism developed as part of a strategy of male provisioning of mates and offspring which required carrying provisions over relatively long distances.

But as exciting as all this may be, I can't wrap my brain around the idea that the way that Ardi lived has much to do with how we should live now. Righties (other than Creationist religious righties, that is) sometimes point to evolutionary psychology (they prefer the term sociobiology for some reason) to support the status quo, and they tend in my experience to favor the "Killer Ape" model, so I reckon fossil evidence that counters such fatuous arguments with equally fatuous counterarguments are useful to a degree. I'd prefer, however, to attack the underlying premise that human evolution has left us with a set of "natural" tendencies that it would be wrong in many cases to resist and in all cases to problematize.

I am speculating here a bit, but I would bet that Ardi shit in the woods. Does that mean that we ought to shit in the woods, that it is foolish to develop plumbing and alternative shit disposal systems that run counter to our nature as sylvan defecators? Should I tolerate it if strangers come and shit in my woods?

Ardi ate all her food raw. Does that mean cooking is unnatural and wrong?

Ardi didn't wear any clothes. Clothing is unnatural and wrong?

What if Ardi were promiscuous? Would that mean that promiscuity should be the norm for us now?

Ardi lived by the chase and forage. Is it, therefore, wrong to farm or work at a trade?

Ardipithecine females may have stayed close to the nest with their young while males went off in search of provisions. Does that mean that it is wrong for our women to leave the house and work?

Ardi did what Ardi had to do to get by when and where she lived. Lucky for us, her descendants were flexible enough to adapt when times changed. We're still adapting. If we're not, we're doomed.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bill Donohue Embarasses Catholics Yet Agaain

Bill Donohue, whacky Catholic apologist, reckons that troglodytes are outbreeding folks with more progressive outlooks:

Wonkette quotes the following:

"The culture war is up for grabs. The good news is that religious conservatives continue to breed like rabbits, while secular saboteurs have shut down: they’re too busy walking their dogs, going to bathhouses and aborting their kids. Time, it seems, is on the side of the angels."

Crazy Bill Donohue, don't you know that religious conservatism is not hereditary? Hell, everyone's ancestors at some point were religious conservatives, but a lot of us have thrown off the yoke of superstition and authoritarianism despite this. No matter how many babies your religious conservatives pump out, there's no guarantee that they will also be religious conservatives.

Look at the Anabaptists. Their belief system is held by a small minority of the world's population even though they have been "breeding like rabbits" for almost five hundred years. If Anabaptist beliefs were hereditable, they would have overrun the world by now. Look at Catholics. No matter how many little Catholics you make, you can't depend on their not blowing off their religion when something more attractive comes along. You still have to sell Catholicism, and that's one hard sell now that Donohue and his ilk aren't allowed to host autos da fe any longer.

Time is on the side of the angels, Bill Donohue, but you'd be surprised at who the angels really are.


Jasper escaped last night and was missing for an hour and a half. I was just finishing up listing him on when he found his way home. I don't think I could have slept last night he had still been missing.

Today, I clogged up his escape route real good with a plank that I don't think he can dislodge even if he works at it for a good hour. I also need to impress on him the importance of coming to me when I call him even when he is hot on the trail of some varmint.

On a positive note, Jasper was not followed by villagers with torches and pitchforks.

I don't like worrying the way Jasper made me worry last night. Good thing I don't have children, I reckon.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Is it conceivable that the US has sponsored "terrorists" in the past and continues to do so to advance foreign policy aims?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Proof of Snow

Mrs Vache Folle took this photo of my car last night about 7. There was even more snow this morning.

Complaint Department

My complaints du jour:

It was still snowing this morning when I left for the office. I need to mow the yard, but it's covered in snow.

My left knee pain has returned. Now there's also something wrong with the shin bone where it joins the knee. It hurts a lot.

I still have the plantar fasciitis and heel spur in my right foot, and they hurt a lot, too.

My allergies are in full swing with mucho snot and tears and sneezing and sinus headaches behind the eye.

My left eye is jiggling off and on.

Jasper is escaping from the yard somehow, and I can't figure out how he does it. I have to catch him in the act.

I almost ran over a beaver and spilled coffee on myself.

Other than these things, I can't complain.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Foul Weather

It is snowing here on Hosner Mountain. Fortunately, it ain't stickin'. After the crappy summer we had, I can't believe we're having early onset winter. We didn't even get an Indian Summer.

I suppose it makes no sense to complain about the weather. There's nothing for it. Might as well enjoy what Mother Earth is featuring. Autumn is a very beautiful time of year in the Hudson Valley, what with all the spectacular "foilage", as the city folks put it. Other good things about fall and winter: no more mowing; more sitting around time; more time at the office so more money; juncos; wildlife is more visible.

Every year about this time I begin to fret about having lost my winter condition driving mojo. I haven't yet lost it. I hate driving in icy conditions in the dark, but I know how to do it. Rule number one is slow the hell down. A four wheel drive is not a license to violate the laws of physics. Rule number two is avoid situations in which braking might be required. Leave lots of space in front of you. Rule number three is ignore that stop sign on Miller Hill Road when you're trying to climb the hill.

UPDATE: Now it sticketh!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Satan Missing

So far in the first few books of the Bible, I have found no references to Satan or to an afterlife. There was one instance where Moses called down some smiting on political dissidents in the camp and sent them "alive to Sheol". The earth opened up and swallowed the victims. I don't know if the use of Sheol in this instance was figurative or if Moses claimed that he was sending his adversaries to a place known as Sheol while still alive.

Wherein I Opine About Random Stuff

Roman Polanski. If he raped a girl, he should face justice. I don't care how great a filmmaker he is.

Baseball postseason. I'd love to see Joe Torre and his Dodgers take on the Yankees who wrote him off as over the hill.

Football pools. I'm not in one, so I don't have to follow football not even a little bit.

Surrogates. Entertaining movie, albeit implausible.

Couples Retreat. Bad movie that I enjoyed and then felt ashamed that I had enjoyed it.

Johnny Walker Black. Twice as good as JW Red. I won't even try the other colors. I can't afford them so it's best that I don't know what I'm missing.

Sushi. Better out West.

Net Flix. We're in a free trial, and so far we're loving it. We've rented the first seasons of Mad Men and Weeds and are now on Season One of Battlestar Galactica. All the movies in my queue are TV shows, mostly British.

Facials. Got one Monday, and I look great. I'm going to get them regularly.

Massages. Every three weeks at a minimum is a necessity.

Heel spurs. Bad.

Guess Where I Was Last Week

Use these bad cell phone photos of public art to identify the city I visited last week.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Choir Disbanded?

It appears that my church has decided to let the music program (other then contemporary praise song leading) slide and that the consistory is not committed to hiring a choir director due to budgetary constraints. I have made my feelings about this known to the consistory for what it is worth. The chancel choir has not yet come off its summer hiatus, and I don't know that it will or that anyone other than the choir itself cares. Accordingly, I'm going to start visiting other churches in the area to see if any have a good traditional music program. I aim to start with the Epsicopalians.

Bible Study

I've finished rereading Exodus plus Leviticus, and now I'm in Numbers. So far, the rules that God has set down (or so the Levites would have everyone believe) deal mainly with the details of sacrifices and religious observances in the sanctuary and to unclean and clean states of being. Many of them seem to be temporary, i.e. limited to the time when God's sanctuary was a tent in the wilderness. Others are "permanent statutes". All, however, are directed entirely to the people of Israel and to nobody else, so I'm not paying too much attention to them at this point.

There is an interesting episode in Numbers. Some Israelites go into Canaan as spies to get the lay of the land, and all but Caleb and Joshua counsel caution and warn that the Canaanites are formidable adversaries. Later, some Israelites attempt to enter Canaan and are, in fact, slaughtered by the Canaanites. This is said by Moses to be their punishment for not believing Joshua and Caleb that they could easily take Canaan. Really?

In these books, God talks to Moses directly and appears to the people as a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. He likes the aroma of burning animal flesh, and He can't stand whiners. He aims to make Israel a nation of priests. Within the nation of priests, you have the Levites as priests and the House of Aaron as superpriests. I'm going to go out on a limb ad speculate that the Levites had a hand in writing these books.

Suicide in the Circle

One of Vache Folle's long time co-workers from her last job bought a gun, rented a car, drove to a beach in Long Island, and shot himself in the head. A jogger discovered his body.

Everyone who knew him is completely shocked and asking themselves how this could have happened. He was an amiable man with a family, in good health, employed and making a very good living, and by all accounts happy enough that he would not kill himself. He didn't leave a note.

When I heard the news from Mrs VF, I immediately suspected foul play. After all, he had gone in for a flu shot the day before. Who does that if they're going to kill themselves? The police are certain that it was suicide.

While I take comfort in the notion that death is always there as an escape should things become unbearable (hypothetically), I have never actually contemplated suicide. I have a hard time imagining what would drive me to it (other than a psychotic episode). What secret did Mrs VF's acquaintance harbor that led him to take his life?

Mrs VF is pretty shaken up by this.