Friday, January 29, 2010

Train Teenagers as Soldiers

I have been reading and hearing about how new recruits for the armed services are, taken as a whole, in unusually poor physical condition. A lot of effort goes into getting them in sufficient shape to meet minimum fitness standards. I suppose seven hours a day in front of TVs and computers and texting leave little time for exercise.

Arguably, the need for physically fit bullet stoppers makes secondary school physical education a matter of national security. I propose that the DoD take over gym programs in American schools and design and operate them to get youngsters ready for military duty and to keep them that way. Gym teachers would come off school district budgets, and coaches could be used to teach academic courses or drivers ed instead of PE. Let's face it. PE programs have failed to make our youth fit for duty.

Gym teachers would be active duty drill instructors. Over the course of four years of high school, they should be able to get just about every youngster fit.

Everybody wins. Kids get fit whether they become bullet stoppers or not. The armed forces get a pool of recruits that are ready to learn soldiering from day one. Schools get PE programs off their plates.

It may even be possible at some point to include all the training that soldiers get in Basic Training in the program. What soldiers learn in a few weeks of BT could be drilled over and over during four years of high school. That would be good for the armed forces if those trained youth enlist. Moreover, those who do not enlist will be better equipped to serve as the unorganized militia in the event of a national emergency.

Some more advanced youngsters could even opt to take Advanced Individual Training and qualify for a Military Occupational Specialty during high school.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How to Keep the Poor from Breeding so Much

The complaint by South Carolina's less than gentlemanlike lieutenant governor that giveaways to poor people encourage them to breed like "stray animals" leads me to consider what one might do to lower the fertility of poor women if that were one's goal.

Poor women in the US appear to have a higher fertility rate than not so poor women, although this may be skewed by the fact that having children sometimes makes one poor at the same income level that would not qualify as poor for a childfree household. In fact, fertility decreases with affluence with total fertility at just below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. Assuming that the policy goal is to reduce the fertility of the poor, leaving for the later the implications of negative population growth, how might the State of South Carolina go about this?

This could be accomplished by (a) reducing the value of children, and/or (b) increasing the cost of children. Child labor restrictions and other policies render the economic value of children negligible, and it is difficult to imagine how the State of South Carolina could make having children less entertaining and satisfying. Perhaps if the children of the poor were required to attend boarding school away from their parents they would be less fun to have, but the cost of such a solution and its questionable constitutionality argue against it. Accordingly, the State of South Carolina is left with the cost side of the ledger.

Pronatal subsidies such as free public schooling, tax credits and exemptions, AFDC, WIC, and the like reduce the cost of childrearing, albeit at levels that are unlikely to have a significant impact on fertility except at the margins. Poor people reproduced at even higher rates before these programs were in place and continue to do so in countries without such subsidies. It is probably not possible to limit free public schooling to persons of means, but it may be possible to have the same impact by charging school fees while keeping attendance mandatory. Enforcement of such a measure, eg by incarcerating recalcitrant parents, would be costly and interfere with other state goals.

The best way to increase the costs of childrearing would be to increase opportunity costs significantly by ensuring that women actually have meaningful opportunities to forego. Then again, this may well entail wholesale changes to the systems in place in South Carolina that lead to the existing poverty rate and permit the advancement of politicians of the sort who reckon that the reduction of the fertility of the poor is a legitimate goal.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ways that Poor People are Like Stray Animals

1. Poor people and stray animals did not create the systems in which they find themselves poor and stray.

2. Poor people and stray animals both want our solicitude and mercy.

3. Poor people and stray animals are doubly unfortunate if they find themselves in South Carolina.

4. Poor people and stray animals are both easy targets for the cruel and thoughtless.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Support the Troops

Via Huffington Post comes this story of a US soldier and single mother who is being charged for refusing to deploy for want of care for her child.

I'm thinking that some generous troop-supporting Americans could come forward and help out servicemembers whose child care plans fall through. It would be a lot more supportive than a magnet on their cars. Foster care would not be appropriate since the circumstances do not warrant subjecting the children of deploying servicemembers to the horrors of the child welfare apparatus.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Politics on FaceBook

I've had some hilarious discussions in comment threads on FaceBook with friends of friends. One woman who reckons the Democrats are Marxists and called me crazy for pointing out that some Tea Party Patriots have dodgy connections, wrote that she didn't know enough about the Neo-nazis to decide whether they were too radical for her. Another woman insisted that Obama has never used the word terror or terrorist and, therefore, does not admit that there is a terror threat. A lot of them imagine that voters in Massachusetts elected Republican Scott Brown to the Senate because they are coming around to the thinking of the religious right!

Since I hate both parties (the Republicans slightly more), I have been able to point out to folks just how differently the other side seems to see things. If you get all your news from FOX, you don't know anything. Liberals don't seem to understand how conservatives (ordinary people, not pundits and politicians) view the world and, therefore, misread their motives. I have been surprised in dealling with folks how much they have in common when you get down to their actual views on issues notwithstanding their labels. I have not been surprised at what dupes people are and how they buy talking points hook, line and sinker.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Virginia Coddles Terrorist

Why has the Commonwealth of Virginia chosen to put Christopher Speight through the criminal justice system? ( The man is a suspected domestic terrorist and should be whisked away to a secret detention center and tortured until he gives up others in his cell.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Massachusetts Hates America, But That's OK

Massholes went and elected a Republican temp for the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. I don't reckon this did any harm other than to the reputation of Massachusetts. He'll have to pretend to be not crazy if he wants the seat for a full term, and that will put him in a bad way with the wingnuts.

As for the loss of the filibuster proof 60 vote supermajority, the Democrats never had it. Lieberman was never to be relied on, and there were enough Blue Dogs to do the GOP's job even with 60 votes in the caucus. Maybe this will allow the Democrats to kick Lieberman to the curb where he belongs.

What will come of health care reform? Maybe the House will go ahead and pass the Senate bill and work out the kinks in reconciliation. Maybe it will just die and the process will have to start over. For political fun, I'd like to see the Democrats take a mulligan and let the GOP look obstructionist.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I Know the Father of Jesus

On Saturday evening, Mrs Vache Folle and I went to a production of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Rhinebeck Center for the Performing Arts. It was quite excellent.

We were inspired to go because I am slightly acquainted with the father of the young man playing the role of Jesus Christ.

I mentioned during a conversation with the woman sitting beside me that I knew the father of Jesus. She looked perplexed for a moment and then said "You know God?"

One Spirit

Our church participates in aorganization in the area called Love INC. or Love In the Name of Christ. Love INC represents a pooling of resources from many churches of various denominations to do good works in the community. It is an example of unity, a living out of the exhortation of Paul to be one in the spirit. Our pastor's sermon yesterday had this as its theme. When people see Christians let them see gift givers who are a blessing to the world, not divisive judgmental scolds or the like. Let us be unified in being a blessing to the whole world and set aside our differences over doctrine and how we worship.

When I grew up in the Bible Belt, the call to unity and away from disunity was used to suppress dissent. If you didn't believe and do as you were told and as your spiritual betters did, you were being divisive. And it was only proper that the church should avoid divisive people and make it known that they had no truck with the likes of them.

What a perversion of the ideal of unity to use it to divide.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

David Brooks Inspires Another Blog Post

There’s much to criticize in Friday’s OpEd by David Brooks in which her argues that Haitian “culture” is progress resistant and a cause of their poverty. He comes to this conclusion after remarking that Barbados, which was once a slave society, is not so poor. He does not acknowledge the significant differences in the histories and circumstances of Barbadians and Haitians. It can’t be the history of slavery, Brooks impliedly concludes, so it must be something else. It can’t be geography, he argues since the DR is on the same island and not nearly so poor. It must be something about the Haitians themselves. Brooks can’t really come out and say that the Haitians are stupid and shiftless, so he uses the concept of “culture” as cover. Haitians do what appear to Brooks to be stupid and counterproductive things because their “culture” makes them do so. I don’t suppose Haitians are reckoned to have any kind of agency in this analysis.

Brooks does allow that it is worth trying to instill in them bourgeois sensibilities. He praises programs that “are going to replace parts of the local culture with a highly demanding, highly intensive culture of achievement — involving everything from new child-rearing practices to stricter schools to better job performance”. Perhaps it would more efficient simply to send free motivational CDs and CD players to every Haitian to get them in an achieving mood. Does Brooks suppose that Haitians want to be poor and desperate? That they mistakenly cling to a fatalistic mentality and favor short term planning because some memetic virus prevents them from doing otherwise?

The fact is that for most Haitians clinging to hope of achievement would be delusional and would lead to even greater unhappiness. There must be realistic opportunities to achieve before a “culture of achievement” will do any good.

Brooks remarks that Haitians have a great deal of social mistrust. It seems to me that social mistrust is the most rational position under the circumstances. Before social trust will rise, there must be trustworthiness on the part of social institutions.

Haitian immigrants bear witness that Haitians are not so fettered by “culture” as to want re-education. Where opportunities exist, they pursue them. Where institutions are trustworthy, they come to trust them. All this they do without undertaking any fundamental “cultural” shift. They adapt to their circumstances and negotiate their way in the world as they find it.

It is undeniable that ideas and values, cultural facts if you will, may be resistant to progress. The Amish, for example, resist technology. Religious fundamentalists resist modernity. The Amish want to live simply. Fundamentalists want to live in a pre-modern social order. Poor people do not as a rule want to be poor, so it is a mistake to confuse their adaptations to the existential conditions of poverty as cultural constraints on achieving prosperity. They can my no means be said to have eschewed prosperity on the bare basis that they happen to be poor.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pat Robertson Slanders God Again

I've been hearing how Pat Robertson has been blaspheming again. The earthquake in Haiti? Part of a curse brought down on the Haitians because they sold out to Satan over two hundred years ago. Or maybe it's Divine Wrath on account of gay folks again. Who can fathom the mind of Pat Robertson? Haiti is a place. Haiti, as a state, is an abstraction. Haiti can't sell its soul to the devil because Haiti doesn't have a soul to sell.

Perhaps everything happens for a reason, but it's the pinnacle of arrogance to pretend that you know what those reasons are. Unless you're a prophet. Pat Robertson is no prophet. His utterances are of no value.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Russian Women Want to Date Me

The latest spams that are coming in to my work inbox are purportedly from Russian women who want to date me. They are attracted to me notwithstanding my other spams that suggest that I need my penis enlarged and that I would look more successful with a replica watch.

My 2 Cents on Harry Reid

Folks who think Harry Reid's comments about the electability of Obama were racist don't know what racism is.

Reid spoke the truth. If Obama were darker skinned and talked like Kanye West, he would not have been electable. That's an observation about the electorate and the limits of their racial toleration.

Stream of Consciousness

I set up a Facebook account. It's a little overwhelming getting in touch with so many long lost schoolmates and finding out what became of them. It has set me to thinking how rare it is to make friends later in life like the ones you made in school. I should have kept them better. I should try to be a better friend, or any kind of friend for that matter, to my current acquaintances. I probably won't, though. I'll just continue to be socially phobic and then beat myself up about it from time to time.

I retained a personal trainer at my new gym, and I'm pleased with the help he has given me. I'm doing the Nautilus circuits and cardio on an elliptical machine. My new gym has trainers who set the machines for you, so that takes some time off the workout. I haven't been as often as I would like, but I have been dealing with a severe allergy attack that began when we went to Europe in November and has not let up since.

I consulted an allergist and am scheduled for testing so I can get shots. I am going crazy with the constant sneezing and snot production. It used to be seasonal, but now it's perpetual. People must think I'm a coke head what with all my sniffling and nose blowing. Allergies also trigger my COPD since snot gets in my lungs while I sleep, tiny invisible animals and plants set up housekeeping in the lung snot, and I end up with bronchitis. It's chronic bronchitis because I get it multiple times a year.

Looking back on the treatment I have received over the years for COPD, I am convinced that it was fruitless. It started with a pulmonologist who prescribed steroids and then had me come in at intervals for pulmonary function tests. Of course, when I have bronchitis, my lung capacity is reduced since I can't blow in the machhine without a coughing jag. When I don't have bronchitis or an allergy attack, I breathe much better. Later, my primary doctor put me on allergy pills since he perceived a connection between the allergies and the bronchitis. These were utterly ineffective. No amount of Claritin or Allegra stemmed the flow of snot and sneezing fits I would have from time to time and that I now have all the time. That my doctor never suggested getting allergy treatments is a mystery to me. Anyway, I am hopeful that this new initiative will avail.

I am trying to get up the nerve to get laser surgery for my eyesight. I am very sensitive about stuff touching my eyes so I know I would be terrified during the procedure. Mrs Vache Folle had it done fifteen years ago in Vancouver (it wasn't approved in the US then) and has been elated with the results. She went from near blindness to almost perfect vision overnight. I'm a chicken.

I had to get my eyeglass frame replaced, and I was a little put out to discover that the frames are from the ladies' section. They didn't seem particlularly feminine to me when I bought them, but now I'm just a wee bit self conscious about them. Silly? Yes.

I went to the Bass Outlet and stocked up on sweaters. They were hugely discounted.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Conservative Criticism of Avatar Says More About Conservatives

The LA Times explores conservative criticism of the movie Avatar: Having just seen the movie, I have one question for its conservative critics: project much?

One of the main critiques seems to have been that it portrays the American military in a bad light and asks audiences to root for American forces to be killed by insurgents. The human forces in Avatar are security contractors retained by a corporation. They don't have the benefit of being deluded into believing or pretending to believe that they kill and destroy for a higher purpose. They are straight up hired guns who do what they do for money and nothing else. They will kill or destroy without a second thought because they are professional killers. Is that how conservatives see the American military? Shame on them if they equate the mercenaries in Avatar with American military forces. Presumably, our soldiers are a lot less like the hired killers than the Marine who takes them on because he knows what is right and fights for a higher cause. At least they have been led to believe that they fight for some higher cause.

Another critique is that the film is anti-human/antiAmerican. If conservatives equate America with the evil corporation in Avatar, then it is no surprise that they hate America. Moreover, the hero of the movie is a human played by an Australian actor pretending to be an American ex-Marine. Humans lead the aborigines to victory. Human conscience thwarts the dehumanized corporate interests and the dehumanized minions of the corporation.

The movie is seen as anti-corporation. It's certainly anti the evil corporation in the story. Do conservatives equate all corporations with the lawless juggernaut portrayed in the film? Do they admire evil?

The movie portrays the aborigines as being extremely in tune with nature. Well, in this story, as it turns out, the natives are in tune with nature. The planet Pandora is, in fact, a living entity with connections to every living thing. The plants and animals commune with one another through some strange organ and are, in point of fact, connected. So they have evolved in this imaginary world, and so it is perfectly sensible for them to acknowledge the connectedness. Far from being soft headed environmentalism, it is a necessity for survival.

Conservatives seem to be mystified that such a story resonates with the public. David Brooks claims that the movie is a retelling of the "White Messiah" story akin to Dances With Woves, A Man Called Horse and such movies. I reckon he is off the mark. These stories aren't about the simple natives' wanting rescue by a superior white man but about the "civilized" stranger's wanting transformation and reconnection with his humanity. The white stranger is not a messiah but an archetypal hero who regains from the natives his lost soul. The tale resonates with us because many of us in the subaltern classes feel as if we are being steamrolled by impersonal dehumanizing forces, and we yearn for a missing sense of community, connection and a purpose greater than profit. We imagine a simpler, richer life and populate this imaginary realm with a romanticized ideal of premodern societies. That actual premodern societies fail to approach this romantic ideal is of no consequence since we are in the realm of myth. Also, I don't reckon the romantic notion of premoderns has done any more harm than the old way of thinking of them as subhuman savages. I don't doubt that conservatives miss referring to premoderns as subhuman.

Anyway, Avatar was a lot of fun, and if conservatives can't enjoy it, that's because they don't approve of enjoyment in any event.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Worst Anarchist Ever

Mrs Vache Folle reckons that I am the worst anarchist ever. This is because I always come to a full stop at every stop sign, even when it is clear that I can get away with a roll through without endangering anyone. Moreover, I observe the traffic laws scrupulously and can't stand even to park illegally or violate even the slightest regulation or ordinance. I'm also not a faithful anti-state ranter. I have been known to vote and to contribute to political campaigns.

And I haven't been posting much about how evil the state is and how we should work tirelessly to bring about a stateless society. I just don't have the heart for it. We live in a world of states, and states are likely going to be around for many generations to come. I'm not even sure that a stateless society would necessarily be as great as I used to think given the depraved state of mankind at present.

I have come to the point where I reckon that railing against the existence of the state or the concept of the state is fruitless. Rather, I have decided to be content with advocating the idea of dealing with the state, using the state, serving the state, and talking about the state mindfully. It would do some good I think to take the concept of the state, work to remove it from the existential substrate, and problematize it in the context of mainstream discourse about politics and policy. For the most part, the concept of the state and the the propriety of government action are givens which are rarely deconstructed and given any consideration in political discourse. I would like to see more instances of having the violent and coercive nature of the state exposed and discussed in discourse about current events and issues. If we are determined to resort in the first instance to violence and coercion, then by all means let us do so mindfully.

And if I live subject to a state and have some influence, however slight, over how it rules over me, I ought to be able to state opinions without being assumed to have abandoned my skepticism about whether state action was warranted, wise or moral in the first place. If we are determined to act through states, I am determined to opine about alternative courses of action.

If I must be ruled by a state, and it appears that I must, I am determined to raise the alarm whenever it appears that the authoritarian nutcase wing of the GOP gets any more control of that state. It may seem at times that I have become a partisan of the Democratic Party, and this is true to the extent that I believe that the Democratic Party is significantly less likely to get us all killed or to bring about an authoritarian shift than the GOP.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010 a ....

I commented to a conspecific the other day that I felt as happy as a lark, to which he replied "What's a lark?" "It's a bird," said I. "Is it especially happy?" asked he. "It is supposed to be the epitome of happiness, but I don't know why."

It comes to me that I frequently use expressions of this sort without any idea as to whether they are in any wise apt. "Drunk as a lord" comes to mind. Are peers of the realm more apt to be drunk than other ranks? I have no experience to guide me.

"Naked as a jaybird" is another. Why a jay? Jays are no more naked than other birds, so why are they singled out as the standard of nakedness?

Other expressions make sense. "Dumb as a rock" is pretty dumb inasmuch as rocks are inanimate objects. I have also heard "hammer" used. I suppose that it would be fun to mix up the objects from time to time, as in "he's as dumb as a stapler" or a "spatula". Inanimate objects, particularly "doornails", also stand in for deadness. Would "dead as a rock" and "dumb as a doornail" work? They don't sound right for some reason.

"Hills" are evidently quite old, but I reckon there are older things, eg the moon, and things that are old enough to make a point without being as old as the hills, eg redwood trees. If the hills are old, the valleys are equally so.

"Pictures" are said to be pretty, but I reckon it depends on what is being pictured and the skill of the artist.

"Birds" are free. So are other wild animals. Why not "free as a squirrel"?

"Houses" are big. So are other buildings. So are tractor trailers.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Choosing to Believe

Yesterday in the sermon, our pastor mentioned that he had been reading some of the recent books by atheists in connection with some discussions he has been having with a skeptic. Since, I've read these books as well and have been following the discussion, I engaged the pastor after church and remarked that it seemed to me to be a mistake to defend faith via reason (not that he was doing this). I pointed out that the movie Religiosity had some good examples of how stupid religious people sound when they try to reason with nonbelievers about irrational religious beliefs. We agreed that religion was not about reason but about faith. I remarked that it was a matter of belief, and he said something about "choosing to believe" before he had to kibbitz with other coreligionists.

I was sorely perplexed by this, and I can't think for the life of me what the preacher meant. Belief, as far as I know, is involuntary. Either I believe something or I don't. I cannot choose what I believe or disbelieve, and if I just pretend to believe in something, that doesn't really count as belief, does it? For me, belief is a gift with which I have been blessed. I didn't just decide one day to believe in Jesus; rather, I discovered that I had come to believe in Him.

In the sermon, the pastor remarked on the hopelessness of the atheistic worldview as he has done before. I am reluctant to project this on atheists. Many of them seem quite hopeful and seem to have a pretty good moral foundation and outlook on the world. They seem reconciled to the universe as it is to them and resigned to it, and this is in many ways similar to the attitude of believers who have aligned their will with that of God and resigned themselves to whatever happens as a manifestation of that will.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Bad Day? No way.

Today has the makings of a bad day, but I aim to make the best of it. It's snowing like hell, and I have a massive sinus headache and excited snot production. Mrs Vache Folle took the 4 wheel drive to a facial, so I'm pretty much stuck and had to resechedule my gym orientation session.

My gym finally went belly up, this time for good it seems since there is a new outfit, a tennis club, in the facility, so I have had to join a new one. It's way better in terms of facilities but much busier (also less likely to go out of business).

Maybe I'll play in the snow and throw snowballs at the dogs for a while. That'll cheer me up.

I haven't broken any resolutions yet, but I haven't fulfilled any that want fulfilling.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Bush in League with AQ?

The Bush Regime, over the objections of the military, released certain detainees from Guantanamo. Some of them went on to leadership in the Al Qaeda franchise in Yemen, and they appear to have been behind the Underwear Bomber's attempt to bring down an airliner.

Is it wrong to jump to the conclusion that the Bush Regime was somehow in league with Al Qaeda? Or should we just chalk this up to monumental incompetence? Sadly, either explanation is plausible.

What David Brooks Wrote

I don't often agree with David Brooks, but his op-ed in the morning paper was partly right:

Brooks opines that Americans have unrealistic expectations about the ability of the security apparatus to thwart terrorist attacks.

Brooks writes:

"Much of the criticism has been contemptuous and hysterical. Various experts have gathered bits of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s biography. Since they can string the facts together to accurately predict the past, they thunder, the intelligence services should have been able to connect the dots to predict the future."

It seems to me that crtics expect a level of omniscience on the part of the intelligence and security apparatus that is not attainable at a reasonable cost in either governmental resources or inconvenience to the public. There is, I contend, no perfect security. States should strive for an optimal level of security that has reasonable costs and thwarts or deters most terroristic endeavors. If the public cries out for more than this, states should try give them the appearance of security that the TSA has become famous for rather than trying to fill in the unfillable gaps.

Brooks goes on:

"In a mature nation, President Obama could go on TV and say, 'Listen, we’re doing the best we can, but some terrorists are bound to get through.'"

We are to Brooks seemingly a nation of bedwetters now of which our forebears would be ashamed. I disagree and suspect that this appearance is a function of the noise that comes from government and cable TeeVee as various self interested individuals and entities strive to exploit the recent failed terror attack for political or financial advantage. Individual Americans appear to me to be much more pragamatic and far less hysterical about the incident than their would be leaders. They are still flying on airliners and going about their business. Security is less of a concern to them than the economy at this point, and that is a rational prioritization of anxieties. I hope that the pundits and politicians fail to frighten us into a state of paranoia where we forget our own best interests.

After all, we have had eight years of this nonsense to become inoculated. The fearmongers may find, I hope, that they are one trick ponies and that the public is on to them. They may perhaps be described as the Norm Charltons of the noise machine.

The fearmongers appear to assume that the public does not remember the Shoe Bomber. How indeed could we forget since we memorialize the event by ritually removing our shoes before we pass through airport security? Any critique of the Underwear Bomber incident and its handling applies to the Shoe Bomber incident and its handling in equal measure. We are not so stupid as to fail to recognize this.

The fearmongers, in mongering fear (may they be confounded), aid and abet the terroristic enterprise in that they are working to inspire the very fear that the Underwear Bomber failed to incite. Shame on them. Shame on us doubly if we are fooled again.