31 12 2010

We are quickly drawing to the end of yet another dreary orbit around our home star (unless you’re reading this in the UK, in which case it’s already happened), so I will post some random odds and ends in lieu of the stereotypical “End of the Year List” you will find at many other sites.


Bad Astronomer asked his readers to tweet him what made them become a skeptic. He got roughly 500 responses, most of which seemed to indicate that skeptical behavior was the result of a sudden inspiration. He collated them and posted the results on his blog, and they make informative reading.

My path to skepticism was a bit more gradual. Neither of my parents were religious, and my father was particularly intolerant of bullshit in any form. This gave me little impetus to fall into any given belief system. I also read heavily as a child, and my choice of reading material gave me even more reason to question everything. Heinlein, in particular, helped me develop a healthy lack of belief in anything without supporting evidence.

I suppose this upbringing makes me one of the lucky ones. I never had to weather the emotional and mental torment of casting aside long-held beliefs, because I never really believed in any of that crap anyway. I have no objection to anyone following whatever path they choose- provided they do not try to force me to live in accordance with their beliefs.


The Barefoot Bum is one of the blogs I read regularly. Despite the fact that he and I agree on very little, I enjoy reading the output of intelligent minds such as his.

One particular point on which we disagree is communism. He is an avowed communist, and I am more of a rational anarchist (to steal a term from Heinlein).  I am not particularly wedded to capitalism, but I tend to believe a capitalist system of some sort allows greater freedom for individuals than communism. Under communism, the individual is subservient to the society as a whole. I don’t like the idea of  being a servant to anyone.

Recent articles have dealt with the need to overthrow the capitalist system in order for a communist system to be put in place. Since people are unlikely to spontaneously evolve a culture which would allow the peaceful transition from one to the other, Barefoot Bum postulates a revolution to make it happen. To his credit, he makes some very cogent observations about the necessity for the actual revolutionaries to avoid being part of the new ruling party, and points out the very real hazards of any revolution. Even more to his credit, he acknowledges that any such revolution would be made by a small fraction of the population, and may therefore merely repeat the cycle of ruling elites being overthrown by small groups which become the new ruling elites. This sort of intellectual honesty is hard to come by- especially on the internet.

For those wondering, I have no particular love for the government as currently operated. That said, I am willing to work with the established guidelines to modify and improve the way our country is run. Going back to Ed Howdershelt’s Four Boxes (There are four boxes to be used in defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Please use in that order), in the event we, the People, have to open that Fourth Box, I will not be joining in any putative communist revolution.


I recently received one of those ridiculous snail-mail adverts for a local car dealer with a key enclosed. Supposedly, I was guaranteed to win one of an assortment of wonderful prizes, including up to one hundred thousand dollars in cash. Not being a total idiot, I recognized the advert for what it was- a cheap way of increasing foot-traffic to the dealership. Just for giggles and grins, I read through the weasel-word section on the inside. As I had suspected, in addition to the unlikely probability of winning one of the lavish prizes on the front page, the contest rules section said that I would get three gold one-dollar coins for playing their silly game.

I thought about about it and decided it had been a long time since I fucked with a salesman. I drove to the dealer (about 2 miles away) and asked the first salesman I ran across how to redeem my prize. I own two cars- both completely paid for, and they are in great working order with low mileage. I therefore had less than zero interest in buying one of the dealership’s cars.

I used to sell cars- not that I was very good at it. I know what car salesmen are like. One of the things salesmen like to do is play upon the customer’s need to appear to be dealing in good faith and with fairness. Salesmen will therefore play little mental tricks to make you feel that you somehow are obliged to them in some way. This feeling of obligation will be used by the salesman to try to emotionally maneuver you into buying something to avoid wasting their time.

After asking me a bunch of silly questions to determine how much he might be able to fleece me for, my victim prepared his little sermon on why the dealer’s vehicles could lengthen my penis, get the weeds out of my lawn, cure cancer, and end global warming- but only if I bought one today. That’s when I cut him off at the knees. I’d been doing research on several SUVs in the aim of eventually buying one to replace one of my cars. I told him what three vehicles I was interested in and why, and none of them were sold by that dealership. Then I told him that the median price on the three vehicles I wanted was about $35K, which put him on the ropes again (the dealership’s crappy SUVs started at $50K), and that I was not interested in financing second-rate vehicles from him for more than a first-rate SUV would run me from another dealer- especially since I would probably be paying cash.

I really enjoyed myself, especially when he retreated to the manager’s office to “verify my prize”. This is a common tactic used to fool the customer into thinking the salesman was working for them, but is usually used to let the sales manager get one last chance to set the hook. When my victim returned with three new (gold-colored) one-dollar coins, he confirmed my suspicions by mentioning that the dealership did have a TDI Jetta on the lot. Since that was not one of the vehicles I was interested in, I just took my three bucks and left.

So I got to torment a salesman for a half-hour or so, and got paid three dollars into the bargain. Since the dealership already had my name and address, I left them with nothing more than a floor traffic statistic.


Snow doesn’t particularly bother or thrill me. I’ve lived in snow country, and I’ve lived in places where snow would be a major miracle. I can take it or leave it. But here in the Shallow South, the locals seem to go more batshit crazy than usual when the first few flakes of God’s Dandruff come wafting out of the sky. I grant that the 15 to 20 inches of snow we got in this area was basically an entire winter’s worth of snow in a normal year, but whole cities closed down. There are places at sea level within the continental US where twenty inches of snow would be considered a normal winter day.

The drivers around here immediately transformed into one of two types: the timid creeper and the brash dasher. Both types had about the same probability of accident during the first 72 hours after the snow started. There were more than four hundred accidents on the highways in the greater metro area, every one of which was directly attributed to operator error.

Me? I just stayed at home and watched it all on TV. I know how to drive in snow and ice, but I also know that I live among Jethros. My skills on the roadway meant nothing when everyone around me was determined to be as stupid as possible behind the wheel, so I stayed out of it.


I have discovered a wide variety of good beers which help make my life more tolerable. I have previously written about the fact that some beer reduces the constant pain I have lived with for ten years. The one I like best also seems to work the best, which is a damned shame because I cannot get it anymore. The beer in question is called Sara, and is a buckwheat ale from Belgium. I used to be able to buy it through my local outlet, but it is no longer available in this state anymore. Fortunately, I have found others which do the trick and also taste good.

A friend of mine turned me on to a tasty ale called Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale. This is really tasty stuff, which works pretty well. Another lovely brew I discovered on my own is called Gulden Draak, which is very tasty, but a little pricey. When I was in Italy, I discovered a beer called Samichlaus, which ought to named one of the wonders of the world. I recently found a local outlet for this beer, and have re-acquainted myself with it. I used to drink Murphy’s and Guinness, but they don’t seem to have the same effect on my pain, so I have left them behind except for the occasional indulgence. Too expensive for regular use, but tasty and effective is a beer called Tripel Karmeliet. This is a Belgian beer which has been triple-brewed with three different grains. I love the stuff, but cannot afford it often. Another style of Belgian beer which I like and works well is Lindeman’s Lambics. This is a beer which is double-brewed- once with grain and once with one of several varieties of fruit. They’re a bit too much like wine coolers, but they do the job on my pain and aren’t too horribly expensive.


A long time ago, I saw a lecture on C-SPAN by a man named Thomas Barnett, who had written a book called The Pentagon’s New Map. This was a very interesting and entertaining lecture which essentially pointed out that almost all future US military operations would take place in very specific areas of the globe which had little or not connectivity to the rest of the world. Critics on the left tended to excoriate the book and its author for imagined racism (which I did not find when I read the book), but I found it to be depressingly prescient in many ways.

With that in mind, please go to ForeignPolicy.com and take a look at their predictions for which countries are most likely to implode or explode in the coming year. Note that this list makes for depressing reading.


I hope to be back on a more regular posting schedule soon, but I also hope I’ll win the lottery. We’ll see how it goes. Until next year (since it’s still 2010 as  I type this), be good. Pass it on.

Current status: Reflective

Current music: Heart and Soul by T’Pau

So much for the 4th Amendment

13 12 2010

Most Americans are probably not particularly familiar with the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution, but it’s just a little bit important.

Amendment IV- The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In plain language, this Amendment states that the government cannot search you or your property without a valid warrant, which must specifically identify what is to be searched and/or seized. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Sadly, this particular enumerated right has been getting whittled away for decades.

Here’s a new way the government can get around the requirement for a warrant. Let us say you happen to be minding your own business at a grocery store. When you enter the store, you will likely see a bunch of permits on the wall- either at the entry or behind the customer service counter. All of a sudden, a SWAT team bursts into the store and rounds everybody up. Everyone is searched and checked for any warrants or unpaid parking tickets, and one or two people will likely be arrested and hauled away in handcuffs. Let us say you are one of those people- either because you have a warrant or perhaps you got a little “uppity” with the cops (police routinely assume that anyone who stands on their rights is hiding something). Where did the police get a warrant for this raid? It turns out that they don’t need one, if they are “assisting” the government agency which issued the permits for the grocery store. Several police agencies have begun accompanying liquor-enforcement agents and similar government employees for the purpose of rousting everyone at a business they would like to search but have been unable to get a warrant.

Some courts- including at least one Federal Circuit Court- have ruled that this is perfectly acceptable. Nothing to see here, citizen. Move along- after you show me your papers. Anyone who works for or patronizes an establishment which receives a license or permit from the government can be searched and possibly arrested without benefit of probable cause, so long as the police can claim they were enforcing the license or permit requirements.

Say goodbye to your freedoms, citizen. This is for your own good. Mama- in the form of your local, state, and federal government- is going to do what’s best for you, whether you like it or not. The government is going to bend, stretch, and break the limits against such governmental over-reach found in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by any means necessary to enforce the increasingly byzantine web of laws which surround us.

In a complex society (ours certainly qualifies), laws are necessary to avoid a complete breakdown of that society. Most laws were originally intended to protect the weak from those who would prey upon them. Sadly, such good intentions rarely last. Once a segment of society learns how to use the laws to their advantage, they begin crafting increasingly complicated laws covering almost every aspect of daily life for the purpose of gaining control over society as a whole. That old saw about absolute power corrupting absolutely is true. Any government with the power to give you what you want has the power to take it from you.

Our Constitution was designed to provide limits on the power of government. “Congress shall make no law” is one of the common phrases in the Bill of Rights. People in government do not like these restrictions. No matter their political affiliation, these members of the self-identified political ruling class want to make decision on your behalf whether you like it or not. These political leaders tend to get very snippy when any of the rabble they try to rule start to demand accountability for those rulers and their actions.

Worse, the courts have been allowing our ruling classes to get away with violating the rules. Ever been stopped at a DUI checkpoint? Perfectly legal, despite the 4th Amendment’s requirement for a warrant for such searches. Get frisked by a cop on the street? According to the Supreme Court, that’s legal too. Buy a ticket on an airline? You just volunteered to give up your protection against unreasonable search.

Little by little, we, the People, have allowed our political ruling class to steal away our rights. Far too many people even applaud as our precious liberties are taken away.

So, how do we, the People, reverse this downward spiral into a police state? The first method is to pay attention. We return to Ed Howdershelt’ s Four Boxes. “There are four boxes to be used in defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Please us in that order”.

Pay attention to what your elected officials are doing, and pay even closer attention to what the people appointed by those elected officials are doing. If you find something you do not like (if you have truly been paying attention, this is almost a given), speak up. Go to your local government meetings and make your displeasure known. If that doesn’t fix the problem, vote the bastards out of office at the first opportunity. Vote against increases in taxes to pay for stripping liberties from citizens. If people are still losing their innate freedoms, take the bastards to court. If someone is unjustly accused, stand up for them in court. If you are called upon for jury duty, you have the right and the duty to vote your conscience. If you feel the law is not being applied properly, use your vote in the jury to express your displeasure.

Once the courts have failed to protect our freedoms, we, the People will have no choice but to open that Fourth Box. Politicians, bureaucrats, police, judges, and all other government agents take note: We, the People, do not want to open that Fourth Box … but it’s still an option. Do not make us resort to it. If you leave us no other means of protect our liberties, we will. I’m still enough of an optimist to think that would be a Bad Thing, so please- stop convincing me that I’m wrong.


Current status: Grim

Current music: Beds are Burning by Midnight Oil