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


Alarums and Procrastinations

19 08 2010


If it seems that I’ve been absent recently, it’s because … well … I have.  The past few weeks, I’ve been either tired, sore, pissed off, or some combination thereof when I got home from work, so this space has been sadly neglected. Not for the first time, either. Life sucks, but some of its puppies are cute.

Anyway, on with the show.


Here is the sum total of my commentary about Cordoba House. It’s private property. The owners thereof can do what they like with their property within the limits of the law. If no laws are being broken, STFU and MYOB. Period. Full stop.


I rarely agree with the Barefoot Bum when it comes to politics. We’re so far apart in what passes for the political spectrum that we might as well be a different species. I read his blog because he’s smart in streaks and has a writing style I admire. We usually agree on religious matters, so I tend to enjoy his writing on that subject more than others, but I enjoy reading his work regardless of the subject matter.

That said, he has written an outstanding post with the title, Liberal Christians. Anyone who appreciates rational discourse should read this article. My only quibble with it is the title. I would have used rational in lieu of liberal. They’re still living in a fantasy world, but they can at least see reality from where they are- a lot more than can be said about fundamentalists of any flavor.

On the other hand, he’s a much better writer than I am, so my quibble doesn’t mean much.


The Gummint says that 75% of all the oil that came out of the Deepwater Horizon debacle has been removed from the ocean. Scientists who’ve been monitoring the situation are saying that 75% of the oil is unaccounted for, and they’re calling the Gummint’s statement so much horse manure. Published reports suggest most of the unaccounted-for oil is on the sea floor and in enormous plumes drifting with the currents.

In other words, we’re going into extra innings with this one. The environmental costs of BP’s short-sighted shortcuts with just about every standard operating procedure will be decades coming in, and we- the People- will be footing the bill in the form of taxes. For generations to come.


Ah, the US media. So blind. So naive. So willfully ignorant. So complicit in manipulating public perceptions.

While what passes for media outlets here in the US have been willfully distracting the public with the nontroversy about Cordoba House, a disaster of biblical proportions has been playing out on the other side of the world. While televisions and headlines here in the States have been focusing on the rantings of xenophobic retards, twenty million people are trying desperately to stay alive despite catastrophic flooding in Pakistan. Allow me to repeat that number: TWENTY. MILLION. PEOPLE.

Unlike the ridiculous pinheads protesting Cordoba House, those affected by the flooding in Pakistan are actual human beings. The biggest humanitarian nightmare in human history is happening right now, and the so-called “news” organizations in this country are mostly ignoring it. Our Gummint is willing to spend billions of dollars to bail out GM, but people in Pakistan are dying of preventable diseases and starvation for want of a measly $425 Million dollars in promised aid- only a portion of which was promised by the US.

How about we sell an aircraft carrier and give the proceeds to one of the international charities operating in Pakistan for disaster relief? I trust the Red Cross/Crescent to do a better job helping out the survivors than any government. Don’t forget to donate to one of the charities providing help for the victims yourself. Americans are the biggest source of charitable donations on the planet, and now is the time to live up to that. Don’t wait for the government to do the right thing- you’ll die of old age before that happens.


Ninety years ago, the US finally granted women the right to vote. This was yet another long-overdue step away from the notion that only white christian male land-owners should have any say in how the country was run. It was also a profound poke in the eye of fundamentalist ass-hats who believe that women are somehow inferior. That particular breed of vermin is still polluting our national discourse, but they’re growing fewer and less influential with each passing year. To those people, I have only this to say: Change is inevitable. Cope.


Rabble-rouser and renowned television weeping wonderboy Glenn Beck will be holding a rally on the same date and at the same place as Dr. Martin Luther King’s epic, “I Have a Dream” speech. Cognitive dissonance will flow like water, metaphors, logic, and syntax will be abused, and I plan on doing something more interesting … like watching my lawn grow.

Mr. Beck certainly has the right to hold a rally, but his histrionic brand of stupidity is just so godawful that I can’t bear thinking about it for long. Unfortunately for me, my beloved wife has the bad taste to watch his ridiculous rantings every night. I then have to spend an hour or so every evening explaining to her that the funny little man on the TV is a pinhead of the first water, and he’s almost entirely wrong on almost every topic. If Glenn Beck said that the sun rose in the east, I would check for myself to make sure.


Apparently, the list has been narrowed down to getting abused by the thugs-in-uniform who make up that city’s police department. Oddly enough, the city recently replaced the civilian in charge of overseeing police investigations … because he decided that the police were at fault too often. The new guy apparently thinks police brutality is a standard procedure.  The latest victim was roughed up on camera for telling a driver being cited by the Largest Street Gang in America that he’d be happy to testify on the driver’s behalf. I’m pretty sure “Dissing a Cop” is  not a valid criminal offense.

I understand that the FBI has taken an interest. perhaps they could also look into the several thousand similar cases scattered across the country while they’re at it.


A federal judge eviscerated California’s Proposition 8. Yet another move away from from limiting human rights to white christian male landowners. It seems like the xenophobes in this country are running out of enemies to demonize.

Damn the horrible luck.


That’s all I have for now. Fresh outrages and snark coming soon. Don’t touch that dial.

Current status: Drugged up enough to post

Current music: Pepper by Butthole Surfers

Miscellaneous Blather

2 11 2009

I’ve been pretty busy buying and moving into a house here in the Shallow South, hence the lengthy gap between submissions. Now that my life is slightly less hectic, I’ll regale my few readers with some brain squeezings I’ve been collecting during the hiatus.


A couple of months ago, the Barefoot Bum abruptly closed his blog. He said that he’d run out of things to say. Fortunately for rational discourse, he has recanted that decision and returned to the fray. Please give him a read. I rarely agree with him politically, but he always makes well thought-out and supported arguments. This is such a rare commodity among internet denizens that we should all take notice- whether or not we agree with his conlusions.


There’s an excellent article over at City Journal describing the demographic penalties for high-tax states in comparison with low-tax states. The two primary comparisons are between Texas and California. I have a few issues with some of the author’s unspoken assumptions, conclusions, and methodology, but the trendline does appear to be significantly in favor of the states with lower taxes.


The wife and I have abandoned our previous internet and TV service provider in favor of two competing services whose aggregate payments are roughly 1/3 cheaper. While I’m on the subject, we’re saving better than a hundred dollars a month by moving out of our apartment and into our own house. All told, our monthly outlays will be reduced by about 25% because of this move- despite the added costs of sewer, garbage, and water.

How did we do it? Simple. We refused to settle for less than what we wanted for the money, we were willing to wait for the right circumstances, we’re willing to put in sweat equity, and we are not averse to paying for quality. We got a roughly $150K house for only $120K.


My wife and I did a lot of shopping around for goods and services for our new house. Consumer Reports was very useful in determining which appliances to buy, and some of the companies who submitted winning bids on the modifications and upgrades we wanted recommended other companies for specialty work. Note that the winning bids were not necessarily the lowest bids. I value quality workmanship at least as much as cost. One company showed up to do some electrical work within 20 minutes of our phone call, performed admirably and professionally, and charged a modest fee. Since this company also performs plumbing and other work, we’ve hired them more than once.


Usually pays off over time. In the case of some of our upgrades, we’re reaping dividends in the short term as well. Our top-end HVAC system is returning us approximately $4,300.00 in tax credits and rebates. All you have to do is learn the rules and exercise the grey material between your ears. Yes, Virginia, there is math involved.

Whenever a salescreature begins extolling the efficiency of his or her overpriced product of choice, calculate out how long it would take for the efficiency savings to pay for the higher price. Unless the product has a lifespan measured in decades, a return on investment time of 5 years or more is probably not worth it.

Your mileage may vary. Not sold in stores. Consult a physician or lawn-care professional before using. Offer void in Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of Tennessee.


One of the happier memories from my childhood was Halloween. These days, however, various strange bedfellows are working in concert (perhaps inadvertently) to destroy happy memories of the holiday for the current generation of kids. Wiccans, rabid evangelical christians, and helicopter parents all have their collective panties in a twist about Halloween.

Here in the Shallow South, the fundie-loonies are all up in arms over the supposed satanic nature of Halloween. Schools in this area can’t even refer to October 31st as Halloween. Now it’s the Fall Festival. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the evangelical wingnut fringe is making these claims- they don’t even know what’s in their sacred texts, so why should I think they’d be willing and able to read history and anthropology?

The helicopter parents at least have a few fragments of rationality behind their phobia against permitting their precious snowflakes to go trick-or-treating. There really are bad things which could happen to the puir wee bairns. The fact that a few basic precautions can eliminate or at least dramatically minimize the (already low) probability of those Bad Things happening has apparently not entered the vacuous skulls of the pathologically overprotective. So their crotch-goblins miss out on the fun of pretending to be goblins. Don’t worry- I’m sure the helicopter parents will pay for their paranoia, probably in the form of payments for the services of child psychologists.

Those wacky Wiccans are the real wild cards in the mix. For some reason, some Wiccans are upset that their holiday is being usurped by common folk for non-religious reasons. In my experience, Wiccans  are generally very tolerant of the real world around them. It’s disturbing to learn that even pagans have fundamentalist whackjobs.


… the police in San Jose, California, are escalating the general assault on the civil liberties of the citizens they allegedly serve. Apparently, police in that city have been arresting tons of people for the crime of … wait for it … resisting arrest. Furthermore- and this will shock you- the internal police department investigations into citizen complaints about this practice have found that the officers did not violate procedure.

Somebody call the Supreme Court. I’m reasonably certain that “dissing a cop” is not a valid criminal offense.


Some jackass-in-office in Ayer, Massachusetts got perturbed at the sight of a father pushing his kid on a swing while smoking. Outdoors. In public. How horrible! As a result, the stalwart city leaders of Ayer have banned smoking in all parks and public lands within their jurisdiction.

I don’t smoke, but the idea doesn’t fill me with horror or loathing either. I seriously doubt that anyone outdoors is likely to be exposed to hazardous levels of second-hand smoke unless they were literally nose-to-nose with the smoker. Simply walking a meter or so in any direction would reduce the potentially toxic emissions from the smoker to negligible levels- well below the maximum threshold value from the NIH. As a practical matter, the general level of toxins already in the atmosphere in most major metropolitan areas make second-hand smoke one of the safest pollutants to breathe. Of course, I’m talking about practicality in reference to a state founded by a bunch of bandy-legged, redneck, militia types (also known as Puritans). Logic and practicality never come into play when the chance arises to punish someone for enjoying himself.

Isn’t it about time we (the People) told the officious busybodies who supposedly work for us to keep their noses out of our business?

And that’s all for this show. Tune in at some indeterminate time in the future when I find something else to get irate about.

Current status: Tired and sore

Current music: Cygnus X-1, Book II by Rush

Scraps of Consciousness

16 08 2009

For those of you might be paying attention, I’ve been absent for a bit. In lieu of the usual rant, here are some bits and pieces.


Can somebody please tell me why Cynthia McKinney continues to get press coverage? She is not a member of congress- or any other elected body. She does not fit the usual definition of “celebrity”. And yet, she continues to attention-whore her way into the news cycle at least once a month.


Queen Nancy has managed to win the Hypocrite of the Month Award just before undergoing surgery to remove both feet from her mouth. Despite her outspoken support of organized liberal groups disrupting town hall meetings, she has apparently decided that organized conservative groups disrupting town hall meetings is some kind of sinister conspiracy. An “un-American” sinister conspiracy, no less.

This was stupid back when the Bush Administration tried to classify all dissent as treason, and its still stupid now. A foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but stupid inconsistency is the trademark of the hypocrite. How does this imbecile continue to win re-election? Are the other choices that much worse? Since she is from California, I am forced to concede the possibility.


Speaking of weapons-grade hypocrisy, ex-Veep Cheney has been holding forth (at length) in the media about his thoughts and opinions. For those of you who couldn’t bear to pay attention over the last eight years or so, this is the same man who willfully dodged media attention, public scrutiny, and even Congressional subpoenas when he was in office. When his opinion actually mattered, he was nowhere to be found. Now that he’s a used-to-be, we can’t seem to avoid him.

Clue time: Hey, Dick! When the majority of the country sees you as a sinister, Machiavellian figure, complaining that the President started ignoring your advice and acting “independent” is not going to win you any points. Just take your retirement check and fade into oblivion as quietly as possible.


As I predicted, the American people rapidly lost interest in the tragedy happening in Iran. Driven by the lack of overt, graphic video coverage from the feckless media, the masses of US consumers drifted blindly off to the next manufactured outrage. In the meantime, thousands of people have literally disappeared, violent oppression of all dissent continues unabated on the streets in Tehran and other cities, and spasms of protest keep recurring every forty days or so. Oh, yeah- Ahminadinnerjacket was sworn in as President of Iran. The rest of the world greeted the news with a collective yawn.


I’ve tried to avoid weighing in on the health-care debate. I rarely watch TV, but the little I do watch is saturated with the trials and tribulations of the various health care reform bills being bandied about. Here’s my take:

The system we have now (more or less private industry and free market controlling prices and access to health care) is chaotic and inconsistent. Anecdotal evidence from the UK, Canada, and other places seem to indicate that government-run health care is somewhat less chaotic and somewhat more consistent. Several people who probably don’t know any better have chimed in that the US military has government-run health care. This idea sends a shiver down my spine. The country at large does not- repeat, NOT– want to be subjected to military-style healthcare. Military health care (Tricare for active-duty personnel and the VA for veterans) are hardly models of efficiency and high standards. I have lived through both, and they suck. We already have a government health care plan. It is called Medicare. It sucks. It is marginally better than nothing at all.

Given that the Gummint is incapable of efficiency and cost-effectiveness, I fail to understand why anyone would be interested in a government-run health care system. Those who can afford health insurance and want it already have it. Those who want health insurance and cannot afford it are eligible for Medicare. If they want better medical care than the Gummint provides, they’ll have to pay for it themselves, somehow. Forcing me to pay for everyone else’s health care is hardly a viable option.


At a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, the media managed to manufacture another tempest-in-a-teapot to distract the viewers from the real issues. President Obama was going to be speaking at a high school about health care, and thousands of citizens showed up to advocate one side or another of the debate. Instead of providing actual journalism, however, the media decided to focus on the fact that one of the people outside the venue was carrying a pistol on his hip.

Alarm! Fake outrage! Shrill screeching and squawking from the talking heads! Frantic gesturing and pontificating!

Let’s take a look at the actual facts, shall we?

1- New Hampshire is an open-carry state. This means that any citizen can carry a loaded firearm in public at his or her discretion. There are a few restrictions on places where firearms are not permitted, but the law is fairly clear that wearing a pistol in a holster is not a problem. In addition, according to friends of the man in question, he always carried a gun.

2- The man in question was not a threat to the President. He was contacted by the Secret Service and the police and reminded to stay 1,000 feet from the school, and he complied immediately. If the Secret Service (who are understandably jumpy and disinclined to laxity on the subject of Presidential security) did not have a problem with the armed citizen, why did the media start foaming at the mouth on the subject?

3- When interviewed later by one of the talking heads, the armed citizen was asked if the gun was loaded. WTF? Carrying an unloaded gun would have been stupid beyond belief. I have always held that the media talking heads are ignorant fools, but this was a stupid question- even for them. Here’s a much better question: Were you trying to foment an incident, or are you just stupid? See? That wasn’t too difficult, and I never took any journalism classes in college.


I note with sadness that the Barefoot Bum has chosen to quit blogging. He and I rarely saw eye-to-eye, but he always presented a sound argument and had an excellent grasp of fact and theory. He’ll be missed.

That’s all for now. Tune in next time for more observations of the idiotic and ridiculous.

Current status: Annoyed

Current music: Coffee Song by Soul Coughing