Archive for January, 2009

Ayn Rand’s Dichotomies

Monday, January 26th, 2009

I think this guy was comparing the Bush administration to heroes in an Ayn Rand novel, meaning it in a negative way.

I realize that I’ve over-simplified.  But in order to properly refute Rand’s philosophy, I’d have to write a tome as large as any of hers, and  this is not the place for that.

Thankfully. 🙂

Do you see the parallels?

What’s happening in the Bush administration seems akin to Rand’s story.  Bush is destroying the economic strength of this country with his feeble- minded tax breaks and other policies.  He has painted the poor as having got that way through their own laziness, yet he himself is the embodiment of a human leech, living off the tax-payers’ hard earned cash while producing nothing worthwhile for the largest groups of tax-payers.

The closest parallels I see are not to Rand’s heroes but to a certain class of her villains. It’s been a long time so I can’t remember any characters’ names. I mean the businessmen who believe that the way to succeed is not by honest work and production but by having friends in high places and trading on their connections.

So when I hear about the Bush administration’s no-bid contracts to favored firms for reconstruction work in Iraq and the secret meetings with the energy industry, that’s what I think of. The plan to privatize Social Security is more of the same — it would be a way to steer more money to Wall Street brokerage firms, who would get more commissions not because more people chose to purchase their services but because the government made it happen. Likewise the prescription drug plan was a handout to the pharmaceutical industry; if helping the people over the long term were the real motive, there would have been more attention to adequately financing the program.

immigrants from the Soviet bloc, where socialization was implemented so poorly.

In this respect “We the Living” gives the clearest picture of where she was coming from.

In Rand’s world, there was a dichotomy.  One small group of people was all yang, and the remainder of humanity was all yin.  While Rand was an excellent author, I cannot accept her judgment of humankind.

Actually I think that such a stark dichotomy is a literary failing. I’d rather have leading characters who have more internal struggles and have to grow through the course of the story. Okay, maybe Dagny Taggart did, but did John Galt or Mr. Rearden or, umm… the architect from The Fountainhead?

Of course this is a failing that can be outweighed if the author tells a good story in other respects.


Iran News Poll

Monday, January 26th, 2009

  1. Do you know that the full official name of the country is The Islamic Republic of Iran?
  2. Did you know that they had a presidential election and a runoff this summer?
  3. Did you know that unelected religious figures decided which hopefuls would appear on the ballot and declared others ineligible?
  4. Do you know they have an elected parliament?
  5. Do you know that the same unelected clerics “vet” the candidates for parliament as well, and also veto any laws that they disapprove of?
  6. Do you know that the voting age in Iran is 15 years?
  7. Do you know that Iran’s population has grown rapidly and that a majority of the people are too young to remember when the American embassy staff was taken hostage in 1979?
  8. Do you know that there is a democracy movement among Iranian students who want to enlarge the freedoms they already have and do away with the extreme religious laws?
  9. Do you know that some of these young student activists still look to the United States and other Western nations as examples of democracy?
  10. Do you know that there are uranium mines in Iran?
  11. Do you know that uranium enrichment is a dual-use technology, that is, it has both civilian and military applications?
  12. Do you know that the European nations who are pressuring Iran to cancel its plans to enrich uranium, are hoping to sell them uranium enriched in Europe?
  13. Which of these are your main sources of news on television? NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, Fox, other: ____

[Originally published in 2005.]


Who Controls Government?

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Someone wrote:

But you probably have not heard much about a government controlled by its customers. Economic historian Frederic Lane laid the basis for a new way of understanding where the control of government lies in some of his lucid essays on the economic consequences of violence discussed earlier. Thinking about government as an economic unit that sells protection led Lane to analyze the control of government in economic rather than political terms. In this view there are three basic alternatives in the control of government, each of which entails a fundamentally different set of incentives: proprietors, employees, and customers.

It is easy to characterize the incentives that prevail for governments controlled by their employees. They would be similar incentives in other employee-controlled organizations. First and foremost, employee-run organizations tend to favor any policy that increases employment and oppose measures which reduce jobs. As Lane put it, “When employees as a whole controlled, they had little interest in minimizing the amounts exacted for protection and none in minimizing that large part of costs represented by labor costs, by their own salaries. Maximizing size was more to their taste also.”

A government controlled by its employees would seldom have incentives to either reduce the costs of government or the price charged to their customers. However, where conditions impose strong price resistance, in the form of opposition to higher taxes, governments controlled by employees would be more likely to let their revenues fall below their outlays than to cut their outlays. In other words, their incentives imply that they may be inclined toward chronic deficits, as governments controlled by proprietors would not be.

I replied:

 I saw this where I work. We had to comply with new federal regulations which were billed as protecting consumers. Similar laws had already been in effect in several states, and they were usually administered in a straightforward and simple way. But the federal program was full of fees and complex paperwork that the states never needed. I soon saw that protecting consumers was just a side effect; justifying the jobs of bureaucrats was the main purpose.

They continued:

But wait. You may be saying that in most jurisdictions there are many more voters than there are persons on the government payroll. How could it be possible for employees to dominate under such conditions? The welfare state emerged to answer exactly this quandary. Since there were not otherwise enough employees to create a working majority, increasing numbers of voters were effectively put on the payroll to receive transfer payments of all kinds. In effect, the recipients of transfer payments and subsidies became pseudo government employees who were able to dispense with the bother of reporting every day to work. It was a result dictated by the megapolitical logic of the industrial age.

My comments:

I believe FDR was quite deliberate and open about this in the way he structured the Social Security program.


When you think closely about the terms under which industrial democracies have operated, it is more logical to treat them as a form of government controlled by their employees. Thinking of mass democracy as government controlled by its employees helps explain the difficulty of changing government policy. Government in many respects appears to be run for the benefit of employees. For example, government schools in most democratic countries seem to malfunction chronically and without remedy. If customers truly were in the driver’s seat, they would find it easier to set new policy directions.

My comment:

An independent school district shows this principle in its purest form. The school board elections are on a different day than any other elections, so that only the highly motivated — teachers and their families — turn out to vote.

Appointment of Judges

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Someone wrote:

This means almost all our Judges have been appointed by conservative Republicans (Reagan, Bush 41, and Bush 43).  These Judges are of no mind to rule against DOMA regardless of the Declaration (where the “all men are created equal”) line is, or the Constitution (which guarantees all citizens equality under law).  Who you vote for does have an enormous impact on your own lives.

Someone else replied:

Well, why can the People not vote for the Supreme Court, too?  It seems like an enormous BIAS to allow the President to choose the Supreme Court using his own innate biases, too!  What sense does that make?  Surely the Founding Fathers were smarter than *that*!

I replied:

They did think about that.

I’ve been reading “The Federalist Papers,” which is a series of essays that James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote to encourage ratification of the Constitution. They went over all the provisions and explained how each one would work, giving pros and cons over other alternatives.

In numbers 76 and 77, Hamilton writes about the appointment of officers of the government. This includes Supreme Court justices, other federal judges, department heads, and other high officials. He outlines three alternatives: “The power of appointment…ought either to be vested in a single man, or in a select assembly of a moderate number, or in a single man with the concurrence of such an assembly. The exercise of it by the people at large will be readily admitted to be impractical; as waiving every other consideration, it would leave them little time to do anything else.”

The State of Iowa did not take this advice for its own officials. How much time did you put into deciding who to vote for for Secretary of State or Secretary of Agriculture?

Hamilton goes on to consider the three practical possibilities.

  1. Appointment by the President alone can encourage careful consideration and judgment, because the President would know that nobody else could override his decision and everyone will know where to lay the blame for a bad choice. On the other hand, placing the power in one person’s hands could lead to enshrining the one person’s bias (as you point out).
  2. Having the Senate or a small committee make appointments removes the concentration of too much power in one person’s hands. However, each person involved brings their own biases, which may add up rather than cancel each other out. Appointments could be chosen according to who can keep together a majority coalition rather than who is the best for the job. Or factions could trade off by approving one side’s choice for one position and the other side’s choice for the next one. If a bad choice is made, all those involved can point fingers at each other because it is not clear who to blame. Hamilton relates some bad experiences from his home state of New York, where appointments were made by the governor and a few councilors meeting in secret.
  3. The third alternative is to have the President make the choice, but subject to approval by the Senate. Here the appointees are chosen by one person, who will be encouraged to use careful judgment and discretion, and the people will know who is responsible for a bad choice. Thus we have the advantages of the first alternative. But the Senate can reject an appointee they believe is unwise, so we have the benefits of the second alternative. Since the Senate can only approve or reject, there is not the scope for bargaining and horsetrading, because they don’t know whether the next nomination will be any more to their liking.

Further, this is part of an overall scheme in which the people involved in different parts of the government are chosen in different ways and at different times. The hope is that this will result in people having different interests, and that even if some of them become corrupted or despotic, they won’t all go corrupt at the same time.

So the plan includes:

  • House of representatives, elected directly by the people in each district, every two years.
  • Senate, originally chosen by the state legislatures, for terms of six years. This was intended to safeguard the interests of every state and to provide a defense against federal encroachments onto the rights of states and the power of state governments. It was also intended to insulate the Senate from popular but transient feelings among a majority of the people that might disregard the rights and interests of minorities. Early in the 20th century this was changed to direct election, and I believe this is one of the causes for the expanding scope of federal government power we have seen over the past 90 years. The longer terms and the election from each state at large still make the Senate a little different from the House.
  • President is elected indirectly. The people of each state choose electors, who are not otherwise part of the government, to meet in their state capitals and discuss who would be the best President, and then cast their votes accordingly. Almost immediately this developed into the system we have today, where the electors are pre-pledged to support a particular candidate for President. But it still gives the President an independent base of support, unlike countries with a parliamentary system, where the leader of the majority party in parliament becomes the prime minister.
  • Department heads are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The President can ask for their resignation at any time.
  • Supreme Court and other judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. They serve for good behavior, which means for life unless they do something bad enough to be impeached.

That’s this week’s civics lesson.

Please, Someone Help

Monday, January 26th, 2009

(For some reason I seem to have a ministry trying to encourage depressed people over the internet. Here’s one of the most recent.)

I’m sorry to be such a downer, but I’m just not going to make it if someone can’t help me. I haven’t been eating much in the last 3 weeks, and I can’t get the understanding that I need from my mom or friends. I’m under 120 pounds, and a mental hospital isn’t going to help me the way I need; I’ve tried that before and I’m afraid they would not let me out. I’m 29. If anyone is willing to have me please contact me. My email is ***** I don’t have many obligations, and nothing else matters, I can fly out and stay for a while if you’re willing. I need real dedicated support, I’ve lost the will to live which is why I don’t eat. I feel so perverted and discarded and mutilated in the most cruel of ways. Can anyone please consider? I can’t live with the guilt of mom my killing herself if I starve myself to death. I’m sorry to be so dark, I don’t know what else to do. I don’t think it will be to much longer before my organs start shutting down, and I know the hospital won’t really help me, they only offer a temporary fix with drugs, and a therapist can’t really do anything either. They just try to make you see things from other perspectives, and I’ve already done that. I’d be willing to take the drugs if I was actually getting help that wasn’t temporary.

 My boyfriend was trapped in the whole eating disorder thing when he was in his teens and twenties. He checked himself into hospital a couple of times and saw a few different therapists. A combination of several things, I think, were effective for him. Getting an antidepressant drug that worked for him was an important part of it. That took some experimenting with different drugs and different dosages. Counselors who couldn’t prescribe medications did not turn out to be very helpful for him, at least not that he realized at the time. He would probably agree with your statement that “they just try to make you see things from other perspectives.” He said they only wanted to explore issues from his childhood and not the problems he was having now. Also the passage of time was helpful for him. In his thirties he became more independent (in his case, by learning to drive and by working more steadily). He also gained more self-confidence and became less concerned with what other people thought of him. This may sound negative, but he has come to conclude that most people are stupid, and therefore their opinions of him are meaningless.

You say you are looking for “real dedicated support.” What do you have in mind when you say this, and how would it be an improvement on weekly appointments with a therapist or a stay in an eating disorders unit? I’m not asking this as a challenge, because I assume you have a good answer to this question; I just don’t know what it is.

You say, “I feel so perverted and discarded and mutilated.” It might (or perhaps might not) be helpful to elaborate a little bit?

By the way, I bet you haven’t completely lost your will to live, otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered to send out this plea.

Please feel free to write directly to me instead of the group if you feel that would be appropriate. I look forward to hearing from you and hope and pray that your situation turns out for the better.

(We exchanged emails several times, and he did go into more detail about his situation and say that I and others had said nice things to him. I last heard from him as he was preparing to visit his mother over Christmas. Needless to say, he has a ton of unresolved issues from his childhood and feelings towards her.)

Unconfirmed Personal Gnosis

Monday, January 26th, 2009

(I wrote to a pagan friend who lives in a small town and doesn’t know any other pagans in person, suggesting that he could benefit from finding some.)

W., you need to get a — do you say coven? anyway, a group that you can practice with.

He replied:

ugh…no thank you.  Why do I need a Coven?  I adore the Freedom that being a solitary affords me.  I try to revive, and construct, a Cult of the Morrighan (and not many strictly worship Her alone). Although, Covens, strictly, are very authoritarian, where the HPs [high priestess] “rules” it, without any whiff of democracy.  Traditionally-speaking, anyway.

Although, as soon as I shall move to DM, I will find some Pagans to pal around with, at least.

So, why do you believe I am in need of a Coven again, exactly?  And, please be HIGHLY specific (and detailed!), for my analytical mind.

Okay, maybe not a formal coven with an authoritarian high priestess. But some kind of circle of like-minded people. 

To pal around with, for one thing. But also as a support system, both for spiritual growth and for general life issues. You share what you have been trying and how it turns out, other people will say it works for them too, or it reminds them of something similar but different. In so doing, the insights you and the others perceive are tested in the discernment of the whole group. And you are mutually accountable to each other for how you use or neglect to use the truths you discover.

Now here is an example from my own experience. The specifics are different from what you will be dealing with, but it illustrates how people in a group can help each other come to realizations that they might not have reached on their own. Last Sunday when we were doing some extensive reflections on the readings, C. said that it had never seemed meaningful to her to be concerned with salvation in the traditional Christian sense of the term. It just wasn’t important to her. She asked the rest of us how we felt. I said that for me, the assurance of salvation means that I don’t have to worry about salvation. The fear that I might at any time fall out of God’s favor is precisely what I have been saved from. I had said that before, but C.’s question prodded me to go further. I said that was one of the good things I got from my Southern Baptist upbringing, the absolute confidence that I am in no danger of hell’s fires. Then I realized it was the Southern Baptists who emphasized the need to be saved from hell in the first place. In other words they supplied both the poison and the antidote. Where does that put them, ethically speaking?

This might not mean much to you. I’m writing it because it was on my mind recently. Although the details would all be different if you were in a group of like-minded seekers, the same general advantages would prevail. Different people would bring to the group their differing strengths and learning styles and life experiences, which can result in everyone growing in ways they might not have by themselves. Some hermits have gone out into the desert to work and meditate by themselves, but most people find it helps to have the support and encouragement of other people.

I’m looking forward to hearing what you think.

The Dream Harvest

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Here is a dream that someone else shared, followed by my interpretation.

The scene is a house, relatively modern, quite large.  I am house sitting.  I’ve been working hard and go to the bedroom only to see that a fine layer of grey clay has been tracked on the floor.  I come back later and realize with great dismay that now there are hills of silt and its blown in through cracks between the window frames.  There’s a storm that’s been serious enough to blow dirt into the house.

I go check on the living room and its got a couple of children playing with toys.  This room is vast and just a mess — legos, the building block toy — are scattered everywhere.

The first task is clean up.  And we’ve got to seal the cracks so silt can’t blow in.

In the next sequence Allan and I are standing in line at an outdoor Mexican food stand.  Its outside and we are with a small crowd peering over the wooden slats that separate the little courtyard from the kitchen.  The cooks aren’t paying attention and nobody can get them to take their food order.  We realize that we have to put in our orders together.  One man comes up and gets ready to order.  We tell him he can put his order in with ours.  Then we all realize that we had worried so much about the cooks not taking our order that we had forgotten to decide what we wanted.

The only common theme I see in all of this is disorder and chaos. There is disorder from natural causes with the silt drifting into the house, disorder from technology with the Lego blocks, and social disorder with the people who can’t manage to place an order for their meal.

Or maybe (in keeping with my firefly tale) the silt is where it’s supposed to be and the house is out of place.

You are house sitting for someone else and are concerned with what a mess has arisen on your watch. Is this saying something about stewardship?

The Mexican food stand segment is clearly about giving all one’s attention to the process and forgetting about the goal.

Myself, the cats woke me up suddenly and I didn’t remember any dreams even immediately after waking.

August 29 Dreams

Monday, January 26th, 2009

1. I was climbing on boulders that had split off from layers of rock. I thought of the forces which had lifted up the mountains and felt grateful for the teachers who had led me to understand such things.

(This part was longer but I only rehearsed it in my mind after waking and didn’t write any of these down until later in the day.)
I was hanging around the Geology Department because, although I am not a geologist, my training in physics helped me appreciate the forces within the earth and their effects.
A professor and the department secretary were discussing plans for a surprise party for another professor who was retiring.

“It will have to be on a Thursday.”

“Well, it can’t be tomorrow, because there’s not enough time to prepare.”

“Then it will have to be next week, because that’s the last Thursday in April, and after that everyone will be busy with finals and graduation.”

2. I got a receipt from Central District Conference for our church’s latest contribution. There were several penciled cursive notes from the conference secretary on the form. She noted that it was more than our previous contribution and wondered if we had a new member.

She had written the names and addresses of our only members that she knew about, which I recognized as the last two people to join. One of them was a veterinarian and she asked if he should be listed with the title of Dr. The notes ended with a request for me to complete the membership roster.

3. When I got home there was a lot of mail to go through. The telephone company had sent a thin phone book in a white cover dated 10/05 with just the Ames listings, and a thicker one in a similar cover dated 12/05 with the usual contents.

I opened the thick book to see where area code 563 was.

Notes after the fact

During the daytime I was climbing over rocks just like that. (This was along the Yuba River in the Sierra Nevada mountains.)


My sister teaches geology at a community college (but she’s nowhere near ready to retire!).
The receipt looked just like the carbonless duplicate form that I include when I send a check to CDC.
If the dream was detailed enough to include the names of the recent new members, I don’t remember them, but one of them might have been of Japanese origin. A book I was reading this week included a Japanese man who was passed off as a veterinarian. (And now I can’t recall what book that was, unless it was Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut.)

I got a missed call from area code 563 on my cell phone during the trip, and at the time of the dream I hadn’t found where the list of area codes was hidden in the phone book in the motel. (Later I found it in the yellow pages under Area Codes rather than in the front matter.) (Someone at church suggested it might be meaningful to look at number 563 in the hymnal.)

Those are the only private meanings I can assign to these images. I’ll be interested to hear what they suggest to the rest of you.

(One of our members is a dentist who had to retire due to disabilities and has been somewhat at a loss as to what he is to do with his life now. The question in the dream about whether someone is still entitled to be addressed as Doctor seems to me to be a very obvious reference to this, but nobody else caught it.)

[Dreamed in 2005 and originally published in 2006.]



Where Are All the Butches?

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Eleanor Brown wrote:

TV talk show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres isn’t much of a butch….

But DeGeneres — no bull dagger — seems to be the closest to a tough dyke allowed in the mass media.

Popular culture seems so lesbian-positive these days… but only a certain kind of lesbian, thank you very much. To be a lesbian is to be femme: Hot blonde Serena Southerlyn on “Law & Order,” the bi gal on “The OC,” even the “The L Word” is all femme….

But fact, now that’s another story. The teeny tiny bit butch Ellen DeGeneres fits into the fact category (or at least, I hope her talk show does). But real bull daggers exist in the world. Why aren’t they on my TV? On reality television?…

On “What Not To Wear,” butch girls — gay and straight — are forced into girl clothes, into girl walks, even into girl mannerisms.

The show’s hosts, by the way, present as a straight woman and a gay man. The show reflects the esthetic of high fashion, of Hollywood, of a certain kind of gay man. The type of gay man who rolls his eyes at a dyke’s plaid shirt and big biker boots.

The type of gay man who loves nothing better than to erase butch dykes from existence.

Help me out here; I don’t get this. Is she saying Ellen is femme because she’s blond and smiles?

That’s not the reading I get. Umm,… how shall I put this?

You see, I’m only 99.9% gay. That remaining sliver of me, well, Ellen is butch enough to turn me on.

And that’s how I spotted her before the tabloids began gossiping about her. Women that I notice in that way invariably turn out to be lesbians.

So my 0.1% heterosexuality has never been put into practice.

[Originally published in 2006.]

Some Ramblings About the 2006 Election

Sunday, January 25th, 2009
Maybe George W. Bush really was elected in 2004 after all. If Ken Blackwell stole Ohio for Bush, wouldn’t he have done it for himself too?

Not all that much will really change with Democratic control of Congress.