Friday, March 11, 2005

"The Adventures of Action Item" Dept.

One of the better parodies I've seen...sort of a Dilbert take on the work world, but by somebody who can actually draw. Thanks go to David Oliver.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

"Get Those Foreigners Outta Here" Dept.

You can't make this stuff up...I love this picture of the Hezbollah demonstrators in Lebanon. Note the huge picture of Syrian President Assad literally right next to a big sign, "No for the foreign interference."

Quotable Mr. Ostler

Scott Ostler gives us his takes on various sports-related matters. Best of the bunch: "It's not so much that [Maurice] Clarett was slow. It's just that it's so rare in the 40 to see a guy get lapped."

About me

Name: Kenny Pierce

Likely blog topics: bad jokes, baseball, adoption, Kazakhstan, big families, some politics, quite a bit on religion at least at first just because it's on my mind at the moment.


I was born in 1966, in Tyler, Texas, but grew up in Hartshorne, Oklahoma. My father was a remedial English teacher in the public school...remedial, even though he was offered the chance to work with the gifted-and-talented crowd, because he has much more patience for honest and hard-working stupidity than he does for arrogant and self-indulgent intelligence. (And yet, still he manages to love me.) My mom was an aide in the school library, and my sister was only a year behind me in school; so for years our family life revolved around the school schedule. When I was in elementary school my father found himself taking on a second job as a minister in the Disciples of Christ church, and though he has retired from teaching, he continues to serve as a minister.

I was a scrawny kid (5-11-and-3/4 and 130 pounds) who managed to start on the varsity basketball team at 4-A McAlester High School for all three years of my eligibility, pretty much purely on the strength of guile, an infinite capacity for practice, and a sweet twenty-foot jump shot. (It also helped that I wasn't exactly vying for a spot in the lineup of one of the state's basketball powers, as we routinely exited the playoffs in the first round.) The year after I graduated, the three-point line was installed, which would have increased my point totals by at least 25% [sigh]. A fall off a house ten years ago did severe damage to my back and reduced my participation in basketball to telling stories of my glory days, and now my wife threatens to buy me a T-shirt that reads, "The older I get...the better I was."

I went to agnosticism early and got very passionate about logic and about how the "irrational animal," if I may correct an obvious typographical error in Aristotle's text, goes about indulging his passion for self-deception. It wasn't until I married a psychology major from Rice that I began to realize -- thanks to her patient explanations -- that it is more important to understand people than it is to understand arguments. Still working on that one to this day.

Dessie and I have been married since June of 1989. Kasia ("KAH-shuh") came along in 1990; identical twins Sean and Kegan followed in 1992, and then Merry Elisabeth showed up in 1995. In 2002 we met and fell in love with two orphans from Kazakhstan, and in 2003 we brought Sally and Rusty (both born in 1997) home to Austin, Texas. In the process, though, we fell in love with the unadoptable kids who were never going to make it into permanent families; and we now run a very small foundation ( helping those Kazakh orphans. As I type, Dessie is actually in Kazakhstan on a foundation trip; and we hope to move to Kazakhstan sometime in 2006. We're in a race against time to adopt two more girls before the elder turns 18, after which we expect to be done expanding our own personal family. After all, even with the extra seat welded in the back of our green Suburban, Jack Daniels (so named because he'S A BOURBON...Dessie insists that our cars must have names and my sense of humor runs to bad puns) any rate, even with that extra seat, we're about to run out of seatbelts.

You can expect lots of blogging about the adoption process and the orphans, of course.

I was a classics major at Princeton but realized (too late to change my major) that the last place any person of my non-conformist intellectual tendencies and distaste for petty politics and pettier politicians should try to live and work, was in academia. With the flair for planning that has characterized most of my absent-minded wanderings through life, I graduated from college knowing a decent amount of Hebrew and being more or less fluent in English, Latin, Greek, French and German...and moved promptly to Texas, without being able to speak Spanish. I wound up trading commodities futures for seven years, until I lost my business partner to leukemia. Figuring that seven years of that stress had been fun and remunerative but was also amply sufficient, I switched over to a career as a software consultant for large energy trading companies.

My sense of humor runs heavily to irony and self-deprecation. Human folly is very amusing to me, and I seem to provide myself with an inexhaustible supply. I'm very hard to offend, which of course means that I tend to be unintentionally offensive to others on a regular basis. ("Wait a mean your feelings got hurt by that? bad.")

My wife is much funnier than I am, as you can see for yourself by ordering her genuinely hilarious book It All Started When the Toilet Fell Over, readily available at Amazon. I am a member of that very much non-exclusive club of Men Who Married Better Than Did Their Wives.

Since religion and politics are the two things that most color our views, I figure I should explain mine briefly...especially since, at first, one of the things I'm going to blog about a lot is the ongoing divorce between the conservative and progressive branches of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. (ECUSA) and what I think we can learn about getting along with each other even when we deeply disagree about fundamentals in religion.

In religion, I'm essentially of the Truth persuasion rather than the Superstition, Family or Therapy persuasions...and you won't know what that means unless you read my post about it, because I invented that terminology myself. Until recently I'd have described myself as a "conservative Episcopalian," but in light of recent developments, I think it's time to drop the "Episcopalian" and simply refer to myself as "Anglican." I grew up shuttling between the Southern Baptist and Disciples of Christ churches; I entered my early teens as an agnostic (though I kept that fact a secret from my parents because I didn't want to upset them); I returned to Christianity based primarily on the writings and arguments of Anglicans and Roman Catholics; I married a Southern Baptist girl four days after graduating from Princeton cum laude with a classics degree; and Dessie and I both were promptly confirmed as Episcopalians. Now that the Truth branch of ECUSA and the Therapy brances are going their separate ways in a long-overdue cessation of hypocritical pretence of sharing a single religion, it's time to relabel ourselves as Anglicans.

In politics, I think all valid thought about politics must begin with the recognition that everything government does, is done either by force or by the credible threat thereof. This is simply a fact. If you see no problem with the use of force, then we part ways immediately. I, however, think that there is an a priori presumption against the use of force or fraud against other people, meaning that if you're going to use force against people or else trick them, you have to be able to show an ethical reason for overcoming the general rule that beating other people up or lying to them or shooting them or tying them down or taking their money over their heated objections or shoving them into a room and not letting them come out, is evil. Where I part ways with most Americans is in their willingness to accept justifications for governmental use of force that I cannot bring myself to find acceptable.

I do not accept that a majority vote in a democracy overcomes this ethical barrier. If it were true that anything a majority votes for becomes valid, then the Shi'ites in Iraq could vote to kill all Kurds and Sunnis, and, since the Shi'ites represent a majority, this action would be valid. A majority vote provides at best a procedural authorization, not an ethical justification.

Through much reading of political philosophy from all ends of the spectrum, I have come to the conclusion that force and fraud may be used, within limits, against those who themselves do not respect the rights of others to be free from violence and fraud. But attempts to justify other types of violence and threats thereof, aimed at people who are honest and don't go around beating other people up -- which is to say, other types of government activity -- seem sorely inadequate to me. This means that I'm closer to being a Libertarian than anything else...though since I demand the same rigor from those who would allow violence to be practiced against fetuses, and the pro-abortion lobby as far as I can tell has failed miserably to offer any rationalization of the practice that couldn't be used equally well to deny legal protection to other classes of persons such as infants or the severely handicapped, I am a pro-life Libertarian, which may seem to be a contradiction in terms. (And no, I'm not begging the question of whether fetuses are persons, and no, I have no intention of blogging on the question of abortion, where everybody has his/her mind made up anyway, and no, "begging the question" does not mean "making people want very badly to ask the question." This abortion stuff is background information only, and I have no intention of allowing it to come to the foreground.)

In short, I believe passionately in the rights of individuals; and since I know perfectly well what the fallacy of hypostasization is, I deny that "majorities" or "peoples" or "races" or "communities" or any other abstraction or group has rights except insofar as those "rights" can be shown to be valid metaphorical shorthand for the rights of the individuals within that group. If you don't know what the fallacy of hypostasization is, then you should stop talking politics until you've gone and looked it up. Thus, for example, I believe in the right of "self-determination" -- but only for individuals, which is to say, not in the sense in which it is generally used. The right of "the Shi'ites" to have the privilege of "self-determination" in the sense that the majority of them can agree to impose injustice upon the minority, does not exist, for the simple reason that "the Shi'ites" as such do not exist any more than does the "average American" with his 2.5 children; and the right of "self-determination" so construed cannot be extended to each individual without collapsing. (It amounts to giving the majority the "right" to oppress the minority, and therefore cannot be derived from the individual rights of each person, as it constitutes the denial of the rights of many.)

I believe in democracy as a tool, not as an ethical principle. If an absolute dictator were to restrict all of his use of power to punishing and inhibiting those who would lie to or wreak violence upon his subjects, that government would be more legitimate than the government of the Jim Crow American South, in which a democratic majority used the power of the law and police violently to oppress a despised minority. But of course it's much harder for democracies to be perverted than for absolute dictatorships to be perverted; and I am therefore for purely pragmatic reasons a proponent of republican, constitutional democracy.

And I don't tend to like bossy people. Since anybody who runs for public office is basically saying, "Please give me the power to tell everybody else what to do and hurt 'em if they don't," public office is intrinsically attractive to bossy people. "There oughta be a law," means, "I can't convince people to behave the way I want them to of their own free will; so we oughta start makin' 'em do it my way, and if we have to bust a few heads, well, hey, they shoulda had the sense to do it my way to start with." To which my immediate response is, "Mind your own business." So I'm Libertarian not only by conviction, but by temperament as well...I think the term "public servant" is ironic since ordinarily it's the servant who has to do what the master says on pain of punishment, not the other way around.

Having said that...of course I know and like lots of people who work in government, precisely because most of them have never thought about how much their work is based on force, and they really are motivated by good motives, not by a thirst for power. I deeply, deeply admire and appreciate our soldiers and policemen, and part of the passion with which I object to the money we waste on stuff the government has no business doing, comes from the fact that we could be using that money to pay our policemen and soldiers what they deserve. I grant you that I have a prejudice against politicians and bureaucrats in the abstract, but it's pretty easily overcome. I spent a summer working for Carl Albert, for example, and the guy is awesome, even though I disagree with most of his political views; and I deeply appreciate the role he played in shepherding our country through the Watergate mess. So all I'm really saying is, if a person's preferred approach to solving problems involves the government instead of some form of non-coercive persuasion, he's rather more likely to be bossy than not.

Finally, having read Keynes's General Theory several times, and von Mises's Human Action several times, as well as lots of other economics texts back in the day when I was an undergraduate questioning everything my parents had taught me, I think the Austrian school wins, hands down (though I'm open to new evidence, since I got bored with the topic ten years ago and quit keeping up with it). So I think that the Libertarian approach is not only superior ethically, and more congenial to my temperament, but pragmatically more effective as well. Go check out the results of New Zealand's recent overhaul of their educational system, and then go look at GB2's "No Child Left Behind" excrescence, and then ask yourself why anybody would think that the best way to solve an educational crisis would be to find a country that had implemented spectacularly successful educational reform...and then do the exact opposite in practically every respect.

I should add one further point: I don't for a moment believe that life is, can ever be, or even ought to be "fair." But the explanation and defense of that statement would require its own very long post.

And that's enough background, I think.

UPDATE (16 Sep 2005): We did beat the deadline, and we did adopt both Jessica and Jennifer, though the immigration paperwork is still in the pipeline and they are therefore still in Kazakhstan.

I did lots of adoption blogging, and unless you have lots of time and little of value to do, you won't want to read everything on the blog about it because it would take forever. But if you want a quick update on what's happened since I originally posted "About Me," there's a post that serves as a sort of table of contents for all the adoption posts. Thus you can go here for a collection of the links to adoption posts, in the optimal order for reading (which is not the order in which they were posted), and with a quick summing-up of each post so that you can get the whole story in express form.