Awake at night - Pt XIV

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is a pretty good sleeper all in all. But sometimes he might be kept from sleeping by something or another. Rarely is his sleep disturbed once he is down…

Well… Last night he woke up in the middle of the night with a horrible image etched in his minds eye. He had seen the image the night before, and it obviously has affected him more than he thought.

Sunday night your Maximum Leader and Mrs Villain watched “The Last King of Scotland.” It is a great movie. As someone with more than a passing interest in history your Maximum Leader would describe the film as “historical” not “history.” This is to say that the film gives one a “feeling” about the people and events depicted not an “accurate retelling.” Of course, this film is well acted. In fact, Forest Whitaker’s Oscar winning performance is nuanced and expertly done.

Anyhoo… On with the sleep disturbance…

Your Maximum Leader watched the whole film in rapt attention. Towards the end of the film, Kay Amin (Idi’s third wife) is killed and mutilated after having an affair with Scottish doctor Nicolas Garrigan. While your Maximum Leader will not describe the image in detail here, let him say it must have disturbed him more than he thought. Because he woke up in the middle of the night seeing the mutilated body in the morgue. Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure why that image had such an affect on him and other images of brutality didn’t affect him in the same way. But it did. He is glad that Mrs Villain had her eyes closed and didn’t see that. It might have disturbed her sleep as well.

Carry on.

Bill Walsh - RIP

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees on the new wires that former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh has died at age 75.

As you know, your Maximum Leader is something of a child of the 80s. As a child of those halcyon Reagan years, you have to admire Bill Walsh. Walsh’s 49ers were the footbal team of the 90s. Walsh revolutionized how football is played. As the article reads:

Walsh coached the 49ers for only 10 seasons but that was enough for him to become known as “The Genius” for his offensive wizardry. Football as it was played by Walsh’s 49ers was more poetry than brute force. His skillfully choreographed system of short, quick-hitting passes became known as the West Coast offense and was widely copied by other NFL coaches in the decades that followed.

“The offensive philosophy that he installed in those great 49er teams more than 25 years ago will remain his legacy and is still very much a part of the NFL to this day,” said another Hall of Fame coach, Don Shula.

As long-time readers know, your Maximum Leader is a Packers fan. And although your Maximum Leader personally is a fan of the running game, his beloved Packers won their last Super Bowl on the strength of a “West Coast” offense led by former 49ers assistant coach Mike Holmgren.

Thanks Bill Walsh for innovating the game. You will be missed.

Carry on.

Wrenching questions

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is trying not to complain about the driving thunderstorms that have been hitting the Villainschloss. We need the rain. Mrs Villain’s garden needs water to bear fruits and vegetables. So the prospect of a few tenths of an inch of rain — however it comes — is a good thing. We are in a drought here afterall.

Of course, the driving thunderstorms (complete with theatrical lightning for effect) have been occuring precisely at your Maximum Leader’s peak blogging times. Your Maximum Leader has had enough electronic equipment fried from lightning strikes that he just shuts down computers and reads during the storms. So the plus side of these storms is that your Maximum Leader is edifying himself — at your expense loyal reader.

So… During one of these thunderstorms your Maximum Leader and his sainted father-in-law started to chat. (Father-in-law was visiting…) We chatted about this and that and then your Maximum Leader sprung the big question on him…

Now, your Maximum Leader’s father-in-law is a mechanical engineer by training and profession. Although he is retired now, he is more mechanically knowledgable and inclined than your Maximum Leader will ever be. Armed with this knowledge you will understand that your Maximum Leader didn’t just throw this question out to anyone… This man is a “SME” as the government would say. (That is Subject Matter Expert by the way…)

Question: Tools calibrated along “English” measure (as opposed to “metric”) come in increments divisible by two. (eg: 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32). Why does one find no use of thirds in “English” measure tools? Your Maximum Leader has 5/8 wrenches, and 27/32 sockets; but he’s never even heard of a 1/3, 1/6, or 1/9th wrench.

We didn’t come to any conclusions that we would lay money on as being correct. Your Maximum Leader’s father-in-law speculated that when you are building something you can reduce the something by halfs with ease, but you can’t reduce a built something by thirds with ease. This is to say that if you were building a house, you could build a model to serve as your guide. You could build this model to half size, or quarter size, or even eighth or sixteenth size. It is almost impossible to reduce a structure by thirds. (This is assuming you aren’t using computer aided design where scale is just a click away. We’re talking building structures from antiquity onwards.)

If anyone reading this has an authoritative source in this matter that they can recommend, your Maximum Leader would appreciate it.

Carry on.

Homer Movie?

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is debating if he should leave the Villainschloss tonight to catch a midnight showing of the Simpsons Movie?

At this point the odds are about 4:1 that he will be too tired and not do it. But there is still that chance…

Carry on.

Expanding the Library of Congress

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has, since about 1980, traveled with some regularity down State Route 3 in Virginia from Fredericksburg to Culpeper. In recent years the drive has been going to and coming from Smallholder’s farm.

Just outside Culpeper, VA, near where Route 3 and Route 29 meet there has been a “federal facility” built into a hilside. As a young man this structure fascinated him. He eventually learned that the building was, essentially, a bunker for the Federal Reserve. In case of a Commie attack, the Fed had records, computers, and other stuff necessary for the continuing functioning of US-style capitalism. There was always a little mystery and glamor to the place.

Upon the end of the Cold War, the Fed decided they didn’t need a hardened bunker in the Virginia countryside to protect them from the Commie menace (since the Commie menace had retreated to North Korea, Cuba, and various Universities around the United States). So they vacated the space.

Now… Your Maximum Leader has always had a dream of converting an old ICBM silo into his own personal (nuke/zombie-attack proof) hardened fortress. When the Fed left their subterrainean fortress your Maximum Leader was hoping that the government would sell of the facility and he might buy it. Alas, the facility was transferred to the Library of Congress.

A few years ago, the hillside started to be excavated. Your Maximum Leader was horrified, yet fascinated and what might be going on. Eventually, the hillside was converted into a handsome (if unimaginiative) building-face and it was evident that some high-falutin government agency was moving in.

Although your Maximum Leader has known for a while that it is in fact the Library of Congress that is moving in, he didn’t know what collections they were putting in the heretofore Virginia bunker. Now thanks to the Washington Post he knows. The Library’s audio and film collections are moving to Culpeper. The piece opens:

On a hillside an hour or so southwest of Capitol Hill, the Library of Congress is moving into the newly completed home for its mammoth collection of U.S. recording and film history.

There are 6.3 million items in all: footage of Charlie Chaplin’s tottering gait, paper prints of early movies, the original negatives from “Casablanca,” the first 45-rpm record (a 1949 RCA Victor disc of the music of Johann Strauss II) and kinescope reels of NBC broadcasts from the 1940s. There’s a fine copy of Elvis Presley’s 1964 movie “Viva Las Vegas,” a complete set of Ed Sullivan’s variety shows and footage of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech on Dec. 7, 1941.

The National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, which was officially turned over to the library yesterday, will bring together all of the recordings and conservation staff in a single, specially equipped facility for the first time.

The three-building campus is the largest addition to the library in 30 years. A $155 million gift from David Woodley Packard (son of the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard) and the Packard Humanities Institute made it possible. The Packard gift is the largest in the library’s 207-year history. Congress appropriated $82 million for the project.

“It assures for the first time the permanent storage and preservation and heightened access to the audiovisual heritage of the last 110 years,” said James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress.

One crucial mission of the center is to transfer precious historical images and sounds from fragile cylinders, tapes or films to digital files, which are less apt to deteriorate. The electronic versions also can be summoned by researchers at the Library of Congress buildings in Washington.

A 208-seat, art deco theater will show the films up to three nights a week. It even has an organ to accompany silent movies. While most of those visiting the center will be scholars and researchers — who will have access beginning in September — there is an audio-listening studio that will be used for exhibits, demonstrations and other public programs.

The addition sits on 45 acres and contains 415,000 square feet, about eight times the size of the White House. The inventory: 3 million sound recordings, 2.1 million supporting documents (such as screenplays and posters) and 1.2 million moving images.

Ohh! An Art Deco theatre showing movies three times a week! Although it is something of a haul from the Villainschloss, your Maximum Leader will have to partake of some viewing there.

Although your Maximum Leader is saddened by the loss of a nuke/zombie-proof bunker, he is glad to learn that our nation’s audio and cinematic history are going to be better preserved.

Carry on.

Cheney Administration

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader realizes that the Cheney Administration is over and that comments about it might be outdated… But let that not stop your Maximum Leader…

You see, your Maximum Leader spent the Cheney Administration getting to then watching the Washington Nationals v. Colorado Rockies baseball game. Once or twice he speculated to Mrs Villain and friends around on what he though President Cheney was doing. In the moment those idle musings were funny enough to elicit laughs…

Alas, none of your Maximum Leader’s comments were as funny as those penned by The Colossus. The absolute best of the Colossus’ great list (in the tradition of David Letterman top ten lists where inevitably the Number 2 answer is funnier than the Number 1 answer: 2. Dinner: bottle of whisky, foie gras made from the liver of Ambassador Joe Wilson, served on Triscuits.

Damn that made your Maximum Leader laugh. He supposes that after the foie gras a la Wilson he might have had sweatbreads a la Plame…

Carry on.

Grim Reapurrr.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was looking over the new wires when he saw this piece about Oscar the death predicting cat.

According to the piece:

Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours. His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they have less than four hours to live.
The 2-year-old feline was adopted as a kitten and grew up in a third-floor dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The facility treats people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses.

After about six months, the staff noticed Oscar would make his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses. He’d sniff and observe patients, then sit beside people who would wind up dying in a few hours.

Dosa said Oscar seems to take his work seriously and is generally aloof. “This is not a cat that’s friendly to people,” he said.

Humm… An aloof and serious cat who only takes an interest in you when you are hours from death… Sounds like a real winner pet to your Maximum Leader!

Your Maximum Leader will, he is sure, stick to dogs.

Carry on.

More power to him…

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees that one Herr Alexander Schoppmann is starting a new airline with first-class service from Germany to Japan. The airline is to be named Smintair.

What will make Herr Schoppmann’s airline gain traction in a crowded market?


Smintair will allow smoking, drinking, and (some) gambling on its flights from Germany to Japan. According to the piece in the Washington Post:

“Other airlines have lost every kind of sympathy for their passengers by leaps and bounds. They treat them like cattle,” said Alexander W. Schoppmann, a former stockbroker who started Smintair. “What all of those carriers want these days is for you to stay in the seat, and you better bloody well stay there, and don’t even ask for anything to eat or drink. You can’t do anything.”

On Smintair, according to Schoppmann, there will be plenty of room for passengers to indulge their vices, whether it’s smoking, drinking or even small-stakes gambling. Fliers will be able to mingle at bars on the upper or lower deck of a Boeing 747, which will be reconfigured to be so roomy that there will be space for just 138 passengers, instead of the 400 or so typically seated by most carriers.

The only thing banned on Smintair will be cramped, cheap economy-class seats, Schoppmann said. Everyone will sit in either first or business class — at round-trip fares to Japan between $6,700 and $14,500 — making Smintair the latest entry in a growing number of new airlines limiting themselves to high-end service.

Well… Your Maximum Leader is raising a glass and lighting a cigar and wishing Herr Schoppmann success. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t fly much any more (he used to fly quite a bit), but when he does he would prefer to be treated well and not have to feel like he is inconveniencing the crew when he would like some water. Now, not being a regular smoker (indeed, your Maximum Leader might partake of a single cigar annually) he isn’t sure that an airline like Smintair would gain his patronage, but other high end carriers might. For example, your Maximum Leader was contemplating using Eos Airlines or Silverjet Airlines for his next trip to the UK. Indeed, Silverjet is right up your Maximum Leader’s alley…

Sadly, gone are the days of the Pan-Am clippers plying the skies with young attractive stewardesses keeping one’s scotch filled and eyes happy…

Carry on.


Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader got an interesting mailing yesterday. It was from The people at invited your Maximum Leader to a scotch tasting — in New York City and offered to send him a “journal” in which he can write his thoughts down on the various scotches of which he partakes.

It seems as though is run by the people who import a number of whiskys into the US. Among the brands they are promoting are: Lagavulin, Oban, Talisker, Cragganmore, Caol Ila, Dalwhinnie, Clynelish, and Glenkinchie. Your Maximum Leader has heard of and consumed all of these except Glenkinchie. Have any of you, his loyal readers, ever had any of this scotch? It is described as a mild lowland scotch. Not lots of smoke. Very smooth and light. Apparently it is distilled near Edinburgh. Your Maximum Leader might try and find some, but a recommendation from a trusty reader might hasten him to the liquor store.

By the way… Cragganmore is one of your Maximum Leader’s favorite whiskies. He is quite fond of Talisker (18 year old) as well. But the Cragganmore has a depth of flavor that appeals to him.

For those of you who are interested… You can visit this link and sign up to get your own free scotch tasting journal.

And in case you are wondering… Sadly, your Maximum Leader is receiving no compensation of any sort for this plug…

Carry on.

Fish House Punch - take 2

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader made himself some Fish House Punch yesterday. He used a shotglass instead of gallon-jugs to do the measures. He drank it in one of his new tiki mugs…

It was just as potent as your Maximum Leader remembered.

Carry on.

Pseudo-deep question

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was in the mood for a lamb stew yesterday. Normally, this would be a craving that would require a trip to a butcher and some cooking. But, since his Monday visit to the good Smallholder, he now has a freezer full of lamb. So, your Maximum Leader had to decide an important question… To get a larger cut of lamb and roast it, thereby getting the requisite cooked lamb for the stew, or get some of the smaller “stew-sized” chunks (separately packaged by the Smallholder’s butcher) and slow cook them in the crock pot to get the required cooked lamb. Your Maximum Leader opted for the latter course. This course also gave him a broth from which he could make a gravy.

So, your Maximum Leader cooked his lamb, made gravy out of the broth, then prepared his very simple lamb stew. While his lamb stew was coming together, he boiled and mashed some potatoes and steamed up some broccoli.

When all was prepared, your Maximum Leader, Mrs Villain, and the Wee Villain settled down for dinner. (The Villainettes are out of town for their annual trip to Mrs Villain’s parents.)

After dinner your Maximum Leader was cleaning up. He had a few scraps from the Wee Villain’s plate and Mrs Villain’s plate. He put them together, added just a touch of the gravy from the stew to the mix and gave them to his faithful hound, Maia. She devoured the treat and the sat politely — yet gazing longingly at the leftovers, until your Maximum Leader informed her there would be no more for her tonight.

Then the pseudo-deep question struck him… Would Maia be able to recognize a live lamb as the meat she just ate? For example, if your Maximum Leader brought his faithful hound with him to Smallholder’s farm would the dog be able to see/smell the sheep/lambs and know that if you cook up that beastie for a little while and then cook it in some gravy you have a very tasty meal? Would a dog recognize any taste in common between a serving of lamb that was cooked and fed to it by humans and a lamb it might have killed and eaten raw in the wild?

Of course the answers to all these questions is of course the dog wouldn’t know… But it made your Maximum Leader wonder for a minute.

Carry on.

Punch… The drinking kind…

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader had a great friend in the form of one of his college professors. Richard T. Couture was a very good and close friend of your Maximum Leader’s until his unfortunate passing a number of years ago.

Now, Richard was a professor of history. He specialized in the American Colonial period. He also had a great practical and learned knowledge of historic preservation. Particularly preservation of buildings from the colonial to ante-bellum period in Virginia. Your Maximum Leader says practical knowledge because he was self-taught in a great many fields like construction methods and basic structural engineering. He had to be. You see, Richard bought a run-down wreck of a ‘plantation’ house in 1963. Richard knew he wanted to live in a historic home, but he also knew he was a young man and couldn’t afford much. So, in 1963 he came across Bolling Island Plantation. Bolling Island was a ancient house (by American standards); and when he agreed to purchase the house, its dependencies, and 50 acres of land for $25,000 the consensus among his friends and family was that he had been taken to the cleaners.

Over the next twenty years he restored the house to its former glory. The oldest wing of the house was built by Thomas Bolling of Bolling Hall in 1771. The house was enlarged (and set in a Greek revival style - favored by Thomas Jefferson) around 1805. It was enlarged again in 1848. The house passed through various owners was on a long downward spiral by 1930. In 1963 many people who saw the house thought it should be torn down. But Richard was not one to tear down a building he could see restored.

By the time your Maximum Leader was befriended by Richard Couture, the house was mostly restored. The elements left incomplete were cosmetic. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Richard was regularly offered million dollar figures to sell the house to various members of the Richmond illuminati.

But Richard lived in the house until his death. It has since been sold. If your Maximum Leader had the means, he might have tried to buy it.


Richard used to throw a big Christmas party every year on December 27th. It was one of the brightest stars in the constellation of fabulous Christmas parties thrown by the modern landed gentry of Goochland County, Virginia. Everyone who was anyone in the area came to socialize.

Your Maximum Leader was, to quote Shakespeare, a “pack-horse in the great affair” of the Christmas party. Often he would be carving meats (of which there were many - during the typical party there were consumed: a whole country ham (salt-cured 15 lbs) a whole ham (smoked and sugar cured 15-20 lbs), a whole roast beef (15 lbs), two or three turkeys (15lbs each), and probably 15-25 pounds of ground meats like meatballs and party sized sausages), helping with the cooking (of meats and other side dishes, pastries, and appetizers), or tending the bar/punch bowl. Now, for many many years there was an open bar at this party. Bourbon, Scotch, Gin, and Vodka were swilled in abundance. Indeed, your Maximum Leader probably saw more bourbon consumed at these parties than at any other time in a private home. Virginians love their whisky. (Or should your Maximum Leader say “Olde Virginians” love their whisky?)

In addition to the bar, there was the punch bowl. That ubiquitous feature of the holiday party. Of course, this being a serious party for serious people, there was no consideration given to making a punch for the teetotalers (of which there were few). The punch was, like the other libations at the bar, for drinkers. The standard punch for these parties was “black velvet.” Your Maximum Leader was, at first, offended by “black velvet.” The punch consists of two bottles of Guiness Stout to one bottle of Champagne. This whole concept offended your Maximum Leader’s sensibilities. It seemed like a waste of good beer AND a waste of a perfectly good bottle of Champagne.

Excursus: Once there was a great error made in mixing the black velvet. Luckily, it was not made by your Maximum Leader. Normally the champagne used for making the punch was not really champagne but inexpensive sparkling wine from California. It was typical of us to buy a few cases of sparkling wine by Taylor or some other brand you could get for about $8-10/bottle. Stash the cases in the liquor closet until they needed to be chilled down. If the weather was cold, the bottles were chilled on an outdoor porch. If the weather wasn’t cold enough, they were iced in coolers on the outdoor porch. Now as you might expect, since it was a Christmas party afterall, many guests brought gifts for Richard. When you live in a restored plantation on the James River among the landed gentry of Virginia, the typical gift to bring to a party — regardless of the time of year — is alcohol. Richard, like your Maximum Leader, was a Scotch drinker. So most guests brought him Scotch. Indeed, so many bottles of Scotch were brought that Richard rarely had to go out to the liquor store to buy his own until June. But sometimes the guest would bring wine… Or Champagne. One year, one of the guests brought Richard a bottle of Bollinger. Not knowing exactly where to put the Bollinger, and not wanting to ask anyone. The guest put it in the cooler with the Taylor that was chilling for the black velvet. Your Maximum Leader knows that his readers are smart and they can put together what happened. The error was discovered the next morning when we were participating in the annual post party bottle toss. (Excursus within Excursus: The bottle toss was when we (Richard and those friends, numbering about 10 who helped him throw the party) would take the empty beer, liquor and champagne bottles down to a little revine behind the house that had been used since about 1777 as a “dump” for the house residents. Richard had found bottle shards, animal bones, buttons, household remains, in this revine and decided that once a year we’d do our best to add to the archeological record for our time.) Richard happened to pick up the empty bottle of Bollinger and ask why we (his friends) had consumed a $100 bottle of champagne without a) asking or b) sharing.

Well… One year, while planning for the Christmas party, Richard mentioned that having the open bar was awfully expensive; and guests seemed to have grown tired of “black velvet.” He wanted to try something different. Something new — to us at least. And something alcoholic — of course. So a number of us took it upon ourselves to find something interesting to serve as a punch at the party. Richard was the one that found the punch we were to use. He said he found it in an early 19th Century cookbook he had. The punch was described as something that was served near the docks in major colonial seaports. This was “Fish House Punch.”

When the time came for the party we got out a huge copper cauldron Richard had had in the basement for decades. We did our best to clean it up, but it wouldn’t come shiny clean for us. We started mixing the punch. We squeezed limes, we squeezed lemons. We dumped in gallon after gallon of liquor. We stirred. Then we sampled. (NB: the copper cauldron did shine after the punch was finished the next day.)

We guessed it was called “Fish House punch” because after a few cups you could probably work in a colonial fish house without being offended by the smell.

We chilled down the punch. To add “color” to the punch floated various fruits in it, mostly peaches. A jar or two of marachino cherries (and their juice) might also have been added to the mix.

We served the punch all night. It was the only choice of alcoholic beverage. It was tepidly received at first. Then people really started to drink it. We noticed that people sort of worked their way through the first cup, then could throw down subseqent cups with reckless abandon. Some of the older matriarchal types didn’t drink the punch, but did come by to request that we fill a punch cup with “those wonderful peaches from the punch bowl.” Those older ladies were plastered by the end of the night. Your Maximum Leader remember helping to carry some of them to their cars…

Anyhoo… In case you are wondering what exactly was in Fish House Punch… Here you go…

Fish House Punch.

Into a great bowl mix:
The juice and pulp of 25-30 limes
The juice and pulp of 10-15 lemons
1 part dark rum
2 parts white rum
1 part brandy (peach brandy if available)
1 part water (club soda if you want to moderize the mix)
1 part brown sugar

When your Maximum Leader helped to mix it, we took a “part” to equate to “a gallon” with the liquid and a “part” of sugar was about 5 pounds.

In case you were wondering… Richard only served the Fish House Punch one year. We in Virginia are a conservative people. We love our traditions. Our politicians speak of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madision, and Patrick Henry as though they have just stepped out of the room for a moment’s respite. And say what you will, if you have a Christmas party every year for decades; and at every party serve the same punch; people notice. And they miss it if you take it away. So, the year after the Fish House Punch experiement, it was back to Black Velvet and an open bar…

Now… If you are still reading this, you might be wondering, why is my Maximum Leader going on about this today. No reason really. Perhaps he was a little melencholy while remembering his friend Richard Couture… Perhaps he was spurred to write by the fact that he has some rum in the Villainschloss liquor closet and is thinking of ways to get rid of it… Perhaps your Maximum Leader wanted to show Skippy that if he (Skippy that is) and the Velociman ever come to the Villainschloss, your Maximum Leader will do what he can to facilitate them having a good time. (It is no Chatham Artillery Punch, but it is the best your Maximum Leader has at hand right now.)

Or perhaps your Maximum Leader just had some time to write at leisure and this is what he came up with…

Carry on.

Crawling out from under a rock…

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has been on a little mental health break. He’s been trying to relax and get his wits and mental batteries recharged. Thus… He’s not been blogging. He’s not been reading blogs. He’s not been surfing the internet. He’s not been watching the news. For the sake of full disclosure he will say that he has checked his e-mail periodically, but only to read messages from certain people (so if you’ve e-mailed and not heard back… now you know why).

While it was not planned to coincide with the release of the latest Harry Potter book, your Maximum Leader’s little mental health break did turn out to coincide (more or less) with the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Your Maximum Leader’s copy of that book arrived at the Villainschloss last Saturday - as your Maximum Leader was leaving to go to the Washington Nationals v. Colorado Rockies game. (Nats won!!!!) Upon his return from the game, he was tired (and frankly under the affects of a few beers) and went directly to bed. Around mid-day Sunday he picked up “Deathly Hallows” and started to read. He finished about 50 pages.

Monday, your Maximum Leader went to visit the Smallholder. There was much browsing of used book stores and eating of cheap chinese food. Then, when your Maximum Leader returned Monday night to the Villainschloss - it was back to Harry Potter. He read up to about page 350.

Yesterday, your Maximum Leader and Mrs Villain went to the National Gallery of Art to see an exhibit of Florentine Renaissance sculpture by Desidero da Settignano. Then we persued some of the other galleries before lunch. (During this browsing your Maximum Leader was reminded that Mrs Villain probably likes the Dutch masters more than she thinks, and she doesn’t like El Greco - although your Maximum Leader really does like El Greco.) After our viewing of the art, we had a late lunch at Legal Seafood. (Where your Maximum Leader got a lobster roll… And frankly he could eat another right now…) Upon arriving back at the Villainschloss, it was back to Potter.

Well… Around 2:30am, your Maximum Leader finished the book. He really enjoyed it. Because he doesn’t want to spoil it for anyone, he will not make lots of comments here about the book. Your Maximum Leader will say that Rowling did an excellent job of pulling together all of the different hanging elements she had out there. Some characters survived that your Maximum Leader thought would die. And some died who he thought would live.

Now that he has finished Potter, it is safe to peruse the interwebs and see what is going on out there.

Carry on.

Atheism and Ethics

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader and his good friends, The Smallholder and the Minister of Propaganda, got to talking about athesim, faith, culture, and reason during our all to short visit two weeks ago. The conversation we had is one that has still been floating in and out of your Maximum Leader’s mind when he has had free time for contemplation. In our conversation the Smallholder and Minister of Propaganda were both espousing ethics and social behavior as governed by reason. Your Maximum Leader objected saying that faith and tradition and custom have an important role to play.

The Smallholder and Minister of Propaganda asserted that while tradition and custom have a role to play - reason should trump custom and tradition. Smallholder pulled out the faith-based/traditional bias against homosexuals and homosexual marriage as a case where reason would show that our society’s behavior in this area is unacceptable. Your Maximum Leader changed the context of the debate somewhat by saying that the problem of reason alone is that reasoned arguments rely on the acceptance of premises. Once you accept a broad premise, it is possible to reason away some pretty awful stuff. Then your Maximum Leader brought up the case of the Downs Syndrome baby. Can one construct a reasoned case whereby the aborting of a child with Downs Syndrome is acceptable? The conversation started to get interesting when the Smallholder and Minister of Propaganda started to disagree with each other based on the assumption of certain premises.

It was getting very interesting when we three were suddenly interrupted by the more pressing issue of what beers to purchase for ourselves to consume. Alas, we didn’t get back to ethics again… (But the beers were quite good!)

In a moment of strange serindipty, an interesting piece appeared in a recent Washington Post. The piece by Michael Gerson is called “What Atheists Can’t Answer.” Allow your Maximum Leader to cite the major thrust of Gerson’s piece:

If God were dethroned as the arbiter of moral truth, it would not, of course, mean that everyone joins the Crips or reports to the Playboy mansion. On evidence found in every culture, human beings can be good without God. And [Christopher] Hitchens is himself part of the proof. I know him to be intellectually courageous and unfailingly kind, when not ruthlessly flaying opponents for taking minor exception to his arguments. There is something innate about morality that is distinct from theological conviction. This instinct may result from evolutionary biology, early childhood socialization or the chemistry of the brain, but human nature is somehow constructed for sympathy and cooperative purpose.

But there is a problem. Human nature, in other circumstances, is also clearly constructed for cruel exploitation, uncontrollable rage, icy selfishness and a range of other less desirable traits.

So the dilemma is this: How do we choose between good and bad instincts? Theism, for several millennia, has given one answer: We should cultivate the better angels of our nature because the God we love and respect requires it. While many of us fall tragically short, the ideal remains.

Atheism provides no answer to this dilemma. It cannot reply: “Obey your evolutionary instincts” because those instincts are conflicted. “Respect your brain chemistry” or “follow your mental wiring” don’t seem very compelling either. It would be perfectly rational for someone to respond: “To hell with my wiring and your socialization, I’m going to do whatever I please.” C.S. Lewis put the argument this way: “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”

Some argue that a careful determination of our long-term interests — a fear of bad consequences — will constrain our selfishness. But this is particularly absurd. Some people are very good at the self-centered exploitation of others. Many get away with it their whole lives. By exercising the will to power, they are maximizing one element of their human nature. In a purely material universe, what possible moral basis could exist to condemn them? Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not.

In his essay, Gerson seems to point to one of your Maximum Leader’s all-time favourite arguments against a purely rational basis for ethics. Namely, human selfishness and self interest. The Hobbesian in him smiles widely whenever we have to confront our basic animal nature — and are shocked by what we see.

Of course, your Maximum Leader doesn’t believe that tradition/custom/faith is the end-all/be-all of ethics and morality. But he does rely upon it rather more than would the Smallholder or the Minister of Propaganda. Your Maximum Leader, whenever the discussion turns to a purely rational basis for ethics, is always reminded of the passage from Burke that can be paraphrased by stating that logical arguments are all fine and good until you disagree with the outcome of the argument. (NB: Your Maximum Leader wishes he could find the passage to cite, but he can’t. If you are familiar with Burke’s Reflections and can give the citation, your Maximum Leader will insert it.)

Your Maximum Leader should, by way of fairness, point out that Christopher Hitchens reponds to Gerson’s peice with his own. It is, like all Hitchen’s peices, a good read. You can find it here.

In an odd way, this discussion also lends itself to the discussion that our dear friend the Big Hominid is having about the nature of “God’s plan.” Certainly human suffering is a great argument against a benevolent Diety or divine plan. Some of the same underlying issues are also brought to bear on the nature of ethics and behavior.

Food for thought, and perhaps a more detailed posting…

Carry on.

Sartorial posting for Mrs P.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader mentioned, in a recent post, that he wore his new seersucker suit recently. This revelation led to a request by the delightful Mrs P for a photo of your Maximum Leader in his seersucker… But before we can show the photo we must have the story…

Your Maximum Leader will admit that his sartioral guide was… Well, he doesn’t really have one. He’s never really had one. (Unlike Mr P who has Mrs P and the eternal question: What would Daniel Patrick Moynihan do?) Unfortunately for him, he’s never had much of a fashion sense. Your Maximum Leader has never felt very comfortable in his own skin when it comes to deviation from those few men’s standards he’s grown up with. Your Maximum Leader grew up in the Washington DC area (Alexandria, Virginia to be exact). During his formative years, dress in Washington was pretty staid when it came to men’s fashion. There were blue suits and there were grey suits. (Excursus: There were also brown suits, but your Maximum Leader never cared for brown suits. There was one noteworthy exception to this, there was a wonderful almost tweed three piece suit that your Maximum Leader fell in love with when he was about 19. He bought it - somehow, as it cost about $600 - in 1989. He still has it. It doesn’t fit him any more, and probably doesn’t have enough fabric in it to be taken out. But he can’t bear to part with it.) From year to year in Washington, the ties changed but the suits remained the same… So, your Maximum Leader has been a blue suit/grey suit type of guy. White shirts and blue shirts are acceptable. Ties give color.

When your Maximum Leader went to college he discovered the joy of blue blazers and dress khakis. But he also discovered that the liked seersucker. It started with a seersucker dressing gown/bathrobe. Then it developed into a seersucker jacket. Alas, that seersucker jacket died a premature death. Killed by spilt bowl of punch at a party in graduate school. The seersucker dressing gown lived on, for many years; until it was one day callously discarded by Mrs Villain. (But that is another story.)

So… For work your Maximum Leader continued for many years to be a blue suit/grey suit/blue or black blazer and khaki type of guy. At least he was at work. Then there was business casual. Your Maximum Leader must admit that now he does not often find himself in a situation that requires that he really dress in a way that some (Mrs P and Sir Basil) would consider proper. He is able to pass most days with khaki trousers and a nice cotton shirt. When it is called for, he does pull out the blue suit/grey suit/blazer & khakis. But those occasions are not too frequent.

Well… Your Maximum Leader was, a few weeks ago, looking for some new trousers. He decided to go by the local high-end haberdashery to see if he could find something that appealed to him. Well, it turns out that the local haberdasher has decided to retire and his progeny (and business associates) decided not to buy him out. So he is selling everything and is closing up shop. (Excursus: This will now mean that for any decent high-end clothing your Maxmium Leader will have to travel up to Northern Virginia… Or DC… Or London…)

While perusing the store your Maximum Leader found himself a nice pair of trousers, and a very nice silk shirt by Tommy Bahama. But he also found something else. A seersucker suit. Not your standard “blue stripe” seersucker but your “tan” or “natural” colored stripe. It spoke to your Maximum Leader. Indeed it said “buy me.” Your Maximum Leader remembered his late beloved seersucker jacket and his dressing gown. And he knew he must have the seersucker suit.

Of course, when buying a seersucker suit, you need the right shirt. (The standard blues and white of your Maximum Leader’s wardrobe would not do.) You also need the right tie. And so it was that your Maximum Leader went in for a pair of trousers and came out with a ticket for a seersucker suit. After a week or so the alterations were completed. Your Maximum Leader got to wear the suit for the first time last Sunday. He loved it. Even Mrs Villain (no lover of seersucker) thought it was pretty delightful.

There is the sad tale… Now here is the photo.

Your Maximum Leader in his sartorial glory

There you have it. NB to Mrs P: Please note the shoes. Your Maximum Leader calls these “saddle shoes.” Are these the “Spectators” you mentioned in your comments? The monkstrap shoe you suggested was very handsome, and did cry out “love me.” But wouldn’t they be a little too much for the seersucker? The summer tassel loafer would seem to be a better choice.

Carry on.

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