Independence Day

Independence Day:

A merry, and free, one to all of you.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it....


Catching Up:

One of the things I've been catching up on since getting back is Schlock Mercenary. This one has a certain high quality.



Eric often tells me, and rightly, that we live in an age in which the great things are there for those who have an ear. Here is one who has.

Get Some, Marines

The Taliban's No Good, Very Bad Day:

Get some, Marines. Our hearts are with you.



One thing that strikes me on returning to America is how much garbage is on sale. Every city and town is covered with malls and shopping centers. Some of this stuff is more expensive than other stuff, but oddly, almost none of it is actually of high quality. The expensive stuff at the high-dollar mall in Atlanta is better than the cheap stuff at the truck stop, but it still isn't of the best quality.

It's not just that you can buy a better hat than you can buy at the mall; it's that the hat is so much better than what they sell that it's not in the same class. If you need a hat, then, you'd not go to any of these stores -- not malls, not truck stops, not shopping centers, not any place where you can buy things in person. You'd order it online or by mail from a craftsman.

You see people in these stores shopping with great intensity -- women in particular. I don't wonder at the teenagers or the twenty-somethings buying clothes, because presumably they are still establishing a wardrobe. However, you see women far older than that shopping with the same intensity. They must have closets full of clothes already.

I occasionally buy new clothes, when old ones wear out. That doesn't seem to be the reason they are buying these clothes, though; and in any event, the clothes are of the same low-quality as everything else. You can buy well-made dresses and tailored suits, but not here; and if you want rugged work clothes for knocking around in, these are not for that either.

What they appear to be doing is not searching for clothes, but searching for meaning. They are searching for a way to look that will make them feel a certain way. It is as if they think that looking and feeling a different way might make them actually be what they want.

The clothes need to be cheap and disposable, because the feelings change so quickly -- tomorrow she may need a different feeling, another skirt. The expensive ones are merely targeted at a wealthier market: for that market, they are just as disposable.

That is why they buy so many clothes, and why the clothes are so poorly made. The thing being bought is not the physical object at all. They are only talismans, like the hair of a frog. The real thing desired is the spell they want to work: the transformation, for a moment, into something else.

We spoke a while ago about the use of aesthetics to renew society. If you can capture the aesthetic in music and art, you can renew the world: but if you can then capture it also in clothes, you might be able to reach this entire group of people.

This also solves the funding issue, as large cultural movements require vast sums of money.

Now what we need is the poet, the artist, and the designer. What is the vision of beauty that they might chase, long enough for us to begin to introduce them to these better ways? For beauty underlies everything -- it is the vision of beauty that you follow that defines you.

It is also there -- in the consistent pursuit of a vision -- that the real transformation is possible. These pieces of poorly-made fluff have a power, if they are linked to a vision that can make you chase it far enough. A man who chases questing beasts, or fairy maids, will often find himself in elfland. So it is with other visions, if you dare to chase them far enough.

What, then, is the vision? Or are there several? What would move you in the right direction, and might move others? It is important to think about this, because it is the starting place.

Russian Pagans


The Latin word from which we derive "pagan" means something like 'of the countryside' or 'rural.' There are a few left:

More than 50 worshippers gathered in a sacred grove on a hot June afternoon outside the village of Marisola. The crowd, mostly women dressed in national costumes and colorful headscarves, stood on a glade opposite a spruce where men were busy conducting prayers.

The congregation kneeled while the men under the spruce, dressed in suits, white felt hats and linen towels cast over their shoulders, said prayers in a low, monotone murmur.

They prayed to Osh Kughu Yumo -- Mari for "Great White God" -- who was being revered that day as Agavairem, which means both deity of creative energy and the feast marking the end of spring labor.

The women lined up in the grass in front of piles of thick homemade pancakes, white cheese, dumplings and brown kvas, the fermented rye drink. Pots and kitchenware were adorned with burning candles, as was a makeshift table in front of the spruce.
This is not one of the "neopagan" faiths that have cropped up since the 19th century. Those were inspired by the Romantic movement in literature and music, which sought to infuse meaning into life through soaring emotion. This one is simply an old way, that has survived in a very rural region.

The Christian priests in the area have tried to sort out their own thoughts on the relationship between the faiths. The Russian Orthodox priest says he lets them come to church, and even be baptized, but believes they are lost souls who cannot be saved. The Lutheran they interviewed said that the problem wasn't that they weren't Christian, but that they weren't Russian: "Many Mari do not want to go the Orthodox church because it is perceived as quintessentially Russian. We, however, can offer worship in their own language."

Yet it is the poet they interviewed who spoke best, as poets will.
"You should not put too much significance in this," Dudina explained. "Our people have lived with the Russian church for generations, but our faith is older."

Christianity, she said, had not entered Mari rites, but rather the rites had entered Christianity. "There are so many pagan traditions in Christianity. Look at the Christmas tree," she said.
I remember another poet who felt that way:
He kept the Roman order,
He made the Christian sign;
But his eyes grew often blind and bright,
And the sea that rose in the rocks at night
Rose to his head like wine.

He made the sign of the cross of God,
He knew the Roman prayer,
But he had unreason in his heart
Because of the gods that were.

Even they that walked on the high cliffs,
High as the clouds were then,
Gods of unbearable beauty,
That broke the hearts of men.

And whether in seat or saddle,
Whether with frown or smile,
Whether at feast or fight was he,
He heard the noise of a nameless sea
On an undiscovered isle.
DEVO + Neil Young.

Yeah. I didn't believe it either.



So I'm learning what's been going on back here in the states while I've been gone. I see we're discussing health care:

President Obama suggested at a town hall event Wednesday night that one way to shave medical costs is to stop expensive and ultimately futile procedures performed on people who are about to die and don't stand to gain from the extra care.
That has a very familiar ring to it. It's precisely the government's plan for Social Security, Medicare, and Federal pensions:
Taxpayers are now on the hook for a record $59.1 trillion in liabilities, a 2.3% increase from 2006. That amount is equal to $516,348 for every U.S. household. By comparison, U.S. households owe an average of $112,043 for mortgages, car loans, credit cards and all other debt combined.

Unfunded promises made for Medicare, Social Security and federal retirement programs account for 85% of taxpayer liabilities.
So why don't we change to the corporate-style accounting method?
The White House and the Congressional Budget Office oppose the change, arguing that the programs are not true liabilities because government can cancel or cut them.
That article was originally published in 2007, so this is not new. The government's standing position is that the "national debt" problem is not a serious issue, because they can always simply decide not to pay. No one can make them.

So, having paid ruinous FICA taxes and income taxes all your life, many of you will soon reach retirement to discover that the government has defrauded you. Only it's not fraud, you see, because they make the rules. The new rules will say it's OK that they break their word.

That's not new, but this is:
Through a series of parliamentary inquiries, the Republicans learned that the 300-plus page managers' amendment, added to the bill last night in the House Rules Committee, has not even been been integrated with the official copy of the 1,090-page bill at the House Clerk's desk, let alone in any other location. The two documents are side-by-side at the desk as the clerk reads through the instructions in the 300 page document for altering the 1,090 page document.
It's longstanding practice for Congressmen to vote for bills they haven't read. This is the first time, though, that I've heard of them voting for one that actually can't be read.

Back when "Campaign Finance Reform" was on the table, the Congress wrote a bill that both parties agreed was at least partially unconstitutional; the President signed it into law, although he also agreed that it was not constitutional. Both branches deferred to the SCOTUS to work out which parts were (and weren't) actually constitutional, rather than doing their duty themselves. SCOTUS, in turn, deferred to the legislature and the President.

All three branches set aside their duty, and so we obtained new restrictions on the freedom of speech, and political speech: the one kind of speech the Founders were most interested to protect.

Now the House is repeating the error, voting for a law that it hasn't read, because it can't be read. Someday people will go to prison for violating the new regulations and restrictions in this bill: they will be deprived of their homes, their families, and their liberty.

When they get to court, why can't they say that they were deprived of their right to due process? If the police or the prosecutor had been as inconsiderate of their duty as Congress is being, we would throw such a case out of court.

Isn't the writing of the law a part of the process? Are there not, therefore, minimum standards for the officials entrusted to exercise that power?