Njal's Saga Finale

Njal's Saga Finale:

Lars Walker reminds me that I have completely forgotten to finish up the reading into the saga of Burnt Njal. He kindly provides a review for those who would like to talk about the rest of the saga.

The last month has brought several new challenges, and I'm afraid that I let this matter drop. I do apologize to those of you who were interested in it; but if you'd like to discuss the remainder, this is a good place for it.

Choices

Choices:

In general, I'll take the witch over the Marxist every time.

UPDATE: I think what I find amusing about this story is the idea that it will provoke some controversy among her supporters. The notion of a Satanic witchcraft that tempts young women is unremarkable to the most conservative, fundamentalist Christian. Having been tempted by it and turned away is a story of faith triumphing over evil, and redemption from the teeth of very real demons.

The other thing is that modern 'witches' are entirely harmless creatures, as far as I can tell. A witch today is someone who is experimenting with religion and mythology, in search of some personal meaning. Mostly they seem to come up with some combination of vegetarianism (or at least 'kindness-to-animals'-ism) and environmentalism. As long as these pillars are kept within the bounds of moderation, neither is especially harmful; and indeed, I believe in kindness to animals, and a magical world, myself.

All this is part of our tradition. There is room for Merlin at the Round Table, and the Lady of the Lake, as well as the Archbishops and priests and knights of the realm.

A Marxist is someone who has already found personal meaning in an ideology proven to be genuinely evil: for you shall know a tree by its fruits. It's an odd fact that the Marxist has the better claim to actually being motivated by Satan, in whom he does not believe.

Tornado in Brooklyn?

They don't seem sure whether this was a thunderstorm, a tornado, or a "tornado-like storm," but whatever it was it's not something you see in Brooklyn every day. One death, tractor-trailers blown over, big trees down.



Thoughts on Democracy

Thoughts on Democracy:

From Kenneth Minogue:

I am in two minds about democracy, and so is everybody else. We all agree that it is the sovereign remedy for corruption, tyranny, war, and poverty in the Third World. We would certainly tolerate no different system in our own states. Yet most people are disenchanted with the way it works. One reason is that our rulers now manage so much of our lives that they cannot help but do it badly. They have overreached. Blunder follows blunder, and we come to regard them with the same derision as those who interview them on radio and television. We love it that our rulers are—up to a point—our agents. They must account to us for what they do. And we certainly don’t live in fear, because democracy involves the rule of law. Internationally, democracies are by and large a peaceful lot. They don’t like war, and try to behave like “global citizens.” There is much to cherish.

Yet it is hard to understand what is actually happening in our public life under the surface of public discussion. An endless flow of statistics, policies, gossip, and public relations gives us a bad case of informational overload. How does one tell what is important from what is trivial? The sheer abundance of politics—federal, state, and local—obscures as much as it illuminates.
Good! We might quibble a bit about the edges here -- as to whether being 'global citizens' is really what a nation-state is for, or whether it is for the defense of the people's liberties that it is constituted to protect -- but the author is a Briton. They have been swamped in such language for so long it's no wonder that it clings to them. Leaving those quibbles aside, this is a fine opening.
My concern with democracy is highly specific. It begins in observing the remarkable fact that, while democracy means a government accountable to the electorate, our rulers now make us accountable to them. Most Western governments hate me smoking, or eating the wrong kind of food, or hunting foxes, or drinking too much, and these are merely the surface disapprovals, the ones that provoke legislation or public campaigns. We also borrow too much money for our personal pleasures, and many of us are very bad parents. Ministers of state have been known to instruct us in elementary matters, such as the importance of reading stories to our children. Again, many of us have unsound views about people of other races, cultures, or religions, and the distribution of our friends does not always correspond, as governments think that it ought, to the cultural diversity of our society. We must face up to the grim fact that the rulers we elect are losing patience with us.
That's true enough.

What follows after is the interesting part, though. The question he ends up asking is this: Can the moral life survive democracy?

I would propose another, because the two questions should be considered in concert: if the answer to that question is in the negative, what duty do we derive from the answer?

Read it, and let's discuss it.

Techno Parody

The Evils of Auto-Tune:

I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot more of this.







The parodies are actually better than the Auto Tune songs I've heard on the radio. At least they're clever.

Robin Hood

Robin Hood:

In just a couple of weeks, the movie that captures what the Tea Party is all about will be available. I suggest that it would make an excellent gift for anyone you might like to motivate to 'get out and vote' come November.

In the meantime, Hulu is running the old '50s television show. I picked up a copy of the complete series at Cracker Barrel, of all places. (Speaking of medieval things available from Cracker Barrel, they have right now a "harvest special" half-chicken roasted in apple cider and with apple slices, onions, and herbs. It is outstanding. Meats roasted or boiled with apples occur in many medieval recipes, but the mixture of savory and sweet is less common in modern foods. Get it while you can!) To return to the series, it's essentially "The Lone Ranger" set in the 12th century. This will not surprise long-time readers, since you know that the cowboy tale is essentially the knight-errant's tale: it is only the accidents that differ, as to when the story is set, or whether the horseman-who-rides-in-to-bring-justice bears a cowboy hat and six-guns, or chain mail and a sword.



The opening 'folk song' is... well, it's set to a tune that you can also hear in this highly NSWF piece from the Merry Wives of Windsor.



Remember, you were warned.

Hummers Swarming Like Bees

Hummers Swarming Like Bees

video

We went through nearly 4-1/2 gallons of sugar water today in the sixteen hummingbird feeders we have deployed. Tomorrow begins our county's annual Hummingbird Festival. It look propitious, if all these birds don't hitch a ride south on a north wind that's forecast soon.

Instapundit points to a post at the Chicago Boyz, on "Raising beyond One's Station" by a poster by the name of Shannon Love:

I am not a big Palin fan. I am an atheist and not a social conservative in any meaningful sense. In my estimation, her chief virtue is that she annoys and enrages all the right people. However, I do recognize that she does honestly represent a wide and vital section of the America polity. I think the left’s inability to see Palin as a legitimate political figure reveals a great deal about their insular mindset and their deep need to see themselves as superior to other people even at the cost of a loss of political power.

Ms. Love, I think, hits on one the main motivations of what passes for "the Left" in the US. This 'deep need' to feel superior. One wonders what their childhoods were like.

Set Bacchus from His Glassy Prison Free

Set Bacchus from His Glassy Prison Free

Speaking of book reviews, Lars Walker's excellent site www.brandywine.com often features them. I think it was they who inspired me to order "The Oxford Book of Parodies," which arrived today. It starts with the excerpts from "1066 and All That" that caught my eye in the review, including the immortal "Outfangthief is Damgudthyng." Parodies work best for me when they operate on an original that's both familiar and vivid in its style, so I'm the wrong audience for some of the featured pieces, but I appreciate these brief set pieces by Alexander Pope, from "The Art of Sinking in Poetry," for elegant everyday use:

Who Knocks at the Door?
For whom thus rudely pleads my loud-tongu'd Gate,
That he may enter?--

Shut the Door
The wooden Guardian of our Privacy
Quick on its Axle turn.--

Uncork the Bottle and Chip the Bread
Apply thine Engine to the spungy Door,
Set Bacchus from his glassy Prison free,
And strip white Ceres of her nut-brown Coat.

That last one is going to come in handy. Max Beerbohm nails G.K. Chesterton in "Some Damnable Errors About Christmas":

That is why for nearly two thousand years mankind has been more glaringly wrong on the subject of Christmas than on any other subject. If mankind had hated Christmas, he would have understood it form the first. What would have happened then, it is impossible to say. For that which is hated, and therefore is persecuted, and therefore grows brave, lives on for ever, whilst that which is understood dies in the moment of our understanding of it -- dies, as it were, in our awful grasp.
Then Chesterton returns the favor with "Old King Cole" in the style of a half-dozen authors, including W.B. Yeats:
Of an old King in a story
From the grey sea-folk I have heard,
Whose heart was no more broken
Than the wings of a bird.

As soon as the moon was silver
And the thin stars began,
He took his pipe and his tankard,
Like an old peasant man.

And three tall shadows were with him
And came at his command;
And played before him for ever
The fiddles of fairyland.

And he died in the young summer
Of the world's desire;
Before our hearts were broken
Like sticks in a fire.
Here is an updated A.A. Milne:
Christopher Robin is drawing his pension;
He lives in a villa in Spain;
He suffers from chronic bronchitis and tension,
And never goes out in the rain.

. . .

Christoher Robin goes coughety coughety
Coughety coughety cough;
All sorts and conditions of Spanish physicians
Have seen him and written him off.

Brutality in Book Reviews

Brutality in Book Reviews:

It's a fine art, using the review to destroy someone's work. Of course, sometimes their work is of a character that destroying it is a necessary exercise in hygiene. If a reviewer notices bad behavior, they have the chance to cut off the harm before it can infect a field of thinking.

Of course, if the reviewer is the bad actor, one who knows that a book raises troubling questions that will undermine their own position in the overarching discipline. They can attempt to quash a book whose thesis is problematic for them by suggesting that no one should even bother to read it. The hope, then, is that no one will.

In either case such reviews can be a lot of fun to read; almost as much fun as British obituaries. It is important to be able to distinguish between attempts at hygiene, and attempts at assassination.

Two reviews of the brutal type have come across my screen recently. One of them is over a work of politics; the other, a work of history.

Politics:

On June 20, 2002, the United States Supreme Court decreed, in the case of Atkins v. Virginia, that the mildly mentally retarded were categorically exempt from capital punishment, reasoning that fully functional adults of diminished mental capacity were as a matter of law not as culpable for their acts. Writing eloquently in dissent, Justice Scalia drew a sharp distinction between the severely mentally retarded (who are truly not responsible for their actions), and the merely stupid (the category into which Mr. Atkins undoubtedly fell). Scalia argued forcefully that, with respect to the merely stupid, at least sometimes they deserve to be punished for their antisocial and destructive behavior.

This article, of course, is not about capital punishment. It is a book review of Dirty, Sexy Politics by Meghan McCain. However, the above discussion is relevant because I initially had reservations about writing this book review at all....

Either this book had no editor, or the editor assigned to the original manuscript threw up his or her hands three pages in and decided to let the original stand as some sort of bizarre performance art....

Meghan has a troubling habit of putting sentences and thoughts together as though they flow in some sort of linear train of thought, when in fact they have nothing to do with one another....

Were this a book from any other author, I might at this point be lamenting the fact that the author had an important message that would sadly be lost due to her horrible communication skills. Not so with Meghan McCain....

Dirty, Sexy Politics is 194 pages long; if you removed the descriptions of outfits and hairstyles so-and-so wore when such-and-such was going on, I doubt it would have scraped 120 pages.
History:
There is too much here that is just simply wrong. Authors and texts are assigned to the wrong century (Hildegard of Bingen is swept back to the 11th century and Jean de Meun's sexual allegory of the Roman de la Rose is flung forward a century beyond Thomas Aquinas to be read as some kind of antidote to his theological summa)....

Women did not write: what a slap in the face for the past three decades of medievalist feminist research which has carefully unearthed the works not just of individual brilliant women writers, but entire female monastic communities of authors and scribes. Indeed, Fossier may have a medievalist feminist revolt on his hands with his description of the iconic female political, poetic and didactic author Christine de Pizan as one of the vindictive ladies of the court....

...footnotes... there are none....

For the reader who finds my critique harsh, it is in fact the opinion of the author himself who confesses that "It is useless to accuse me of mixing up centuries, of being content with simplistic generalisations, of eliminating nuances of time or place, of using deceptive words and impure sources. I know all this and assume responsibility for it."
For discussion, two questions:

1) Which review is more damaging to the book?

2) In each case, do you take the review to be an act of proper hygiene, or an act of assassination?

Synthesis

Synthesis:

It was the animals all along.

An anthropologist named Pat Shipman believes she’s found the answer: Animals make us human. She means this not in a metaphorical way — that animals teach us about loyalty or nurturing or the fragility of life or anything like that — but that the unique ability to observe and control the behavior of other animals is what allowed one particular set of Pleistocene era primates to evolve into modern man....

[T]his also placed early humans in an odd spot on the food chain: large predators who were nonetheless wary of the truly big predators. This gave them a strong incentive to study and master the behavioral patterns of everything above and below them on the food chain.

That added up to a lot of information, however, about a lot of different animals, all with their various distinctive behaviors and traits. To organize that growing store of knowledge, and to preserve it and pass it along to others, Shipman argues, those early humans created complex languages and intricate cave paintings.

Art in particular was animal-centered. It’s significant, Shipman points out, that the vast majority of the images on the walls of caves like Lascaux, Chauvet, and Hohle Fels are animals.
It's a majestic thesis, one that is worthy of a great scholar and that should be fascinating to see defended in coming years.

It also happens to conform, by the way, to something Hegel said... about magic.

Philosophers don't often write about magic, because mostly few of them believe in it. I do, of course; but it's unusual. This comes not from Hegel's writings, but from the Zusatz -- the student notes of his lectures -- on paragraph 405 of his Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
For an understanding of this stage in the soul's development it will not be superfluous to explain in more detail the notion of magic. Absolute magic would be the magic of mind as such.... Among adults, a superior mind exercises a magical power over weaker minds; thus, for example, Lear over Kent, who felt himself irresistibly drawn to the unhappy monarch.... A similar answer, too, was given by a queen of France who, when accused of practicing sorcery on her husband, replied that she had used no other magical power than that which Nature bestows on the stronger mind to dominate the weaker....

[A]lso over animals man exercises a magical power which dispenses with any kind of mediation at all, for these cannot endure the gaze of man.
Of man! One might say that this is one of those occasions where "humanity" cannot be introduced as a substitute. A Man or a Lady can work this magic: but not just any human. Some of us walk among them with our heads held up; and others fear them, having forgotten what it ever was to be Man. Man, in this formulation, is of the kinship of Hector: Tamer of Horses.

Having just trimmed the feet of a thousand pound Tennessee Walker tonight, one who wasn't keen on the operation, I have to say that there is something to Hegel's concept. So much lies in the gaze you give the animal before the operation; and if someone can hold the horse's head, and keep the gaze, all is easy that might otherwise be impossible.

Horses are a miracle anyway: that they have a void in their teeth right where we might put a bit; that they, unlike dogs (or Tolkien's wargs) have a spinal structure that is fit to bear the weight of a rider. The magic isn't ours alone; but part of what we do with them is magic. Anyone who says otherwise has either never tried it, or never looked it in the eye.

Paintings of Petra

The Paintings of Petra:

Obscured by smoke damage, the paintings of ancient Petra have been carefully revealed. Petra is chiefly famous for its stone work, which account for the name: Pliny the Elder gave us the Greek name for it, and as we all know, petra or petros means "rock" in Greece.

Lascaux

Lascaux

Yesterday's screen-shot on my search engine, Bing, was of the 17,000-year-old cave paintings at Lascaux in southern France. (Bing has stunning screen-shots almost every day, by the way.) I went on a hunt for information about the caves, and found this link to an excellent virtual tour (click "visite de la grotte"), then got distracted before I'd checked many of the other links. When I tried again this morning, a lot of new articles came up about some old "Life" photographs of the painting that recently re-surfaced, which I suppose was what inspired the folks at Bing to feature Lascaux yesterday.

These renderings of a horse and a bull have been among my favorites for years. I always wondered: was the artist a natural? What did his tribesmen think of his skill? Was everyone brought up to try his hand at this beautiful work?

This fanciful site about "Atlantean Man" in pre-Columbian North America suggests that I am a descendant of the Cro Magnons who made these paintings:

Comprehensive studies of blood types also show that Mayans, Incas and Auracanians are all virtually 100% group O, with 5-20% of the population being rhesus negative. This was the blood type of the original Europeans and stems from Cro-Magnon man (Kurlansky, 2001). The races that possess this blood type are races of the Americas, the Canary Islands, the Berbers, the Basques, and Gaelic Kelts.
Like both my parents and (necessarily) both my sisters, and like about 7% of the population, I have O-negative blood. I am in fact a hotbed of recessive traits, including straight blonde hair, absence of a widow's peak, blue eyes, lack of dimples, and thin lips. (On the other hand, my chin is not cleft, I can roll my tongue, I am not color blind, my earlobes are of the "detached" shape, and I am not susceptible to poison ivy.)

Get ready for a roller-coaster ride if you do a search of "Cro Magnon" plus "O-negative blood type." The Net is stuffed to the rafters with eccentric theories about the mystical meanings of bloodtypes. There's a special diet, for instance, keyed to what your bloodtype tells you about whether you are essentially more paleolithic or agrarian.

The author of this strange O-Negsite believes that Rh-negative blood is an "angelic trait, passed to us by the Watchers." She lists some fascinating traits we O-neg types have in common. "Low blood pressure," check. "Love of space or science," OK, I'll go with that. "ESP," "unexplained scars on body," "sense of not belonging to the human race," "extra rib or vertebra," and "capability to disrupt electrical appliances" -- hmmm. I believe I've mentioned my alienation issues, and I did have a watch repairman claim once that my wrist was exerting an electromagnetic influence that accounted for his failure to fix the problem. I can't swear I don't have any extra ribs or vertebrae, but I'm pretty sure I lack inexplicable scars. Unless they're being hidden from me.

Chasing down links from this and similar sites reveals related theories, such as that the Basque people were Starchild-like invaders who started the whole O-negative Cro Magnon thing, including not only cave paintings but standing stones like Stonehenge. Or that Quetzalcoatl was an early Viking survivor whose energetic procreation explains why native Central Americans also have an unusually high incidence of O-negative blood. There's also something about "Reptilians" that I can't quite get a handle on, though it shows up often.

Gotta go. A large monolith has appeared outside, and has sent a message to my reptilian O-negative blood that is urging me to go make some cave paintings.

Immigration in Germany

Immigration in Germany:

There is a significant debate that is being stifled in Germany, argues this piece from Der Spiegel:

Sarrazin has been forced out of the Bundesbank. The SPD wants to kick him out of the party, too....

But what all these technicians of exclusion fail to see is that you cannot cast away the very thing that Sarrazin embodies: the anger of people who are sick and tired -- after putting a long and arduous process of Enlightenment behind them -- of being confronted with pre-Enlightenment elements that are returning to the center of our society. They are sick of being cursed or laughed at when they offer assistance with integration. And they are tired about reading about Islamist associations that have one degree of separation from terrorism, of honor killings, of death threats against cartoonists and filmmakers. They are horrified that "you Christian" has now become an insult on some school playgrounds. And they are angry that Western leaders are now being forced to fight for a woman in an Islamic country because she has been accused of adultery and is being threatened with stoning.
We can probably separate out the parts of this that are about 'the Enlightenment' from the parts that are not. There is a similar anti-immigrant sense in the United States, where the immigrants are from a post-Enlightenment culture -- indeed, Mexico ran the gamut of the Enlightenment all the way to socialism.

(For of course socialism and Communism are the last children of the Enlightenment -- the fruit of exposing all institutions to thorough and constant revision according to the reason of thinking men, men of letters. The French Revolution and Mao's revolution were alike in exposing every institution to withering revision, and in claiming that they were doing so in the light of reason. Karl Marx was quite a man of letters, and for many years the words 'intellectual' and 'socialist' were almost synonyms. Not for no reason! Marx's ideas are compelling and deeply considered. They also happened to be wrong; but it is telling that it was not until Joseph Schumpeter that there was a good explanation for just why and how he was wrong. Reason can lead, but it can also mislead.)

But I digress. The point is that a lot of anti-immigration sentiment is not about the Enlightenment; it is about preservation of culture. The Enlightenment looks like the division from Germany, but find a place overwhelmed by another post-Enlightenment culture, and we see that it is not the real division. Now it looks like language; but find a place where people of the same language are immigrating in massive numbers (say, Indians moving into England) and now...

There is nothing dishonorable about wanting to protect a culture with the institutions of government. Indeed, to a large degree, that is what a nation state was ever designed to do. Far from an abuse, it was the purpose of governments of this type to provide a space for a people of a certain character to live according to the laws that seemed right to them.

That, critics argue, has an ugly history. Well, so it does, if by ugly you mean a tremendous amount of war and bloodletting. Cosmopolitanism has an ugly history, as the socialist and communist period demonstrates. The defense of a religious character has an ugly history; so does the defense of scientific atheism. The Enlightenment has worked great good here; great harm there. So has the Church; so has any church. So has democracy; so have monarchies.

Aristotle argued in the Politics that there were three legitimate forms of government: Royalty, Aristocracy, and Constitutional Government. Each of the three can be perverted, and the perversions are named: Tyranny, Oligarchy, Democracy. Each of these three destroys the state by using the power of the government not for the common good, but for the good of the dominant faction. This means injustice in the short term, and eventual revolt.

What, though, is the common good in Germany? Is it that which is good for Germany -- i.e., maintaining its wealth and internal stability? Is it that which is good for Germans -- i.e., maintaining their cultural institutions and relative prosperity? Is it that which is good for everyone in Germany, without regard to the poverty in Turkey and elsewhere that is leading to these waves of immigrations? Is it what is good for humanity, though that means leveling the prosperity of Germans to funnel wealth to places like Greece and Turkey? What if those places waste it, as Greece has done so thoroughly? Now you are sliding into the perversion of Democracy, in Aristotle's terms: a destructive government dominated by transfers of wealth to the indigent. Where, though, was the place where you were working for the "common good," and not using the government in favor of one particular part -- for ethnic Germans, say, making them and their institutions a privileged class?

"Well, why shouldn't Germans be privileged in Germany?" Ah, but that was the idea with the ugly history.

Ultimately it is humanity that has an ugly history. It has also a terrible future. I am no prophet, but I have every sorrowful faith in that.