A Young Leader

A Young Leader

I drove to Houston today for a terrific shape-note singing. This youngster is the newest member of an extensive and famous shape note clan (the Owens), where they start training 'em young. He had learned several songs and was completely comfortable marching to the center of the "open square" and announcing his choice. (The leader chooses the song from the many hundreds available in the two books we usually use.)

Silas is so young he could barely make us understand the numerals when he identified the song by its number, but his mother helped translate. He sang out and was a good leader. He's enthusiastic about beating the time, one of the principal duties of the leader.

The singing lasted six hours, counting dinner on the grounds. Now I'm so hoarse I can barely talk. I know that professional singers can belt it out for hours without losing their voices, but I've never learned the trick. Though I can sing ordinary music for several hours, shape note singing is basically shouted, and it does me in. What a wonderful time I had. I got to lead four or five times. Having all the singers aim at you in the center is overwhelming.

Brined Turkey

Brined Turkey

Mark asked for our turkey brining recipe in a comment below, so here it is, from an old Food & Wine article. This is guaranteed to be the most wonderful turkey you ever tasted. Too late for Thanksgiving, but plenty of time for Christmas! It may take a while to find the juniper berries, so you can get started now. We used to pick ours off of the tree of a neighbor, but I'm sure they can be had by mail order.

Brown butter (see below)
2 sticks unsalted butter

Spice mixture:
1-1/2 T fennel seeds
1 large dried red chile
1/2 T whole allspice berries
1/2 T whole black peppercorns

Cured turkey:
1-1/2 cups coarse or kosher salt
1/2 cup plus 2 T sugar
2 bay leaves
1 T thyme
7 whole cloves
1/2 T whole allspice berries, coarsely cracked
1/2 t juniper berries, crushed
One 14-lb turkey
Table salt and fresh ground pepper

Make the brown butter: in a small skillet, toast the fennel seeds, chile, allspice berries, and papppercorns over moderatly high heat, tossing frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Let cool, then transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and finely grind them. (Can keep at room temperature 2 days.)

Vegetable stuffing:
25 garlic cloves, smashed
3 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 large celery rib, coarsely chopped plus 1/2 cup coarsely chopped celery leaves
Table salt
4 cups chicken stock

Prepare the cured turkey: In a very large stockpot, combine the coarse salt, sugar, bay leaves, thyme, cloves, and allspice and juniper berries. Add 2 gallons of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Add the turkey to the brine, breast side down, cover, and let stand overnight in a cool place or in the frig or a cooler overnight.

Make the vegetable stuffing: Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the garlic with the onions, celery, and celery leaves and 1/2 T of the spice mixtures; season with salt.

Season the inside of the turkey with salt and pepper. Spoon all but 2 cups of the stuffing into the chest and neck cavities. Using your fingers, loosen the skin from the breast without tearing it. Evenly spread the softened brown butter under the skin. Close the neck wit toothpicks.

Set the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a large roasting pan. Sprinkle the remaining spice mixture all over the bird and loosely tie the legs together with kitchen string. Scatter the reserved stuffing round the turkey and pour the stock over the stuffing.

Roast the turkey for 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees, cover the turkey loosely with foil, and continue roasting for about 4 hours, basting frequently, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the inner thigh registered 165 to 170 degrees. Add water to the pan during cooking if the juices evaporate. Transfer the turkey to a carving board and let stand at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes before carving.

Meanwhile, make the gravy. Pass the pan juices through a coarse strainer into the medium saucepan, pressing down on the softened vegetables to work them through the strainer. Skim the fat from the pan gravy.

Set the roasting pan over 2 burners over moderately high heat. Add 1-1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Lower the heat to moderate and boil, stirring constantly, until reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Stir this mixture into the pan gravy in the saucepan and season with salt and pepper . Warm the gravy through, if necessary, then pour into a sauceboat and serve alongside the turkey.



In one of our recent discussions, Ymar asked about the question of whether the 9/11 hijackers demonstrated courage. I answered that courage was a virtue, the virtue of facing danger in a moral way. Facing danger in an unjust or vicious way is not courage, but a sort of rashness.

Here is Aquinas' account of the subject:

Objection 1: It seems that daring is not a sin. For it is written (Job 39:21) concerning the horse, by which according to Gregory (Moral. xxxi) the godly preacher is denoted, that "he goeth forth boldly to meet armed men [*Vulg.: 'he pranceth boldly, he goeth forth to meet armed men']." But no vice redounds to a man's praise. Therefore it is not a sin to be daring.

Objection 2: Further, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. vi, 9), "one should take counsel in thought, and do quickly what has been counseled." But daring helps this quickness in doing. Therefore daring is not sinful but praiseworthy.

Objection 3: Further, daring is a passion caused by hope, as stated above ([3330]FS, Q[45], A[2]) when we were treating of the passions. But hope is accounted not a sin but a virtue. Neither therefore should daring be accounted a sin.

On the contrary, It is written (Ecclus.8:18): "Go not on the way with a bold man, lest he burden thee with his evils." Now no man's fellowship is to be avoided save on account of sin. Therefore daring is a sin.

I answer that, Daring, as stated above ([3331]FS, Q[23], A[1]; Q[55]), is a passion. Now a passion is sometimes moderated according to reason, and sometimes it lacks moderation, either by excess or by deficiency, and on this account the passion is sinful. Again, the names of the passions are sometimes employed in the sense of excess, thus we speak of anger meaning not any but excessive anger, in which case it is sinful, and in the same way daring as implying excess is accounted a sin.

Reply to Objection 1: The daring spoken of there is that which is moderated by reason, for in that sense it belongs to the virtue of fortitude.

Reply to Objection 2: It is praiseworthy to act quickly after taking counsel, which is an act of reason. But to wish to act quickly before taking counsel is not praiseworthy but sinful; for this would be to act rashly, which is a vice contrary to prudence, as stated above ([3332]Q[58], A[3]). Wherefore daring which leads one to act quickly is so far praiseworthy as it is directed by reason.

Reply to Objection 3: Some vices are unnamed, and so also are some virtues, as the Philosopher remarks (Ethic. ii, 7; iv, 4,5,6). Hence the names of certain passions have to be applied to certain vices and virtues: and in order to designate vices we employ especially the names of those passions the object of which is an evil, as in the case of hatred, fear, anger and daring. But hope and love have a good for this object, and so we use them rather to designate virtues.
I would make one correction to Aquinas' account: the daring spoken of in objection one is the daring of the horse.
Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?

Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible.

He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men.

He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword.

The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield.

He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet.

He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.
This is an interesting passage, though: because horses are like that, but only if men make them so. By pure nature, a horse will avoid any danger, and is scared like a grasshoppper -- or of a grasshopper. The Lord's point in speaking to Job, if Job were the kind of man who could understand it, was that this is indeed what men do with horses.

So what do we say about the passage, then? That it was written by someone who didn't know much about horses? Or that it was written with an intent to convey our role in shaping and mastering animals? Is it an irony, among the other passages wherein men are proven to be ignorant and weak? Or does it mean something?


Competition & Women:

We've got some pretty competitive women around here, one of whom wants to talk about this story. So let's ask two questions about it: First, are women really less competitive than men? Second, if they were, would it be a problem?

Both were clerical, but one was titled "Seeking Sports News Assistant." The other was described as more generic office work. In all, nearly 7,000 people replied to one of the two positions. Interested applicants received an e-mail detailing how the job would work. All were told they would have frequent deadlines, and there would be a high value placed on producing timely quality information. Some applicants, though, were told they would be getting a fixed $15 an hour for their work. Others were told the job would pay a base salary plus a bonus. In the second scheme, the new hires would be placed in pairs, and the one whose work was deemed the best would get the additional pay. Still interested? Send in your resume and application, the e-mail said.

For both jobs, more females replied to both job listings than males. Of the applicants to the sports assistant position, 53.5% of those interested were women. The generic job listing was split 80-20 females to male.
Wait, that doesn't sound like women are less competitive at all! It sounds like women are out there trying for a job at greater rates than men, even if it's a job like 'sports news reporter,' which one might expect to be favored by men.

Well, it goes on:
Here's the interesting part: for both jobs, when the element of the bonus was added, males were far more likely to actually send in their application than females. Or worded the other way around, females were more likely to pass on the job once they found out part of their pay would be based on their performance versus a co-worker. In the most competitive salary structure, where the base pay was $12 an hour and the bonus $6, List determined that men were 55.5% more likely to apply for the job than women.
So, once they are informed that the job is going to require them to compete in the long term, from day to day, a lot of the women pass.

So, the answer to the first question might be: it depends on what you mean by "competitive." Are women more likely to go for a job? Sounds like it. Are they more likely to pass on a job that requires them to fight against their co-workers every day? Sounds like it.

I'd say the answer to the second question is, "No," but we can talk about that in the comments.


Legalize What?

This story presents a very good opportunity to discuss that field of philosophy called consequentialism.

The research found that child sex crimes fell when child pornography was more easily accessible.

The discovery tallies with similar studies in Denmark and Japan, where child pornography is not illegal, that found incidences of child sex abuse were lower in those countries.

The conclusion of the new study is that ‘artificially-produced’ child pornography should be made available to prevent real children being abused.
I think that by 'artificially produced' they mean something like cartoons and animation. So, the idea is that legalizing cartoons about child rape will reduce the incidence of actual rape of real children.

For the sake of argument, let's say that is true; and furthermore, that the effect is large enough that we're talking about saving a fairly large number of children from being raped.

Does that justify legalizing child porn cartoons? Explain and defend your answer. :)

Science of Lit

A "Science" of Literature:

There was a time when history went through the same argument. In fact, history went so far down this road that some historians claimed that history was a science, not just that it could benefit from some scientific methods.

The importance of the distinction between arts and sciences is a topic I've written about since the earliest days of the Hall. In those days I was especially driven by the damage being done to science by the art of psychology (which even has an -ology name, normally characteristic of sciences). Which, by the way, did you know that one in five Americans suffers from mental illness... according to these 'scientists'? Psychology is the only medical 'science' in which increased funding always seems to lead to an increased incidence of 'disease.'

The problems of psychology are most pernicious because they are used to justify legal restrictions on liberty; but the problems for human understanding are also serious. The fact is that history has benefitted from some scientific methodology: but it has not benefitted from the idea that it is doing 'social science.' In order to keep the science clean and reliable, you have to exclude a huge number of things from history that were of the utmost importance to the people making the decisions you are trying to chronicle. The alternative is to include the important things, and muddy the "science" out of measure. That is at least as true in literature.

Both arts and sciences are noble pursuits, worthy and fine. We benefit from a clean distinction between what is and is not science. It's important to defend that distinction.

A Brief, Splendid Life

A Brief, Splendid Life

The death of a former colleague is very much on my mind this week. At the height of a splendid career, only 47 years old, he died piloting a small plane that was taking him, along with his wife's mother (assistant VP for research services at Texas A&M) and uncle (recently appointed BP head of Gulf Coast recovery operations), to a family Thanksgiving gathering in the Florida panhandle. All perished. His wife's grief is unimaginable to me. He left three sons nearly grown, one a student at Texas A&M.

His name was Greg Coleman. He came to work in the mid-90s for the law firm at which I spent most of my professional life. His unusual career there was a mark of the high regard we all had for him. He took his law degree in 1992 at the age of 29, after a two-year LDS mission in Japan followed by a B.S. and M.B.A., then honored us by succumbing to our recruiting efforts. He delayed his starting date, however, so that he could clerk for renowned conservative Fifth Circuit justice Edith Jones. He then joined us as a litigation associate for one short year, which was long enough for everyone to realize we had something special. Next he made the unusual request to take a leave of absence to clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas for a couple of years. At last we welcomed him back as a associate in 1996, when he was 33 years old. He soon specialized in appellate work and struck his colleagues with his combination of uncommon decency and lucidity of thought. Although he was a strongly principled conservative thinker working among a lot of orthodox liberals, it was obvious he would be made a partner as soon as humanly possible.

He threw another wrench in the works when then-Texas-Attorney-General John Cornyn (now U.S. Senator from Texas) created the new office of Texas Solicitor General in 1999 and asked Greg to serve, at the age of 36. For two years he represented the State of Texas in high-profile appellate cases, then returned to our firm in 2001, swiftly being made not only a partner but head of his own national appellate litigation department. (This in a firm that normally has a 7- or 8-year partner track.) By 2007, when he left the firm, to its intense regret, he already had successfully argued four cases to the United States Supreme Court. He joined a small appellate litigation boutique in Austin, where before long his name was on the masthead. You can read here how deeply he wove himself into the lives of his colleagues there in the three short years that remained of his life, and how many varieties of public service he managed to pack into the time he had on earth. Last year, he successfully argued the case of the "New Haven 20" firefighters in their reverse-discrimination case (Ricci v. DeStephano) before the Supreme Court. The firefighters' website offers a tribute to him today. His New Haven colleague in that case had this informal eulogy to offer:

“Greg had all the right stuff — he was both a brilliant lawyer and a man of impeccable morals in a profession where that is increasingly scarce,” Torre said. “His quiet rectitude provided a needed counterbalance to the anger and bitterness that I felt at having to go so far to vindicate a principle I thought was plain: that every man should be judged on his character and worth, not the color of his skin.

St. Cadoc's

A Surprise at St. Cadoc's:

Why it makes sense to fix the roof of the church once in a while... at least, if your church is six hundred years old.


A professor of French literature has some advice about eating. Being reasonably good advice, we find that its source is ancient philosophy (and not French literature, which in the post-medieval period hasn't been very good, exceptis excipiendis).

The epidemiologist cannot tell us what the Epicurean wants to know: What should I choose to love without guilt? What is good for me? What keeps me happy? What, in the best sense, keeps me healthy?

In certain European philosophical circles, there has been a recent spike of interest in Epicurus, and not only among Marxists (Marx wrote his doctoral thesis on Epicurus). Like every Greek, Epicurus was obliged to believe in the pantheon of Greek gods who lived on Mount Olympus; but he did so without having to suppose that these gods were even remotely interested in human affairs. As a result, Epicurus needed to find principles for living that were based not on theological but on materialist (or, we might say, scientific) conceptions of the world—those which explained all nature, including mind and spirit, with reference not to the supernatural but to harmonies and atomic processes....

Neo-Epicureans argue that the entire philosophical tradition since Plato—perhaps philosophy itself—has always rejected materialism and has forever been in love with idealism. Even the so-called materialist philosophies exhibit forms of Platonic idealism; this idealism may be turned on its head, as it were, but its articulations are still in place.
An aside, because it will be of interest to some of you: That was Marx's complaint about them, that materialism wasn't adequately materialist. What does that mean? Briefly, that materialist philosophy was still positing a mind apart from the meat. Subsequent philosophers have tried to rectify that; Sebastian Rödl had a book out just three years ago promising a "true materialist" account of self consciousness, the problem that we (especially Joe and I) have discussed here. (Rödl's account isn't very convincing, if you were about to rush out and order the book; indeed, I'm not sure it qualifies as an account. If you're interested in exploring the question, we can discuss it further.)

But, back to eating. We have now a rather bold assertion from our French literary scholar:
The new, radical Epicureanism, on the other hand, is nonphilosophical.
Really? Go on.
It is a new way of articulating the relation between theory and practice; it is a praxis of thinking about pleasure and its value, in and of itself, as well as from the standpoint of health. Like Nietzsche, the Epicurean does not aspire to negate philosophy, for that would be only another way of affirming it. Philosophy is nothing but the history of its successive negations. Rather, Epicurus teaches us how to look away from the tradition. "Looking up and away shall be my only negation," Nietzsche asserts in The Gay Science. Like Nietzsche, neo-Epicureans start their thinking not with ideas but with what Epicurus insists is the origin of thought, the body.

Broadly put, neo-Epicureans suppose not only that you are what you eat, but that you think what you eat. Take German idealism, says Nietzsche. It has the leaden consistency and gaseous redolence of a diet thick with potatoes. Italian thought, one might add, is marked by the slippery texture and doughy blandness of pasta. Jewish metaphysics has the astringency and smoky intensity of briny pickles and cured fish. The indistinctness of Buddhist thought resembles white rice. Neo-Epicureans aim to discover not just a philosophy of being but a hygiene for living; not a universal system but a way of thinking about good health in terms of the peculiar proclivities of the individual body.
Sorry, boys. That's a philosophy, whether you like it or not. Indeed, you give the game away yourself when you say that it's "not just" a philosophy, but also a hygiene.

Speaking of which, I can think of a precedent for this philosophy in French literature. Perhaps he comes by it honestly, then.

What sort of a philosophy is it? A good one, as far as it follows this form: eat enough, and well enough, to be satisfied; not so little as to be hungry, nor so poorly as to be sick, but also not so much as to suffer digestive malfunction or obesity. That's the hygiene.

Why a philosophy, though? If you go no farther along the road than perfecting the body, you've missed an important point. The body isn't an end in itself, after all; it will eventually sicken and die even if you take perfect care of it. Waylon Jennings and Jerry Reed can tell you that (following Shel Silverstein's poem, as Johnny Cash had followed another in "A Boy Named Sue").

So 'you're getting real healthy, but you're still gonna die.' The human mind has a potential far more vast than the maintenance of the body, for the majority of your life; but the body is doomed in spite of the mind's best efforts, when the time comes. The mind is therefore too great a tool to be aimed at the maintenance of the body for most of our lives; and a tool entirely insufficient for that purpose when we reach our designated time. This should be adequate proof that a philosophy aimed only at the material is insufficient for us.

What's left, then, if not the mind and the ideas it can contain? Some of these ideas may be actualized, as in the case of an engineer who dreams of spacecraft; others may remain ideas, but inspire others, as in a composer who writes symphonies.

The day-to-day health of the body cannot be our end, for we are too much for that; neither can its permanent survival be our end, for we are too little for that. To write, to think, to design, to compose, these things are more fit for us. Of them all, though, the greatest and hardest challenge may simply be to understand.