28,000 Dead in England

28,000 Dead in England:

And on a single day.

George Goodwin, who has written a book on Towton to coincide with the battle’s 550th anniversary in 2011, reckons as many as 75,000 men, perhaps 10% of the country’s fighting-age population, took the field that day.

They had been dragged into conflict in various ways. Lacking a standing army, the royal claimants called on magnates and issued “commissions of array” to officers in the shires to raise men. Great lords on either side had followings known as “affinities”, comprising people on formal retainers as well as those under less rigid obligations. These soldiers would have been among the more experienced and better-equipped fighters that day (foreign mercenaries were there, too). Alongside them were people lower down the social pyramid, who may have been obliged to practise archery at the weekend as part of the village posse but were not as well trained. Among this confusion of soldiers and weaponry, almost certainly on the losing Lancastrian side, was Towton 25.
The archaeologists have done some impressive work on the site. They mention having learned something from the recent work at the Little Bighorn. If you're interested in reading about that research, this article is relevant, though I think it is not the same effort.

There was another English find recently covered by Smithosonian magazine, this one of a Viking mass grave in England. It is thought to be linked to the St. Brice's Day massacre of 1002, when Aethelred the Unraed proved he was ready enough.


The Book of Psalms:

I will be reading the Book of Psalms this month; I am to read five a day, so that we can get through the whole book in one month.

While we've been talking about religious issues more lately, probably because of the holiday season, this is not a religious blog per se. As such, I don't intend to blog the Psalms (and anyway, far wiser men have written far more interesting things about it that you should read instead). However, I thought I'd mention the project so that any of you who wanted to do so could read along. If it's something people are interested in doing, I don't mind to host discussions of some of the more resonant psalms.

I Have Got To Get Me One Of These

I Have Got To Get Me One Of These

I ran across this on Power Line http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2010/12/028038.php . Follow the this video link, also; John was unable to embed that one.

Also, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAsDi5UZ0Ao&feature=player_embedded

There are a number of things Corliss could do to streamline his suit so as to achieve higher speeds.

Aside from that, though, I need to do this. His rush is to magnify his experience of the speed by staying close to the obstacles. My rush would be the flying itself, so I'd be looking for whatever updrafts I could maximize the lift from to fly for greater endurance. But I have to fly that crack in Switzerland, too (some call it a canyon: it's a crack). In either case, this takes great shoulder and thigh strength and endurance.

Eric Hines

Going to Kill

"As I Was Going To Kill and All..."

Happy new year.

You know who sucks?

You Know Who Sucks?

Modern-day Olympic crew teams, that's who.


It's So Hard:

...to understand the Constitution. After all, being 'over a hundred years old' (and indeed over two hundred) it's practically ancient.

We are all wasting our time, ladies and gentlemen. Thank goodness our wise companions on the Left were there to save us. I suspend all further activities of prying into ancient or medieval history and philosophy; why, some of that was a thousand years ago, or even more!

From now on, we shall stick to the things we can see in front of us. Let us commence the study of this beer glass. Hm, empty: we shall have to fill it, in half an hour or so when the clock is right for that kind of thing.

You see? Practical benefits flow at once, as soon as we leave off these foolish pursuits and turn our attention to the moment.

Brain Science

Politics and Brain Size:

Conservatives have bigger brains... well, at least, the primitive parts of the brain are bigger.

Self-proclaimed right-wingers had a more pronounced amygdala - a primitive part of the brain associated with emotion while their political opponents from the opposite end of the spectrum had thicker anterior cingulates.
So, conservatives are primitive and emotional, and... wait a minute, didn't we read something else about the amygdala this week?
So what does the amygdala actually do? "[It's] strongly connected with almost every other structure in brain. In the past, people assumed it was really important for fear. Then they discovered it was actually important for all emotions. And it's also important for social interaction and face recognition," Barrett says. "The amygdala's job in general is to signal to the rest of brain when something that you're faced with is uncertain. For example, if you don't know who someone is, and you are trying to identify them, whether it is a friend or a foe, the amygdala is probably playing a role in helping you to perform all of those tasks."
That actually fits perfectly with existing research, showing that conservatives are more likely to perceive threats. This suggests why that might be true. It also suggests a direct physical unity between the adaptive quality of threat recognition and humanity's preferred method for dealing with threats. How do you deal with threats? You form a stronger troop: either a bigger one, or one with more complicated bonding structures to hold it together in the face of danger.


The Benefits of Marriage:

Is this what you would expect to hear?

Compared with those in the early sex group, those who waited until marriage:

* Rated relationship stability as 22 percent higher
* Rated relationship satisfaction as 20 percent higher
* Rated sexual quality as 15 percent better
* Rated communication as 12 percent better

Win Some, Lose Some

Win Some, Lose Some:

Proven: dogs are very, very smart!

A border collie called Chaser has been taught the names of 1022 items - more than any other animal. She can also categorise them according to function and shape, something children learn to do around the age of 3.
Some dogs, that is.

Swords Point

From the Sword's Point:

Did you ever wonder what these guard-changes look like from the sword's point of view? One of the Swedish groups tried it out.

A commenter at YouTube remarks, "In Soviet Russia, sword controls you!"

Faith and Reason 2

Faith & Reason, Part II:

Continuing with this interesting article, we find another set of arguments. He began by explaining that he believes monotheism is a reaction to Greek philosophy, especially to the idea of Thales that there are natural laws that can reliably explain things. This created a borderland between the natural and the supernatural that had never been there before:

This extraordinarily powerful idea was, in fact, entirely unprecedented. For thousands of years before Thales, humanity encountered only one undifferentiated world, a world still inhabited today by some, it is true, though their numbers are dwindling. They’re the ones not included in us. In this holistic world, matter and spirit are the same: people, places, objects, and events merge and mingle with the gods, goddesses, spirits, and demons who animate them. We saw a vivid example of this outlook during the solar eclipse over Asia in July 2009, when some local authorities closed schools and urged pregnant women to stay indoors to avoid ill effects as the evil spirit swallowed the Sun god.

The epic poems of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, reflect the oral traditions of this sort of world. These poems established the classical Greek religious pantheon, in which the gods gleam brightly in the sunlight and the sea, rumble through the land as earthquakes, and darken the sky with clouds or eclipses. When Odysseus incurs the enmity of Poseidon, the sea god rouses himself in a terrible storm and wrecks Odysseus’ ship. Odysseus spies land, but Poseidon’s waves cast him violently up against the sharp rocks before hurling him back out to sea. With the help of his ally Athena, goddess of wisdom, Odysseus gathers his wits enough to swim along the shore, desperately looking for a place to land. Exhausted, at last he comes to “the mouth of a sweet-running river” that offers shelter from the rocks and wind. Odysseus prays directly to the river: “Hear me, Lord, whoever you are,” he addresses the river, asking it—or rather asking him—to grant Odysseus sanctuary from Poseidon, the sea. And the river “stayed his current, stopped the waves breaking, and made all quiet in front of him.”
This new idea, Thales' idea, creates the border that separates the seen from the unseen. Before the unseen and the seen were assumed to be in the same space, but now we know there are some natural laws that are at work in the world, and they produce reliable results. Reason lets us understand these laws.

The problem, the author asserts -- I hope that our friend Joe is about to read this part of the article, which I believe he will love -- is that this reliability on the part of natural law destabilizes the powerful in society. They react by throwing up a religious structure that does something new: it doesn't merely beseech, but requires declarations of faith. By "faith," he means here 'fidelity to the conceptual structure of the religion.'

He suggests that this was an important psychological hedge to the certainty that reason offered. We needed faith to assure us that we didn't understand.
[T]he key concept in faith seems to be the assurance that nature’s regularity is illusory—precisely how being less important than the assurance itself. That’s the opposite of the case with explanation, which is, of course, all about “precisely how.” From this perspective, the phrase “secular explanation” begins to seem suspiciously redundant. Explanation and secularism may actually take in the same territory.

Where reason finds regularity in nature, faith extols miracles that overturn that regularity. In place of skepticism, faith exalts credulity.
This seems to me to be precisely wrong. We can see why by looking again at Avicenna, whose account of emanation offers a very clear and rational explanation for the structure of the universe. Avicenna doesn't ask us to believe that we can't understand how the universe works: he wants us to believe that we understand exactly how it works, even where we can't see it.

Avicenna turns not to faith but to reason to assert that we can't predict things accurately -- and not because of a psychological need, but because of actual observations. If the world was ordered in imitation of a perfectly rational Necessary Existent, why would there be evil? There shouldn't be, right? Insofar as our reason leads us to natural, logical laws that order the universe, why would there be irrationality, wickedness, or chaos?

Avicenna's explanation of this is perfectly rational, and falls back on the chaotic nature of matter. As we get farther down the chain of emanations, the lesser ordering intelligences are less capable of bringing chaotic matter into accord with the divine principle. Thus, he can explain the irrationality he observes in the world -- but not by reference to faith. The world is irrational just where it begins to depart from God.

Aquinas has the same problem, but follows Augustine in simply declaring that there is no evil. In this, though, they are both doing exactly what the author says they shouldn't be doing. They aren't using faith to assert that the world is irrational. They're using faith to assert that it is even more rational than we understand it to be. Both of the saints assert that there are reasons for bad things and apparently irrational things: we just haven't learned what they are yet.

Now, that isn't to say that the author is entirely baseless in his assertion. The Jewish philosopher Maimonides does make a run at assertions of the type the author suggests. He does so for something like the reasons that the author suggests, too: he attacks Avicenna's astronomy-based metaphysics using appeals to ignorance, for the purpose of preserving divine providence and prophecy. (Having done so, however, he asserts that this providence follows according to normal and natural forces that are obeying the normal and natural laws -- the parting of the Red Sea by just the right alignment of natural forces to create the right combination of wind and tide, for example.) Dad29 points to the Islamic school of thought that does so as well, going all the way to the pole that the author suggests. In the 19th century, Kierkegaard also goes this route.

Still, I don't think it's correct to say that this is what "faith" is for (or "belief" -- he seems to muddle his terms a bit). Faith can be used that way, but it can also be used the other way. It can be used by those hoping for an exception to natural law, but it can be, and has very often been, used to exalt reason and natural law.

In the final post in this series, I will examine how I think faith and reason are related. I think it may be right to say that reason is prior to faith; but we will save that for the next post.

In Memoriam

In Memoriam:

Rest in peace Dr. Denis Dutton, founder and editor of Arts & Letters Daily. We've all benefited from his work over the years: I don't think there has been any other website of more value to this Hall, unless it was Cassandra's.

I am grateful for his work, and therefore, for his life.

12thC SciFi

12th Century Science Fiction:

I was reading The History of the Holy Grail tonight, which is the first part of the Prose Lancelot -- that massive 12th-century story that was Sir Thomas Malory's major source for the Arthurian legends. I've spent a bit of time with the Prose Lancelot before, but I skipped the early parts because the Holy Grail bits of the legend are frankly a bit tedious for modern readers (being chiefly allegory). I've mostly read the later parts of the story, which pertain to the king and his knights.

Reading tonight, though, I came across a chapter on something called "the Turning Isle." This is a remarkable piece of what is literally science fiction: that is, it's an attempt to take a theory of physics and construct an interesting setting.

The physics are, of course, Aristotelian. The story starts with the creation of the world, wherein God separates heaven from earth and so forth. Now, anyone who has studied Aristotle's physics knows that there are four elements (five, in his later accounts -- the celestial fifth element does not enter this story). These are earth, air, fire and water.

One thing the author also knew about physics was that if you mix earth with fire, at least the iron will smelt. And if you mix iron with water, it will rust. When God was done separating the fire and earth and water, he would have some rusty iron, and some smelted iron -- stuff that couldn't be purified, in other words. It wouldn't be proper to put this in heaven, which is pure; and, yet, because it partook partially of heaven's fiery nature, it was too good to subsume into the earth.

So, he put it all together in a ball and let it find its natural place. 'Natural place' is another core concept of Aristotle's physics. We all know that fire goes up, while rain and rivers go down. Earth also goes down, so what happens if you drop a rock in a river? It sinks to the bottom. Thus, all the elements have a natural place they will go to if they are not constrained by some external force.

Well, this big ball of stuff was heavier than the heavens, so it couldn't fly away. But it was lighter than the water or the earth, because it was mixed with the stuff of the heavens (again, fire). So what would it do? It would float!

So it floats around the oceans until it comes to this particular place near the Port of the Tigers, where there are large deposits of lodestone. Well, the author already told you that the stuff was mostly iron, so of course it comes to stay there. It is floating, so it's an island; but because it is partially of the heavenly element, it also turns about, because the heavens turn every night.

What that gives us is a floating iron island that bobs on the surface of the water, while slowly rotating about every day.

This isn't a fairy tale. A fairy tale would simply have said, "On the sea near the Port of the Tigers, there was an island of iron that bobbed on the waves. It was made of iron that fell from the stars, and turned in place every night as the stars do."

Rather, this is pure science fiction: an attempt not simply to offer a fantastic space for an adventure, but to account for it according to the laws of nature. It's entirely preposterous, of course, but it's completely plausible if one assumes the correctness of the physics of the day.

Mostly I thought you'd be amused by the story, but it does make me wonder what other parts of our own science fiction will seem equally preposterous to the readers of the future.

Faith & Reason

Faith & Reason:

We were discussing this very topic just a bit below, and today Arts & Letters Daily posts an insightful article on the subject.

It's very interesting reading; I might want to take the arguments slowly, over several days. I like the author's concept, but I think his argument is troubled. Let's start with just the first few parts of it.

We all know how things turned out, of course. An angel appeared, together with a ram, letting Abraham know that God didn’t really want him to kill his son, that he should sacrifice the ram instead, and that the whole thing had merely been a test.

And to modern observers, at least, it’s abundantly clear what exactly was being tested.... God was testing Abraham’s faith.

If we could ask someone from a much earlier time, however, a time closer to that of Abraham himself, the answer might be different.
That's one of the reasons to study Medieval as well as ancient philosophy. We often think of ourselves as living in a particularly rational time, heirs to the Enlightenment and all that. In fact, the Medievals were often much more rational than we are. Because they believed in God, they assumed that the world was rational. The problem was in figuring out how to use our reason to understand the puzzles -- but the puzzles were assumed to have answers, rational answers that led to God. Of the great princes of rationality in modern philosophy Hegel was no more rational than this; Kant rather less so.

Let us continue, though.
The usual story we tell ourselves about faith and reason says that faith was invented by the ancient Jews, whose monotheistic tradition goes back to Abraham. In the fullness of time, or—depending on perspective—in a misguided departure, the newer faiths of Christianity and Islam split off from their Jewish roots and grew to become world religions in their own right. Meanwhile, in a completely unrelated series of events, the rationalistic paragons we know as the ancient Greeks invented reason and science. The Greek tradition of pure reason has always clashed with the monotheistic tradition of pure faith, though numerous thinkers have tried to “reconcile” them through the ages. It’s a tidy tale of two pristinely distinct entities that do fine, perhaps, when kept apart, but which hiss and bubble like fire and water when brought together.

A tidy tale, to be sure, but nearly all wrong.
So, the "Jerusalem v. Athens" problem proves to be... well, a tidy tale. What corrections need to be made? The author proposes several. Let's do just the first three for now.

1) The Jewish road to monotheism was traveled much later than most people believe. The transition to pure monotheism was late enough that it appears to have been informed by Greek thinking.

2) The Greeks' approach to the question came from their rational analysis. There is a proposal that creation tracks to a unitary principle by the time of Thales; a unitary God appears first in Plato, not the Bible. Jewish philosophers like Philo learned the idea of pure monotheism from Plato.

3) Therefore, faith and reason don't have to be reconciled. Reason is prior to faith, and gave rise to it. Not only are they in harmony by nature, but reason -- also by nature -- is in the driver's seat. The author puts it thus:
So one indisputable thing the last century or so of scholarly work has uncovered about faith and reason is that they are hardly the rigidly separate traditions we commonly take them for. It’s surprising for us, looking back, that reason came first. Even more surprising, perhaps, is how quickly monotheistic faith followed, starting with its first glimmering in the thought of Thales himself. As we perceive order in nature, it seems, we also gravitate to the One.
Let's start with the fact that the author of this review is wrong on two significant points around assertion #2.

First, the demiurge of the Timeaus is not a unitary god. He is in a sense responsible for the order of everything that exists in the moving universe of time, but he is (a) not making these things, just ordering them: prime matter is prior to his ordering it; and (b) is doing so not just in imitation of the Forms, but rather to make a shrine for them. Thus, Plato's myth is not really unitary: there's one agent, yes, but he is making a shrine to honor many Forms. (It is possible -- Plato sometimes seems to suggest -- that all Forms finally participate in the Form of the Good. That still gives you two, not one.)

Second, Aristotle's unmoved mover was not unitary either. Aristotle rejects Thales' framing argument that all things 'boil down' to water; he has five elements in his system (earth, air, fire, water, and the celestial element that makes up the stars; this was a later addition, though, and in his earlier works he had only the first four). More importantly for monotheism, Aristotle isn't sure about the number of unmoved movers, but suggests it is around 57. It is later philosophers -- Avicenna, for example, followed by Aquinas -- who assert that there is one unmoved mover, and that one is God.

Avicenna, however, wasn't really able to make the unmoved mover function as a unitary god. His "necessary existent" doesn't have any relationship with anything in the created world, aside from bestowing existence upon it. It functions like the Form of the Good for Plato: the model of everything, but not the actual maker of the world of time and motion. It is the intelligence of the first emanation, like Plato's demiurge, who orders all this chaotic prime matter in imitation of the beautiful Necessary Existent. Daniel De Smet and Meryem Sebti, in a close reading of Avicenna's commentary on Surah 112, assert that he actually assigns the name Allah to the first emanation -- not to the Necessary Existent. Allah comes in second! He is therefore able to serve as the maker of the world; but he isn't the ordering principle of the world. He's just the workman putting things in order, in imitation of something more beautiful and perfect than himself.

(Aquinas is able to have a God that is both the unmoved mover and the actual causal agent of reality, because God is rather more interesting in his reading. We'll come back to that later.)

In any case, I think these flaws derail the review's conclusion, in (2). Monotheism didn't arise from reason alone; Plato's ideas don't lead to it in any sort of direct or necessary fashion. In fact, as Avicenna demonstrates, it's kind of hard to get there. Islamic doctrine wants an absolutely unitary god (this is the principle of tawhid), but what Avicenna could give them was a god in two parts.

The loss of (2) puts (3) in jeopardy, though I would like to salvage (3) on other grounds. Let's talk about this much first.



Christmas morning at mom-in-law's house. The three pups in back are ours, the one first in the row of three being the one in precarious health -- I never thought I'd still have him for Christmas! But he still gives every impression of happiness and comfort. The dog who broke the syzygy pattern is one visiting for the holidays. All the dogs behaved reasonably well throughout their visit. I'm not sure how many dogs I'd have to arrive with before my mother-in-law banned me from future Christmases, but I suspect I'm about to find out.

The weather turned cold but by no means frigid: I stayed in my usual sandals and added a light jacket. Just to show we know how to get in the snow spirit down here in torrid South Texas, though, I've added this picture that our neighbor across the road (who lurks here) took of a once-in-a-century Christmas snowfall six years ago when we first were starting to build.

Kung Fu

Kung Fu & Philosophy:

An interesting pair of posts by Chinese philosopher Peimin Ni. He makes the interesting leap about two-thirds of the way into the first post:

This kung fu approach shares a lot of insights with the Aristotelian virtue ethics, which focuses on the cultivation of the agent instead of on the formulation of rules of conduct. Yet unlike Aristotelian ethics, the kung fu approach to ethics does not rely on any metaphysics for justification. One does not have to believe in a pre-determined telos for humans in order to appreciate the excellence that kung fu brings. This approach does lead to recognition of the important guiding function of metaphysical outlooks though. For instance a person who follows the Aristotelian metaphysics will clearly place more effort in cultivating her intelligence, whereas a person who follows the Confucian relational metaphysics will pay more attention to learning rituals that would harmonize interpersonal relations. This approach opens up the possibility of allowing multiple competing visions of excellence, including the metaphysics or religious beliefs by which they are understood and guided, and justification of these beliefs is then left to the concrete human experiences.
The second post is here, and explores the link between metaphysics and the martial arts. I'm not sure if he realizes it, but he hits upon the core difference between Buddhist and neo-Platonic traditions -- which include many Christian, Jewish and Islamic philosophers.
Wu insisted that I be seated in the most prominent spot, and placed himself and all his associates at the table in lesser positions. With the ritual setting in order, he then humbly presented me a classic martial arts manual, and asked if I could explain the introduction of the book for him. “It is full of philosophical terms,” he said. “I have trouble understanding it.”

I looked at the manual. It was on a martial arts style called xingyi quan. While the main body of the book was about postures and movements of the body and energy, which Mr. Wu had no trouble interpreting, the introduction was basically a treatise about metaphysics. It contained views derived from the Song dynasty neo-Confucian scholar Zhou Dunyi, in which an abstract concept, called wuji, the ultimate non-being, takes a central role as ontologically prior to taiji (t’ai chi), or “the primordial ultimate.” Oddly enough, the author offered no indication about how the ideas should be translated into the martial arts, as if it were all self-evident.
What he means here is that the existence of taiji depends on the existence of wuji. This kind of priority is similar to the kind the Persian philosopher Avicenna describes between his own "necessary existent" and the first emanation. It isn't 'prior' in terms of time, because the first emanation is necessary and therefore eternal. Thus, there was never a time when both things did not exist; but one of them depends on the other for its existence.

The distinction to be made here is the difference between the wuji concept, and the neo-Platonic idea of what the One is like. That would be interesting to explore; it's a shame he didn't. Since he invokes Aristotle, however, it's worth noting that Aristotle has a similar concept at work in his physics (James Wilberding wrote about this in "Creeping Spatiality," if anyone is interested).

In any case, it's not right to say that Aristotle isn't also interested in social harmony. Aristotle wrote the Politics on the subject of how to build a state that sustains a space for the best kind of life (the kind of flourishing life that he describes in the Nicomachean Ethics). The ethics is likewise concerned with social relations: a number of the virtues are specifically about relationships with others, for example justice and magnanimity. He pays particular attention to the importance of friendship to the good life.

It's a different vision, but I don't think it's right to say that it is different because one is social and the other is individual.

Oh, the more obvious question: just how does the ontological priority of wuji inform martial arts? Neo-Confucianism has a form/matter distinction very much like the ancient Greeks and Christian philosophers. Form (li, or principle, in the Chinese) and matter (qi) are both ways of actualizing potentials: form is a kind of potential, in that the set of forms govern all things that matter can possibly be, whereas matter is potential in that it can assume many forms. (For example, water can assume the form of a liquid or a gas.) When matter takes on a form, it becomes an instance of that form, and thus there is an actuality of what was previously a potential.

Matter, for the Chinese as for the Greeks, was inherently chaotic: unprincipled, that is. Neo-Confucianism was interested in li, that is, in trying to bring your matter in alignment with the ideal embedded in the principle.

What the martial artist is asserting is that getting there isn't good enough: you also have to look beyond that. Getting a single principle perfect only makes you a perfect single instance of something. That isolates you from the nature of every other principle, as well as from the nature of the matter you are dominating. Li perfected is a pole.

Thus we see the point: taiji means "ultimate ridgepole," whereas wuji means "without ridgepole." Reaching that ultimate limit means distancing yourself from everything else.

The greatest mind will be able to achieve wuji, which essentially involves setting aside the law of non-contradiction. It is reaching the pole, and embracing all the other poles as well; so that all distinctions collapse, and what remains is perfect actuality. Not perfect potential: potential was what we started with. Wuji implies the actuality, and indeed the assertion is that such is the actual nature of reality.

What does that mean to the martial artist? In focusing on mastering the sword, you may forget that you might resolve a dispute with a flower. The true master will not forget, but will think of his mastery only as a starting point.

Irish Crochet Lace

Irish Crochet Lace

My sister, God bless 'er, sent me a fantastically beautiful book for Christmas on making Irish crochet lace. The instructions look surprisingly straightforward, considering how elegant and intricate the designs are. This picture isn't from the book, but it's comparable. Basically, you make the individual motifs, which aren't too awful, and you tie the whole thing together with the standard netting pattern. So the real trick is not so much the difficulty of the stitching as being able to visualize the pattern, which is where all the lovely pictures come in.

I made pillowcase edgings for my female relatives this year, and I was pleased with how they came out, but this new stuff is going to be a real leap upward. I believe the first thing I'll work on will be a christening gown for my newest great-nephew. Since I can't find a good picture of a christening gown online, here's another sample pattern:

Snow on Christmas Day:

And on the Feast of Stephen.

A fine feast to you all.

On the Feast of Stephen

On the Feast of Stephen:

We know that in Ireland, today is Wren's Day. This involves the funerals for wrens killed by young boys, who collect money for the occasion. There is a particularly merry song associated with the custom.

Did you know that the Welsh also have an interesting custom?

Ancient Welsh custom... [included] "holming" (beating or slashing with holly branches) of late risers and female servants.
The Internet doubtless contains some relevant video for this custom as well; but I think I'll demur posting any such things here. Such joyful play is best practiced in private spaces.

Against the Tea Party

Against the Tea Party:

The first one, that is. Cassandra raised the question a month or so back; here's the New Yorker, finally catching up to her.

Tarring and feathering was so popular in New England in the seventeen-sixties and seventies that at least one observer thought Americans had invented it, though in fact it has been around since at least the twelfth century. What was it like? Pine tar, used to waterproof ships, is liquid at room temperature and, in most cases, was probably applied unheated. Feathers were obtained either from fowl (the smellier the better) or from cushions. The third and most essential ingredient was exposure. One customs agent was kept outdoors in his “modern jacket” until he was frostbitten. “They say his flesh comes off his back in Steaks,” a woman reported afterward. Victims felt a lingering shame, though the frostbitten customs agent, a resilient personality, petitioned King George III to dub him a “Knight of the Tarr.”...

George Washington disapproved of the Tea Party, and Benjamin Franklin called it “an Act of violent Injustice on our part.” But the Revolution was not yet in the hands of the Founders, although it had left those of the merchants, who now dodged and stalled as the people—passionate and heedless of economic niceties—called for a ban on all tea, even what was smuggled from the Dutch.
As insurgencies go, tarring and feathering is not so bad: we're accustomed to seeing insurgents express their distress by bombing crowds of women and children, rather than applying some mild discomfort to individuals singled out for their own personal actions. Still, a relative judgment may not be the right way to approach the question: perhaps it's not enough to be better, but rather to be good. I'll leave that for the discussion.