It's not often that I get the feeling of really missing out, but man...

Here in Atlanta we ring in the New Year with the Peach Drop, but fancy being decked out like a Viking and wielding lit torches to burn your Viking long ship – that is how the folks from Edinburgh in Scotland carry out their Hogmanay celebrations. 
Dressed as Vikings in their helmets and warm wrappings, locals carried torches and reenacted traditions for ringing in the New Year to include their Viking past....  
Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations featured the longest firework display in the history of the event.  A total of 5.5 tonnes of fireworks, producing more than 15,000 stars, will be let off during the display over Edinburgh Castle.

Well, maybe next year!


Liu Xiaobo is charged by the Chinese government with the “crime of incitement to subvert state power.” He has the honor of being guilty... 
Now that's rightly said.

The Biased Law

Probably several of you saw the recent dustup over the question of whether marriage law has become so unfair to men that it is unconscionable to recommend marriage to a young man today.  There were a number of responses to that, including this one from Catholic Bandita, a woman who has come out on the other side of the ledger.  I am indebted to the lady for this picture, below, which says something I truly believe is right.

Smitty at the Other McCain suggests a return to first principles, and a re-examination of what the institution was for in the first place.  We have just completed such an examination here, in our autumn debate on polygamy, so it is not necessary to do it again; if you want to revisit the discussion, though, Elise has kindly gathered all of my posts and her own into a category.

I do want to say something about the bias in the law, though, because I find this particular bias to be an interesting one.  I think it represents a real challenge to our idea that equality before the law is a goal towards which we should strive:  this seems to me to be a clear case in which equality before the law would be wrong.

First, though, we need to narrow the field a bit.  There are so many different ways in which men and women are treated differently by the law in family matters that it would be wise to choose a couple of clear-cut cases, with minimal ambiguity, so that we don't end up lost in anecdotes.  I can think of two examples that are paradigms of unequal treatment by the law, and that illuminate the problem well.

The first is the law of termination of parental responsibility.  The woman has a legal right to abortion in this country that is essentially unfettered; she may thus terminate her duties at will, and for any reason, up until the moment of birth (and even afterwards, in the case of partial-birth abortion).  The man has no right to demand the termination of the baby; whereas the patria in ancient Rome made the call on exposure and infanticide, in America it is the mother.

There remains some disparity after birth.  In cases in which the child is born, in 49 states and Puerto Rico, it is lawful to abandon the child for adoption at a recognized safe haven.  However, in four of those states only the mother can do it.

That is the first matter.  The second -- a law currently under discussion, rather than actualized, but a good and illuminating example -- is this proposal to restrict mens' right to stop living with a woman they have gotten pregnant if he is doing so to try to compel her to have an abortion.
HB 5882 [CAPA] actually makes it a crime for a man to "change or attempt to change an existing housing or cohabitation arrangement" with a pregnant significant other, to "file or attempt to file for a divorce" from his pregnant wife, or to "withdraw or attempt to withdraw financial support" from a woman who he has been supporting, if it is determined that the man is doing these things to try to pressure the woman to terminate her pregnancy.
What would we get out of equality before the law in the first case?  Something rather worse than what we have now:  a situation in which fathers were either empowered to demand the death of a child they didn't want (as mothers already are); or, failing that, the right to abandon responsibility for a child that they sired, leaving the woman financially alone to raise it.  One thing seemed to agree on with Aquinas' philosophy of matrimony, which we encountered in our discussion of marriage and polygamy, is that the principal end of marriage is procreation -- not merely in the sense of having a child, but seeing that the child is raised to achieve its capacity to fulfill a role as a member of, and defender of, our civilization.  Equality before this law would only further damage that principal end.

The first case is a case in which equality before the law is wrong because the law itself is wrong.  Asking for an equal right to perform an injustice is to ask for more injustice.  That is against reason.

It might be possible to ask for equality in the other direction without violating reason -- i.e., by limiting access to abortion.  However, at least so far the Supreme Court has refused to entertain almost any such limits.  Unless the Court changes its mind, or we change the Constitution, we do not have that option.  We have only the option of asking for more injustice, or accepting inequality before the law.  Of these options, inequality before the law is the wiser, and the morally better, choice.

What do we get out of equality before the law in the second case?  Should we accept a situation in which a man is free to try to force a woman to kill her child by starvation or poverty?  It's the same problem we had in the first case.  Of course it should not be legal to abandon your child or its mother.  Since our country has abandoned the requirement of marriage, naturally this is going to intrude upon those who go about siring children without bothering to marry.

Yet can we ask for equality in the other direction here?  Can we morally state that a woman is not free to leave a man who has gotten her pregnant?  Of course not:  especially if he is furious about the business of the child.  It may put her in terrible danger, and the baby as well.  Her freedom to leave is necessary.

Thus we have a situation in this case in which inequality before the law is actually necessary for justice.  If justice is -- as Aristotle put it -- to treat relevantly similar cases similarly, the sex divide presents us with a very relevant difference.  Inequality before the law is thus necessary for a just result.

But let us return to the image above.  True justice between men and women lies not the in the law, but in chivalry:  in that willful, loving sacrifice of self for the beloved other.  This, at least, is a symmetrical relationship:  both the man and the woman must be ready to give of themselves for the other for it to flourish. When it does, however, it is the glory of the world, and the joy of life.

So, is it right to speak of marriage to the young man?  Surely so, if the boy has the guts for the big game:  for a love that speaks to thunder, and answers the principal end.  And if he doesn't, well, what's the point of living at all?  A man dies soon enough.  Why wrap anyone else up in it, if you don't have what it takes to play for the real thing?

The City of Legions

Once Rome built a fortress in the west of Britain.  It was called Deva Victrix, goddess of victory, and indeed there remains today a shrine to Minerva there.  It was the sometime home of Legio XX, and is located in what is modern day Chester, England.

Some believe that this was the "City of Legions" where Arthur fought his ninth battle, although Caerleon in Wales is a competitor for that honor.  Caerleon also has a significant Roman fortress.  The University of Wales at Newport has built a working 3-D model of the Roman works, which you can explore to get an idea of the scale of the fortifications.

The map is pretty neat, even if one can easily think of significant improvements that could be made -- it would be nice to have some sort of hypertext tagged to the building objects, for example, that would lead to explanations of just what they were and what historical or archaeological sources are at work in our understanding.  A bibliography or a list of recent research into the works would be welcome as well.

Still, even at this early stage, it's pretty nifty stuff.  They're apparently putting one together for the Newport Ship, as well.  That one -- a 3-D model of a fifteenth-century sailing vessel -- should be fun to play with.

Bring the UK into NAFTA?

It's not a bad idea, really.  Alliances should be based not merely on economic interest, but ideally on a shared vision.  If you're going to help make someone rich, why not someone who supports the same basic values that you do?

It would make a certain amount of sense to turn the Anglosphere into an economic free trade zone as well as a military alliance.

La Rotta di Tristano

"Tristano" here is Tristan, the knight who loved Isolde.  This harper has some talent, sadly obscured once the solo ends.  I wouldn't mind hearing the whole piece on the harp only.

Here is a more traditional reading of the same tune.  If you become impatient with it, skip to about 4:30, and you'll find it comes alive when they introduce a pipe.

If Tomorrow Comes

Read this, and let's discuss it.

The Language of Birds

Some backstory on Wren Day, from Peter Berresford Ellis' The Druids (p. 223 in the 1994 edition):

From native Celtic sources comes confirmation that bird augury was widely used.  An Irish version of the Historia Brittonum, by the Welsh historian Nennius, includes an ancient poem which refers to six Druids who lived at Breagh-magh and who practised 'the watching of birds.' ... The name of the wren was given in Cormac's Glossary as drui-en -- the bird of the Druids.  Certainly an Irish name for the wren was drean, and a Life of St Moling confirms the etymology of the Glossary.  The wren has come down to us as a bird of some significance and on St Stephen's Day (26 December) in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, and even in parts of Essex and Devon, it was hunted and killed by local boys before being carried in procession[.]
This is a subject that has been of interest to me for a long time.  In the old Norse poem Rígsþula, a mortal grandson of Heimdall learns the tongue:
43. Soon grew up | the sons of Jarl,
Beasts they tamed, | and bucklers rounded,
Shafts they fashioned, | and spears they shook.
44. But Kon the Young | learned runes to use,
Runes everlasting, | the runes of life;
Soon could he well | the warriors shield,
Dull the swordblade, | and still the seas.
45. Bird-chatter learned he, | flames could he lessen.,
Minds could quiet, | and sorrows calm;
. . . . . . . . . .
The might and strength | of twice four men.
46. With Rig-Jarl soon | the runes he shared,
More crafty he was, | and greater his wisdom;
The right he sought, | and soon he won it,
Rig to be called, | and runes to know.
47. Young Kon rode forth | through forest and grove,
Shafts let loose, | and birds he lured;
There spake a crow | on a bough that sat:
"Why lurest thou, Kon, | the birds to come?
48. " 'Twere better forth | on thy steed to fare,
. . . . . | and the host to slay.
49. "The halls of Dan | and Danp are noble,
Greater their wealth | than thou bast gained;
Good are they | at guiding the keel,
Trying of weapons, | and giving of wounds.
Hilda Ellis Davidson describes several more examples of Celtic and Norse mythic figures for whom learning to speak the language of birds is a part of the initiation into wisdom that allows for heroic success. (Pages 86-7.)  
Understanding the speech of birds could give a hero entry into the world of ravens and valkyries, where defeat and victory were ordained, or in more everyday terms it could mean an ability to interpret calls and movements of birds and thereby receive warning of future events.  Such aspects of bird lore are referred to in the Edda poems and in the ninth century Hrafnsmal [i.e., "The Tale of the Raven" -- Grim] the stanzas form a dialogue between a raven and a valkyrie.  She is said to account herself wise because she understood the language of birds, and is herself described as 'the white-throated one with bright eyes,' which suggests that she herself was in bird form.  Goddesses, as well as Odin himself, travel in the form of birds, and the same is true of the battle-goddesses of Ireland.  One bears the name of Badb (Crow), while the Morrigan, an ominous figure who encounters Cu Chulainn in various shapes, is called Battle Crow (an badb catha).  Cu Chulainn once sees her as a crow on a bramble bush and takes this as an ill omen:  'A dangerous enchanted woman you are!'...  
A note in a Middle Irish manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin, lists the various cries of the raven which indicate that visitors are approaching, and attention is paid to the number of calls, the position of the bird, and the direction from which the calls come.  Young warriors must have been trained in such skills... Two birds on a tree warn Sigurd against the wicked smith[.]
Thus it appears there are two levels of skill being described here.  One is what you might call a 'Louis L'amour' skill, because it is the kind of awareness of nature that he often uses to endow his own heroes with special success in battle.  This level is the skill of understanding the birds well enough to know what it means that they call when they do, and how they do; to know that noisy birds fall silent when something fearful or strange approaches, say, or that a flock of birds starting from a ridgeline may mean that there is a predator or a man approaching from that quarter.  This is the kind of knowledge the Middle Irish note contains.  This aspect represents a skill that probably was ordinarily taught to the sons of the fighting classes, as Davidson notes, and it's a skill that you can teach to your own sons if you take the trouble to learn it.

The other level is a genuinely mystical ability to speak with the birds and engage their reason in conversation. This is assumed to be a capacity available to gods and valkyrie (who very likely were goddesses themselves in the proto-myth, as the Morrigan is in the Irish myth).  I find this aspect to be interesting chiefly because it assumes that the order of reason extends to crows and ravens, and wrens, at least.  

That aligns with my own investigations into philosophy; if it fact it proves to be true, it ought to expand our view of how broadly consciousness is spread within the universe.  We share a lot of genetic similarities with birds, but they are quite significantly different from us as well.  In order for there to be a common language, even in theory, we would have to be able to work out the rules of each others' games:  and success at that means that we participate in the same order of reason, even if we have different levels of access to it.  We can teach birds to play some of our games, as for example in training a parrot to speak.  How much does it understand?  I don't know, but my father tells the story of a parrot who lived with an old woman he once went to visit.  It watched him for a while, and then said:  "Goodbye!"  After a moment, it said again, "Goodbye!"  A third time it said, "Goodbye!"  After a moment more, it turned to the old woman and said, "He won't go."

Pretty Good, Dr. Gingrich

As I Was Going to Kill And All

...I met a wren upon a wall:

...In the tree, the holly tree, where all the boys do follow me...

Happy Wren Day!

Not very Christmasy

But I couldn't resist posting this picture of this cloud-monster reaching over the horizon to grab us.

Merry Christmas from the Hall

The Hall Skull Bedecked for the Yuletide

A Song of Joy

A Song of Feasting

A Song of Wassailing

A Song of Making Merry

The Evisceration of the Uighurs

The thing that bothers me more than anything else, these last few years, is the question of how to respond to matters like these.
A small medical team and a young doctor starting a practice in internal medicine had driven up from Sun Yat-sen Medical University in a van modified for surgery. Pulling in on bulldozed earth, they found a small fleet of similar vehicles—clean, white, with smoked glass windows and prominent red crosses on the side. The police had ordered the medical team to stay inside for their safety. Indeed, the view from the side window of lines of ditches—some filled in, others freshly dug—suggested that the hilltop had served as a killing ground for years.

Thirty-six scheduled executions would translate into 72 kidneys and corneas divided among the regional hospitals. Every van contained surgeons who could work fast: 15-30 minutes to extract.
That is only to set the stage. We understand about harvesting organs from executed prisoners, yes, but what about people who were never prisoners -- who were summarily executed by China's armed police?
[T]he armed police saw the ambulance and waved him over.
“This one. It’s this one.”
Sprawled on the blood-soaked ground was a man, around 30, dressed in navy blue overalls. All convicts were shaved, but this one had long hair.
“That’s him. We’ll operate on him.”
“Why are we operating?” Enver protested, feeling for the artery in the man’s neck. “Come on. This man is dead.”

Enver stiffened and corrected himself. “No. He’s not dead.”

“Operate then. Remove the liver and the kidneys. Now! Quick! Be quick!”... As Enver’s scalpel went in, the man’s chest heaved spasmodically and then curled back again....  Enver worked fast, not bothering with clamps, cutting with his right hand, moving muscle and soft tissue aside with his left, slowing down only to make sure he excised the kidneys and liver cleanly. 
What about the ones who were butchered alive?
[I]t took years for him to understand that live organs had lower rejection rates in the new host, or that the bullet to the chest had—other than that first sickening lurch—acted like some sort of magical anaesthesia.... 
Nijat finally understood. The anticoagulant. The expensive “execution meals” for the regiment following a trip to the killing ground. The plainclothes agents in the cells who persuaded the prisoners to sign statements donating their organs to the state. And now the medical director was confirming it all: Those statements were real. They just didn’t take account of the fact that the prisoners would still be alive when they were cut up.
What about ethnic cleansing via the murder of babies?
If a Uighur couple had a second child, even if the birth was legally sanctioned, Chinese maternity doctors, she observed, administered an injection (described as an antibiotic) to the infant. The nurse could not recall a single instance of the same injection given to a Chinese baby. Within three days the infant would turn blue and die. Chinese staffers offered a rote explanation to Uighur mothers: Your baby was too weak, your baby could not handle the drug.
What bothers me isn't the existence of evil:  the structure of the world is not our fault.  What bothers me is the lack of a way to respond to it without creating a worse evil:  economic sanctions could collapse China, leading to millions of innocent deaths and civil war; smiting the wicked with the sword would lead to an international war.  This is what bothers me about the world.

Christmas Oratorio

This one is by Bach.  I assume you need no introduction.  The man was a miracle.

A True Victory

The NRA's Institute for Legislative Action normally trumpets their successes on law-making matters; given the general turn against anti-gun legislation, these are less crucial than they were twenty years ago.  However, this report is not about legislation, but about an even more substantial victory:
Data recently released by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that in 2008, the number and per capita rate of firearm accident deaths fell to an all-time low. There were 592 firearm accident deaths (0.19 such accidents per 100,000 population) in 2008, as compared to 613 accidents (.20 per 100,000) in 2007. In 2008, the chance of a child dying in a firearm accident was roughly one in a million.
Firearm accidents accounted for 0.5% of all accidental deaths; well below the percentages accounted for by motor vehicle accidents, falls, fires, poisonings, and several other more common types of mishaps.
I say this is more substantial because it relies upon moving a far greater number of people.  To achieve a victory in Congress, as difficult as that can be, requires affecting the behavior of fewer than 300 people -- often far fewer, since bad bills can often be killed in committee.

To bring the rate of accidental gun deaths down to so low a level requires influencing the behavior of millions.  This required a commitment to gun safety in perhaps a hundred million households nationwide; it required discipline and education on the part of all those families.  Nevertheless, quietly, it was achieved.

Canceling the Mass in Christmas

The sorting out of Iraq's internal tensions was inevitable given our rapid departure; but the threats against Christians are not new.
Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk in northern Iraq told the agency Aid to the Church in Need that Christians will spend Christmas in "great fear" because of the risk of new attacks. 
All services and Masses have been scheduled for daylight hours, he said in an interview with Rome-based AsiaNews. 
"Midnight Christmas Mass has been canceled in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk as a consequence of the never-ending assassinations of Christians," he said, citing the Oct. 31, 2010, attack on the Syrian Catholic cathedral that left 57 people dead in the Iraqi capital.
Something to think about, this Christmastide.

Christmas Overture

It's a German piece, given what "German" meant in 1700.

Yuletide: Scottish Shortbread

The following bit of history is from The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook.  The book is an outstanding example of what a cookbook should be, and by far the finest one I've ever seen when it comes to any sort of bread.  I think they're more experts on baking than history, but so far everything else they've written about bread has proven to be right.  So why not 'history of bread'?
Scottish shortbread was originally made from oatmeal and was served on the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.  The edges of the round "cake" were notched, symbolizing the sun which was being entreated to return.  Nowadays in Scotland, shortbread is mostly made with wheat flour but the edges are still marked with those symbolic notches.  It is served on Hogmanay (New Year's Eve) and New Year's morning to "first-footers," those revelers who have stayed up all night to see the New Year and are the first to go from house to house, visiting and celebrating.

Here at Grim's Hall, the old fashion is always the order of the day.  So, I modified the recipe to be made chiefly with oats, and am serving it on the Solstice.  This Hogmanay thing sounds like it could be fun too, though, especially since it seems to involve building and burning Viking longships.  Maybe some year we'll be able to swing the trip to Edinburgh for the celebration.

Stuff the Net Is Good at

Here's something interactive websites are really useful for: walking us through concepts in geometry. If you're trying to home school a kid, this sure would be a helpful tool. There are clear and well-organized explanations, too, better than the gibberish we often encounter in printed textbooks. I linked to the parabola page, but the site is broad.

Cherry-Picked Climate Emails Explained

We can all relax; ClimateGate2 was completely overblown. The University of East Anglia has posted explanations of some of the troubling quotations taken unfairly out of context, such as: "I too don’t see why the schemes should be symmetrical. The temperature ones certainly will not as we’re choosing the periods to show the warming," “Getting people we know and trust [into IPCC] is vital," and "Any work we have done in the past is done on the back of the research grants we get - and has to be well hidden."

Yeah, I still don't get it, either.

North Korea Goes Dark in Mourning

Wait, that's not mourning, that's just Kim Jong Il's legacy. Meanwhile, the Cuban government declared three days of mourning, presumably because he made them look good. (On the same principle, Nicaragua and Venezuela expressed sincere condolences.) I suppose he gets points, too, for reducing North Korea's carbon footprint, reducing light pollution for stargazers, and all but eliminating income inequality in his country in the only way we know from experience to be possible.

I keep looking at that satellite photograph. What would that area of the world have looked like if the U.S. hadn't gotten into the Korean War? On the other hand, why weren't China and North Viet Nam dumb enough to achieve the same fate? They certainly tried hard enough.

The Washington Post (h/t Maggie's Farm) explains it in a succinct chart:

Orientis Partibus

This version is from Hungary.  The song is in Latin, so that pilgrims from anywhere might have understood it if they had learned enough of the language to appreciate the Mass.

Most of these old Latin songs are called by their first few words.  "Orientis Partibus" means, "Out of the east came..."  Well, what came?  This version from Italy gives you a good idea:

We are a little early for the Feast of the Ass, but this will give you time to plan.
[The 14th of January] is a particularly bittersweet feastday with a vivid, raucous history of celebration worthy of the medieval epoch. It is that of the Flight in Egypt, also known as Festum Asinorum, the Feast of the Ass....
This event, amongst others, was celebrated in the Middle Ages as a play, inspired by the pseudo-Augustinian "Sermo contra judaeos, paganos, et Arianos de Symbolo," (a sermon which I burn to read, being an adjuration both to Jews and Gentiles--historial, philosophical, and prophetic). At the climax of the lively procession, the ass exchanged the wizard Balaam, who was marching to curse God's chosen people, for the virgin Mother of God, who was flying into Egypt to save her Son. All fittingly culminated in the Mass, at the end of which the officiating priest did not say 'Ite Missa est' nor did the congregation respond 'Deo gratias.' Instead there was a startling exchange of: 'Heehaw, heehaw, heehaw!'
You can read more about the Feast -- which was chiefly a French festival, though we have seen the appeal of the Latin song far afield -- in this article.
Saw these ladies on Friday night last in Philadelphia. If you ever get the chance to hear them live, please do.

Songs from All Saints

The notes say that All Saints' choir was a children's choir until 1968, at which point the school that fed the choir closed, and the choir became one of adult sopranos.

Fish Fraud

Restaurant-goers no doubt will be shocked to learn that fish are sometimes mislabeled on menus. According to an expose in the Boston Globe,
The rampant mislabeling of fish that consumers buy can be largely traced to this: the lack of anything like the regulations imposed on meat suppliers.
OK, call me a bomb-throwing anarchist, but I'd probably trace the problem to several other factors before I called in the regulators. First, fish are known by a bewildering variety of names, so it's hardly fraud to call escolar "white tuna" if that's a common euphemism. Second, the average patron would scream and run out of the room if the fish showed up on his plate still looking like a fish. Eek! Eyes! Fins! So most of us are used to seeing our fish show up filleted and anonymous, barely identifiable as fish any more, let alone a specific species. Whose fault is that? Third, not that many palettes can distinguish one roughly similar fish from another by taste and texture. My husband can; I can't. I may need an educated palette more than I need a regulator.

So this isn't a problem I'm eager to see Congress solve. I'll all for rating agencies of the Michelin variety who are willing to award stars to restaurants who practice truth in fish, but I'm really not interested in seeing federal regulators show up to harass my local restaurateurs. If the fish isn't carrying dangerous pathogens and I can't tell the difference by eating it, then I feel I ought to be left to the task of frequenting the restaurants that do the best job of winning my confidence regarding the source of their food.

One for Eric Blair

Apparently the tomb of Scipio Africanus, and others of his lineage, is now open to visitors for the first time in two decades.

For those of you not familiar with the general who defeated Hannibal, here is his biography.  He was noted not only for his military excellence, but for his attention to virtue.

This painting of him celebrates his reunion of a captured maiden and her fiance, when under the prevailing law he had every right to take her as a war prize.  Not only that, he gave back the ransom her parents had sent to buy her liberty.

Driving is a Grandfathered Liberty

Frank J. is a comedy writer, but I think he's really on to something here.
Imagine if cars hadn’t been around for a century, but instead were just invented today. Is there any way they’d be approved for individual use? It’s an era of bans on incandescent bulbs; if you suggested putting millions of internal-combustion engines out there....

“So you’re proposing that people speed around in tons of metal? You must mean only really smart, well-trained people?” 
“No. Everyone. Even stupid people."
“Won’t millions be killed?”
“Oh, no. Not that many. Just a little more than 40,000 a year.”
“And injuries?”
“Oh . . . millions.”
There’s no way that would get approved today.
Driving is basically a grandfathered freedom from back when people cared less about pollution and danger and valued progress and liberty over safety.
The next question is, how long will this grandfathered freedom last?

Ignorance is Bliss

Wired talks about a study that appears to demonstrate that ignorance is good for democracy.
Not surprisingly, when the majority of animals had a strong preference to move to one location, the group moved there. Even when the majority’s preference was equal in strength to the minority’s preference, the majority won out. However, when the strength of the minority’s preference was increased past a certain threshold, the minority could dictate the group’s behavior. These results suggest that an opinionated minority can win out over a majority with weaker convictions.
Things got more interesting when the researchers added animals without a preference to the model. Under these conditions, even when the minority’s preference was extremely strong, the presence of the “uninformed” individuals actually returned control to the majority. The more uninformed individuals there were, the stronger this effect became (up to a point; eventually noise took over).
The researchers then used an experimental approach to ask the same questions using golden shiners, a very social species of fish known for their schooling behavior. Some fish were trained to swim to a yellow target in the tank, and some were trained to move toward a blue target. Intrinsically, the fish preferred the yellow target—even after training, their preference for the yellow target was stronger than their preference for the blue target. This created an natural way to test the researchers’ theories.
The results from these lab tests mirrored the findings of the computational model. When the minority of fish in the tank were those trained to go to the yellow target (meaning they had a strong preference for the option), they won out and the group went there. When untrained fish were introduced into the tank, however, the majority regained control, even though their preference for the blue target was weaker.
In this country, we seem to move toward whatever a vocal minority wants, unless there is an opposing vocal minority:  then, it has been my observation, the minority usually wins that has the worse idea.  Perhaps we need more ignorance to straighten things out, although I'm also increasingly thinking that we just need less social tolerance for vocal minorities.

Rabbit in the Headlights

Author Jeff Wise specializes in the human response to fear. His book "Extreme Fear" examines how many people have coped with paralyzing danger, from wild animal attacks to forest fires to aircraft emergencies. He notes that exercise helps the brain cope with anxiety; nervous parachuters on their way to a drop perform better on mental puzzles like crosswords in proportion to their physical fitness. Another trick is either to be in control, or at least to visualize oneself in control. (I learned decades ago that imagining myself behind the throttle in a commercial aircraft cut way down on the fear of flying that used to afflict me from time to time.) Staying warm is surprisingly effective, too. Scuba divers without wetsuits tend to have more panic-related mishaps.

In a recent article for Popular Mechanics, Wise tries to unravel how an Air France co-pilot over the tropical Atlantic in 2009 could have responded so disastrously to anxiety-provoking severe weather and a relatively minor icing-up incident by putting his aircraft into a completely unnecessary and deadly stall. Part of the explanation may be that most of us lose our higher brain functions under the influence of extreme fear and must fall back on rote training. Repetitive training under high stress can be a life-saver, but the Air France pilot, unfortunately, fell back on a singularly inappropriate routine.

These recommendations are nothing very startling or new, except for one: studies show that having sex cuts down measurably on the fear of public speaking. Now they tell me.

I'm not sure if the movie "Three Kings" is one I'd recommend to this audience without reservations, but one line did stick with me. George Clooney counsels a terrified young recruit by explaining: "Here's how it works. You do the thing you're scared ****less of, and you get the courage afterwards, not before."

A Climate Skepticism Denialist

Skepticism about skepticism: this is very meta. I followed a link from my favorite science compilation page, Not Exactly Rocket Science, to this article from a British blogger agonizing over recent polling data suggesting that the global warming narrative is losing steam in Great Britain. The number of her countrymen who believe claims about environmental threats are exaggerated is 37%, a sharp increase from the 24% with similar beliefs a decade ago. But she's quick to point out that data can be misleading, especially in the hands of media with an interest in presenting a narrative:
The survey also considered whether people agreed more with these two statements: “We worry too much about the future of the environment and not enough about prices and jobs today” and “People worry too much about human progress harming the environment”* (p95). From this, the BSA report argues that the public are more sceptical that a threat exists. I’m not sure that follows. Maybe, but it’s a jump to cite scepticism. It could just be that people think we worry too much. Perhaps they just think there are other things to worry about. As the report itself suggests, the “financial pinch” of the recession may well be having an impact on the ways people make choices about the environment. Or, perhaps people agree that climate change is happening, just that there is nothing we can do. Again, this doesn’t mean climate sceptics aren’t winning the communications battle here, I just mean I don’t necessarily see that from the data. It all rather depends on how we unpack and then define denialism/ climate scepticism, and I don’t think the report does that very clearly (not that it necessarily should, but we need to keep that lack of definition in mind when reading the data).
The blogger also notes that, in evaluating sweeping claims, it's important to examine the source of the underlying data:
One final thing that bugged me about this report was that it didn’t really examine how and where people got their information about the environment from, and yet still felt able to make loose connections between the timing of Climategate and the apparent rise in scepticism. From the final pages: “we conclude that media coverage may make a difference – not least ‘new’ media and the internet ‘blogosphere’ where unfounded opinion can sometimes be favoured over scientific fact” (p106). The impact of the media on people’s understanding, reasoning and framing of any issue, perhaps in particular ones including esoteric expertise like climate science, is incredibly complex, and the BSA report writers should have known better. They should certainly know better than to make loose comments about unfounded opinion on blogosphere (which is a large, diverse and porous area of activity). I also don’t see how they can look at a change over ten years and say it has to be something that happened in 2009, no matter how much media ink was spilled. To their credit they do also say it could also be matter of fatigue and refer to financial cost, etc.
Don't you hate it when people are secretive about their data sources? She concludes with this poignant plea:
Personally, I’d like to see them acknowledge that they don’t know and call for investment in more research here.
The only thing missing was a demand for sounder science before society was expected to invest trillions of dollars and wreck the world economy to address a potentially non-existent threat. I do admire the blogger's choice of art, though:

RIP Christopher Hitchens

When the embassies of Denmark were burning around the globe, Christopher Hitchens organized the only protest I ever wanted to attend:  a manifestation in support of the Mark.  I went, and he was there giving speeches and talking to the press about "solidarity."  The concept was one from his Trotsyite youth; by then he applied it to the defense of Western civilization instead.

His last piece was on Nietzsche, informed by his own intense suffering from the radiation cure that failed to save him.
In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker. Nietzsche was destined to find this out in the hardest possible way, which makes it additionally perplexing that he chose to include the maxim in his 1889 anthology Twilight of the Idols. (In German this is rendered as Götzen-Dämmerung, which contains a clear echo of Wagner’s epic. Possibly his great quarrel with the composer, in which he recoiled with horror from Wagner’s repudiation of the classics in favor of German blood myths and legends, was one of the things that did lend Nietzsche moral strength and fortitude. Certainly the book’s subtitle—“How to Philosophize with a Hammer”—has plenty of bravado.) 
In the remainder of his life, however, Nietzsche seems to have caught an early dose of syphilis, very probably during his first-ever sexual encounter, which gave him crushing migraine headaches and attacks of blindness and metastasized into dementia and paralysis. This, while it did not kill him right away, certainly contributed to his death and cannot possibly, in the meanwhile, be said to have made him stronger.
In what follows he examined the intensity of his own suffering with a clear eye.  It is a powerful piece, and it underlies why this morning finds us reading tributes to him from people who disagreed with him sharply.  And that category includes almost everyone.  Catholics were outraged by his attacks on Mother Theresa.  Feminists hated his writings on women.  Capitalists grind their teeth at his kind words for Trotsky; Leftists, at his support of the Iraq war.

Wherever he planted his flag, he defended it fearlessly:  and in the vigor of his defense, even his enemies of the hour gained insight, and sharpened their steel.  We are told we ought to love our enemies; this is the sort it is easy to love.  Thus, not in spite but indeed because of his outrages, he has no want of men to mourn for him.

A Telephone Town Hall?

Apparently my congressman decided to call his entire district tonight to invite us to have a 'town hall' meeting by phone.  That's about a hundred and fifty thousand people; I had no idea that you could run a teleconference with that many participants.

I write my congressman from time to time (in fact, I'd just written him today), but I had never spoken to him before.  Listening to his comments, I learned several things about him.

1)  He apparently does not believe that the 14th Amendment includes birthright citizenship, which he would like to end.  I was under the impression that it does, but having looked into the controversy, it sounds like there may be an argument to be made here -- the question arises based on whether one is fully subject to the jurisdiction of the United States government or not.  Children of ambassadors of foreign nations born in the United States, for example, are not granted citizenship.

I'm not sure that window is wide enough to admit of denying birthright citizenship to the children of illegal aliens, although I can see how one would structure an argument from it:  'If their parents had subjected themselves to our jurisdiction, they would not have been present to have the child on our soil.  Thus...' etc.

2)  He believes that the government is going "to destroy this country" if people do not begin demanding Constitutionally limited government.

3)  He has confidence in the House, but thinks the Senate is broken.  His contention is that the House has sent forward 28 bipartisan bills that would improve the jobs picture, but that Harry Reid in the Senate won't let them make the floor.

4)  He was very quick to make sure that elderly citizens on the call understood that Social Security was secure.  If they were afraid of cuts, he would ensure they understood that there was absolutely no proposal to cut 'a single penny' from their check.

5)  However, when another citizen raised the possibility that there would not actually be elections in the fall -- due to some sort of Obama-led coup -- he did not offer the same level of reassurance.  Whether that is pure politics, or because he has concerns about a coup, I could not say.

Still, I would have thought the danger of a coup was far more remote than the danger of cuts to Social Security.  The question about Social Security (and Medicare and Medicaid and Federal Pensions) is not if they will be cut, but how much, and when, and which of the programs will suffer most.  The danger of a coup is surely fantastic at this point:  no left-leaning coup could be effected in the face of a military that would not support it, and an armed citizenry that would not support it.

6)  He believes that regulations and taxes on business are the reason our economy is not recovering.  In seeking advice on how to vote on the economy, he has chiefly sought such advice from small businessmen and factory owners.  However, he also cited a conversation with Laffer, of the Laffer curve, whom he said had approved of his own bill on the subject of the economy (which bill will never, however, apparently pass the Harry-Reid-controlled-Senate; I think he had more to say about Sen. Reid than anyone else).

7)  Not surprising given the district, but he is an outspoken Evangelical Christian.  He did think to say something nice about Hanukkah at the end of the call, though; and he had earlier said that he was against all foreign aid except to Israel.  ('We're borrowing money to give it away,' being the reason for opposing all foreign aid; but apparently Israel is worth it.)

All in all, an interesting experience -- and apparently he will be doing more such calls in the future.

There's Something Odd About this Test

Harvard's Project Implicit has an interesting set of tests online, which are meant to show you where your implicit biases may be.  You may be strongly or moderately biased toward light skinned people, for example -- if their tests are accurate, 56% of people are.

However, there's something strange about the methodology that I can't quite place.  It's based on how fast you can process words and images.  I took the religion test, and it tells me that my biases work out this way:

Strongest positive bias:  Islam
Moderate positive bias:  Christianity/Judiasm (tie)
Less positive bias:  Hinduism

Now, while I make no bones about having some biases in this department, I'm pretty sure that isn't an accurate picture of how my biases actually shake out.  I can understand how this method would lead to a bad result on Hinduism:  of course there will be a processing delay there, because Hindu concepts aren't something my brain uses often.  I have to take the instant to remember what "karma" is before I can sort the word, and the concept is packed back in the back of the brain.  

The other religions have concepts I use regularly, so naturally they would come out on top.  If you were to ask me, though, I would think I had the strongest bias toward Christianity.  That suggests there is something odd about the method of determining biases; otherwise, I'd have to accept the existence of an unconscious bias in favor of Islam over my own faith.  I think I do have a stronger pro-Islam bias than many Americans, having known some very brave Muslims that I liked and admired, but still, that seems unlikely.

A Failure of Education

"Faith in humanity," yes.  However, there is a little matter of physics.

It takes a train more than a mile to stop once it begins to apply the brakes. Even if the engineer has very good eyes, then, he may just kill your 4-year-old child simply because the train won't stop in time to do otherwise.

Well, 4-year-olds are nimble. Not like you tied her to the track, I hope?

Atholl Highlanders

Honestly, the pipes never get old.

Speak, of the Old Things:

For Barnabas and his Gentile Christian followers, the covenant between God and the Jews was a sham; it was never ratified. When, bringing down the Law from Sinai, Moses saw that the Jews were engaged in the worship of the golden calf, he smashed into pieces the two stone tablets inscribed by God's hand, and thus rendered the Jewish covenant null and void. It had to be replaced by the covenant sealed by the redemptive blood of the "beloved Jesus" in the heart of the Christians (Barn. 4. 6-8; 14. 1-7). 
Barnabas's portrait of Jesus is considerably more advanced than the Didache's "Servant" of God. He calls Jesus "the Son" or "the Son of God" no less than a dozen times. This "Son of God" had existed since all eternity and was active before the creation of the world. It was to this pre-existent Jesus that at the time of "the foundation of the world" God addressed the words, "Let us make man according to our image and likeness" (Barn. 5.5; 6.12). The quasi-divine character of Jesus is implied when Barnabas explains that the Son of God took on a human body because without such a disguise no one would have been able to look at him and stay alive (Barn. 5. 9-10). 
The ultimate purpose of the descent of "the Lord of the entire world" among men was to enable himself to suffer "in order to destroy death and show that there is resurrection" (Barn. 5. 5-6). We are in, and perhaps slightly beyond, the Pauline-Johannine vision of Christ and his work of salvation. 
The type of outlook represented by the Didache has no place in the religious vision of Barnabas. The parting of the ways between Jewish and Gentile Christianity is manifest already at this stage and the Epistle of Barnabas marks the start of the future doctrinal evolution of the church on exclusively Gentile lines. Half a century after Barnabas, for the bishop of Sardis, Melito, the Jews are judged guilty of deicide: "God has been murdered...by the right hand of Israel" (Paschal Homily 96). Jewish Christianity makes no sense any longer.

The Didache is the last flowering of Judaeo-Christianity. In the second century, and especially after the suppression of the second revolt of the Jews by Hadrian in 135 CE, its decline began.
And it fell, as Chesterton said of Carthage, like nothing has fallen since... well, perhaps the image is inapt here.  If it is, though, we might ask just why.

Christmas Cookies

When you cut them with a knife before baking, the shape aftewards is inexact; but this a cross pattée (or "Cross Patty" in English-language heraldry).  Some few of you will understand why that is the right cross for this house; but for the rest of you, isn't it cool to have a sugar cookie that is nearly four inches square?

An Argument for Polyandry

Since we're on the subject of the pipes, and since we've walked this ground in great detail this year, here's a counterargument to Aquinas' concern that polyandry is against nature.

Once Again, Ready for the Solstice

No danger this year of the sun's not coming back out of the cave.

A Wee Walk Around the Office:

One wonders two things:  how anyone did anything at work that day; and why we have accepted a society in which men sit in cubicles instead of playing the warpipes.

No, really.  Why do we do this?  So we can pay for this?  So those programs can pay for this?  We spend a lot of our lives on wasted garbage, which we have every right to hate:  most of it accomplishes nothing beyond satisfying the internal urges of some bureaucracy, and for what?

We who work could work a lot less if we were working only for ourselves, and those we love.  I wonder why we endure it.  Charity to the poor is a great good, so I have heard:  faith, hope, and charity.  Yet we have passed charity, which encourages the virtues, and moved to a thing which seems to destroy them.

So, What Do You Say...

...is it the new Bluesmobile, or what?


But you must think you know a more familiar version of the lyric "Gloria In Excelsis Deo."  As, indeed, you do.

Einarr Þambarskelfir

It occurs to me that there may be a few of you -- I trust not too many -- who are unmoved by the opening line of Mr. Walker's description of his book.  "Who is Olav Trygvasson," you few may be asking, "and why should I care that he is dead?"

Well, now!  You few have missed a tale.

Once, Olav Trygvasson sailed against the forces of a man, a man who had driven his own wife from his arms.  She had come to Olav, declared herself a free woman, and married him.  He in turn set out to defend her rights.  Yet she was the former wife of a powerful king, Burislav, who held her still to be his own; and she was the sister of the king of the Danemark, who wished to see Norway brought under his own command.

So it was that Olav's fleet came under the combined assault of Danish and Wendish fleets, with Swedish allies.  Olav sailed in the most famous Viking ship to grace the sagas, a mighty warship named Ormen Lange, "The Long Serpent."  He saw the enemy coming, and made ready for battle.

The Viking war-band, as the Anglo-Saxons before them, preferred to fight with a shield-wall.  This meant a band of men at the front of their effort locked shields together, and lashed over them with axe or sword or, most likely, spear.  Ranks of spearmen stood behind them to reinforce the shield-wall, to prevent cavalry from simply jumping it, and to step into the ranks of anyone killed.  The shield-wall formation was powerful as long as the cavalry opposing it did not overwhelm its ability to countermaneuver.  There are few horses on these ships, though, and so that danger is readily faced.

In order to facilitate the shield-wall, the warriors of each side lashed their ships together into long lines.  The business then was to drive into your enemy's line with your wall, and push to the rear, clearing the ship of your enemies by slaying them or driving them into the sea.  Olav Trygvasson was a great warrior and a successful, so that his men fought under the comforting weight of mail -- and this gave them great staying power against their foes.

Yet I do not come to praise Olav Trygvasson, but one of his loyal friends.  Einarr Þambarskelfir was a true master of his craft:  in his case, the craft of archery.  When the weight of the foes facing Olav brought the enemy even onto the Long Serpent, Einarr made the difference.  He stood at the rear of the ship, by Olav, and shot with his mighty bow so that no one could withstand him.  That, until:

Einar Thambarskelfir, one of the sharpest of bowshooters, stood by the mast, and shot with his bow. Einar shot an arrow at Earl Eirik [...] Then said the earl to a man called Finn, [...] "Shoot that tall man by the mast." Finn shot; and the arrow hit the middle of Einar's bow just at the moment that Einar was drawing it, and the bow was split in two parts. "What is that," cried King Olaf, "that broke with such a noise?" "Norway, king, from your hands," cried Einar. "No! not quite so much as that," says the king; "take my bow, and shoot," flinging the bow to him. Einar took the bow, and drew it over the head of the arrow. "Too weak, too weak," said he, "for the bow of a mighty king!" and, throwing the bow aside, he took sword and shield, and fought Valiantly.
Einarr, too strong for the king's bow, survived the battle that Olav Trygvasson did not.  In later years he made himself master of Norway by his own hand, and in spite of the designs of kings... but that, though true, is another story.

The Christmas Gift Thread

It's getting to the point at which we are thinking about provisioning gifts to commemorate the holidays, and show respect, friendship, or love.

In addition to showing respect or friendship to those to whom we give the gifts, though, we can do so also to those whose creations we choose as gifts.  I'd like to make some recommendations, and then throw the discussion open for your suggestions.  The idea should be that we highlight as potential gifts things made by our friends, and/or those we respect and wish to encourage in their arts.


West Oversea, by Lars Walker. "King Olaf Trygvesson is dead, but his sister’s husband, Erling Skjalgsson, carries on his dream of a Christian Norway that preserves its traditional freedoms. Rather than do a dishonorable deed, Erling relinquishes his power and lands. He and his household board ships and sail west..."

Tale of the Tigers, by Julianne Ochieng.  "What is the Tale of the Tigers?  At a southwestern university, a young man and a young woman do something that’s done every day: they fall in love. There’s just one thing–he’s white and she’s black. Set in the early 1990s, Tale of the Tigers tells the story of how the tables have turned on race relations and sexual jealousy and of how two young Americans weather the storm of that heritage in the post-Civil Rights Era."


I met and was very impressed by the harpist Sarah Marie Mullen.  I'd like to recommend her music, especially for those interested in the Celtic harp; but she is classically trained and, particularly in Harper's Bizarre, extends to French, Andalusian, and some eastern European forms.

Weapons of War:

I would appreciate suggestions from you in this area.  Of the three best weaponsmiths I knew, one died last year; another gave up his work due to arthritis; the third went out of business due to the economy.  I know no craftsman whose work in steel suits me, although there are some reasonably good production companies now.


Today's xkcd:

It happens this is also the answer to the problem posed in this article on the stagnation of culture:
Rewind any other 20-year chunk of 20th-century time. There’s no chance you would mistake a photograph or movie of Americans or an American city from 1972—giant sideburns, collars, and bell-bottoms, leisure suits and cigarettes, AMC Javelins and Matadors and Gremlins alongside Dodge Demons, Swingers, Plymouth Dusters, and Scamps—with images from 1992. Time-travel back another 20 years, before rock ’n’ roll and the Pill and Vietnam, when both sexes wore hats and cars were big and bulbous with late-moderne fenders and fins—again, unmistakably different, 1952 from 1972. You can keep doing it...

Look at people on the street and in malls—jeans and sneakers remain the standard uniform for all ages, as they were in 2002, 1992, and 1982. Look through a current fashion or architecture magazine or listen to 10 random new pop songs; if you didn’t already know they were all things from the 2010s, I guarantee you couldn’t tell me with certainty they weren’t from the 2000s or 1990s or 1980s or even earlier. (The first time I heard a Josh Ritter song a few years ago, I actually thought it was Bob Dylan.)
The 1980s were the era when the Baby Boomers grew up, reached their late 30s and crossed into their 40s.   They stopped wanting anything new about that time, and settled into middle age.  The culture locked down with them, because the size of their cohort means that advertising, the movies, all the cultural industries look to them first and last.

If you were born in the 1980s, then, the world you know has never changed in any serious way.  The political parties have always occupied the same basic positions:  Reagan was the last sea change.  You don't remember JFK, so Democrats have always been anti-war.

If this demographic trend is as suggestive as it seems to be, American culture will not change much for another twenty years or so.  There are a lot of interesting things going on, but they're going on in corners:  they'll not have a chance to influence the big show.

Let's Have Some Oratorio -

It's the season of Handel, the missus and I are going to see one of his operas this weekend, it's also close to Hannukah, and I don't need an excuse anyway. An old favorite of mine:

Let's Have a Song

A good song of Scotland:

From the Baltimore Consort, an amazing group that I have somehow never managed to arrange to see live.  They're one of the best early music groups performing today.  Those of you in the D.C. area should take advantage of your proximity, and arrange to hear them play.

One for Lars

From Medievalists.net:  "Archaeologists uncover early Christian community in Norway."

Against Rape

The Pennsylvania liquor board has pulled an anti-rape ad that it developed, over charges that the ad consists in blaming the victim.  Here's the text of the ad:

"SHE DIDN'T WANT TO DO IT, BUT SHE COULDN'T SAY NO:  When your friends drink, they can end up making bad decisions like going home with someone they don't know very well.  Decisions like that leave them vulnerable to dangers like date rape.  Help your friends stay in control and stay safe."

The website Jezebel objects:
Rape is not just a bad thing that happens to someone after drinking too much, a wave of nausea that ends in vomit that smells like Red Bull. It's not something the victim conjures up with a mixture of alcohol and phermones. It's a deliberate act on the part of the rapist, a violation of another person committed solely because the rapist wanted to rape. The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we'll be rid of stupid, finger wagging ads like these.
I'm not a big fan of public service ads like these either.  However, if we're going to have them, it is important that they be able to speak the truth.

As our co-blogger Joseph W. points out, from his perspective as a JAG lawyer, the ties between alcohol and rape are undeniable.  If we're going to flood the airwaves with warnings about not letting your friends drink and drive, why not ads that warn that you should probably not let your friends go home drunk with strangers?

To say that is not in any way to justify rape.  We can still place the full weight of the crime upon the shoulders of the rapist.  There is no suggestion that the woman deserves to be raped.  All that is being said is that she is vulnerable to being raped in this condition, and therefore you who are her friends ought to watch out for her.

I understand the objection to similar statements about wearing short skirts, but this ad is crucially different.  If you say "Don't wear a short skirt if you don't want to be raped," you do seem to be setting up a limit on women's behavior and free expression as a kind of price for safety.  This ad does not do that, however:  it doesn't suggest that women shouldn't drink.  It does suggest that they be responsible about it, but that's good advice for a whole host of reasons.  Yet even that is not a limit on women's behavior:  what the ad ends up advising is that if your friend decides to get really drunk, you should help her watch out for her safety.

This provokes another quote from the Havamal, a poem that is coming up surprisingly often when discussing feminist issues:
A better burden can no man bear
on the way than his mother wit:
and no worse provision can he carry with him
than too deep a draught of ale.

Less good than they say for the sons of men
is the drinking oft of ale:
for the more they drink, the less can they think
and keep a watch o'er their wits.
That's as true for women as for men.  The truth is no insult.  I hold it to be true that rapists should be hanged, and that women should not in any way be blamed for having been raped.  I also hold it to be true that it is wise to keep an eye on how much you drink, and in what company, and not to drink very much if you are not with people you trust completely.  I also hold it to be true that, if your friend happens to get really smashed, you have a duty as a friend to make sure they get home in one piece.

Why is it so difficult to speak these simple truths when it comes to rape, as opposed to avoiding the danger of being beaten and robbed in an alley?  Via Lars Walker, a report from Norway:

Lars notes the response of Norway's justice minister to the report:
After a police report in Oslo said that Muslims were raping Norwegian women out of a religious conviction that this was the proper thing to do,  a stormy public debate erupted, reports Bello, and “the government ministers, most of them avowed anti-Semites, claimed that the report and its publication serve Israel and its policy of occupation.” 
Norway’s justice minister defended the police report but also said that “Israel must be glad to hear about it.”
Do you comprehend the breathtaking Orwellianism here? “If we talk about the one thing these rapists have in common, we'll look like Nazis. Therefore, to distance ourselves from the Nazis, we'll find a way to scapegoat the Israelis.” 
We need to be able to speak the truth in these matters.  If we cannot speak the truth, it would be better to say nothing at all.

Even if you prefer to say nothing, however, your duty to your friends remains.  This is what friendship means:  it means we take care of each other.

Michele Bachmann's Path to Victory

So I got this video via email from the campaign.

It's certainly true that she doesn't waver.  I can't argue against that proposition:  it's why I stopped supporting her.  She doesn't waver even when she's wrong.

Still, consider the argument.  She is who she says she is, at least; and she's no cronyist, and no elite.  I doubt she wins Iowa, but if she does consolidate a strong position early in spite of polling data and what we might expect?  We could do worse, I suppose, in spite of everything.

Y Gododdin

Before the battle of Stirling Bridge, William Wallace watched from hiding on a hilltop as the English force began to cross the river below.  That hilltop had been the site of an ancient fort:
A hillfort comprising a single oval bank with another rampart 30m further down the slope, was first recorded on the summit in the 18th century. Originally interpreted as the camp of Wallace’s troops, recent investigations revealed the structure was much older, as charcoal recovered from the inner rampart returned a radiocarbon date of AD 560-730. 
Stirling Council Archaeology Officer Murray Cook, who in September led a community excavation at the site, said this means the fort could have been one of the main centres of the Gododdin, a Britonnic people who lived in northeast England and southern Scotland. Part of this tribe formed the kingdom of Manaw, which local place names such as Clackmannan and Slamannan suggest could have included the area around Abbey Craig. But this high-status settlement also appears to have come to a dramatic end, destroyed by a fire so intense that its stones fused together.
Gododdin was one of the kingdoms of the Old North, now almost forgotten.  There was a time when these kingdoms were the frontier of our civilization, but few now even know their names.  Its companion, Ystrad Clud, is remembered now only as 'Strathclyde,' which used to have administrative functions within Scotland.

As for Gododdin, it is chiefly remembered for a single verse from its surviving poetry:
He fed black ravens on the rampart of a fortress
Though he was no Arthur
Among the powerful ones in battle
In the front rank, Gwawrddur was a palisade.
This is often taken to be the earliest surviving reference to the man we know as King Arthur.  The reference  assumes its audience needs no explanation of why a raven-feeder, a palisade in the front ranks of battle, is not shamed by the comparison.

Bourbon in Your Eyes

Following on T99's post of lounge-singing in Morocco, here's a young lady doing it the American way.

Islamic Cleric Rules Men Should Do the Cooking

An Islamic cleric residing in Europe said that women should not be close to bananas or cucumbers, in order to avoid any “sexual thoughts.”
The unnamed sheikh, who was featured in an article on el-Senousa news, was quoted saying that if women wish to eat these food items, a third party, preferably a male related to them such as their a father or husband, should cut the items into small pieces and serve.
Apparently we've got it all wrong, boys.  All that foolishness about cooking your wife or girlfriend a good meal on date night?  Just shooting yourself in the foot.

Medieval "PTSD"?

Or, a journalist discovers Geoffroi de Charny.

De Charny also suggested what the knights should do to resist the stress factors. He said knights should fight for a good cause to avoid succumbing to the pressures of war. A ‘good cause’ should be God’s cause – a war for a higher and just cause, to reinstate law and order – and not for personal gain. 
“On the one hand we can see that de Charny was a very conscientious man – and in the Middle Ages conscience was regarded as God’s way of telling us how to relate to rights and wrongs.
“On the other hand, he was a warrior who took part in several wars over a period of 30 years, including a crusade to the city we call Ismir. War and crusades are by definition violent,” says Heebøll-Holm.

Oh, yes, by definition. But: "on the one hand / on the other hand"? What exactly is the conflict between being conscientious and being a warrior?

Hamiltonians versus Jeffersonians

This is a banner day for interesting articles.  Dr. Mead has one in which he points out that both President Obama and Mr. Gingrich have declared themselves to be in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt, and that Roosevelt himself would have told you he was in the tradition of Hamilton.  The Jeffersonians, though one is in the race, aren't really in the hunt:
That fight was essentially over three things that divide us intensely today: the role of the federal government, the nature of the credit system, and the future of the social hierarchy. Alexander Hamilton favored a strong federal government at home and abroad, a centralized credit system similar to the British one with a Bank of the United States acting as our central bank, and believed that the best educated and most widely experienced people in the United States constituted a natural aristocracy and should play the leading role in our politics. Thomas Jefferson disagreed with virtually everything Hamilton believed. He wanted a weak federal government, detested Hamilton’s banking system, and feared that the alliance of a social elite with a powerful government and a strong central bank would turn the US into a European-style aristocratic or monarchical society.
I've always thought of myself as a member of the Jeffersonian tradition in this regard.  For reasons laid out yesterday, I don't think my side has any hope of recapturing the Presidency at any nearby point.  I wouldn't have picked Ron Paul as the guidon-bearer for Jeffersonianism, though; after all, Jefferson was an expansionist, and fought the Barbary States.

Happy Pearl Harbor Day!

Why not celebrate by refusing to send a care package to deployed soldiers?

Barbarians on the Thames

That is the title of Theodore Dalrymple's latest piece, which he describes as a postmortem on the British riots. He begins by denying the existence of final causes in history, which we were just discussing the other day:
Complex human events have no single or final explanation. The last word on the outbreak of looting and rioting that convulsed large parts of England, including London, in August will therefore never be heard. But some of the first words were foolish, or at least shallow, reflecting the typical materialistic assumptions of the intelligentsia.
As usual, he goes on to make some very good points.

What Does the Administration Mean By "Human Rights"?

I read an interesting headline at ABC News this morning: "Rick Perry Says Human Rights for Gays ‘Not in America’s Interests’."

Of course, I'm thinking, that can't be what he said.  The man's had some trouble expressing himself clearly at times, but even so I couldn't imagine that anyone would say "human rights for gays are not in America's interests."  

And of course, it turns out, that's not what he said at all.  What he said was that special rights for gays were not in America's national security interests -- and that foreign aid decisions, which is what all this is about, should be based on national security interests and nothing else.

Secretary Clinton recently gave a speech in which she announced the policy change in which gay rights will be considered in making foreign aid decisions.  However, she appears to deny the governor's premise that what is at issue are special rights, saying, "Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights."

There's nothing in her speech that suggests she is interested in "special" rights, and I'm not sure just what Governor Perry means by that.  If he means that gays should not have a special right to redefine the basic institutions of society to suit them, I suppose I agree with him; but if he's opposed to the things Secretary Clinton was actually talking about, I don't think those include special rights at all.  

Still, let's consider his statement a little more carefully. Here's the meat of his remarks:
This administration’s war on traditional American values must stop..... 
But there is a troubling trend here beyond the national security nonsense inherent in this silly idea. This is just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country. Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many Americas of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong.
Now, it is true that "people of faith" tend to be morally opposed to male homosexuality, not just in this country but in most countries.  This is especially true in the countries Secretary Clinton is talking about when she says that being gay should never be a criminal offense -- that is generally true only in the Islamic world.  

Secretary Clinton spoke to this issue directly, however, in a way that seems to make clear that the governor's concerns are not well founded.
Of course, it bears noting that rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights. Indeed, our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings. It was not only those who’ve justified slavery who leaned on religion, it was also those who sought to abolish it. And let us keep in mind that our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source. For many of us, religious belief and practice is a vital source of meaning and identity, and fundamental to who we are as people. And likewise, for most of us, the bonds of love and family that we forge are also vital sources of meaning and identity. And caring for others is an expression of what it means to be fully human. It is because the human experience is universal that human rights are universal and cut across all religions and cultures.
I generally hate the phrase "fully human" wherever I encounter it -- what is the point of the adjective here? -- and the last line is not quite right.  Still, the objection I would raise to it is not that there aren't universal human rights, but that she's eliding past the true reason why they exist.

It happens to be true that Secretary Clinton is poking a finger in the eye of some people of faith, then:  Iranian ones, though, not American ones.  This is still a strange decision from an administration that declared it was going to rebuild relationships with the Islamic world, but I expect it's because they really believe in it enough to justify the hardship it's going to create for their diplomatic efforts.

That this comes at the same time that the US government is shutting down its commission on religious freedom is bad timing, but it's not the State Department's fault.  The Senate is responsible for this because of  the question of funding.

Now, Governor Perry may still be right that (a) foreign aid decisions should be based only on national security issues, and (b) this push is not only not going to help us in that regard, it's actually going to be harmful because it will further irritate relations with the Islamic world.  I'm not sure I agree with (a), but if you do, (b) surely follows.  

Soul and Sowell:

Commentary writes:
Because he is black, his opinions about race are controversial. If he were white, they probably would be unpublishable. This is a rare case in which we are all beneficiaries of American racial hypocrisy. That he works in the special bubble of permissiveness extended by the liberal establishment to some conservatives who are black (in exchange for their being regarded as inauthentic, self-loathing, soulless race traitors) must be maddening to Sowell, even more so than it is for other notable black conservatives.
But of course, it is demonstrable (for me, and Plotinus) that he is not soulless:  for after all, soul is our connection to intellect, and therefore to reason.  And Sowell must share the same order of reason as this liberal establishment, else he could not understand the rules of their game.  (Indeed, the phrase 'capable of understanding the rules' is almost an analysis of the word 'rational'; and notice that it is the potential to understand, rather than the actuality of understanding, that is at stake.)

The unity of the order of reason is one of the few things that survives the most severe skeptical assaults.  You can speak of Evil Demons; but an evil demon must share the same order of reason as you in order to fool you.  You can question whether you are a Brain in a Vat; but the mad scientist keeping you there must share the order of reason with you in order to be able to fool you.

If you have that, you have everything we really wanted out of metaphysics.  Including, as it happens, a soul for Thomas Sowell.

Now, Let's Not Go Overboard

Politico says that "Nervous Mitt fans" are urging their candidate to "hit Newt harder."  One of the strengths of the Gingrich campaign, though, has been its general refusal to hit fellow Republicans, but to concentrate fire on the Obama administration.  The Romney campaign has likewise been wise in this regard, with the effect that whichever candidate wins, they will not have been damaged by a bruising primary.

Indeed, the many debates have allowed the candidates to sort according to something like merit.  I'm not fond of any of the remaining options, to be sure; but the decisions people have made about the qualifications of the candidates are based on their capacity to answer questions, express their thoughts, and the positions these candidates have taken.  It has been a fairly responsible, positive campaign.

That I am unhappy with the choices is reflective of the fact that no one who shares my views is involved with politics at the level that could sustain a Presidential run -- a sad but unsurprising fact, since in general our political system puts all its incentives toward the kind of cronyist, rent-seeking, power-abusing, lying, thieving behavior that indeed we do observe.  It's not clear that someone who agrees with me could get elected to a high enough office to be taken seriously as a Presidential candidate; it's certainly true that they couldn't build the kind of support within the political system that would allow them to be elected President and govern successfully.  Everything they stand for would be about undercutting the political powerbases of those whose support they would be seeking:  of course they cannot win.

Our system will never produce a President I can wholly approve, then.  I do hope that we may be able to pick off a few victories at the edges, here and there.  When the crisis this mode of government produces finally arrives, we might then be able to use the leverage to sever the concentration of Federal power, and restore the Federalism and local independence that would allow for a more just system to exist.

Those objections aside, I am pleased by the relatively good behavior of our debaters.  Perhaps it is inevitable that the primary will get rougher and more bruising as we come down to the part where people begin to vote.  However, before we pull the pin on that grenade, I'd like to remind Team Mitt of just how bad things could get:

What say we just continue to be gentlemen about this, then?