Mothers Against Drunk Yogurt Making

Mothers Against Drunk Yogurt Making

My tiny nearby town boasts only two grocery stores, the WalMart and an HEB. Unfortunately both have stopped carrying the yogurt that I'm addicted to, a nice live-culture product called White Mountain. Recent events having impressed on me even more deeply than usual the importance of probiotics, I decided to take matters into my own hands and acquire a simple yogurt-maker, which has duly arrived in the mail. It's just a specialized sort of crockpot, really, a convenient nest for individual yogurt bottles and a low heat source so the little microbeasties can work overnight at a constant temperature.

Reading the directions, I stopped to ponder the surprisingly long list of "IMPORTANT SAFEGUARDS" for this simple device. Don't drop the device into water, for instance, while it's still plugged in. Even more important: "To unplug, grasp plug and pull from the electrical outlet." And again, further down the page, to reinforce the subtle and unfamiliar lesson: "Plug cord into the wall outlet. To disconnect remove plug from wall outlet." A third time: "To disconnect, turn any control to 'off,' then remove plug from wall outlet." I'm glad we got that cleared up before I had to call the helpline -- or an ambulance.

"Do not touch the parts that are not intended for manipulation." I'm so confused; what parts are intended for manipulation? There's an on/off switch, but that's about it, other than the lid. The warnings become even more dire: "Do not operate . . . while under the influence of alcohol or other substances that affect your reaction time or perception." I'm wondering whether I'll need certification training for this thing. What if my reaction times are off? What if I aim at the "on" switch and miss? Can I sue?

Finally, the only warning with plausible pertinence to the sort of danger a consumer could conceivably be in from a device that creates a live-culture food: "Do not keep yogurt in the refrigerator for more than 8-10 days." I don't actually believe that advice, so it's probably wasted on me, but OK, I'll think about it. Consider me warned.

On behalf of lawyers everywhere, I apologize for the destruction of our society and culture.

Don't Let This Man Near the Press Conference

Don't Let This Man Near the Press Conference

Iowahawk has some proposed questions for the President:

. . . Instead of making cars get 62 mpg, why not 62 million mpg? Also, do something about the gravitational constant.

. . . I let my Mexican drug lord license expire. Am I still eligible for the free machine gun program?

. . . When you said "days not weeks" did you mean Venusian days?

. . . Why do you need permission to be clear, and not need permission to bomb Libya?

. . . Would you get tougher with Iran if you knew they were working with Scott Walker?

. . . I just voted to increase my sobriety ceiling. Why won't the bartender give me another drink?

. . . If ATMs are so bad, why do you keep treating me like one?

. . . When you create jobs, why do always create them for Texas?

. . . If Eric Holder gets indicted in Operation Fast & Furious, should he get a civilian trial?

Death by Baseball

Living and Dying:

I've been thinking some more about our recent conversations because of yesterday's tragic story from Texas.

This has to be the saddest possible event at a baseball game. A man goes to a ballgame with his son — it's the ultimate American experience — and he dies trying to catch a ball. It's hard to comprehend.

As for the need to raise the railings, or not throw balls into the stands ... that's the crazy part. How many thousands of games happen where nobody gets hurt, and now this?
The same is true for the poor motorcycle rider who was killed, of course: how many thousands of miles did he ride without any incident?

We usually make reference to statistics in cases like this, as statistics allows us to overcome our actual experience. We may have the actual experience of having ridden thousands of miles in safety, but statistics show that the activity is dangerous in spite of abundant direct experience of safety.

Yet statistics are famously easy to manipulate. I've been reading up on motorcycle safety statistics since our discussion, to try and find out just how much helmets really do improve safety. Do they actually improve -- as I understand they do not, from conversations with other riders?

I'm still not sure, but I do now know that most surveys seem to be peformed either by (a) helmet manufacturers, or (b) groups that already believed that helmets were a good idea (e.g., Snell). Confirmation bias is a danger even for the hardest science; when political advocacy -- or profit -- is at issue, it's harder to rely on the claims of such studies. For example, I wasn't able to find anything like a dividing line on the speeds at which helmets seem to be effective at reducing risk of injury. That may mean no one thought to ask, or it may be that the question was intentionally not asked.

Finally, though, I've realized what it is about this discussion that has been bothering me. I've spoken of my friend the father of two special needs children, and how proud I am of how he soldiers on under this incredibly heavy weight. When we were talking about motorcycle riders, the point was made by several of you that a man who is a husband and father has a responsibility to limit his risks in order to continue to live to perform his duties to wives and children.

However, a life that has become a misery is a weight that is even more likely to kill a man than any motorcycle. Heart disease is strongly linked to stress, as are many other diseases; and a man who dies of a heart attack at 48, though he bore his burden faithfully, has left his wife and children just as completely widowed and orphaned.

I work hard to try and get my friend to come with me to the gym, or otherwise to find pleasure and exercise of vital faculties; but the man is run down. Without joy in life, death follows: and if an activity greatly brings you joy, even if it is a risky activity, it may be worth doing for that reason alone.

More, a miserable life is no fit reception to the wonder of creation. God may not be pleased with your sacrifice if you have taken the gift of life and squandered it -- not on risking death trying to catch a fly ball for your son, but on letting even the most wise and proper responsibility rob you of the joy and wonder that you should find in His creation. You needn't put that in theological terms to get the same point: Plato called this wonder, which was the beginning of all philosophy, thaumazein.

The good life, then, and our ideals about how to live it need to capture a space for that wonder and joy. This is a duty, and a moral duty, as imperative to the good life as meeting responsibilities. It often entails risk -- climbing mountains, riding horses, drinking beer of an evening with friends, standing up to dangerous men with evil in their hearts. These are the things that make life joyous, and therefore we must do them. When performing a duty, we take reasonable steps to mitigate risk -- but we perform our duty regardless of risk.

That seems to resolve the problem, and the paradox, from my perspective.


The Masculine Ideal:

Recently we discussed some examples from Dr. Hodges' "Wounded Masculinity: Injury and Gender in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur." As I think more about it, I wonder if some of you might not be interested in his broader thesis. His piece is a pretty strong one in terms of suggesting that we should re-evaluate a lot of the assumptions of scholarship on what the masculine ideal might be.

In gender studies, critics frequently postulate a masculine ideal of
suave and potent invulnerability and then demonstrate how the
male characters in question inevitably fall short of it. Bryce Traister
has offered a thorough critique of this tendency in American studies,
arguing that the focus on “transcendent” masculinity obscures study
of “competent” masculinity—ideas of manliness as they are actually
practiced. Unfortunately, the same tendency can be seen in medieval
studies. While invulnerability and easy power may be fantasies for individual
men, these daydreams do not reflect the more realistic ideals of
manhood expressed in a work such as Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte
We examined several cases last time of knightly suffering -- not only in Malory, but in medieval nonfiction -- that show this alternative ideal at work.
These celebrations of knightly suffering as admirable penance mean
that injury was not simply a messy historical fact edited out of the
romanticized ideal of knighthood; instead, the ideal of masculinity that
chivalric texts celebrate is one that includes being wounded regularly.
This fits not only with the historical realities of knighthood but also
with the needs of narrative....

An example of how this narrative logic works is Arthur’s fight with
Accolon (1:141–47; 4.8–11). Although Merlin has told Arthur that Excalibur’s
scabbard is more valuable than the sword itself because it
prevents the wearer from losing blood (1:54; 1.25), this information
does not become an issue in any of Arthur’s fights until he meets Accolon,
and then it is Accolon who is wearing the scabbard. What follows
should be, according to some models of gender, the wreck of Arthur as
a man: he is pierced and bleeding, on the verge of defeat, and all as the
object of a woman’s gaze, since Nyneve is watching. The description of
the fight emphasizes Arthur’s blood falling from him, weakening him,
staining the ground. But Nyneve, instead of seeing him as feminized
and diminished, judges him a good knight and a man of worship because
of, not despite of, his suffering on the field (1:144; 4.10). Arthur’s
ability to bleed, although a liability in strictly practical terms, highlights
his bravery and commitment to his cause, in contrast to Accolon’s smug
safety. Instead of proving him less of a man, Arthur’s wounds illustrate
that he is full of pure knighthood...

[W]hen Launcelot runs mad, those who find him treat him
well: “Whan they sawe so many woundys upon hym, they demed that
he had bene a man of worship” (2:822; 12.3). Likewise, when Launcelot
is praising La Cote Mal Tayle, he points out to the Damsel Maldisaunt
the young knight’s wounds, not as signs of failure (as in the past she
might have considered them) but of honor: “Now may ye se . . . that
he ys a noble knyght, for to consider hys firste batayle, and his grevous
woundis. And evyn forthwithall, so wounded as he ys, hit ys mervayle
that he may endure thys longe batayle."
There's a lot more, though I may be pushing the limits of 'fair use' for this discussion if I quote more; but I think it's an interesting thesis. What do you think?



Continuing the meditation on independence, I saw several fireworks displays this weekend, both government-run and privately-funded. The government run displays involved far more expensive fireworks, and were more elaborate; but the aggregate of the individual actors who bought their own fireworks was ultimately more impressive than the aggregate government displays.

There's probably a lesson in that somewhere, but our friends on the left might note that not everyone is a trained fireworks engineer; I noted the fact myself after watching a guy set off a mortar that exploded a fraction of a second after launch, perhaps ten feet in the air. No one was hurt, but they certainly could have been.

Independent people get to do this kind of stuff, even though it entails some significant risk. That's what freedom is. Sometimes, of course, freedom kills.

A New York man died Sunday while participating in a ride with 550 other motorcyclists to protest the state’s mandatory helmet law.

Police said Philip A. Contos, 55, hit his brakes and his motorcycle fishtailed. Contos was sent over the handlebars of his 1983 Harley Davidson and hit his head on the pavement.
I sometimes ride motorcycles without a helmet, and always ride horses without one (that's what Stetson hats are for). In fact it is truly pleasurable, tooling down a backroad or a two-lane highway, feeling the wind on your face, and without the heavy helmet wearying the muscles of your neck. I'm not sympathetic to the joyless nanny-state crowd that wants to tell me that their interest in having to pay for my possible medical care gives them the right to tell me that I shouldn't do dangerous things.

Keep your medical care, if it comes to that. (My sister, who shares more than my genetics, tells me she is taking up BASE jumping as her retirement plan.) I certainly do not wish to suffer head injuries or any other injuries; but I wouldn't want a safe life. It's not the life for me. If that means my life ends up being short, well, so be it; I'll run my hazards.

Independence Day

Independence Day:

I entered my specifications into Google, and the first hit was a Sugar Daddy dating site. “No way,” I thought. “I’m not a golddigger, I just want a man who has his shit together.” But the tagline had already hooked me– “Meet Wealthy Men Seeking to Spoil Beautiful Women!” It felt like I had just been challenged… was I attractive and charming enough to pique the interest of a successful millionaire? My mind raced. Is this thinly-veiled prostitution? Were there really men out there who wanted to buy me shoes? I like shoes! Was this going to affect how I identified myself as an intelligent, independent woman? PRESENTS! I caved. I set up a profile, paid the membership fee, and waited to see what would happen.
Independence is an interesting concept, and one that merits some discussion. Little Bill constitutes himself a defender of it -- and he is, presuming that by "independence" we mean the right to pass laws in concert which block the individual right to the means of self-defense. The people of that little town are independent if anyone is: any man who is interested is capable of joining the local militia, so the denial of self-defense is mostly aimed at outsiders. They build a great deal of power into their community, and use that power to enforce a law that denies basic rights to others. They are satisfied with the state they have built because they participate in it; it only oppresses others. That is independence, as long as they can retain control of the beast they have made.

The article, via the Sage of Knoxville, points to another kind of independent decision. The writer has independently chosen to become a dependent upon someone else; in return for affection, he pays her bills. She asserts that she is just as independent now as she was before -- perhaps moreso, having fewer bills and debts. It is a free choice she has made, which has made her in one sense freer yet; but in another, perhaps, less independent than she believes.

I don't raise the article to condemn, but to wonder at the way in which independence is a slippery thing. I gave up a great deal of my own independence when I married, some years ago; that was a free choice to become less free, to bind myself. At the time I was most independent, all I wanted was to find someone else to depend upon; at the time I was freest, I wanted nothing so much as to be bound. This seems to be true for individuals and for peoples, for towns and for nations. Freed of all obligations in 1781, we turned at once to forging new chains, laws, and orders.

UPDATE: More thoughts on the question from E. J. Dionne:
[O]ur friends in the Tea Party have offered a helpful clue by naming their movement in honor of the 1773 revolt against tea taxes on that momentous night in Boston Harbor.

Whether they intend it or not, their name suggests they believe that the current elected government in Washington is as illegitimate as was a distant, unelected monarchy.
Most of these last ten years, since 9/11, I've placed myself at the service of the United States government in one capacity or another. The military of the United States is by far the best part of its several bureaucracies; too, it has the benefit of being pointed outward, so that its mistakes are felt by others instead of ourselves. They work very hard to avoid civilian casualties in drone strikes, for example, but nevertheless once in a while it does happen. This is the best the United States has to offer, and having seen it up close for a long time, I am very glad to have the force of that system pointed elsewhere. The parts of the Federal government that point at us are far less pleasant, and less noble, and we might be happier to do without them.

I think that there may indeed be something illegitimate about a government as large and as distant as this one has become. Legitimacy in politics comes from a relationship between yourself and the state: it is the relationship of parent to child, more or less. A family relationship binds best when it is closest. A father and a son are tightly bound if they live together, and are close; but a father who walked away in youth would exercise far less legitimate authority, and a fifth cousin almost none.

The town council, the parent-teacher association, these are close relationships; the state is farther away, but our representative is close enough that we can know him and be sure of his vote. Congress is so far away that we get little more than form letters even from our individual representatives or Senators; and these are too small to much shift the weight of the great Federal bureaucracy.

A legitimate government might need to be small, small enough to hear the voice of the one man who has something important to say. The question is whether such a government can survive: lacking a Leviathan like our military, what would keep such a government intact against the winds of the world? In this hour, it is our task and honor to be that Leviathan; but I often wonder if, though we devote a great deal of our efforts to trying to do it in a moral as well as an effective way, we will be forgiven for all we must do to preserve the order of the world. As General McChrystal said, we have shot an amazing number of people.

Whether or not our government can still claim to be legitimate, America is certainly no longer independent. We have taken on the burden of holding up the world; and thus we are bound to it. Events in Thailand or Yemen or Zanzibar, small places on the other side of the world, echo in our halls and keep us awake at night. Their problems are our own. Perhaps this is what we always wanted; in any case, I do not know how to lay the burden down, or if it is right that we should.

This post is more akin to Kipling's "Recessional" than it is to a celebration of our nation; and for that I apologize, my friends. I hope your holiday was a fine one, and my troubled thoughts do not limit your enjoyment of your friends and family.