Public Service Announcement:

The first cool mornings are upon us, and I saw a fat herd of deer on Thursday's four-mile run around the rural roads near the Hall. Many of you will be getting in shape for the archery season, which starts in about three weeks.

Let's not forget some basic safety tips! Here we have a useful video on avoiding common user errors with a compound bow.

Here is a video by "Captain Tactical," who didn't abide by those rules.

The "no-dry-fire" rule applies to crossbows as well.

On the other hand, you do have to give that fellow credit for his extraordinary self-control under the circumstances.

Best In Life

"Conan: What Is Best In Life?"

I saw the new Conan movie. It will not survive.

It may be closer to Robert E. Howard's vision than the famous version with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Certainly Howard would have appreciated the Joe Bob Briggs element, which includes a nearly uncountable number of both breasts and decapitations. It also lacks the humor of the original, which occasionally passes the point of what is appropriate (as when Conan's head falls in the gruel while he is drunk: Howard's hero would never have been in so undignified a position).

What it misses is two things. The first is the music. There is nothing to compare with the score of the original. Certainly no moment captures joy or wonder, like this:

The second is the mythic element that the original managed to capture. "What is best in life?" is a question this Conan does not ponder; his only remark to the question is that "I live, I love, I slay, I am content." This fails to capture the glory of Arnold's remarks; but it isn't the only such failure in the film. There is nothing that approaches this moment:

The one thing that Conan cannot afford to lose is the power of myth. There is no origin story; there is no haunting beauty. Lacking those things, there is little beyond the pleasure of a good thumping, and the beauty of the women they talked into participating.

You may nevertheless find it worth seeing once, for those simpler pleasures. They are abundant, but they are all that it has.

The Friar's Tale

The Friar's Tale:

Along the line of the last post, some modern friars just as determined to smite evil as the one in Chaucer's tales.

A group of Franciscan friars furious at the theft of bibles from their church in Florence have taken the unusual step of praying for the thief to be struck down by diarrhoea.

Friars at the 15th century church of San Salvatore al Monte, which was a favourite of Michelangelo, were irritated when a rare and expensive bible disappeared from the lectern, and they flew off the handle when a replacement bible donated by a worshipper also went missing and within a few hours.

In a note, pinned up in full view of worshippers, the friars say they hope the thief sees the error of his ways. But in case he does not...
...and the frying pan, too!

Hell and Beauty

Hell and Beauty:

Via Arts & Letters Daily, an investigation into claims that the famed blues guitarist Robert Johnson might have sold his soul to the devil. The claims are well known, but long dismissed by academics who study the music. They are too quick, writes Ted Gioia.

This paucity of hard facts, when viewed in light of Johnson’s remarkable talents as a guitarist and blues singer, has fueled speculation about a supposed deal with the Devil. Johnson had been an amateurish guitarist when he first encountered his mentor Son House in 1930. “You can’t play nothing,” the elder guitarist told him. Soon after, Johnson disappeared for a brief spell. The next time House heard him, Johnson was a master on the instrument, one who stood out from his peers and surpassed House himself in technical proficiency on the instrument. The transformation was as breathtaking as it was unexpected.... The young musician’s dealings with guitarist Ike Zinermon, one of Johnson’s teachers, no doubt also raised eyebrows—Zinermon had bragged about going to a graveyard at midnight, where he played music while perched atop tombstones....

But what happens when we focus attention on Robert Johnson himself and examine his most revealing legacy—namely his 42 surviving recordings? In truth, this is the hardest hurdle of all for scholars who want to sweep the Devil under the carpet. Johnson himself was clearly obsessed with Satan, and his songs reflect the anxieties of a man who had something to fear from this quarter. His “Cross Road Blues” seems to explicitly reference these tales of a crossroads as a place where dark powers are afoot—a view, by the way, which is a clear carryover from African belief systems. Johnson’s concerns about the afterlife surface in his song “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day.” And his “Me and the Devil Blues” builds on the image of a man haunted by Satan himself. Johnson also gave his “Preachin’ Blues” the subtitle “Up Jumped the Devil.” These references must be an embarrassment to modern critics trying to sanitize and secularize Johnson’s music—and one admires their perseverance in trying to cleanse these songs of biographical references. But the whole legacy of the blues is as a music of self-expression and personal revelation. Any attempt to portray Robert Johnson as singing about someone else’s life and someone else’s attitudes inevitably sounds hollow and unconvincing.

The hardest song to sanitize is the piece Johnson recorded in his last day in the studio, June 20, 1937, the anguished “Hellhound on My Trail.” This is one of the most powerful blues ever recorded, and explicitly relates the horror of a man pursued by demonic forces. Churchgoers of the day—a group that accounted for the vast majority of Mississippi’s residents, circa 1937—would have been very familiar with the image of hellhounds hunting the souls of desperate sinners....

An oft-told story, well known among blues fans but dismissed again by scholars—one more unseemly anecdote they would prefer to ignore—tells of musician Sonny Boy Williamson II paying a visit to Johnson in his final hours, only to find the guitarist crawling like a dog on the floor and moaning in agony.

Assume for a moment that it were true both that these Christian-mythic bargains were really available, and that this young guitarist had made one. It seems to me that creates a strange case for us.

The substance of the bargain is that the Devil should teach a young man how to create beautiful music on his guitar, in return for the man's soul at his death. By making the bargain, the young man is creating a channel for beauty to come into the world that did not exist before.

Let's inquire into this further. Can beauty come from Hell? We are told that Satan can array himself like an angel of light, and so we must assume that even nearly divine beauty is available to him. If the True and the Beautiful are ultimately the same, as the tradition holds, angelic beauty (being closer to God) would naturally be greater than human beauty. Thus, Satan would (ironically) be a legitimate channel for humans to approach closer to divine beauty.

If that is the case, then, the bargain struck would be harmful to Johnson, but -- because it would increase the amount of celestial beauty available to humanity -- beneficial to the rest of us. We would be in a case of receiving an unearned boon that brings us closer to God, paid for by the eternal damnation of another's soul.


That makes me think of Chaucer's "The Friar's Tale," which is the one about the summoner who meets a devil from hell. The devil is going about the world looking to gain for Hell at the expense of humanity. This is close enough to the summoner's own work that he strikes up a sort of fellowship with the demon. After a time they find a merchant whose team of horses is in the mud, and who is promising them to the Devil. The summoner suggests that the devil ought to take the team, since it is being freely offered, but the demon says he can't:
"Nay," said the devil, "God knows, never a bit.
It is not his intention, trust to it.
Ask him yourself, if you believe not me,
Or else withhold a while, and you shall see."
This carter stroked his nags upon the croup,
And they began in collars low to stoop.

"Hi now!" cried he, "May Jesus Christ you bless
And all His creatures, greater, aye and less!
That was well pulled, old horse, my own grey boy!
I pray God save you, and good Saint Eloy!
Now is my cart out of the slough, by gad!"

"Lo, brother," said the fiend, "what said I, lad?
Here may you see, my very own dear brother,
The peasant said one thing, but thought another.
Let us go forth upon our travellers' way;
Here win I nothing I can take today."
They eventually meet an old woman whom the summoner is seeking for purposes of blackmail. He levels false charges against her, and she says that the devil can take him if he won't recant them.
"You lie," she cried then, "by my own salvation!
Never was I, till now, widow or wife,
Summoned unto your court in all my life;
Nor ever of my body was I untrue!
Unto the Devil rough and black of hue
Give I your body and my pan also!"

And when the devil heard her cursing so
Upon her knees, he said to her just here:
"Now, Mabely, my own old mother dear,
Is this your will, in earnest, that you say?"

"The Devil," said she, "take him alive today,
And pan and all, unless he will repent!"
It costs her a frying pan, but the Summoner is taken away to hell quickly after that.

Taking all these legends as truth for a moment, what do you make of the case of Robert Johnson? How good is the Devil's claim on him? Do we, who have been brought closer to Beauty by his bargain, have a part?


Fifteen Minutes of Daily Exercise:

Fifteen minutes a day of exercise adds three years to your life, according to FuturePundit.

HOUSTON -- Taiwanese who exercise for 15 minutes a day, or 92 minutes per week, extended their expected lifespan by three years compared to people who are inactive, according to a study published today in The Lancet.

"Exercising at very light levels reduced deaths from any cause by 14 percent," said study senior author Xifeng Wu, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Department of Epidemiology. "The benefits of exercise appear to be significant even without reaching the recommended 150 minutes per week based on results of previous research."
92 minutes per week of exercise is 4784 minutes per year, which is about 80 hours. Over twenty years, then, you'll pay for your extra time: you'll be spending one thousand, six hundred hours exercising. It's still a good bargain, though, since three years contain over twenty-six thousand hours.

Guess It Depends on Your Peers

Guess It Depends on Your Peers

For years now, in nearly every discussion of global warming climate change climate disruption, I've encountered condescending references to the "settled science" in "peer-reviewed journals." I couldn't shake the uneasy feeling that peer review isn't what it used to be, now that people can get doctorates in "Studies" Studies.

There's no further room for doubt. I refer you to a sublimely content-free article published in Acta Astronautica, Volume 68, Issues 11-12, June-July 2011, pages 2114-2129, entitled "Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis," written by two Penn State professors (one of geography, the other of meteorology) and a member of NASA's Planetary Science Division. Acta Astronautica purports to be a peer-reviewed journal sponsored by the International Academy of Astronautics, a somewhat fluffy organization that nevertheless is not entirely inhabited by tin-foil-hatted wannabes, to judge from the number of space agency heads, world leaders, and academicians the IAA claims (with photographic evidence) to have lured to its 50th anniversary gala in Washington, D.C., almost a year ago.

But if this truly is a peer-reviewed publication, it's a profoundly embarrassing example. What self-respecting editor would swallow this abstract with a straight face:

While humanity has not yet observed any extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), contact with ETI remains possible. Contact could occur through a broad range of scenarios that have varying consequences for humanity. However, many discussions of this question assume that contact will follow a particular scenario that derives from the hopes and fears of the author. In this paper, we analyze a broad range of contact scenarios in terms of whether contact with ETI would benefit or harm humanity. This type of broad analysis can help us prepare for actual contact with ETI even if the details of contact do not fully resemble any specific scenario.
The authors warn that our greenhouse gases may attract unfriendly notice from distant observers; just another reason to rein them in before it's too late. Alternatively, aliens "might invite humanity to join the 'Galactic Club' only for the entry requirements to be too bureaucratic and tedious for humans to bother with." So that could be a problem.

No chanting of words like "scenario" and "analysis" can hide the vapidity of this undisciplined speculation on a subject that is 100% free of data. In its breaktaking freedom from factual fetters, it reaches nearly the level of most climate-whatever modeling. All we're missing is a computer-modeled prediction of when the aliens will land, and what shade of green they will be, which can be updated every year that contact fails to materialize.

It's one thing when a conservative presidential candidate delivers offhand remarks about evolution and creationism that you somewhat wistfully wish he'd kept to himself. At least Rick Perry doesn't claim to be a scientist -- or even a professor of geography. I am mortified that NASA employs a man who would publish the kind of pseudo-technical drivel that should have been laughed out of a sci-fi fanzine. And frankly I thought better of Penn State as well.

Per HotAir, NASA is nonplussed enough about this publicity this article is getting to announce that it was in no way an official agency study, despite the NASA affiliation of one of the authors. Well, that's something.


On the Road:

My little sister writes from Idaho, where she stopped for lunch.

Duels & Judicial Combat

Trial by Combat:

This is strikingly appropriate.

Notch has just thrown down the gauntlet on his blog. He wants to settle the Scolls lawsuit with Bethesda once and for all, by beating them in a game of Quake 3.

“I challenge Bethesda to a game of Quake 3. Three of our best warriors against three of your best warriors,” Notch writes. “We select one level, your select the other, we randomize the order. 20 minute matches, highest total frag count per team across both levels wins.”

“If we win, you drop the lawsuit. If you win, we will change the name of Scrolls to something you’re fine with.”
I remember when Saddam Hussein challenged George W. Bush to a duel in place of fighting the Iraq war. There's a sense in which it's a shame that didn't happen.
How Long?

Congressman and retired Lieutenant Colonel Allen West speaks to the issue of unemployment in the black community.

That's pretty rough speech! I met LTC West once, and he's a tough guy -- a good guy, too. He's choosing these words carefully, advisedly, precisely for the reaction he'll get.

When he speaks of "Conservative principles and values" that are the "corner stone of the black community," though, he's leaving aside explosive rhetoric. What is this cornerstone of the black community?

"Individual responsibility and accountability, faith, family, and a hard work ethic."

Any community founded on those principles is likely to do well.


Evangelicals and the Collapse of Literalism:

NPR asks what happens to an Evangelical faith that admits that there may not have been an actual Adam and Eve, and therefore no original sin. What need, then, for a savior?

Mohler says the Adam and Eve story is not just about a fall from paradise: It goes to the heart of Christianity. He notes that the Apostle Paul (in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15) argued that the whole point of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection was to undo Adam's original sin.

"Without Adam, the work of Christ makes no sense whatsoever in Paul's description of the Gospel, which is the classic description of the Gospel we have in the New Testament," Mohler says.
Respectfully, this is one concern you needn't trouble about too much. Chesterton had it right: original sin is the one thing about humanity that isn't in doubt.
Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin--a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.
You don't need Adam to prove that man needs saving. You just need any man, or every man you ever knew.


Marriage and Poverty:

Thomas Sowell says:

In the U.S., despite the higher poverty level among blacks than among whites, the poverty rate among black married couples has been in single digits since 1994.
The rate is about 25% for blacks in general; but for all Americans, it is under six percent for married couples, and over 25% for the unmarried. There isn't much more strongly correlated than that -- except full-time employment, as only 2.5% of the fully employed are poor.

Big Government Means Small Citizens

Big Government Means Small Citizens

Mark Steyn on the English riots:

For Americans, the quickest way to understand modern Britain is to look at what LBJ's Great Society did to the black family and imagine it applied to the general population. . . . Big Government means small citizens: It corrodes the integrity of a people, catastrophically. Within living memory, the city in flames on our TV screens every night governed a fifth of the earth's surface and a quarter of its population.

When you're imperialists on that scale, there are bound to be a few mishaps along the way. But nothing the British Empire did to its subject peoples has been as total and catastrophic as what a postgreat Britain did to its own.

At The End:

A song for those of you who are fans of Alexander Dumas' The Three Musketeers. Antoine Boësset might have been in charge of that ballet held by Louis XIII, 'in the honor of the queen,' designed to trap her in the affair of the diamond tags.

Grim Young

In Which We Learn that Grim Will Die Young:

Relatively young, anyway; I'm not as young as I once was already.

The three authors, all from the University of Oklahoma, found that states with a “culture of honor” –- in the South, and the West, mainly -- also have higher rates of accidental death for white males: 42 per 100,000 compared to 36.8 per 100,000 in non “honor” states.

So what’s a “culture of honor”? “The relentless, and sometimes violent, defense of masculine reputation,” according to the study.

“This is an adaptation to what the Ulster Scots [also called the Scots-Irish] experienced over 800 or 900 years in southern Scotland,” one of the study’s authors, Ryan P. Brown, explained.
Well, and so what? Death before dishonor, we used to say; and I see no reason to recant. I find that my broken ribs hurt more as I get older, but that doesn't mean I'm sorry to have them. What makes a man is daring what comes, and that means a true man -- even the best man -- will suffer, and die, as Fate sends.

Can Anyone Govern?

Can Anyone Govern?

A piece entitled "Can Rick Perry Govern?" sets a high bar.

Amid all the horse-race analysis of Perry’s candidacy—can he win? how does he stack up against Mitt Romney?—a more basic question has been lost. Can he govern?

Therein lies the rub for Rick Perry. His record in Texas doesn’t exactly blow you away. The man can win an election, no doubt. But once the campaigns are over and he actually gets into office, well, the results aren’t inspiring.

In fact, I would argue that Perry has achieved no major legislative accomplishments as governor.
One might argue that 'legislative accomplishments' aren't really the business of a governor; and certainly Texas' jobs picture is markedly better than anyone else's. Both pieces argue that Gov. Perry had little to do with the economic picture, though; and at least some of the reasoning is solid.

What is interesting to me is that this question about Perry precisely mirrors questions about Obama and Bachmann. As for the President, the difference between the rhetoric around his campaign and his actual record of accomplishment is so well rehearsed even on the left that it needs little argument; and the charge of legislative accomplishment was also leveled at Rep. Bachmann during the recent debates.

We know from Rep. Bachmann's career in the private sector that she is a capable woman. One might claim that Mr. Obama had a successful career too, being a lecturer in Chicago, a state official and a Senator, publishing two books and winning awards like the Grammy. Gov. Perry was a military officer (a C-130 pilot, which is a pretty nifty job all things considered).

There is a point of complexity at which human organizations cease to be effective, and begin to break down. Technology is probably changing the precise locus of that point, but I doubt it is eliminating it. I might not ask if failure to govern effectively proves that someone is a poor candidate. I might ask instead whether good governance, at this level of complexity, is still possible.

Interesting Point

An Interesting Point about the Forthcoming Race:

RCP had something very interesting to say today:

The RNC has provided that states holding primaries before April 1 must allocate delegates proportionately. But after that date, states may opt for winner-take-all primaries, and many of these states have done so. In other words, we could have a situation where a conservative candidate (or a pair of conservative candidates) does well in the first three months, but has to give some delegates to the more moderate candidate. This is similar to what happened to Clinton, who won crucial primary battles late in the game, but couldn’t make much headway in the delegate count because of how these delegates were allocated. So despite winning the majority of primaries, the conservative candidate could end up with only a small lead in delegates over the more moderate candidate. If the moderate candidate then performs well in April or afterward, he could quickly rack up enough delegates to break away and claim the nomination.
This is clearly to the benefit of the institutional Republican party, which is very much tied to the Washington machine and to Wall Street. It's a hobble on populists who tend to vote for Republicans, but might also vote for socially conservative Democrats. That makes sense from the perspective of the RNC, which wants party loyalists to win its primaries: those loyal to the party and its leadership, that is, not those whose loyalty is to principles.

Wise! Cunning! Of course they are running the party for their own benefit, and why shouldn't they? Still, keep it in mind. They are not your friend. They may, at best, be allies; but you must be as wise and as cunning in dealing with this sort of ally as they are plainly intending to be.

A question I don't know the answer to has to do with what happens to proportionately-won delegates whose candidate steps out of the race. Can a defeated Perry (or Bachmann) throw delegates to a named candidate? If so, the proportionality rule is of less importance: we can afford a long consideration of the merits of the candidates, if the final conservative winner can expect to receive the delegates of his closer conservative competitor.

The prospect of an establishment candidate, especially one with so muddled a record as Mr. Romney, strikes me as worse than an Obama second term. The establishment is wedded to the kinds of policies that have brought us to this pass. Mr. Obama will have only four more years, at most; an incumbent Romney could have eight. Every year that passes without our Republic making a sharp change in course makes it far more likely that the project will finally fail.

Gov. Perry

Gov. Perry Speaks:

Accepting the gentleman from Texas as the most serious competitor to Rep. Bachmann for the Tea Party leadership -- and, far less importantly, the Republican nomination -- here is his recent speech.

He has very much the manner of a backwoods preacher, which may not be entirely to his advantage. Still, he says several things that are exactly right, including his plain evocation of the 10th Amendment.

Help the Boy Out

Help the Boy Out:

Day By Day is nearing the end of its fundraiser. He's closer than Project VALOUR-IT was to his goal, although he has what I gather are more modest aims: just keeping afloat, rather than providing expensive high-tech items to wounded troops.

I read the guy's stuff every day. (It's on the sidebar, so probably many of you do as well). This next year, we're going to need assets like this to prevail. Give him a thought, if you have a buck or two you can spare.

Is the U.S. the Next Low-Wage Haven?

Is the U.S. the Next Low-Wage Haven?

This article from The Institute for Southern Studies argues that the trend of losing American jobs to overseas competition may be on the point of reversing. China's wages, though rising, are still lower than those in the U.S,

But because American workers have higher productivity, and since rising fuel prices are making it even more expensive to ship goods half way around the world, costs in the two countries are converging fast.
Alliance for American Manufacturing Director Scott Paul cites factors that could bring jobs back to our shores:
Costs of labor and commodities are rising on the Chinese coasts, as workers demand higher pay. If companies move further inland to poorer areas, they hike their logistics costs.

In most of the world, the dollar is worth 25 percent less than three years ago, and in China 5 percent less.

Shipping costs are increasing because of rising energy costs.

Companies fear that in China they'll lose their intellectual property to spin-off competitors.

Some consumers prefer an American-made product.

The U.S. has an abundance of skilled but unemployed workers.

And U.S. wages are stagnant or even falling.

The Longbow

Touch Not The Cat:

The Temple of Mut has a call (via InstaPundit) for the restoration of the longbow to English society. This would answer the problem of looting gangs who have a maneuver advantage versus the police.

The looters are all offense and the police are all defense. Because the police have no missile weapons and are too weighed down with armor to pursue their enemy, the looters can engage and disengage at will with absolutely no risk to themselves.
Well, indeed, the police could stop the riots once and for all if they were issued rifles and shot looters on sight. That was the traditional remedy for looting, after all.

The suggestion is also bedeviled by the fact that the longbow -- the proper one from Agnicourt, which he cites as evidence of its effectiveness -- is the kind of instrument that takes years to develop the strength to use. You could use a smaller bow these days, since you don't need to penetrate armor, but any bow is inferior to a firearm as a defensive weapon: it lacks the firepower (i.e., the number of rounds you can bring to battery quickly), it cannot be concealed (meaning that there is no 'free rider' benefit for those not carrying arms), and it is rather cumbersome to lug around.

However, I did like the graphic he employs.

It reminds me of another piece of British heritage:

The heraldry of the Clan MacPherson uses the motto, "Touch not the cat, but a glove." They are thinking of the Scottish Wildcat, who comes with significant armament on his own.