Cassandra reminds me in the post below that it's been too long since I did something really wrong.  A man has to sin once in a while, or else he'll get to feeling self-righteous, which is the worse sin than the sin he put off.

So here.  It's for the health of our souls.

You think that's bad?  Try this:

An Interesting Day for Republicans

It looks like Newt Gingrich is about to have his best day on the campaign trail...

...and also his worst.

It's rare to get so many big stories all at once.  It's hard to say how it will shake out.  Here are a few possibilities:

1)  Gingrich is right to say that his marital problems are old news with voters, and the endorsements of his former rival and the 100 TEA Party figures push him over the top in SC.  As the new consensus TEA Party candidate, he goes on to challenge Romney with the solid backing of the more conservative wing of voters.

2)  Republican voters don't like people who screw around with their marriages, meaning that today's new allegations sink Gingrich.  Herman Cain shakes his head in sad sympathy as Gingrich is destroyed by the allegations.

   (As to which:  Why is the headline that he asked for "an open marriage"?  The arrangement is hardly unheard of, especially among the rich and powerful; surely if he had honestly approached his wife with his feelings, and accepted her firm "no," we would take this as a minor sin -- or, these days, even just a quirk -- brought on by a robust nature.  The problems facing Gingrich are that he got around to asking only after he'd already begun enjoying an 'open marriage'; and that, rather than accepting "no," he divorced his second wife for his third.)

There are three sub-cases:

2a)  Gingrich's fall, just as conservative sentiment had lined up behind him, collapses conservative morale and allows Romney to walk to the nomination.

2b) Gingrich's falling numbers causes him to bow out of the race, endorsing Romney as a way to salvage what he can for his political future with the Republican establishment.  While many of his supporters will never accept Romney, enough follow his lead to end the nomination contest.

2c)  Conservatives swap their allegiance to the last non-Romney in the race, Rick Santorum, who was just announced to have actually won Iowa after all.  Only three states having voted so far, there remains a real race for the nomination.

So, the first breaking point is whether we get scenario (1) or one of the sub-cases of (2).  We'll know that pretty soon.  If it's (1), Santorum -- who seems the best of the remaining candidates to me -- probably has no chance of success.  If it's (2), and Gingrich endorses Romney, Santorum also probably cannot overcome the combined weight at this point.  If it's (2) and Gingrich does not endorse Romney, we'll see Romney win anyway unless there is a quick and decisive shift to Santorum.  Even then, he'll be under significant disadvantages of money and establishment support; but perhaps he can make a fight of it there.

Sadly, none of that is in Santorum's hands -- as they say in the NFL, at this point he does not control his own fate.

Troll Valley

I have just finished reading Lars Walker's Troll Valley, which is available for the Kindle and for the Nook readers.  Since we have the benefit of Mr. Walker's company, I really ought just to suggest that you read it, in the hope that we might have the pleasure of all discussing it together.

The book treats the integration of myth into modern life:   both the pagan mythos of Norway and Norwegian immigrants, and Christian myth.  That this is meant to be of contemporary interest is demonstrated by the "present day" characters who frame the book, but the action takes place mostly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the story, a child with a fairy godmother grows up to lose sight of her, and the myths that guided his childhood.  In the process he becomes a vile and unpleasant man, under the guidance of a mother who becomes ever more domineering and destructive to her own family.  The mother, actually, is one of the most interesting characters.  She embraces the prohibition movement allegedly out of a desire to "do good," but over time we see that her real interest is in control.  She uses prohibition to force her husband's father into submission within his own house; then, she moves into new fields of progressive thought -- eugenics, vegetarianism, and the lot -- to force the old man out of the house entirely.  Finding sparks of resistance remaining in her eldest son and husband, she cranks up the embrace of these intolerant philosophies until she has driven everyone out, and can bask in her role as a woman who has sacrificed everything for Prohibition and Temperance.

There is a wider lesson to her example.  A family home is like a broader human community in that it has rules that establish a way of life, and under that way of life a community is possible.  We see in the early chapters how the traditions of Norwegian families at Yuletide sustained a broad community through hard work.  It is at that feast that the mother first uses her power to force a change in the rules, in her interest and against the interests of others.  It is by forcing continual alterations of the rules of life that she destroys the community within the house, so that finally no one can live with her at all.

Each of these rules is meant to represent moral progress, but each of them destroys the living community in which human kindness is possible.  The living spirit of the community is broken by the rules themselves, and in the climax of the book -- when the mother tries to wield her church group to destroy a young woman who dared to taste beer and dance at a wedding -- we find the broader lesson.  That part, though, you must read for yourself.

I will say no more at this time, but if you are interested, I would be happy for us to reconvene to discuss it once everyone who wishes to join the discussion has had the time to read it.  If you would like to join in, let me know in the comments and we'll arrange a time:  hopefully Mr. Walker will be so kind as to join in our discussion as well.

What's Killing Manufacturing?

Via D29, an answer that may surprise:
“Wages?” I ask. 
His dark eyebrows arch as if I were clueless, then he explains the reality of running a fab -- an electronics fabrication factory. “Wages have nothing to do with it. The total wage burden in a fab is 10 percent. When I move a fab to Asia, I might lose 10 percent of my product just in theft.” 
I’m startled. “So what is it?” 
“Everything else. Taxes, infrastructure, workforce training, permits, health care."
Take tax policy. Historically, manufacturing was the high-wage sector of the economy -- manufacturing jobs still pay about 30 percent more than service jobs in education and health care -- so tax policy milked it. Manufacturing companies, in the old days, actually paid the corporate income taxes that many others avoided. Commodity producers (oil, timber, agribusiness) lobbied for, and received, federal subsidies, with investors in oil and gas wells simply voiding corporate income taxes on the profits they earned. Banking, retail and services found their own ways around taxes, often by offshoring intellectual property or shifting profit to tax havens. Eventually, manufacturers figured out how to duck taxes as well -- by going overseas. 
Yet it isn’t just taxes. Wind turbines, for example, are enormous, heavy and expensive to transport -- so there is a big advantage to fabricating them close to the installation point. But consider the predicament of the Spanish wind manufacturer Gamesa Corporacion Tecnologica SA after it began operations in Pennsylvania. Because the George W. Bush administration’s Department of Transportation wouldn’t establish uniform standards for transporting the enormous turbine blades, each state followed its own rules. Whenever a blade crossed a state line it had to be unloaded by a construction crane and then reloaded to conform to the next state’s specifications.

Against SOPA

The blackout is in support of the anti-SOPA movement.

An article describes the issue:
For example if you post a link to the story on your Facebook wall. Under SOPA, all of Facebook can be blocked. To avoid this fate, Facebook would be responsible for policing the copyright status of every piece of content its users post. The same happens with search engines, which to avoid being shut down, Google and Bing would be responsible for policing the copyright ownership of every piece of content they index.
That includes Blogger too, of course:  we could easily find ourselves on the wrong side of this, simply because some other blog on Blogger posted something that was copywritten.  How likely is that?  I'd have to say the probability approaches certainty.

A Poet Looks at Africa

Eliza Griswold reports from the edge of Europe, an island in the Mediterranean called Lampedusa.  It's an interesting piece, if only stylistically -- being a poet rather than a journalist, Ms. Griswold thinks nothing of devoting an entire paragraph to the question, "What am I doing here?"  That liberty is a strength.

The name Misericordia is familiar. I realize I heard it last week when I was with fellow Civitella artists touring the Umbrian town of Sansepolcro. There, in the famous Piero della Francesca triptych, a hooded man kneels at the base of the cross. He looks like a hangman, but in fact he’s a member of this group, Misericordia. While they were doing charity work among the sick and dying, they wore black masks to protect against disease, and to protect their identity so they couldn’t be thanked. I imagine Luciforo in his yellow hazmat suit and a hood. 
“Luciforo, what have you seen that you can’t forget?” I ask. 
“One night, I watched mothers throw their babies into the sea. They popped up like corks,” he says.

The Romney Oppo Book

By coincidence, it appears that the McCain campaign's oppo book on Romney has been released to the web.  Given our ongoing discussion, it might serve as a useful source of information.  While it is, of course, an opposition book -- and therefore designed to be harmful rather than sympathetic -- a good oppo book must be tight enough that the candidate relying on it won't look foolish.

One for the Gibbet

It is possible to ask questions about the recent shipwreck, and we may choose to draw wider lessons or to resist that temptation.  One narrow lesson, though, is clear enough:  the captain should hang.

The chaos and the deaths, whatever else they are, represent a failure of leadership.  They are the direct result of an officer abandoning his post just at the moment when his post was most necessary.  If we would have the order we desire in these emergencies, we must enforce discipline on those charged with maintaining that order. The old standard that a captain goes down with his ship had a purpose; but even if we no longer wish to maintain that standard, the captain surely should not be the first man off of the ship, nor should we suffer him to refuse to return to his post.

Chesterton had King Alfred speak of these things to the people who came to him, asking that the king help them restore the order of the world.  Alfred replied in a metaphor, using the plucking of the White Horse to explain how all civilization depends on constantly renewing and reinforcing the old order.

  "And though skies alter and empires melt,
          This word shall still be true:
          If we would have the horse of old,
          Scour ye the horse anew.

          "One time I followed a dancing star
          That seemed to sing and nod,
          And ring upon earth all evil's knell;
          But now I wot if ye scour not well
          Red rust shall grow on God's great bell
          And grass in the streets of God."

Of Wrath and Goodness

It is the wise man who knows that the answer to a contemporary puzzle is often best sought in the ancients.

In the Western heroic tradition, the paragon of the humane warrior is Homer's Hector, prince of the Trojans. He is a fierce fighter: On one particular day, no Greek can stand up to him; his valor puts the whole Greek army to rout. Even on an unexceptional day, Hector can stand up to Ajax, the Greek giant, and trade blow for blow with him. Yet as fierce as Hector can be, he is also humane. He is a loving son to his aged parents, a husband who talks on equal terms with his wife, Andromache, and a tender-hearted father. He and King Priam are the only ones in Troy who treat Helen, the ostensible cause of the war, with kindness. 
One of the most memorable scenes in The Iliad comes when Hector, fresh from the battlefield, strides toward his boy, Astyanax. The child screams with fright at the ferocious form encased in armor, covered with dust and gore. Hector understands his child in an instant and takes off his helmet, with its giant horsehair plume, then bends over, picks his boy up and dandles him, while Andromache looks on happily. Astyanax—who will soon be pitched off the battlements of Troy when the Greeks conquer the city—looks up at his father and laughs in delight. 
The scene concentrates what is most appealing about Hector—and about a certain kind of athlete and warrior. Hector can turn it off. He can stop being the manslayer that he needs to be out on the windy plains of Troy and become a humane husband and father. 

To say that it is appealing does not go far enough:  it is necessary, and it is the hardest thing in the world.  The reason to praise Hector is not just that he got it right, but that getting it right is so very difficult to do.


Theodore Dalrymple writes of Belgium, in a way that sounds very familiar:
As I write, Belgium has not had a central government for more than 500 days. While I must admit, as an occasional visitor to that country, that the difference between Belgium with and Belgium without a central government is not apparent on casual inspection, this interregnum may take the theory of limited government too far. 
The reason that Belgium has lacked a government for so long is that the country is divided into two populations (actually three, but the third is too small to count) with incompatible politics: French-speaking Wallonia and Dutch-speaking Flanders. Belgium is officially bilingual, yet you see not a word of Dutch in Wallonia and not a word of French in Flanders. The division could not be starker if barbed wire separated the two provinces. Only in the capital, Brussels, does one find any concession to bilingualism. 
Historical and economic factors deepen the division between the two regions. Wallonia, though it contained a minority of Belgium’s population, long dominated its culture and economy. Even the Flemish upper class spoke French at home, while Dutch was the language of the peasantry; until recently, Belgian schools forbade children from speaking Dutch in class. With the decline of Wallonia’s coal and steel industries and the economic rise of Flanders, however, the pattern of dominance changed. Flanders went from being the poor relation to being the rich one, albeit with something of an inferiority complex. In the process, it started to make large transfer payments to Wallonia, which suffered from comparatively high unemployment. Such payments rarely promote goodwill between groups. Resentment is common among both the donors, who harbor suspicions that the recipients are exploiting them, and the recipients, who indulge in mental contortions to explain their dependency away. 
It is no surprise, therefore, that the largest political parties in Flanders are either nationalist or free-market; both philosophies lead to reducing or stopping the transfer payments. It is equally unsurprising that the largest political party in Wallonia is socialist and wants the payments to continue or increase. The Wallonian socialist party’s patronage powers in its territory are almost feudal in nature and extent; the last thing that the party of social change wants is actual change. 
If not quite deterministic, Dalrymple's description is reductionist:  the difference between free-marketeers and socialists boils down mostly to which side of transfer payments they find themselves.  The principles follow the economics as nicely, on this example, as they ever did in Marx's theory.

I take us all to be a bunch of free-marketeers and nationalists; I assume that most of us are also not receiving any transfer payments from the government.  Are we in the same boat as the people of Flanders -- thinking ourselves principled, but really driven by rice-bowl issues?  Are our opponents in the same boat as the people of Wallonia, having concocted an idea of "fairness" and "justice" that is really limited to a desire to be paid out of someone else's wallet?

Both sides have elaborate arguments to the contrary.  Dalrymple's suggestion is that these arguments are not rational, but rationalizations.  What do you think?

The Fat Man

Since I spend most of my time with ancient and medieval writings, I'm sometimes a little surprised when I run across what contemporary thinkers take to be an interesting puzzle. From the Stanford Law Review, "The Fat Man":

Consider one of the most famous hypotheticals on the subject of self-defense: the Fat Man puzzle. In Fat Man, you find yourself in a small boat at the bottom of a chasm. Although there are many versions, what they have in common is that an enormously fat individual is hurtling down from the cliff. You have no idea why he is falling—whether, say, he jumped or was pushed. All you know for sure is that if he hits you, you die. You have no space to maneuver, and no time to escape. Fortunately, you are armed with your trusty Fat Man gun. You can pull the trigger and vaporize him, thereby saving yourself. 
Theorists of self-defense usually posit that killing another to protect the self must be based either on the status of the attacker (e.g., enemy soldier in war) or what the attacker is doing (e.g., actively shooting at you). The Fat Man problem usefully divorces the justification for violent self-defense from the motive of the assailant. Robert Nozick’s original version of the problem stipulated that Fat Man has been pushed, and is therefore morally innocent; thus theories of self-defense that depend on what the attacker is doing (e.g., is he engaged in aggression?) cannot justify the use of the vaporizer.* 
And yet the Fat Man problem is in other ways too easy. Augustine, to take an example, would surely have rejected the use of the vaporizer gun, on the ground that your life is not intrinsically more valuable than the Fat Man’s. Liberalism’s refusal to weigh lives against each other also makes calculation difficult. Yet I find that my students have little difficulty with the problem, answering as Nozick intended: they are by and large perfectly willing to blow Fat Man to smithereens to save themselves.
This situation is exactly identical to a non-theoretical problem that we've discussed here just recently:  the case of abortion where a zygote is wrongly implanted in the mother.  Without needing the machinery of a "Fat Man Gun," we can see that the moral issues are fairly straightforward:

1)  Party X is going to be killed by Party Y unless Party Y is killed first.

2)  Party Y is doomed anyway.

This case brings out two issues that are important to ideas about the use of force.  The first is that innocence is sometimes not a purely moral issue:  sometimes innocence is practical.  The baby is surely morally innocent, but practically the baby (or the Fat Man) is going to kill someone.  Thus, we can consider using force against a kind of target that normally would be exempt from consideration.

The second is one that any ancient thinker would have understood:  doom changes moral calculus.  We don't have a case here where we can save Party Y.  We are either allowing them to die, or killing them ourselves.  The outcome for them is not different.  Thus, we do our moral work on the issues that we can affect.

Taking action against such a target is a tragedy, but it may also be a duty.

*  The footnote here says that "theories that rest on moral culpability would not justify shooting down an airliner carrying 100 innocent passengers and 3 hijackers, when the hijackers intend to fly into a building, killing everyone on board, and hundreds or thousands more on the ground. This is not to say that shooting the airline down cannot be justified; the calculus relies on a combination of consequentialist body-counting and double effect."  But this is not correct:  there is no need for a "combination" of this sort, because one of the components of the medieval doctrine of double effect is proportionality.  Modern consequentialist thinking does not need to be added to make sense of the calculus; St. Thomas Aquinas established standards for dealing with that aspect of the question.

One of Those Ideas...

So there's this woman in New Zealand who decided to answer her bills by auctioning off part of her backside:
Bids on a cheeky online auction, giving the winner the chance to tattoo an image of their choice on a Lower Hutt woman's buttock, have topped the $10,000 reserve price with a week still to run. Tina Beznec is selling a 9cm by 9cm space of skin on her Trade Me auction "YOUR tattoo on my Bum!!" after being made redundant twice in the past year....
Ms Beznec suggests the canvas is the perfect place for a marriage proposal, business promotion, or an artist wanting to share a design. 
She is promising the winner's idea - no matter how outrageous - will end up on her rear.
'Well, that's just a terrible idea,' you may be saying, 'but the world is full of quirky individuals, and one such example is no reason to..."

Breaking Headline:  Backside Tattoo Auction Sparks Copycat Craze!

Some ideas the world would have been better off without.

Wicked, Wicked Woman

Cassandra has apparently decided to begin posting again, in spite of her many previous threats to be done with it forever.  You'd have thought she might have mentioned it to us!