What Were You Expecting?

The London Olympics, 2012.

Stonehenge, Midsummer Day, since time immemorial.

Louis Armstrong and the Power of Art

Bthun sends a tale by Charles L. Black, Jr., on the magic of Louis Armstrong.
[O]ne never entirely knows the ways of the power of art. I know a little of the framework, a little of the rational components. But when these are exhausted, art remains inexhaustible, unknowable....

He was the first genius I had ever seen. That may be a structurable part of the process that led me to the Brown case. The moment of first being, and knowing oneself to be, in the presence of genius, is a solemn moment; it is perhaps the moment of final and indelible perception of man’s utter transcendence of all else created. It is impossible to overstate the significance of a sixteen-year-old Southern boy’s seeing genius, for the first time, in a black.... [G]enius—fine control over total power, all height and depth, forever and ever? It had simply never entered my mind, for confirming or denying in conjecture, that I would see this for the first time in a black man. You don’t get over that.
I remarked to Bthun that I thought Dr. Black was remarkable to be able to make the adjustment. Think of how many people who have first encountered genius in a Jew, and remained as anti-Semitic as ever they were. Worse, perhaps, since they now had cause to fear as well as to despise the object of their hatred.

Dr. Black sounds like he never really despised anyone, and the recognition thus could work its magic. The power of art is something we often discuss here, but art is also like a mustard seed. It seeks the fertile ground.

Here is the recording Dr. Black mentions. You can judge for yourself how well he judged it.

By the way, Bthun noted that today is Louis Armstrong's birthday. It is, in fact, his eleventy-first -- to borrow a phrase from another artist who has done a world of good.

Appointed rounds

In 2003, the Bush Administration's blue-ribbon commission to study the United States Postal Service issued a list of recommendations for addressing that organization's chronic problems.  According to the National Association of Letter Carriers (the Postal Service union), the commission pushed several "anti-labor" initiatives, including limitations on collective bargaining rights, erosion of pension and health benefits, and a three-day wait for "continuation of pay" benefits for injured workers.

In 2007, the NALC triumphantly announced that both the House and the Senate had passed a bill by voice vote, signed promptly into law by President Bush in late 2006, that vindicated the NALC's position on every important issue except one:  a compromise had to be reached on the three-day day in injured-worker benefits.  The NALC crowed that it had beaten back the forces of privatization in favor of a vision for modernizing the Postal Service.  The new law, its president said, “preserves our collective bargaining rights, maintains universal, six-day delivery and significantly improves the Service’s long-term financial stability.”

The reference to long-term financial stability apparently concerned squabbles over the Postal Service's funding of pension and retiree health benefits obligations.  In 2003, a pension funding reform initiative had required the establishment of an escrow account.  What's more, the Postal Service objected to Bush administration demands that it cover $27 billion in military pension benefits that had been earned by veterans before they joined the Postal Service.  The 2006 bill gave the Postal Service some flexibility to use part of the retiree-health-benefit escrow account to cover operating expenses, while removing the obligation to fund the military benefits.  Instead, the union "prevailed over the White House" in establishing
a 10-year schedule for using the escrow and military pension savings to dramatically reduce the Postal Service’s massive unfunded liability for retiree health insurance, while also providing some flexibility for other uses. 
In so doing, we secured more than $100 billion for the Postal Service in the decades to come and protected the interests of our current and future retirees, whose health benefits will be fully funded.
Today, the Postal Service is facing a financial crisis and once again beating back the inexorable forces of privatization.  Anti-privatizers suddenly are filling the Net with articles explaining that the Postal Service would be doing fine financially if not for a ridiculous obligation imposed by the dreaded Bush administration in 2006, unfairly requiring it to pre-pay 75 years' worth of retiree health benefits over only 10 years, a burden of about $6 billion of year.  Absent this requirement, they claim, the Postal Service could easily meet its operating expenses.  In addition, although the Postal Service may be in arrears on its obligations to fund future retiree health benefits, it claims to have overfunded its ordinary pension fund, and would like to raid that overage to cover its current shortfalls, a tactic they clearly learned from Bain Capital.

While the wires are burning up with arguments over whether the Postal Service should be privatized, there are the usual quarrels over whether the Constitution requires a postal service (it certainly authorizes one, but I have to laugh at this uncharacteristic originalist fervor), as well as over whether the Postal Service should continue to enjoy a monopoly on non-urgent ordinary letters (competition is allowed only for express service and packages), and over whether the Postal Service still provides a useful service at a reasonable price.  Some supporters go beyond these arguments to the now-familiar complaint that operational reforms would threaten the jobs of deserving middle-class workers, especially minorities.  Some even argue that closing down a number of stand-alone post offices (perhaps replacing many of them with kiosks within big-box stores) would threaten a vital community-gathering spot, as if communities could not figure out how to gather without federal intervention.

European countries are experimenting more freely with postal service modernization.  The Swiss, for instance, scan mail and offer the recipient a choice of e-transmission or physical delivery of a hard copy.  So much volume has been lost in the U.S. to electronic media that the Postal Service now finds itself relying increasingly on high-volume junk mail to make ends meet.   Even there, pro-labor forces find fault:  large companies like FedEx bring in significant revenue by pre-sorting bulk mail and winning a discount from the Postal Service in the amount it would have cost to sort the mail in-house at union rates; FedEx then does it more cheaply with minimum-wage workers.  The Postal Service finds itself increasingly entangled with FedEx, which has taken over the Postal Service's overnight mail operations for a fee, but in return has contracted with the Postal Service for the final leg of deliveries of many consumer packages.

Recent efforts in Congress to break up this mess have been stalled by opposition either to the closing of rural offices, or to the lay-offs of workers, or even (allegedly) by Congressman who would prefer to induce gridlock so that privatization will be the only answer.  The various interest groups certainly seem to be at cross-purposes.  I'm not sure whether the Postal Service should be abolished, but I sure can't see any reason why its monopoly on ordinary mail should be preserved.  Until that happens, how can we reach any sensible conclusions about whether its product is worth its price?

The Economics of DC-Island Politics

Applying the same approach we applied yesterday to Southern politics, let's look at this analyst note on President Obama's 83% approval rating in the District of Columbia:
Some readers might attribute Obama’s rating there solely to his enduring popularity among black voters, but Washington is no longer a majority-black city. (The black population dipped below 50 percent last year.) Obama is popular with nearly everyone in the capital. Among those who work for the government and for government-related businesses — the permanent bureaucracy centered in Washington DC, northern Virginia and southern Maryland — approval of the president remains very high.
Yesterday's article noted, "Virginia might remain a swing state because of the massive number of Federal workers, and those whose interests lie with a rich and powerful Federal government." Today's analyst seems to agree.

How not to apologize

If you're filming an apology to post on YouTube concerning your earlier and universally reviled post on YouTube, and your first instinct is to call it "an apology and . . .," you're probably already on the wrong track.  A real apology takes the form of an expression of genuine regret and perhaps a very brief description of how and when you came to understand that you were wrong.  Full stop.  Do not, repeat not, go on to say "I just felt compelled to act the way I did because of my strong feelings on an important cause, which I now invite you to admire, because you know, you're still very much in the wrong regarding that cause."  Even more urgently, do not take the opportunity to complain about the hate-filled responses you have received objecting to your boorish behavior, or blame others for your initial slowness in issuing your apology, or express dismay at how many people still disagree with your position, or discuss your ambitions to remain an important spokesman for the cause you have just helped to discredit.  In short, get over yourself.

No Time for Protestants

An interesting observation, on the assumption that Romney might win: the power structure of the United States would not include any Protestants in the top elected leadership. The point that the author thinks is very interesting is that nobody seems to have noticed, and in spite of this being a majority-Protestant nation, nobody seems to care.

But notice, too, that unless Romney should choose a veteran for his Vice President, neither presidential candidate nor their vice presidents should have ever served in the military. Mr. Wolf of BLACKFIVE and I were talking about this on the phone the other day. Biden avoided service through five deferments during Vietnam; Obama, of course, was too young for Vietnam and did not elect to serve. Romney had five deferments as well, and then drew a high draft number. If his VP pick is also a non-veteran, it will be the first time I can remember when we didn't at least have the option of a military veteran on the ticket. Bush and Kerry both served; Bob Dole served; George H. W. Bush served; Reagan served; Carter served; Ford served; Nixon served; Kennedy served; I'm not sure how far you'd have to go back to find an election with no servicemen at the top of the ticket, let alone present at all.

Nobody's made a big deal about this either, even though whoever should win this election will have troops deployed in Afghanistan and rising tensions with Iran. I wonder why.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee...

...it looks like Senator Bob Corker's job is pretty safe.
Via the Tennessean, the Tennessee Democratic party has condemned [Tennessee Democratic Party nominee for the US Senate Mark] Clayton, saying in a statement that he is "associated with a known hate group" (a reference to Public Advocate of the United States), and blaming his victory on the fact that his name appeared first on the ballot.
You have to have a certain sense of pity for the man. It's so hard to unseat an incumbent, even when your own party doesn't officially disown you!

By the way, "hate group" in this context means a group that was apparently founded to pursue evangelical Christian values, and oppose the gay rights movement. Its platform is here; compare and contrast with, say, the KKK.

Would the Democratic Party care to apply the same standard to these guys? They appear to be guilty of the very same offense.

The Economics of Southern Politics

Politico has an article today entitled "Obama's problems in the South." They talked to some of the right people, but it appears that most of them manifestly fail to understand the economic mechanism at work behind the political division.
But it’s not merely racism that explains why the South remains as politically polarized now as it has ever been. [Not merely. Thanks, guys. --Grim]...

“I worry about where we are,” said Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who has written extensively on the politics of race and culture.... Asked what exactly the president wanted to address, Webb paused before responding: “My observation is that, how can it be that in the party of Andrew Jackson, only 28 percent of white working males support the Democratic Party? It’s difficult to talk about these things.”...

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights hero who bled in Selma, echoed Graham’s concerns.

“It does bother me to see such a division in the South,” Lewis said, adding: “It’s not healthy to have so few white Democratic members from the South.”
The reason the piece fails is demonstrated in its comment about "why the Democratic convention is being held in Charlotte, the prototypical New South city." To understand the mechanism at work in the South, you need to know that the prototypical New South city isn't Charlotte, it's Atlanta.

Atlanta was the "New South" a hundred years ago, and for the same reason Charlotte is today: it's an urban area that serves as the headquarters for finance, large corporations, and a model of production borrowed (like the money that funded it) from the North. It was a place where, in 1880, bankers from Wall Street could come and feel comfortable. People who lived there agreed to adopt the North's basic social and economic system in exchange for access to Northern capital.

Atlanta is no hotbed of liberalism today, although there are enclaves within the city that are. Charlotte won't remain one for the same reason. Once that external capital -- formerly Northern, now international -- generates enough wealth, others will come from around the rest of the South to set up small businesses to serve those enjoying the wealth. As the small businesses become successful, they will give rise to a political class with wealth and leisure to promote their own values -- small business values.

Atlanta is now surrounded by concentric rings of people who aren't part of that core system that was funded by Northern money, and which bound itself to Northern values. In Charlotte, finance is the big business, and that's now led by people with the internationalist mindset that rides behind the World Bank and the UN instead of the old Wall Street leadership. But there are far more Southerners in the South than internationalists, and as they become plumbers or restaurateurs, they will likewise become wealthy enough to be politically active.

With the collapse of large-scale manufacturing industries like the textile industry, too, "white working class" voters in the South work for these small businesses. They know the owners intimately. They understand that their job and the ability of their boss to give them a raise is connected to these same interests. And, more likely than not, they go to the same church.

That's the TEA Party movement in a nutshell: its core is made of small business owners and their families, who are defending the values and interests of small business owners. Those values are the traditional values of the Christian work ethic (now supplemented by many who follow the surprisingly similar Hindu or Chinese work ethic), and the family unit as the locus of social support and success. Their interests are low taxes and cutting back on the regulatory state.

That's also why the TEA Party isn't a Southern movement: you see it across the country, embracing the same set of folks. The movement is just stronger in the South because the South is where the main large-scale industry collapsed first. Textile mills and sewing factories were once a major employer of the white working class in the South, and they're all gone to Mexico. The unions are gone too.

So Virginia might remain a swing state because of the massive number of Federal workers, and those whose interests lie with a rich and powerful Federal government. North Carolina isn't going to remain a swing state: Charlotte is just the next Atlanta.

If Jim Webb and John Lewis want the South back, it's available: the Democratic Party just has to return to supporting the values and interests of the voters. Those are, broadly speaking, Christian values, low taxes, and less regulation. They are opposed to broad-scale social experimentation, government-based social programs that require high taxes to fund them, and crony capitalism that favors large companies and international finance. This includes regulatory schemes that raise the bar of entry so that smaller businesses can't afford to compete. It just happens to be the case that, right now, the Democratic Party is unified behind all those projects that Southerners dislike.

I think Jim Webb is right about Jackson: Southerners also want a strong military, and a leader they can look up to as an exemplar of personal honor. It wouldn't hurt to nominate somebody who felt the same way.

Understanding Slaveowners

Before I forget, the piece that Lars Walker wrote was linked to another article of his, on the difficulties we encounter in teaching young Americans how to understand the mindset of slaveowning ancestors.
Here's the embarrassing truth in civilization's closet: it demands cheap labor. The philosopher can't meditate, the artist can't paint or sculpt, the astronomer can't contemplate the heavens, if he has to spend the bulk of his time tending his own fields, caring for his own livestock, or cleaning his own house. The higher the civilization, the more slaves it requires. It was like that from the beginning of the world until the Industrial Revolution. (There was a brief break in parts of Europe following the Black Death, but that was a demographic anomaly, it seems to me.)

The Industrial Revolution (a blessing from God, in my opinion) made it increasingly possible to carry on the work of civilization using machines rather than slaves for the scut work. And as soon as that happened, the scales fell from the eyes of the Christians, and they said, "Hey! I never noticed it before, but this slavery business is really cruel."...

Understanding these facts doesn't justify slavery. All it does is make it understandable. It opens a door of human sympathy to people who were different from us.
By way of which, let me recommend to you one of the most interesting and entertaining works of history you will ever encounter: Dr. Kenneth S. Greenberg's Honor & Slavery. I'm sure I've mentioned it before (for example here). It is subtitled, "Lies, duels, noses, masks, dressing as a woman, gifts, strangers, humanitarianism, death, slave rebellions, the proslavery argument, baseball, hunting, and gambling in the Old South."

In addition to being hugely entertaining and informative, for many of you there is a personal reason to read the book. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you probably feel as I do that honor is and ought to be a major motivating value in your life. Dr. Greenberg's book is a helpful way to deepen your understanding of how honor was practiced in an earlier generation, and also to demonstrate some of the perils of honor as a value system.

I remain entirely committed to living by the old code -- which I take to be far older than the period of American slavery -- but I think reading the book helped me understand better how to do it without falling prey to the traps that captured our ancestors. Rarely can anyone deeply understand an organic system to which they do not belong -- an outside observer of a religion or a culture has a huge task simply to understand the system. Dr. Greenberg not only came to understand, at least in part, his perspective usefully improved my understanding of a system I was born into. That's a high accomplishment for a scholar.

Science Fiction Metaphors

Lars Walker links to a piece on Inca society, which mysteriously managed to create a vast empire without inventing a few things we take to be pretty important: money and markets. They did have corporations, sort of:
The secret of the Inca's great wealth may have been their unusual tax system. Instead of paying taxes in money, every Incan was required to provide labor to the state. In exchange for this labor, they were given the necessities of life.

Of course, not everybody had to pay labor tax. Nobles and their courts were exempt, as were other prominent members of Incan society. In another quirk of the Incan economy, nobles who died could still own property and their families or estate managers could continue to amass wealth for the dead nobles. Indeed, the temple at Pachacamac was basically a well-managed estate that "belonged" to a dead Incan noble. It's as if the Inca managed to invent the idea of corporations-as-people despite having almost no market economy whatsoever.
Mr. Walker points out that the fascination shown by the authors is a mark of fairly remarkable ignorance. The nature of the society is not hard to understand at all, as it turns out. He links to James Lileks, who draws the same conclusion.

What I find amusing is the contrast in the comments threads at the original piece versus the comments at Lileks' place. They both devolve into science fiction metaphors based on the assumption of the readership about what they're seeing.

From the original:
Dunny0 03 Jan 2012 3:39 PM
So, they were the Federation then.

allium @Dunny0
Coronado was misinformed - the Seven Cities of Gold-Pressed Latinum were to the south, not the north.

a cat named scruffy - former dj @Dunny0
The Federation with human sacrifice of children.
I suspect Picard would disapprove.
So it's sort of like Star Trek, then. A kind of ideal society, to which we might aspire! Minus the human sacrifice, of course.

Lileks' readers seem to grasp the situation better:
I saw the Inca story as well. Money is a means of exchange and store of value. IT"S PEOPLE! YOU"VE GOT TO TELL THEM! INCA MONEY IS PEOPLE!

The Birth and Death of a Rail Town

Since the Thunder Road piece was such a hit, how about one linking a gorgeous Western with a real-life story about ghost towns on the rail lines? (H/t: Fark.)

If you haven't seen this movie, you ought to. You're going to want to see it more than once, so set aside some time.

Why, Yes, I Did Get A Check

Taranto is on to the shell game:
The federal government has been making such too-good-to-be-true offers for decades--the "Social Security" game dates all the way back to 1935--but such scams seem to be multiplying of late. An example appears on the White House website under the heading "Did You Get a Check?"

"Because of the new health care law," the site explains, "insurance providers are now required to devote at least 80 percent of the premiums you pay to your health care--not to advertising, or administrative costs, or salaries for their CEOs. . . . Companies that aren't meeting the standard are actually providing rebates to their customers."
As a matter of fact, I did get a check from my insurance company thanks to the new health care law.

I burned it.

I didn't ask anyone to step in between me and the company I'd made an agreement with in good faith. They kept their part of the bargain, and I'm not about to fail to keep mine.

However, the next letter I got from my insurance company sadly explains that my premiums are about to go way up. I wonder what could possibly have raised the cost of insuring us so much? Perhaps all those new services they're required to offer me for free? Whatever it was, the check I got -- had I cashed it -- would not have begun to cover the difference in price.

The insurer invited me to continue to enjoy my current benefits for quite a bit more, or to move to one of their other plans if I prefer. They said they could afford to offer me a plan at a similar rate to the old plan if we raise the annual deductible by a thousand dollars.

I imagine that, should I accept this invitation, in a couple of years that option will be gone as well. Such high-deductible plans won't meet the required standards, and I'd be fined if I accepted the offer.

Thanks for the check, though.

Teachers unite

. . . but not to teach, unfortunately.  Louisiana recently passed a bill to expand school vouchers for kids in failing schools.  The teachers unions are not big fans of the initiative.  The opening legal salvo of one of the state's largest teachers union (together with 47 local affiliates) is a lawsuit seeking an injunction on state constitutional grounds.  The lawsuit flopped at the initial stage but will go up on appeal.

As a backup strategy, the union has sent threatening letters to the private schools that expect to receive voucher funds, asking them to return a letter acknowledging that there are serious constitutional problems with receiving the money, and promising to refuse to accept it for the time being.  Otherwise, of course, the union threatens them with a lawsuit as well.

Competition is uncomfortable.

Another Perspective on Gridlock

Lately we've been discussing at VC the question of 'Gridlock good, compromise bad,' or 'Compromise good, gridlock bad?' The Hill proposes that both gridlock and compromise are good in their proper hour: what is bad is irresponsibility.
Many observers and participants — including the entire GOP and Democratic leadership — are quick to cry gridlock and to blame inaction on some new awful hyper-partisan or ideological era.

But there isn’t gridlock, which usually results from Democrats and Republicans sharing power and clashing over alternative positions. Gridlock slows things down — almost always a good thing — but it doesn’t stop serious legislation from happening. Welfare reform, balanced budgets, defense cuts and capital-gains tax rate cuts in the 1990s were all the product of gridlock that slowly gave way to consensus.
And today’s Congress is more than happy to pass legislation when it suits members’ interests. In just the past few months, for instance, the ostensibly gridlocked Congress reauthorized the Export-Import Bank program that gives money to foreign companies to buy U.S. goods; extended sharply reduced rates for government-subsidized student loans; re-upped the Essential Air Service program that subsidizes airline service to rural communities; and voted against ending the 1705 loan-guarantee program that gave rise to green-tech boondoggles such as Solyndra and Abound. None of these were party-line votes — all enjoyed hearty support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Another instance of budding bipartisanship is the pork-laden farm bill that extends sugar subsidies, maintains crop subsidies and creates a “shallow-loss program” that effectively guarantees incomes for farmers at a time when that sector is doing historically well. The bill passed the Senate with 16 GOP votes. Though the House version of the bill is still being worked out, no one doubts it will not only pass, but largely resemble the Senate version.

What we’re actually witnessing — and have been for years now — is not gridlock, but the abdication of responsibility by Congress and the president for performing the most basic responsibilities of government.

Moonshiners of Dawson County

Once a year in the cool fall weather, Dawsonville, Georgia, hosts the Mountain Moonshine Festival.  Since moonshine is illegal, however, the main feature is a car show -- especially restored old classic moonshiner rods that they used to use to run the shine down into Atlanta, and elsewhere.

However!  Lo and behold, somebody actually got a permit out of the state of Georgia to make moonshine for lawful sale.  The old times are here again, except for the illegal hotrodding.
Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery joins Milledgeville –based Georgia Distilling Co. as two of only a handful of “legal” moonshine producers in the country.

“We are testing equipment now that we have the green light from the state,” Dawsonville Moonshine owner Cheryl Wood told The Gainesville Times. “We will be in production in August.”

The distillery will rely on a 250-gallon copper still, two 415-gallon stainless steel mash tanks, a 1,050-gallon stainless steel mash tank and an ample supply of grains and sugar. It will sell its bottled corn liquor to a wholesaler, which will then supply it to a distributor, who will sell the product to retailers.

The company wants the liquor ready for the 45th annual Mountain Moonshine Festival on Oct. 26-28, according to the Times.
Sounds like a good time. In spite of the 90-proof high test, it'll be a family-friendly event. The high school marching band will come play, and there will be a lot of old cars and folks who are really proud of all the work they've put into making them shiny again.

You may remember this old movie, starring Robert Mitchum. See 11:11 and following.

Grim Cooking: Frijoles Charros

You may remember my preference for outdoor cooking in the summertime, to keep the heat out of the house.  This is never wiser than when cooking with dried beans, which need hours of soaking and then hours of heat to maximize their softeness.

Frijoles Charros is such a recipe.  There are a number of variations on it, but it follows the old frontier model of dried beans and salt pork as its base.  You saw plenty of versions of this north of the border as well.  "Pork and beans" is an easy staple, and the base ingredients don't require refrigeration.

Here's a fancy version of the recipe, involving chorizo sausage. The version you see being cooked here omits the sausage and bacon in favor of more sugar-cured salt pork, because that's just what I happen to have on hand today.  We're using home grown peppers and tomatoes.  The oregano came from our herb garden.

The key to cooking beans over the fire is to revisit it regularly to stir the pot and add fresh, cold water.  When the beans are tender, it should be ready to go.

Originalism and the IRS

Apparently the IRS doesn't think any more of altering the law by executive fiat than the Labor Department. It creates an interesting question.
A July 18 report by the Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon has revealed a critical flaw in the Obamacare law that could ultimately prove to be its undoing. Namely, if states refuse to set up an insurance exchange under the law, the federal government lacks authorization to dispense some $800 billion in subsidies through a federally operated exchange.

This is important because, coupled with states’ option to implement the Medicaid expansion or not, it appears the key player in defunding Obamacare going forward will be the states. The Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare found that the law’s mandatory Medicaid expansion was unconstitutional, effectively giving states an opt-out provision that many now plan to take.

In short, if states refuse to expand Medicaid, and there is no funding for the insurance exchanges, Obamacare will effectively be defunded.

To deal with this flaw, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on May 24 simply issued a regulation effectively rewriting the law that would allow the federal government to fund the exchanges.
On the one hand, clearly the Democrats who passed the ACA never even thought of the possibility that the States would simply refuse to play along. Congressional intent -- at least Democratic Congressional intent, since no Republicans voted for the ACA -- was that these exchanges should exist, and be government-funded. It's easy to imagine that, if they had realized the States might not play along, the Democratic Congress who passed the ACA would have included authority for the Federal government to do it instead.

The problem is, the law doesn't say that the Federal government can do it. There's no authority in the statute, and the Congress that approved the ACA doesn't exist any more. It was explicitly rejected by the People in 2010's landslide elections. The current Congress wouldn't approve this change to the law.

So... is the IRS doing the right thing, following the original Congress' apparent intent by revising the law on the fly in a way that older Congress would have approved? Or is it violating the separation of powers by not deferring the legislative question to the current Congress, or to the next one?

Runoffs & A Landslide

Looks like the Mighty 9th is going to a runoff. It's a shame we can't send them both to Congress, really. Dan Collins is endorsed by Zell Miller, and an old mountain friend of the family with a good legislative history. Martha(!) is a conservative firebrand. It almost doesn't matter which one wins: Collins has more actual experience on the job, but Martha(!) is a committed TEA Party activist.

Meanwhile, back in my old ancestral home of Forsyth County, the sheriff looks like he'll have to fight his re-election in a runoff too. You want to know how hard it is to boot out an incumbent sheriff in the Great State of Georgia? This hard:
In that heated race, Paxton seeks to overcome a January incident in which deputies and firefighters found the married sheriff unconscious in the doorway of the home of a female friend who told authorities the sheriff had been drinking. The sheriff denied being drunk.
Used to be even the District Attorneys in Georgia referred to the sheriffs as "the Dixie Mafia." It's a surprisingly powerful office. Our incumbent looks to have been re-elected too, without a runoff, though in a closely-fought election. That's to the good, from my perspective. He's a former Marine, keeps his word, and also he keeps his resources concentrated in the urban parts of the county. We don't see them out here, and that suits me fine.

No runoff for T-SPLOST. The tax increase died in a bloodbath.

Cynic, Justified:

The meat-axe budgetary process called "sequestration" will disproportionately target Defense spending, mandating the loss of untold thousands of jobs starting in January of next year. Many of these will be jobs in private industry that support the Department of Defense, but many more will be actual government jobs.

So I wasn't surprised to see the headline, as Drudge put it, "White House scrambles to prevent defense cut pinkslips before election." I assumed that this meant the White House was trying to pressure key Democratic leadership to do something about the sequestration issue before the upcoming deadline, which is the end of this fiscal year.

I have to admit to having been shocked by their actual tactic.
Obama's Labor Department on Monday issued "guidance" to the states, telling them that a federal law requiring advance notice of mass layoffs does not apply to the layoffs that may occur in January as a result of automatic budget cuts known as "sequestration."
I had thought I was getting dangerously cynical, but in all honesty I would never have guessed they'd stoop to this. It's not that we're going to scramble to save your job; we're just going to scramble to make sure you don't find out you'll be fired until after the election. And we're not going to scramble to change the law that requires the notification, which we don't have the votes to do; we'll just issue "guidance" that the law contains an unstated exception.

What happens if a corporation or a contractor decides to issue notifications anyway, in compliance with the actual law? After this, I'd have to guess that they will be punished in some way. Perhaps they'll find it hard to get future contracts; perhaps instructions will go out that they be first on the chopping block.

I had hoped to discover that I was being too pessimistic about the health of our institutions. Clearly the opposite was true. We'll have to adjust elevation and windage, I guess: down and left.

Freedom, guns, and butter

Steyn is irresistible this week:
Americans, so zealous in defense of their liberties when it comes to guns, are cheese-surrendering eating-monkeys when it comes to dairy products.  On the roads, on the cheese board, in health care, in banking privacy, and in a zillion other areas of life, many Europeans now have more freedom than Americans. 
For the record, I'm consistent in these matters — I want it all:  assault weapons and unpasteurized Camembert, guns and butter.  Certainly, cheese makes a poor attitudinal rallying cry:  "I'm proud to be a Frenchman, where at least I know my Brie!"

Election Day

The biggest issue on the ballot today is the T-SPLOST, which remains a very tight contest down to the wire.

If you like me live in the 9th Congressional District, though, you're electing a Congressman today. There's no way that district is going to vote for the winner of the Democratic primary, so the winner of today's Republican contest will be the victor in November as well.

This is one of the hot TEA Party races this year, too. The favorite of the Republican establishment is facing an insurgent campaign from one Martha Zoller, who apparently is a "radio talk show host, conservative swashbuckler, and Tea Party favorite."

I was initially suspicious of Ms. Zoller based on her advertising campaign, which made billboards that read just "Martha!" That kind of thing smacks of the cult of personality, although Hillary(!) did it too, and nobody ever mistook her for a charismatic. I voted for her in the Democratic Primary in 2008, and I'm only sorry she didn't win it.

It's an interesting race for another reason, which is that the counties voting today aren't necessarily the counties that the new Representative will represent. By the same token, many of the voters in today's 9th will actually be represented by the winner of the 10th district contest, in which they have no say today.

That's a strange way to do business.

As green as you can afford to be

Walter Russell Mead on environmentalism as a luxury good:
An age of energy shortages and high prices translates into an age of radical food and economic insecurity for billions of people.  Those billions of hungry, frightened, angry people won’t fold their hands and meditate on the ineffable wonders of Gaia and her mystic web of life as they pass peacefully away.  Nor will they vote George Monbiot and Bill McKibben into power.  They will butcher every panda in the zoo before they see their children starve, they will torch every forest on earth before they freeze to death, and the cheaper and the meaner their lives are, the less energy or thought they will spare to the perishing world around them. 
But, thanks to shale and other unconventional energy sources, that isn’t where we are headed.  We are heading into a world in which energy is abundant and horizons are open even as humanity’s grasp of science and technology grows more secure.  A world where more and more basic human needs are met is a world that has time to think about other goals and the money to spend on them.
And, as he points out, greens should be glad Gaia in her ineffable wisdom put the oil share here instead of in, say, Nigeria or North Korea.

H/t Ace.

Born to hunt

Despite my professional sympathy, this is a chilling insight into the uncompromising fierceness of the scariest fish:
Sand tiger foetuses ‘eat each other in utero, acting out the harshest form of sibling rivalry imaginable’.  Only two babies emerge, one from each of the mother shark’s uteruses:  the survivors have eaten everything else.  ‘A female sand tiger gives birth to a baby that’s already a metre long and an experienced killer,’ . . . .
A new book, Demon Fish, receives an approving review from Theo Tait in the London Review of Books.  Tait muses over our disproportionate reaction to the shark danger:
Even in the US, a global hotspot, you are forty times more likely to be hospitalised by a Christmas tree ornament than by a shark.  Meanwhile, to supply the shark fin soup trade alone, an estimated 73 million sharks are killed each year.  Many shark populations have declined by 70 per cent or more in the last thirty years.
Sure, tell that to my amygdala.  As the reviewer concedes, they're down there below the surface, and they eat us alive.  My amygdala doesn't find Christmas ornaments daunting in the least.  No one's going to make a fortune directing a blockbuster movie about people that stab themselves with glass icicles, or whatever it is they do to put themselves into hospitals at Yuletide (sounds like there's an untold story there).

The Reading Summer Dance

From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, year 871:

A.D. 871. This year came the army to Reading in Wessex; and in
the course of three nights after rode two earls up, who were met
by Alderman Ethelwulf at Englefield; where he fought with them,
and obtained the victory. There one of them was slain, whose
name was Sidrac. About four nights after this, King Ethered and
Alfred his brother led their main army to Reading, where they
fought with the enemy; and there was much slaughter on either
hand, Alderman Ethelwulf being among the skain; but the Danes
kept possession of the field. And about four nights after this,
King Ethered and Alfred his brother fought with all the army on
Ashdown, and the Danes were overcome. They had two heathen
kings, Bagsac and Healfden, and many earls; and they were in two
divisions; in one of which were Bagsac and Healfden, the heathen
kings, and in the other were the earls. King Ethered therefore
fought with the troops of the kings, and there was King Bagsac
slain; and Alfred his brother fought with the troops of the
earls, and there were slain Earl Sidrac the elder, Earl Sidrac
the younger, Earl Osbern, Earl Frene, and Earl Harold. 

They put both the troops to flight; there were many thousands of the
slain, and they continued fighting till night. Within a
fortnight of this, King Ethered and Alfred his brother fought
with the army at Basing; and there the Danes had the victory.
About two months after this, King Ethered and Alfred his brother
fought with the army at Marden. They were in two divisions; and
they put them both to flight, enjoying the victory for some time
during the day; and there was much slaughter on either hand; but
the Danes became masters of the field; and there was slain Bishop
Heahmund, with many other good men. After this fight came a vast
army in the summer to Reading. And after the Easter of this year
died King Ethered. He reigned five years, and his body lies at
Winburn-minster. Then Alfred, his brother, the son of Ethelwulf,
took to the kingdom of Wessex. And within a month of this, King
Alfred fought against all the Army with a small force at Wilton,
and long pursued them during the day; but the Danes got
possession of the field. This year were nine general battles
fought with the army in the kingdom south of the Thames; besides
those skirmishes, in which Alfred the king's brother, and every
single alderman, and the thanes of the king, oft rode against
them; which were accounted nothing. This year also were slain
nine earls, and one king; and the same year the West-Saxons made
peace with the army.

Since Tex Wants to Talk Fashion...

...how would you like to learn about bras from the 1400s? Believe it or not, this represents a serious revision of our understanding of historic costume.
In an interview with Associated Press, Beatrix Nutz, the lead archaeologist for the find, said, “We didn’t believe it ourselves,” she said in a telephone call from the Tyrolean city of Innsbruck. “From what we knew, there was no such thing as bra-like garments in the 15th century.”

Up to now there was nothing to indicate the existence of bras with clearly visible cups before the 19th century. Medieval written sources are rather vague on the topic of female breast support....
Doubtless they were discreet. Even in my lifetime, we used to refer to these things as "unmentionables."

Mustard Seeds

Some years ago, the king of Thailand ordered that his subjects make lots of origami doves. These doves, symbols of peace, were to be airdropped into the southern portion of Thailand, a place called Pattani after an older, Islamic kingdom.

Fifty Thai aircraft distributed one hundred and twenty million paper doves, in an attempt to demonstrate good will to the people of that restive province.

Did it work? Of course it did not. The local insurgents passed a rumor that the doves were coated with contact poison, and that it was all a plot to kill off the Muslim population. Whether or not the local peasantry believed the rumors, peace still has not come to Southern Thailand.

Yet we can admire the spirit of the thing, even if in practical fact it did not work. It was a nice try, a fine and a romantic deed. Perhaps a few of those doves fell on a heart ready to receive the message; perhaps someday we may yet see a wild crop grow out of that good soil.

I feel much the same way about the Swedes who recently piloted a single small plane into the forbidden airspace of Belarus, and air-dropped teddy bears on parachutes with messages of freedom. (Thanks to Tom for passing this one along).

The stiff hand of tyranny is not so easily moved, but it was a bold and romantic gesture. Perhaps a few of the messages will resonate. Perhaps we may yet see a crop grow out of the rare seed that fell on good ground.


Not quite in time for its 100th anniversary, the Panama Canal is undergoing a widening project that may generate a cascade of changes for American ports and distribution systems.  Higher fuels costs are pushing shippers to use larger, slower vessels.  Access to the canal would make the trip to East Coast or Gulf Coast ports only about two weeks slower than delivery to the West Coast, and slightly cheaper; what's more, it avoids the increasing problems of congestion in West Coast ports.  Norfolk, Virginia, already can accommodate 50-foot drafts.  Charleston and Savannah have plans in place for deeper-water ports.  All these southeastern ports have some cost advantages over New York, whose sky-high real estate costs require costly drayage to send goods to Pennsylvania or New Jersey for storage before ultimate transport.  The Gulf Coast, I'm afraid, is bringing up the rear, but there are possibilities here as well.

When I was a kid in school, they were always trying to teach us about distribution systems, but I never could understand how anyone could be interested.  I suppose I thought everything magically appeared where people needed to use it.  Now the process fascinates me:  all that intricate balancing of supply and demand, speed and cost, so vulnerable to disruption and so ready to repair itself if allowed.  I'd love a chance to pick the brain of the supply analyst who's quoted at length in the linked article; he seems to have a birds-eye view.

H/t Photon Courier.

The great escape

C.S. Lewis on how unnatural it is to be a gentle hero:
The knight is . . . not a compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness; he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth. . . . 
The medieval ideal brought together two things which have no natural tendency to gravitate towards one another.  It brought them together for that very reason. It taught humility and forbearance to the great warrior because everyone knew by experience how much he usually needed that lesson.  It demanded valour of the urbane and modest man because everyone knew that he was as likely as not to be a milksop. . . . 
If we cannot produce Launcelots, humanity falls into two sections -- those who can deal in blood and iron but cannot be "meek in hall", and those who are "meek in hall" but useless in battle -- for the third class, who are both brutal in peace and cowardly in war, need not here be discussed.  When this disassociation of the two halves of Launcelot occurs, history becomes a horribly simple affair.  The ancient history of the Near East is like that.  Hardy barbarians swarm down from their highlands and obliterate a civilization.  Then they become civilized themselves and go soft.  Then a new wave of barbarians comes down and obliterates them. . . . 
The ideal embodied in Launcelot is "escapism" in a sense never dreamed of by those who use that word; it offers the only possible escape from a world divided between wolves who do not understand, and sheep who cannot defend, the things which make life desirable.
Present Concerns, "The Necessity of Chivalry" (1st published in Time and Tide, Aug. 1940).

Fly Abatement

This is a fantastic idea. There are always flies around a horse farm, and fly abatement is one of the things we spend a fair amount of time (and some money) dealing with. It's necessary, but never fun... until now.

Manolo loves the shoes

I wear the same pair of shoes 365 days a year, but it doesn't prevent my enjoying Manolo's Shoe Blog.  What could be more charming than elegant, expensive shoes that someone else buys and wears for my entertainment?  Today The Manolo gives thoughtful advice to a reader who wishes to spiff up her husband:
The Manolo frequently gets the plaintive missives from the women who wish to restyle their men folk into something more put-together, something less sloppy, rustic, disastrous, and/or menacing.   “Manolo,” they frequently cry out, “my husband dresses as if he were Larry the Cable Guy’s younger, messier brother.  Please help.”
This is not a problem I encounter. If anything my husband probably is shaking his own head in forlorn sympathy.  The Manolo suggests discrete gifts and praise for the significant other, but personally, I rather like a man who is sloppy, rustic, disastrous, and/or menacing.  I distantly admire one who is well put-together, but as a kind of pet:  someone I'd want to pair with one of the women who would wear those fabulous shoes.  We would watch them gambol in the yard, perhaps put on dance music for them.

The Manolo also showcases Helen Mirren this week, a stylish, intelligent actress I always enjoy watching at work.  I just borrowed a copy of "The Queen" from a friend and found it a first-rate production with a fine screenplay.  When Tony Blair first visits the Queen, he is awkward and abashed but a bit full of himself as the youngest PM ever.  The Queen calmly notes that he is her tenth Prime Minister.  The first was Winston Churchill.  Like Churchill, Blair was destined to ride high then be dashed on the rocks, but the Queen is still there.

A Surprising Turn in the Quest for El Cid

Another book I've been reading lately -- I tend to read several at once -- is Dr. Richard Fletcher's The Quest for El Cid. The first five chapters dig into Spanish history as at that time, chiefly the Islamic portions but with some introduction to the Christian kingdoms that were clinging to the mountainous north. Then suddenly Chapter Six begins thus:
While the caliphate of Cordoba was in its death-throes and Fernando I was learning the art of government in Castile, another struggle was being played out several hundred miles to the north. In the summer of 1030 Olaf Haraldson, the recently ousted king of Norway, tried to win his land back from the regents who were governing it in the name of the great Canute, ruler of Denmark and England. Olaf was defeated and killed at the battle of Stiklestad... he was to be venerated as a saint, St. Olave [sic]. In the battle he had been aided by his young half-brother Harald, son of a member of one of Norway's many princely dynasties, a chieftain known as Sigurd Sow.
Yes, I know this story very well. I once wrote a poem about Sigurd Sow. It was part of a novel I wrote in China -- never published, and almost lost, but that a dear and beloved friend of mine happened to keep a copy.

This is another of the old poems, in the form of a drapa. A drapa is a flokk with a refrain, so that it was sometimes called a draepling. It was a high form of Norse poetry fit for extolling the father of a great king; but Sigurd Syr, as he was known in the Heimskringla, was not a great warrior. How to praise him in the old Norse terms?

This is a rather technical form, and the references are obscure if you aren't versed in Norse mythology and the older sagas. Still, not many try the drapa these days, so it may be of interest to some of you.
Rare the good king not a killer,
wise sleeper in his stronghold.
Ox-slain Egil Yngling
the Thing-thrall put to fleeing:
A dead king never dreaded.
When Old Starkad came to Sweden
Haki then Hugleik's land claimed. --
Where now is the hall-holder...

Aun, always the weak-slayer,
his sired he'd Odhinn offer;
He ran before Upsala's chieftain.
But Yngvar's son, Anund the Breaker,
Took the war-shield only
slaying his father's slayer.
Rare few are remembered wiser --
...the kingdom-ruler of wisdom?

One remembered is Sigurd
stepfather to the Digre,
father of the Hardrada,
Old lord of the northhold.
Shade from his hat, that broad-brim,
we remember as rain without thunder. --
Where now is the hall-holder,

Nothing with him dragons wanted,
Nor warriors who disdained golden
Grain. Loved him thrall and bonder:
He cared for cattle, but battle
He found empty of the glory
That forever draws the fighter.
No man’s thralls were freer. --
The kingdom-ruler of wisdom.