The French Foreign Legion

These are men who make sense to me.
It is common at closed social gatherings to hear even young officers... seething at what they perceive as the decadence and self-indulgence of modern French society. In the southern city of Nîmes, home to the Legion’s largest infantry regiment, the Second, a French officer complained to me about the local citizens. He said, “They speak about their rights, their rights, their rights. Well, what about their responsibilities? In the Legion we don’t speak about our rights. We speak about our duties!”

I said, “It angers you.”

He looked at me with surprise, as if to say, And you it does not?
This is a great piece, by the way, well worth reading in full. Why do men join the Legion? It isn't because they are looking for purpose or meaning: the whole history of the Legion is about dying for nothing at all, or at least nothing more than the passing dreams of some French politician. The culture of the Legion celebrates the meaninglessness of their deaths:
An idea grew up inside the Legion that meaningless sacrifice is itself a virtue—if tinged perhaps by tragedy. A sort of nihilism took hold. In 1883, in Algeria, a general named François de Négrier, addressing a group of legionnaires who were leaving to fight the Chinese in Indochina, said, in loose translation, “You! Legionnaires! You are soldiers meant to die, and I am sending you to the place where you can do it!” Apparently the legionnaires admired him. In any case, he was right.
I once went as far as contacting the French consulate to ask after joining the Legion, as a young man, but was unable to reach anyone who felt competent to discuss it. What was I looking for, I wonder, in that culture of meaningless sacrifice and death?

Honor is sacrifice, I have argued: 'to honor' is to give of yourself for something you feel deserves a sacrifice; 'honor' is the quality of a man who so sacrifices. But here is nothing but sacrifice for its own sake. Honor is laying aside rights, and taking on responsibilities. "In the Legion we don't speak about our rights. We speak about our duties!"

The tragedy is France. For what is this extraordinary sacrifice made? For what are these extraordinary duties taken on? A society, and a people, that the Legionnaires rightly despise as decadent and faithless.

Feasting at the Hall

A very merry Thanksgiving to you all.  Here are some photos designed to allow you to share in our feast.

This was my first year cooking the Thanksgiving feast.  I thought the bird came out very well.

Croissants, according to legend, are a thanksgiving food:  although the legends sometimes say they were created to celebrate the defeat of the Muslims at the Battle of Tours in 732, and other times at other battles.  I have also heard that they were really created to fund the First Crusade.  Regardless, they make excellent dinner rolls.  These are filled with apples and cinnamon, but others were plain.

The big challenge on Thanksgiving is not having enough stove-space.  A cowboy solution:  beans and potatoes cook just fine outside.

The main table.  Not show is the sideboard, covered with other dishes and desserts.


I have many faults and lack many spiritual gifts, but one duty I've never found difficult is gratitude.  I know how lucky I am, and how wonderful the life is that I've been born into.

...And Then There's The Other Kind of Punks

InstaPundit, for some reason, has been sending a lot of linkage toward PUA sites who want to comment on General Petraeus. Now, military culture has a hard line against adultery for a reason. Nobody is under the impression that what he did was right.

Still, the commentary at these sites is just laughable. This is my favorite piece.
Mark Rosenthal remembers the first time he saw Jill Kelley and her identical twin in action. It was at a dinner party at then-Gen. David Petraeus' house, and he was appalled. "They took over the whole conversation," he said. While the man responsible for overseeing two wars nodded politely, Kelley and her sister, Natalie Khawam, talked nonstop about shopping and traveling. "To me it was out of line."

If the thousands of emails spent pursuing a younger woman who no longer saw him as useful to her wasn't enough, Petraus's behavior when confronted with a pair of aggressive social climbers seals the deal. The hard bright line separating ALPHA from BETA is how a man deals with female aggression....

An ALPHA would never have permitted those women to rudely dominate the conversation on trivial subjects that no one else cared about, regardless of whether he shut them up with a sly and witty comment or a direct confrontation.
That's right, boys. Commanding the 101st Airborne during the ride on Baghdad, or stripping off your body armor in an Iraqi market to show the people that they didn't have to be afraid of suicide bombers -- that's not the mark of a real man. Not like you guys.

No, as you have correctly understood, the way that you show that you're a real man is how you dominate the conversation at a dinner party.

In the future, you boys should maybe read what you write before you post it.

Songs from Pandora

Once in a while Pandora still finds most interesting things. Here is a band I had never heard of before tonight, called Flatfoot 56:

And here they are doing a gospel piece, which you can tell they really believe in because they talk about it for two full minutes before they get around to singing the song. (I'll forgive you if you skip that part.)

Here's another, without so much talk.

The local high school football band gathers and plays Amazing Grace at the end of every home game. It's a clear violation of the standards that are meant to govern public schools, which I imagine is at least half the point of the exercise. It's a wise administration that can so readily harness teenage rebellion to good purpose.

William Gibson said -- or was it Bruce Sterling? -- that he lost faith in rebellion when he saw how punk rock was so readily digested by the market. But there is a greater magic than digestion in fertility. Long after the market lost use for punk rock here the thing is, planted and thriving in fertile ground.


Our old friend Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a fantastic piece, too good to excerpt. Read it carefully.

The Oldness of the World

How old is Earth? It's an interesting question. What does it mean to be old? It means to have survived long in time. So in order to ask what it means to be old, we must first ask, "What is time?"

Good luck with that question.

Wikipedia, I notice, has taken a highly controversial position on the subject. "Time," it says, "is a dimension... and also the measure of duration of events and the intervals between them." That's not what we usually think of when we talk about time. If it is a dimension -- usually the fourth -- then things within it are static. There is no change in the fourth dimension: everything, past, present and future, is ordered and obvious, like looking at a graph.

That is not obviously right, although some contemporary physicists really like the idea of time as a dimension. Those of you who read my Arthurian novel were introduced to the concept of thinking about time that way: but of course I didn't stop with that approach, whereby there is no real possibility or potentiality, but only a determined single time. That doesn't seem right, and it doesn't seem real. We are aware of unrealized potentials all around us. I know in my heart that I could have had beans for breakfast instead of eggs, for instance. The beans were there. The eggs were there. I was there, and I was hungry. I made a choice.

Traditionally there are several answers to the problem that have made sense to people. Three of the leading answers are Aristotle's, Proclus', and St. Augustine's.

Aristotle's is a reasonable answer: time, he says (in Physics VIII) is the measure of motion. But there are only things and their qualities in Aristotle, which means that every thing must have its own time, each separate and different. Time is a quality that belongs to the thing.

That aspect of Aristotle's theory has been a problem for a lot of people, because our experience of time is that it is the same for everything. An hour for me is an hour for you: that's why we can meet for lunch. How could I have one time, and you another, my horse a third, and so on?

But we learn from relativity theory that there is something to this matter. Time is not the same for everyone and everything. And yet it is not really a quality of the thing, either: it is relative, for example, not to my speed, but to the difference between your speed and mine. So it is, in a way, a quality of mine; but in another way, you are indispensable also. It's a fact about us, even though it is not the same for us. (See here.)

So Aristotle is not right, not quite; but we still aren't there.

Proclus has a theory that time is atomic, in the ancient Greek sense of being finally indivisible. You can divide a minute into seconds, and seconds into parts of seconds, but there comes a time -- he thought -- that is really the smallest length of time that can practically exist. This, I suppose, might be an analog to the Planck length: and that's useful, if we believe as Aristotle did that time and motion are geared together. For those of you who have JSTOR access, there is a good article on the subject here.

Augustine, though, has what I take to be the most interesting account. He points out that the past and the future do not exist in the same way that the present moment does. As much as you enjoyed going to the fair yesterday, it's gone: and as much as you are looking forward to Christmas morning, it's not here.

So what we have is the now. But how long is now? So short that it is gone before you can name it.

That's a problem, because it means that we are doing things with our minds that involve times that do not exist. When we begin a sentence (for Augustine it is a prayer), we are somehow aware of a desire to say something in a time that doesn't exist: and when we are saying it, we remain aware of how much has been said in the past that no longer exists, and how much remains to be said in the time that has not come to be.

If we couldn't do that, we couldn't speak or think at all.

So for Augustine, time is a kind of extension of our soul into the realms of things that do not exist. How we do that is a mystery, but our common experience suggests that somehow we do in fact do it.

Of course one way of responding to the Augustinian answer is to suggest that the past and future do exist -- that they are, as the physicists have it, a kind of dimension whose existence is sustained. But the physicists can't explain freedom; they are left to declare it something of an illusion, even though I am quite sure that I could have had beans and not eggs for breakfast.

So we are back at the beginning of the question. What does it mean to be old? It means to have lived long in time. What is time? Is it the same for all things, and from all perspectives? It seems not to be, though it also seems to sustain a relationship between all things, while managing to be different from different perspectives.

Which means that there is no answer to the question -- no final answer. How old is Earth? It depends on whom you ask, and how they stand in relationship to it. Perhaps that relationship is physical, and perhaps it depends on where they are in their prayer.

Politics III, First Section

The first part of Politics Book III treats the question of what a state exactly is, and what it means to be a citizen. Here arises questions of birthright citizenship versus other forms, including -- a little under the radar -- the issue of nationalization. Can you become an Athenian?

It's kind of an interesting point, because we discuss the advantages of America's rather unusual tradition of birthright citizenship at times when discussing the immigration debate. Since the election, a couple of pieces (most especially Mark Steyn's) have made the case that the huge upsurge in Latino citizenship is a wholly artificial power grab:
According to the Census, in 1970 the "Non-Hispanic White" population of California was 78 percent. By the 2010 census, it was 40 percent. Over the same period, the 10 percent Hispanic population quadrupled and caught up with whites.

That doesn't sound terribly "natural" does it? If one were informed that, say, the population of Nigeria had gone from 80 percent black in 1970 to 40 percent black today, one would suspect something rather odd and unnatural had been going on. Twenty years ago, Rwanda was about 14 percent Tutsi. Now it's just under 10 percent. So it takes a bunch of Hutu butchers getting out their machetes and engaging in seven-figure genocide to lower the Tutsi population by a third. But, when the white population of California falls by half, that's "natural," just the way it is, one of those things, could happen to anyone.
So let's stop with the first three sections, and talk about those things. Then we will move on to Part IV, which deals with a very interesting question: whether the virtue of the good man and the virtue of the good citizen are the same, or different.

How's That Working Out for You?

One of the most thoughtful and proper reforms instituted after the 2010 Tea Party victories in the House was a requirement that bills contain a statement explaining just where in the Constitution the Congressmen found authority to take the action described by the bill. Fantastic idea, except...
“We started highlighting horrible Constitutional Authority Statements because there were so many of them,” said Brian Straessle, RSC spokesman....

The Eva M. Clayton Fellows Program Act’s justification from Oct. 25 cited “Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution, [under which] Congress has the power to collect taxes and expend funds to provide for the general welfare of the United States.”

“This Constitutional Authority Statement would be fine were it not for the fact that words actually have definitions,” the RSC response said.
Well, they were only two clauses off. Oh, and, a fellows program doesn't provide for the general welfare of the United States. Oh, and the program in question actually has nothing to do with the welfare of the United States: it's directed at the problem of world hunger.

This is like cutting taxes in the absence of a balanced budget: they shrug when they can't collect as much as they want to spend, and just borrow money to spend instead. What we need is some sort of enforcement: if the stated constitutional authority doesn't really exist, the law should not be valid.

A big problem with that concept, of course, is this summer's demonstration by SCOTUS that it will crawl over broken glass to find a way to think a law is constitutional, even in defiance of the plain text of the law and the clear statements of intent by its authors.

So, really, the problem is the political class -- top, bottom, Congress and lawyers. Bureaucrats too.

The Finder of Lost Children

It's helpful to have that line from Pulp Fiction in your mind while you watch this video.

Blessed be the cheesemakers

Federal and state governments set a floor on the price of milk that costs American consumers about $5 billion a year, while protecting dairy farmers from the price repercussions of a chronic oversupply of milk.  As a result, there's more milk than consumers are willing to buy at the inflated price, so the government uses tax dollars to buy up the excess, turn it in cheese, and then ditch it later.

Hilarity ensues when not all states stay in lockstep with the federal price protections.  California, for instance, allows milk to be sold at 2.5 cents per pound lower than the average minimum price in other states, a policy that pits California cheesemakers against California dairy farmers:
With feedstock costs skyrocketing due to the diversion of corn to make subsidized ethanol -- another brilliantly managed business -- California dairy farmers are on the ropes.  Meanwhile, California cheese makers enjoy a competitive advantage because it is illegal for out-of-state cheese makers to buy cheaper California milk. 
In desperation, instead of shipping the excess milk out of state, California dairy farms are shutting down and shipping their cows to states with higher minimum prices, allowing them to contribute to the glut there.  This has caused California milk lobbyists to scream bloody murder, demanding that California bring its minimum prices in line with other states.  Cheese lobbyists just smile, knowing that they have more legislators in their pockets and can afford to sit tight.  That's just how central planning works.
Stand by for one of California's patented Cuban-style solutions to problems of this type:  a move to tax outgoing cattle wealth.

Feed a cold, starve a fever

Or is it the other way round?  I never can remember.  There seems to be similar confusion developing about how to halt the metastasis of government:  shrink revenues and starve the beast? -- or turn the faucets on and wait for voters to notice how much more all of the new entitlements cost?  The answer may lie in who's connected to the faucets.  If it's always the other guy paying the taxes, or (worse) loaning us the money, then a solid majority of American voters seem prepared to vote for government-funded everything-you-can-possibly-imagine.  On the other hand, if the tax burden were flatter and more universal, it would be harder to win a public vote over raising money for more collectivized goodies.

Steve King (R-Iowa) argues that our president may be more than willing to go over the fiscal cliff, because despite the huge recession that's expected to result, at least the tax code will have been forced further into progressive territory.  Terminating the Bush income and estate tax cuts doesn't just mean increasing revenue by a small percentage of the annual deficit, it means feeding class envy.  A thin, dingy silver lining of achieving this goal via broad-based tax hikes rather than "millionaire taxes" may be that the burden will fall on the many rather than the few, which (in time) could restore the feedback loop and temper the appetite of voters to ask for bigger and more expensive government.

But I doubt it.  More likely we'll just damage the economy, increase joblessness, and set off a new round of cries for government rescues.

Winning the future

Ross Douthat:
What unites all of these stories is the growing failure of America’s local associations — civic, familial, religious — to foster stability, encourage solidarity and make mobility possible. 
This is a crisis that the Republican Party often badly misunderstands, casting Democratic-leaning voters as lazy moochers or spoiled children seeking “gifts” (as a certain former Republican presidential nominee would have it) rather than recognizing the reality of their economic struggles. 
But if conservatives don’t acknowledge the crisis’s economic component, liberalism often seems indifferent to its deeper social roots. The progressive bias toward the capital-F Future, the old left-wing suspicion of faith and domesticity, the fact that Democrats have benefited politically from these trends — all of this makes it easy for liberals to just celebrate the emerging America, to minimize the costs of disrupted families and hollowed-out communities, and to treat the places where Americans have traditionally found solidarity outside the state (like the churches threatened by the Obama White House’s contraceptive mandate) as irritants or threats. 
This is a great flaw in the liberal vision, because whatever role government plays in prosperity, transfer payments are not a sufficient foundation for middle-class success.
H/t HotAir and Allahpundit.

Jacksonian America

According to Dr. Mead, we don't much care about Just War.
Readers of Special Providence know that I’ve written about four schools of American thinking about world affairs; from the perspective of the most widespread of them, the Jacksonians, what Israel is doing in Gaza makes perfect sense....

Americans as a people have never much believed in fighting by “the rules.” The Minutemen who fought the British regulars at Lexington and Concord in 1776 thought that there was nothing stupider in the world than to stand in even ranks and brightly colored uniforms waiting to shoot and be shot like gentlemen. They hid behind stone walls and trees, wearing clothes that blended in with their surroundings, and took potshots at the British wherever they could. George Washington saved the Revolution by a surprise attack on British forces the night before Christmas; far from being ashamed of an attack no European general of the day would have countenanced, Americans turned a painting of the attack (“Washington Crossing the Delaware”) into a patriotic icon. In America, war is not a sport....

The whole jus in bello argument sails right over the heads of most Americans. The proportionality concept never went over that big here. Many Americans are instinctive Clausewitzians; Clausewitz argued that efforts to make war less cruel end up making it worse, and a lot of Americans agree.

From this perspective, the kind of tit-for-tat limited warfare that the doctrine of proportionality would require is a recipe for unending war: for decades of random air strikes, bombs and other raids.
I respect Dr. Mead, who is quoted here regularly, but this argument is half-baked. It's true that in Jackson's time America had no use for rules of war that would have rendered in incapable of fighting back successfully. It's likewise true that those same laws, now, are just another weapon to which you might lay a hand: they are the rules that allow you to treat unlawful combatants to a quick hanging or a trip to GitMo, because their lack of uniforms and discipline does not privilege them.

It's not that we don't get the rules. It's certainly not that they go 'over our heads.' It's all about war not being a sport. When we take to fighting, we mean to win.

And we do take seriously the women and children. Clausewitz's formula isn't against them, it's in their favor. Air strikes are one of the worst ways to wage a war, even especially a war of this type. Ask the Haqqani how kind our drones have been to their women. I have heard it said that the ideal weapon for this sort of war is a knife, followed by a rifle. Poison and silenced pistols are good too.

Against Irony

I have many sins, but not this one.

To really live, to really love, to really be ready to kill and to die for the things to which you are devoted. Is there any man who dares call himself a man who has not these things? Yes: I will give a waver on "to kill," for those such as Quakers who are ready to die in places where we would kill. They have not lost the deep thing.

That thing is true love. Is that not obvious? It is the kind of love that approaches the divine, except that in us it is particular. We in our limits cannot but love certain things, certain ones, if we are to truly love at all.

If any of you have loved just one enough -- perhaps two, perhaps ten, but even just one -- then I think you have begun to understand.

That's How I Got through Fourth Period Algebra:

Headline: "Our brain can do unconscious mathematics."

The Old Gods

Doc Russia used to quote "The Gods of the Copybook Headings" from time to time.
A great bet is underway, a poker game with stakes in the trillions, between those who are buying time with central bank money and believe that they can continue as before, and the others, who are afraid of the biggest credit bubble in history and are searching for ways out of capitalism based on borrowed money.
Great. Yet it just says what we all know when we dare to think about it.

We're broke. Europe is broke. China is broke. The system will end.
What then? Nobody knows, but the history of the times when the Old Gods have ridden high are certainly of interest. The good news, and the bad news, is that they are dependable.